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Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Big Book of Festivals: a children’s guide to global cultures

From Holi to the Festival of Giants, kids can explore a plethora of famous and unique celebrations.

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

“Vedhika and Ayaan light diyas, thought to help guide the goddess Lakshmi into people’s homes, bringing fortune and luck.”

“Kareem wishes his grandfather Eid Mubarak (a blessed Eid) and offers him ma’amoul, a small round pastry filled with dates, figs and walnuts.”

“Anouk leaves a letter for Santa Claus under the Christmas tree, along with some milk and carrots for Santa’s reindeer.”

The festival of Diwali depicted in the big book of festivals
The festival of Diwali depicted in the book. Source: Hachette Australia

From Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest bathing festival in India, to Konaki Sumo, a ‘crying baby competition’ in Japan, The Big Book of Festivals is everything you could ask for in a children’s book about the various important festivities followed by people around the world.

Australian authors Marita Bullock and Joan-Maree Hargreaves are both avid cultural pundits with a keen interest in promoting diverse communities and experiences.

“We were thinking about how much children love parties, celebrations and festivities, and then we realised a book about festivals was a fantastic way to introduce young readers to different cultures and traditions, different belief systems, and different ways of celebrating,” Joan-Maree told Indian Link. “The topic of festivals is a fun, joyous and colour-filled way of celebrating cultural difference!”

The festival of Holi depicted in the big book of festivals
The festival of Holi depicted in the book. Source: Hachette Australia

Young Australian readers can feast their eyes on simple descriptions and illustrations of the birthday of Guru Nanak, Buddha Day, Eid Ul-Fitr, Holi, Diwali, Kumbh Mela, Nowruz, Christmas and Easter; a few of the festivals celebrated by Indians around the world which have been brilliantly recorded in The Big Book of Festivals.

Other special festivals such as Bunya Dreaming where Aboriginal communities gather to harvest bunya cones from bunya trees and tell stories, Gelede in West Africa celebrated by Yoruba communities to honour mothers and women, and the Yi Peng festival in Thailand where floating lights are released symbolising the letting go of negativity; are also sure to delight young readers.

The Aboriginal festival of Bunya Dreaming depicted in the book
The Aboriginal festival of Bunya Dreaming depicted in the book. Source: Hachette Australia

The Big Book is an excellent way to introduce kids to the world around them, especially to cultures that they may not be exposed to in their current environment.

In each story, child characters from various cultures take on the role of storytellers as they participate in the festivities. This, along with the simple illustrations of food, attire, and decorations, make this book an absolute treat to flip through.

Each page is incredibly immersive, painting a vivid and vibrant picture of festivities that almost transports you to that very locale.

READ ALSO: Star of Anise: A picture book about Australia’s early Indian hawkers

Meet the creators of The Big Book of Festivals

While researching festivals across the world, the writers found that there were plenty of books for adults, but not many on the topic catered to children or young readers.

“It was very difficult to narrow our book down to 38 festivals from around the world,” Marita Bullock explained. “There are so many incredible festivals we would have liked to have included!

Authors Joan-Maree Hargreaves and Marita Bullock.
Authors Joan-Maree Hargreaves and Marita Bullock. Source: Hachette Australia FB

Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Sydney, Marita Bullock has also taught younger students as a school teacher. She is an expert in the field of Cultural Studies and has published an enormous amount of literature on the visualisation of ‘difference’.

Writer Joan-Maree Hargreaves, who has edited numerous children’s titles, has a special interest in social justice and is motivated to tell stories about ‘real-life’ through engaging visuals.

“We hope that our book sparks young readers’ interest in different cultures, and curiosity about the many varied ways in which we come together to mark life’s big occasions!” authors Joan-Maree and Marita said.

Illustrator Liz Rowland.
Illustrator Liz Rowland. Source: supplied

Illustrator Liz Rowland also brought to the project a similar interest in people and cultures. It took Liz about 7 months to create illustrations for the book, including 3 months of research around each festival.

“It was the biggest and best challenge of my illustration career so far,” Liz said. “I hope people find joy in the book. I hope it instils an early appreciation and respect in young readers for other cultures and life experiences.”

The Big Book of Festivals was published in Australia and New Zealand in 2021 by Hachette Australia.

READ ALSO: Book Review: ‘Ritu weds Chandni’ by Ameya Narvankar


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Bageshri Savyasachi
Truth-telling, tree-hugging journalist.

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