By Vidya Pradhan
Do your kids get excited when they see dark haired children in their picture books? Are you tired of reading Barney and Elmo stories? Wish you could find books that spoke to your children’s multi-ethnic experience? Like the Little Engine that could, a small blog called Saffron Tree takes on the challenge of pointing parents to multicultural gems that help the kids deal with their unique and diverse world.
Started by Praba Ram in October 2006, Saffron Tree immediately took off with enthusiastic support from Meera Sriram of Bay area, Praba's close friend since childhood. Saffron Tree’s original idea was to find and review books that had an Indian flavor. The two friends, who live on opposite sides of the American continent, often shared their favorite reads when they became new mothers. They found that they both had trouble finding suitable books written by Indian American authors and delightedly shared their successes when they did. Over time, the blog has drawn membership from a small community of like-minded parent bloggers. The team's passion for children's books has helped Saffron Tree establish itself as a viable resource in the world of "kidlit".
“My older daughter Kirtana was very interested in reading stories from different cultures when,” says Praba. “I was surprised at how many questions a 4-year old had and how often they seemed to be about identity issues and color.” The differences between Praba’s family and her neighbors was accentuated when they moved from L.A. to Tulsa, Oklahoma. (They live in Washington D.C these days.)
“I felt it was important for me to start reading stories to my children that were written by Indians and Indian Americans,” adds Praba. Books by Pooja Makhijani and Uma Krishnaswami were eagerly devoured. “Closet Ghosts" was a favorite as was “Mama’s Saris". "Why should I only read books to her about kids with names like Jennifer and Jessica?”
One of the challenges of reviewing books from India is their limited availability. Today the friends have added other multicultural books like African American and Japanese to their review list. Readers are encouraged to post their own reviews and a weekly newsletter keeps parents up to date with new reviews and releases. Meera and Praba and their team of contributors also tackle books dealing with parenting issues and learning concepts.
The team has also done a successful book drive for a non-profit organization in Chennai. They are looking for ways to make it a regular event and send a steady stream of books to India. Becoming a non-profit organization may be one way of making their dreams possible. Author interviews and book readings are also in the pipeline.
Check out Saffron Tree for a quick guide to good reads for the kids. If you enjoy reading and reviewing kid’s books you could even become a regular contributor to the site.