Book Review: Punjab Folktales

Neha Singh Gohil | San Carlos, CA

“Nani maa kol jaoonga, dudh malai khaunga, mota ho ke aoonga.” Reading this sentence to my sons brought a grin to my face and tear to my eye. I remembered the first time I’d heard it from my own grandmother’s lips and the gentle pat of the head that went along with it. It’s true that from childhood to now, a trip to Nani’s house has always involved overindulging on tasty treats! Therein lies the magic of Gurmeet Kaur’s new collection of children’s titles, entitled the Fascinating Folktales of Punjab. She brings the stories, sounds and landscapes of our grandparents to life in three loveable board books. The stories are classic fables that are the perfect introduction to Punjab for the diaspora’s next generation. The first book, “The Sparrow and the Pippal,” describes a perseverant little bird that does whatever it takes to hang on to her food. The “Sparrow and the Crow” tells the story of a hard-working bird whose efforts are rewarded, despite the worst intentions of her scheming friend. And my personal favorite, “The Lamb and the Dhol,” tells the story of a clever grandmother who stows a lamb in a dhol to save him from being eaten. The stories are beautifully told. Though they don’t necessarily mention Punjab by name, the illustrations alone are enough to teach children about everyday aspects of our culture. Reading these stories has prompted my own children to ask about everything from how wheat grows to how dhudhh-malai tastes. The books stir up a curiosity in kids to learn more about Punjab’s traditions and ways of life. And they do that without needing to chronicle religious or political history. Each book is also perfectly designed to keep young children amused and older children engaged. The images are animated, colorful and simplistic - a welcome departure from the traditional Indian drawing style or stock art that have been so overused in Punjabi-language media. The sentences are short and rhyming, making it both entertaining and just challenging enough for early Punjabi learners. And the books themselves are sturdy enough to survive my toddler’s teething phase. Best of all, the translations - often overlooked in Punjabi books - are absolutely wonderful. The back of each book includes a rhyming English translation of the text, complete with appropriate sounds (a rolling dhol, for example, says “Dhamak Dhoon”). The author has also thought to move the romanized Punjabi to the end. By keeping the roman script off of the same page as the Gurmukhi she forces us all – parents and kids – to put that Khalsa-school learning to work. The format is so intuitive that my three-year-old delights in asking his French-speaking nanny to read these books to him “starting at the end.” I’ve long enjoyed collecting Punjabi-language children’s books for my kids. But, to be honest, I find most of them much more interesting than my children do. Who can blame them, when words take up more of the page than images, when it takes Mama ten minutes just to read through the complicated Gurmukhi on the page, or when the book is simple vocabulary instead of an enticing story. Gurmeet Kaur has turned all of that on its head. Her stories are nostalgic and educational without being pedantic or boring. They are simply charming. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get going on tonight’s bedtime story. It involves a lamb, a dhol and some very yummy malai. Fascinating Folktales of Punjab – 1,2 & 3 Created and Published by Gurmeet Kaur llustrated by Susanna Dong Full-Color Illustrations Laminated Board Ages 0 and up Release Date: March 14th, 2013 "The Sparrow and the Pippal" • 18 pages • ISBN 978-0-9887101-0-8 • USD $7.99 "The Sparrow and the Crow" • 18 pages • ISBN: 978-0-9887101-1-5• USD $7.99 "The Lamb and the Dhol" • 20 pages • ISBN: 978-0-9887101-2-2• USD $8.99 For more information and to buy, see: _________________________ The author is a freelance writer and editor, and the co-author of "Civil Rights in Wartime: The Post-9/11 Sikh Experience." She currently is an op-eds editor at the Sikh News Network, and previously served as the Western region director of the Sikh Coalition. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and the Columbia University School of Journalism. Commentaries are the opinions of the authors, and not necessarily that of Sikh News Network.

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