Sunday, November 11, 2012

Amma Tell Me

In wonder of cultures that colour our world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 9:49am

This week, my younger daughter and I made diyas at our parent-child playgroup. Diyas are earthen oil lamps used for Diwali. The teacher explained Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, to the parents, while the children explored working with clay.
After we give the clay a couple of days to set, the children then paint their own diyas in gold paint. It will dry and be ready to take home just in time for Diwali.
When we get home, I pull Bhakti Mathur's Amma, Tell Me About Diwali! from my bookshelf and read the colourfully illustrated book to my younger daughter. She has just turned two, so when I read aloud to her, I don't necessarily give a verbatim reading of stories that may be a little too advanced for her.
The description of the rites and rituals surrounding Diwali and the explanation of how this festival came about are in rhyme. There are too many new vocabulary words for my younger daughter to understand and, therefore, maintain her interest.
Instead, we look at the lively cartoon drawings and point out what is happening.
My elder daughter, on the other hand, can appreciate when I follow the words on each page, and I read this story to her from cover to cover. She recognised the festive scenes that are reminiscent of Lunar New Year. In fact, Diwali is referred to as the Indian New Year.
Mathur's Diwali is the second in her Amma, Tell Me About series of stories. "Amma" means mother in many Indian languages, with the Amma in this series having two young sons, just like the author.
A working mother who lives in Hong Kong, Mathur has included in this series stories about Holi, the Indian festival of colours; Ramayana, the epic poem by Valmiki about Rama the righteous prince; and Krishna, on whose birthday Indians celebrate the festival called Janamashtami.
With the many nationalities and ethnicities living and working in Hong Kong, we are well-positioned to learn about the holidays and traditions of other cultures.
After moving to Hong Kong, I learned that Americans don't celebrate Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day.
One of my elder daughter's early words was "Kwanzaa", a word she learned after watching a Sesame Street episode about this African-American festival.
Tuttle Publishing publishes a series of books on children's favourite stories from different countries. Besides Rosemarie Somaiah's Indian Children's Favorite Stories, there are also Korean Children's Favorite Stories andJapanese Children's Favorite Stories.

The main day of Diwali festivities is on November 13 this year, and my daughters and I are looking forward to seeing all the beautifully dressed Indian families coming and going in our building's lobby as they celebrate this festival of lights.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong

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