22 May / I See the Sun in India by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese, translation by the University of Massachusetts Translation Center
Here’s lucky #7 of the bilingual I See the Sun series from internationally-minded boutique press Satya House – lucky because India celebrates the series’ gravitas by being the first to be offered in lasting hardcover. This summer, the rest of the series also reappears in solid incarnation; going hardcover seems to be further reinforcement in the series’ ongoing message that as diverse as individual lives may be from country to country, every child’s basic need for family, friendship, nourishment, education, and happiness is the same throughout the world.
Meet Mila as she awakes at dawn to the squawks of peacocks. She lives in India, in the historic city of Jaipur, “in a huge house that belonged to [her] great-grandparents. Because it is so big, [Mila’s] parents rent out rooms to tourists.” She goes to school in a tuk-tuk driven by her uncle, where she speaks mostly English in class and Hindi with her friends. She drops by her father’s gem shop after school before meeting her friends at the movie theater. At home she shares a few moments with the tourist guests before joining her family for dinner, then finishes her homework while the peacocks “give a couple of tired squawks” in the courtyard. “[A]s the evening turns dark,” readers have shared a vibrant tour through Mila’s home and city, catching glimpses of the rich architecture, the bustling streets and colorful bazaars, while experiencing a few of Mila’s everyday events with family and friends.
Complementing author Dedie King’s text, artist Judith Inglese adds a visual layer of diversity throughout the pages, underscoring India’s vast population of many, many backgrounds, cultures, and languages. [Such diversity, perhaps, explains the choice Mila’s name, which doesn’t seem particularly Indian – a quick internet search suggests Eastern European/Slavic origins.] Minor quibble aside, especially noteworthy is that Inglese’s people arrive on the page in all shades of skin color, even within Mila’s own family. In a modern India that still remains all too aware of (and trapped by) class and caste, that Mila’s mother is considerably darker than her father is quite the social commentary. [Oddly, Mila’s mother’s pigment changes drastically on the page in which she’s talking to the guests.] With his darker skin, Mila’s tuk-tuk driving-uncle is likely her mother’s brother; his career suggests her mother’s family is not of equal social standing to that of her father’s. The palatial quality of the ancestral home (inheritance being predominantly patrilineal) implies Mila’s paternal family tree includes royal branches, making her parents’ marriage that much more unusual.
Of course, children – the intended target audience, after all – are unlikely to even notice such details. Parents, however, will hopefully appreciate the subtle efforts of depicting a more equitable, contemporary India.