Since 2016, Tamil Heritage Month has been celebrated in January. Here are a few books starring Tamil characters to give you more insight into the culture.
Born Behind Bars
By Padma Venkatraman
272 Pages | Ages 10-14 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593112472 | Nancy Paulsen Books
Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can – run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard – and fraught with danger – in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of – but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he – and his mother – deserve a place in it.
The Bridge Home
By Padma Venkatraman
208 Pages | Ages 10+ | Paperback
ISBN 9781524738136 | Nancy Paulsen Books
Life is harsh on the teeming streets of Chennai, India, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter – and friendship – on an abandoned bridge that’s also the hideout of Muthi and Arul, two homeless boys, and the four of them soon form family of sorts. And while making their living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to take pride in, too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.
Tomatoes for Neela
By Padma Lakshmi
Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593202708 | Viking BFYR
Neela loves cooking with her amma and writing down the recipes in her notebook. It makes her feel closer to her paati who lives far away in India. On Saturdays, Neela and Amma go to the green market and today they are buying tomatoes to make Paati’s famous sauce. But first, Neela needs to learn about all the different kinds of tomatoes they can pick from. And as Neela and Amma cook together, they find a way for Paati to share in both the love and the flavors of the day. Bestselling author and host of Bravo’s Top Chef and Hulu’s Taste the Nation Padma Lakshmi takes young readers on an intergenerational journey full of delicious flavors and fun food facts that celebrates a family’s treasured recipes.
I’ll Go and Come Back
By Rajani LaRocca
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
40 Pages | Ages 3-7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536207170 | Candlewick
Release Date: March 29, 2022
When Jyoti visits her grandmother halfway around the world, she is overwhelmed by the differences between India and home. At first she feels lonely and out of place, but soon, despite a language barrier, she and Sita Pati are able to understand each other. They form a bond — looking at books together, making designs with colored sand, shopping at the market, playing games, eating chapatis, and sipping warm milk with saffron to bring sweet dreams. When it’s time to part, Jyoti doesn’t want to leave, but then she remembers that in Tamil, people don’t say goodbye, they “I’ll go and come back.” Sure enough, the two reunite the next summer when Pati visits Jyoti in America, and it’s Jyoti’s turn to make her grandmother feel welcome. Can they create some special memories that will last until the next time they see each other?
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea
By Shyam Selvadurai
280 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781774880333 | Tundra Books
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Shyam Selvadurai’s brilliant novels, Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens, have garnered him international acclaim. In his first young adult novel, now with a new cover, he explores first love with clarity, humor and compassion. The setting is Sri Lanka, 1980, and it is the season of monsoons. Fourteen-year-old Amrith is caught up in the life of the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Auntie Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his doting mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising: he wants to appear in his school’s production of Othello and he is learning to type at Uncle Lucky’s tropical fish business. Then, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada and Amrith’s ordered life is storm-tossed. He finds himself falling in love with the Canadian boy. Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.