by Sandhya Acharya
December 2017, 38 p.
In a culture where 22 major languages and 720 dialects are spoken by its people, how do you find common ground for storytelling? The answer: DESSERT! Sandhya Acharya’s picture book centers around the beloved treat of the Indian subcontinent gulab jamun, a delicious donut-like dessert soaked in sugary syrup.
Brothers Idu and Adu, whose names mean “this” and “that” in Kannada, are preparing to host their friends for a special dinner. Well, more accurately, Mamma is preparing the dinner, while Idu and Adu mischievously undermine her efforts to impress their guests by sneaking just a few gulab jamun. Who can blame them? They are irresistible!
Instead of scolding the children, Mamma takes advantage of this teachable moment to test her sons’ subtraction skills. How many gulab jamun did she make? 10! But how many are left? Idu and Adu do the math. And with little time until the guests arrive, the whole family joins in to make a new batch of gulab jamun.
Illustrator Vanessa Alexandre brings the story to life with colorful and cheery images of the household, taking care to create a sense that this story could be happening anywhere in any country and not necessarily in India. Small details such as the Nataraja in the background, a statue depicting the Hindu deity Shiva in dance, give us a glimpse into other aspects of Idu and Adu’s family life. For non-Hindu families, these images may offer additional opportunities for learning about unfamiliar cultures. Alexandre’s strengths lie in the subtlety of the characters’ expressions: for example, Adu’s mischievous smirk as he hides behind Idu when Mamma discovers he’s eaten some of the gulab jamuns, or Idu’s pure joy when he, too, stuffs several of the sweets into his own mouth!
This fun and playful story, inspired by Acharya’s childhood memories and her love of sweets, provides an opportunity to reinforce basic counting and math skills for young children. In addition, it depicts loving family interactions that underscore values of honesty, sharing, collaboration, and community. And as a bonus, readers can make their own gulab jamuns using a recipe from former Master Chef contestant Hetal Vasavada. Curious young minds will surely connect with the universal experience of delicious meals prepared with love and shared with friends.
Review by Saira Raza, Business Librarian
Goizueta Business Library (Emory University)