Launching Book Review by BANNO KAUR BAJAJ & GITIKA KAUR BAJAJ
Inni Kaur‘s New Children‘s Book:
"Thank You, Vahiguru” -
A Review by Mother & Daughter
‘THANK YOU, VAHIGURU, by Inni Kaur. Illustrated by Sehreen Shahzad. Sikh Research Institute, USA, 2015. Hardcover, 40 pages. Bilingual: English, Punjabi. ISBN-10: 1604110058; ISBN-13: 978-1604110050.
A MOTHER-TEACHER’S REVIEW
Banno Kaur Bajaj
Inni Kaur’s new book, “Thank You, Vahiguru” is very different in its purpose and flavor from her previous ‘Journey With The Gurus’ series.
The latter trilogy is based on Guru Nanak’s travels in Punjab, the subcontinent, and in the exotic lands beyond. At its core, its mandate was to contextualize and explain Guru Sahib’s bani for the young reader by drawing on the saakhis that are oft retold in every Sikh household.
The new book is set in the North American context.
Young Akal, anywhere from four to six years old, asks his mother some of life’s essential questions on the birth of his baby sister. Who made her? Where does she come from? Was he like her when he was little? What else has Vahiguru made?
His mother’s answers are simple and easy to understand.
Vahiguru made “sun and moon mountains and trees earth and planets daddy and me you and your sister” which is everything that comprises the world of someone as young as Akal.
The book deals with important concepts around questions that pop up in the minds of very young children, but answers them in a language that they understand.
Akal is going through feelings that young ones who are used to being the only children face when a younger sibling is born and becomes a part of the family. Used to being the center of his mom’s attention, he asks: “Mommy why are you always with her?”
While she answers this question, his mom explains that the baby is not always going to take so much of her time, “As she grows things will change.”
The text is supported by wonderful illustrations which help the mom’s narrative. The presence of this new family member is going to provide Akal with a companion; someone he is going to enjoy and play in the snow with. But as time passes and they grow together she is also be someone to whom he must teach important things.
As an older brother Akal must play an active role in Bani Kaur’s education and growth. He will get to share in the nurturing. Little Bani Kaur is as much Akal’s family as she is the parents’.
“You will teach her to tie her shoe laces. You will walk her to school. You will be the best brother.”
By painting a future in which young Akal is included in the parenting, his mother has eradicated his possible fears of displacement and empowered him. She has also laid down a road map which will lead to a close knit relationship between the siblings, one which is filled with mutual respect and love. In fact, her faith in his ability to be the “best brother” is a great confidence booster for him.
Akal is now thrilled, eager to assume his role. He is also given the very important task of naming the baby along with his grandparents. ‘Bani Kaur’ is his choice.
As a teacher I can see immense value in this book. Its sophistication lies in the simplicity of its narrative.
Inni Kaur knows her audience well and speaks directly to them. While ‘Thank You, Vahiguru’ can be used effectively by many young parents to prepare their child for the arrival of a sibling, it can also be used at school and at home to stress the importance of family.
Like any good book, Inni Kaur’s ‘Thank You, Vahiguru’ provides a launching pad for many important dialogues in the classroom and at home including conversations about the naming ceremony and its importance, the role of Vahiguru in our lives, the role brothers and sisters play in each other’s life, to name but a few.
The book’s bilingual format -- the text is in both English and Punjabi/Gurmukhi -- makes the story richer. It also reflects the reality of the Sikh household in North America. Our children live their lives in two languages; it’s nice to have their story told in both.
It also allows their Punjabi-speaking grandparents to read the story to them. A precious opportunity!
Sehreen Shahzad’s illustrations bring the book to life. I feel many young ones will be able to see themselves in Akal, which always makes the story more compelling. As the story progresses we see mom continue to do a variety of household chores. These chores also help make Akal’s house seem more familiar to the reader. It looks like their own.
Mom changes clothes often, replacing her suit with a pair of jeans and top. She is shown equally comfortable in both, showing that the dialogue takes place over a period of time.
One conversation isn’t sufficient: an important point to make. Repetition is key; children need to be told important things again and again.
What is more important than family?
We also get a glimpse of Akal’s dad feeding the little one, another important image I think as in many homes taking care of children, especially chores such as feeding them, is looked on as the mother’s job.
I love the way the illustrations add to the narrative. They contextualize, and add details providing richness to the story.
The cover of the book, its wonderful and vivid illustrations, and the simplicity of the text, all make a book children will find compelling and hard to resist.
The only thing I found incongruous is the information about the naming ceremony given at the end of the text. It seems out of context in a book geared for readers so young. I believe the information on the naming ceremony could have been presented in easier, more child-friendly language and that SikhRI should have retained the bilingual format of the book.
All in all, ‘Thank you, Vahiguru’ is another success story for Inni Kaur. As an educator in a Sikh school I cannot thank Inni ji enough for helping provide engaging high-quality books I can pull off the shelf with confidence.
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A DAUGHTER-STUDENT’S REVIEW
Gitika Kaur Bajaj, 14
‘Thank You, Vahiguru’ is a children's book with a very important message.
In the story Akal, a young boy, goes through adjusting to having a new sibling, a younger sister. Akal’s mother explains to him how to take on the role of the older brother so that when they grow up, they will have a strong relationship.
Akal’s story reminded me of what happened in my own family.
My cousin Karambir was six years old when my Maama and Maami (maternal uncle & aunt) were expecting my cousin Neera. After being an only child for six years it took some time for Karambir to assume the role of an older brother to a sibling.
Karam was quiet and withdrawn on Neera’s birth.
The spotlight shifted from Karam to Neera instantaneously. This caused a state of shock and unrest for Karam; he began to think of Neera as competition for their parents’ love and attention.
My Maama and Maami sat the young boy down and explained to him that Neera was not a rival, she was a companion. That being said, Karam still did not feel a connection. He resented the fact that he had to share everything with her: attention, toys and his parents’ love.
“As she grows, things will change”.
Three years later, Neera aspires to be like Karambir and imitates everything he does. She tries to be more like him everyday; she even dresses like him!
Karambir finally fits the role of the older brother. He is already teaching her, playing with her and looking after her. He’s learned to share everything he has with her, because he loves her.
Thus, Karambir has become a good older brother.
I think the story in Inni Kaur’s latest children’s book is great for young kids who are expecting a new sibling in their lives. It teaches them to love, share and open their hearts to their new brother or sister. This helps build a strong family foundation, which is very important.
I thought, along with the beautiful pictures and the simple text, this book’s target audience is young children who are awaiting the new arrival. I was a little surprised by the story’s simplicity as I have read other books by Inni Kaur which were more complex. But it particularly works well here, given the age of the target readership.
However, I would have liked more information on the significance of the Sikh naming ceremony in the story itself, in tune with the thrust of the book; I found the addendum at the end titled “The Significance of The Sikh Naming Ceremony” on the final pages looking dull, as if it was taken off Wikipedia.
I personally did not think it flowed well with the rest of the story and needed to be better incorporated. The ‘About Us’ page also did not seem to fit into the format of a children’s book.
Other than those minor anomalies, I think that Inni Kaur has done an amazing job!
Conversation about this article
1: Jasmine (USA ), August 06, 2015, 10:13 AM.
What a wonderful book again! My twins loved it. Soon after reading the book several times they played with their teddy bears pretending it was a baby. My daughter tells her brother: 'you have to hold the baby ... remember she can't walk just like in the book'. Great, whether you have a little baby in the house or not.
2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 06, 2015, 7:24 PM.
Inni ji: Thanks for your labour of love. In the jungle of mobile phones I hope children have time and inclination to read these books. As a child of about three or four my earliest memory was lying in my mother's warm lap and listening to stories from the Janam-saakhis. It made no difference whether I understood anything or not. The warmth of mother's lap was enough; the saakhis were a bonus.
3: G Singh ( Arizona, USA), August 11, 2015, 7:11 PM.
What's with the spelling 'Vahiguru'? Is it to get the young ones more confused than they already are? Or is it the new way to spell/pronounce Waheguru for the new generation? There was no need for this.