Premlata and the Festival of Lights
by Rumer Godden, published 1996
‘Now she really did cry, with tears that seemed to burn. The crowds, the lights, the whole mela seemed to be laughing at her as had the nasty fat stall-keeper when he cheated her over the bangle.”
Rumer Godden has long been recommended to me as a wonderful children’s book author, so I was delighted that the first book I chose to read was in fact the last children’s book she wrote, at age 90, just two years before she died. This children’s book calls on Godden’s experiences of her own childhood in Bengali, India. Thus it makes the book a very unusual culture experience, as it is steeped with the real images, words, and experience of Bengali peasant children. Because I too spent time in India, I was totally taken with the book. At the same time, I realize not everyone would be quite as enchanted. However, if your child is studying India in school, or if you are teaching fifth grade in the Waldorf schools, this is a wonderful book to offer the children. If your family ancestry includes any ancestors from India, the book is perfect for keeping the culture alive.
Part of the fun of reading a children’s book from another culture is that there are so many things that can be a point of discussion. Rumer Godden skillfully weaves in Bengali words, as well as vivid descriptions of Diwali, the festival of lights, giving the reader a full picture of what is happening. In addition, the story has significant elements of forgiveness, generosity and love of family as the basis of the very simple story.
Given the simplicity of the tale, I think it’s a fine story for a read-aloud. It’s probably a little more than a 5-year old would take in, but by age 6, the story is easily understood.