Book Reviews

The Boy & the Bindi by Vivek Shraya at Arsenal Pulp Press

Genre Genderfluid / Contemporary / Children / Fiction
Reviewed by Serena Yates on 11-October-2016

Book Blurb

In this beautiful children’s picture book by Vivek Shraya, author of the acclaimed God Loves Hair, a five-year-old South Asian boy becomes fascinated with his mother’s bindi, the red dot commonly worn by Hindu women to indicate the point at which creation begins, and wishes to have one of his own. Rather than chastise her son, she agrees to it, and teaches him about its cultural significance, allowing the boy to discover the magic of the bindi, which in turn gives him permission to be more fully himself.

 

Beautifully illustrated by Rajni Perera, The Boy & the Bindi is a joyful celebration of gender and cultural difference.

 

Book Review

While I am no expert on children’s books by any stretch of the imagination, I did enjoy reading them to my nieces and nephews when they were younger. Some books originally intended for younger audiences can be enjoyed at any age, and I think that ‘The Boy and the Bindi’ is a good example. The target age may be 4 to 8 years, but the message behind this beautifully illustrated story is compelling and applicable to people of any age.

On the face of it, the story is simple. A young boy is fascinated by the red bindi his mother wears in the middle of her forehead. Like for many other Indian and South Asian women, it might have religious meaning for her, or it could be a signal that she is married. The explanation she gives her son is that it reminds her of where she is from and of her own mother. The boy, of course, wants one as well, and the mother gives him one of a different color.  The boy’s bindi is yellow, and he goes on to explore its effect on himself and his environment.

Like another children’s book I read recently, this one challenges the gender stereotype that “only girls wear bindis”. This has not been the case historically, according to my (brief) research bindis have been worn by men as well as women, and in some regions of Asia they still are. But for many young children who grow up with the majority belief that “bindis are for girls”, this book may help open their eyes to a different reality.

There is also a powerful message for children (and adults) outside the Indian culture. It shows what a bindi is and what it can mean. But it is also a book with nonwhite characters, and in that sense, celebrates diversity through its existence and the message it sends. As the author says in one of the press releases about this book:

“The Boy & the Bindi is about the relationships between a boy and his mother, his family, his culture, his friends, his gender, and social norms. There is a need for books that address these themes, especially through the lens of a boy of colour. In 2014, of the 3,500 children’s books received by Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 112 were about Asian Pacific Americans (just under 4%).”

I can recommend this book for many reasons: its celebration of diversity and the fact that its main characters are people of color - although it makes me sad that this is celebration-worthy, it should be the norm! Then there are the beautiful illustrations, the awe in the boy’s telling of how he figures out what the bindi means to him personally, and the message about how his different approach to tradition is accepted. It’s a beautiful fairy tale and a great vision of how things might be one day. I loved it!

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the author for the purpose of a review.

Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Short Story, 32 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 19-September-2016
Price $17.99 ebook, $17.95 hardback
Buy Link https://www.amazon.com/Boy-Bindi-Vivek-Shraya-ebook/dp/B01IMJV8WO