Friday, January 18, 2019

Climbing the Stairs

Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 25, 2019 is in its 6th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
I am honored to participate again in this wonderful event as a book reviewer for Climbing the Stairs. 

"Stories are ships on which we sail oceans of imagination."
Padma Venkatraman

Author Padma Venkatraman weaves a compelling coming of age YA novel Climbing the Stairs. Her debut novel is loosely based on her family history and inspired by the timeless question of where the role of nonviolence fits in our lives versus violence and its impact on us.
Venkatraman is an American writer of books for young people, public speaker, scientist and an oceanographer. She has lived in 5 countries and visited many more. The author grew up in India which was an oppressive society for women with gender inequality. Her story depicts a real time in India's history where non-violence represented by Ghandi Freedom Fighter Movement is pitted against the violence of war with many Indians volunteering to fight in World War II. It was also a time when India set a shining example by engaging in a nonviolent struggle for independence. The first time a nation had ever done that yet the violence of caste and gender inequality prevailed within its own society. The story fuels readers' questions about where they stand on the nonviolence issue and how their own nation /culture might have double standards. Each character in Climbing the Stairs was vividly written, well developed and placed in believable situations with realistic actions. Every character struggles with violence either overt or what Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. calls “spiritual violence” which is sometimes within them.

The first part of the book reveals Vidya's life in Bombay with her parents, her brother Kitta, her dog, Raja and her best friend Rifka. She leads a typical teenager's life, although she occasionally worries about World War II and the protests within her own country. Vidya is approaching a marriageable age, but she is not ready for it and desires to go to college instead. Vidya is headstrong and opinionated. The story is told from her perspective as she struggles against the traditions and expectations that keep women subservient to men. The general history of India and their treatment by the British is also woven into the story, along with the normal World War ll concerns about Germany and Japan. It provides an interesting comparison--the Indians nonviolent fight against British occupation, Britain's fight against German and Japanese domination, and Vidya's fight against society's expected male domination.

I thought it very ironic, given the setting and how much she wanted to break away from male authority that the treatment Vidya receives from most of the men in her life is encouraging and helpful, while many women around her are determined to see her miserable. One can't help but admire the courage Viyda displays as she fights for her own freedom and gender equality. The author uses her own personal experiences growing up in India, family customs and knowledge of the land to write a very convincing story set in the backdrop of a conservative Brahmin house during a time of change. I found it very interesting to read about a completely new point of view during such a troubling time in the world's history.

The title Climbing the Stairs is both literal and metaphoric. The story gives the reader a poignant description of typical Indian household life. The women folk sleep downstairs while the men folk sleep upstairs. They usually get to meet only during mealtimes. There is only one other bedroom in the house, which the couples take turns to use. When food is served, the men have their fill first. The women eat second. When Vidya realizes that she has no avenue for learning in the house, because of the tons of chores that are cast her way and gender expectations, she asks her grandfather for permission to use the upstairs library, where no woman has set foot before. She wants to very literally risk climbing the stairs in the oppressive home and break an unwritten rule in the process but she gets what she asks for. The simple journey to the library, reached by "climbing the stairs", sets in motion an incredible saga that transforms Vidya in so many ways. Books by Western authors and books native to her country open up a whole new world. An unexpected friendship with Raman. a distant cousin who also shares her love of books brings on new uncertainties and love as they develop a close bond. There is also the metaphoric resonance on so many levels: India climbing out of colonial suppression toward independence, gender and socioeconomic struggles within Indian society.

Climbing the Stairs is set in India in the early 1940s which was a time of important cultural and political change. However it also focuses a great deal on how World War II affected India and its citizens. I found this background information an eye opener. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in culturally diverse texts and historical fiction novels. It was quite thought provoking. Age need not define the reader.

The author does an outstanding job throughout the story showing no matter what our culture is we all share common experiences within our family and relationships ebb and flow and change. Political struggles will always remain constant no matter what country we live in. But our quest for freedom and equality never go out of style and need to be championed by all. Climbing the Stairs is about a young woman who defies odds to cross all barriers. Vidya's peaceful struggle for her freedom in a society that expects women to only marry, is nicely paralleled with the people of India's non-violent resistance against the British occupation that subjects the people of India. She is to young women what Gandhi was for India, courage and hope.

Thanks to the author for her input for this review. To learn more about Padma Venkatraman listen to interviews, browse listing of other books written checkout her website
Be sure to click on resources at the top of the website as there are a variety of activities developed for classroom use for Climbing the Stairs and her other books. She is an author sponsor for MCBD event.

MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board!
Medallion Level Sponsors
Honorary: Children’s Book Council, The Junior Library Guild,
Super Platinum: Make A Way Media
GOLD: Bharat Babies, Candlewick Press, Chickasaw Press, Juan Guerra and The Little Doctor / El doctorcito, KidLitTV, Lerner Publishing Group, Plum Street Press,
SILVER: Capstone Publishing, Carole P. Roman, Author Charlotte Riggle, Huda Essa, The Pack-n-Go Girls,
BRONZE: Charlesbridge Publishing, Judy Dodge Cummings, Author Gwen Jackson, Kitaab World,Language Lizard – Bilingual & Multicultural Resources in 50+ Languages, Lee & Low Books, Miranda Pauland Baptiste Paul, Redfin, Author Gayle H. Swift, T.A. Debonis-Monkey King’s Daughter, TimTimTom Books, Lin Thomas, Sleeping Bear Press/Dow Phumiruk, Vivian Kirkfield,

MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Author Sponsors on board
Honorary: Julie Flett, Mehrdokht Amini,
Author Janet Balletta, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Josh Funk, Chitra Soundar, One Globe Kids – Friendship Stories, Sociosights Press and Almost a Minyan, Karen Leggett, Author Eugenia Chu,CultureGroove Books, Phelicia Lang and Me On The Page, L.L. Walters, Author Sarah Stevenson, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Hayley Barrett, Sonia Panigrah, Author Carolyn Wilhelm, Alva Sachs and Dancing Dreidels, Author Susan Bernardo, Milind Makwana and A Day in the Life of a Hindu Kid, Tara Williams, Veronica Appleton, Author Crystal Bowe, Dr. Claudia May, Author/Illustrator Aram Kim, Author Sandra L. Richards, Erin Dealey, Author Sanya Whittaker Gragg, Author Elsa Takaoka, Evelyn Sanchez-Toledo, Anita Badhwar, Author Sylvia Liu, Feyi Fay Adventures, Author Ann Morris, Author Jacqueline Jules, CeCe & Roxy Books, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, LEUYEN PHAM, Padma Venkatraman,Patricia Newman and Lightswitch Learning, Shoumi Sen, Valerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena Publishing, Traci Sorell, Shereen Rahming, Blythe Stanfel, Christina Matula, Julie Rubini, Paula Chase,Erin Twamley, Afsaneh Moradian, Lori DeMonia, Claudia Schwam, Terri Birnbaum/ RealGirls Revolution,Soulful Sydney, Queen Girls Publications, LLC

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive Co-Host Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our Co-Hosts HERE.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts
A Crafty Arab, Agatha Rodi Books, All Done Monkey, Barefoot Mommy, Biracial Bookworms, Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of Us, Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes, Descendant of Poseidon Reads, Educators Spin on it, Growing Book by Book, Here Wee Read, Joy Sun Bear/ Shearin Lee, Jump Into a Book, Imagination Soup,Jenny Ward’s Class, Kid World Citizen, Kristi’s Book Nook, The Logonauts, Mama Smiles, Miss Panda Chinese, Multicultural Kid Blogs, Raising Race Conscious Children,Shoumi Sen, Spanish Playground

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Make A Way Media: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/25/19 at 9:00pm.E.S.T. TONS of prizes and book bundles will be given away during the party. GO HERE for more details.

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