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best childrens books about india

Best Children’s Books About India

Transport your primary school classroom to India with this curated selection of children’s books. Packed with colourful picture books, engaging chapter adventures, diverse short stories, and informative non-fiction, this list offers a hand-picked selection of children’s books to explore Indian culture, history, wildlife and landscapes.

This list of recommended children’s books about India invites primary readers to explore the vibrant culture, history, and traditions of this fascinating country. From traditional tales like Under the Great Plum Tree to historical chapter book fiction like Torn Apart, this booklist is here to help children find out more about the history and geography of India.

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Picturebooks set in India

Lakshmi Thamizhmani
 & Debasmita Dasgupta

If you are learning about the Hindu festival of Ganesha Chaturthi or thinking about environmental issues, this book is an ideal read or read aloud, for children in upper KS1 or lower KS2. The illustrations and storyline effectively communicate the community of the main character, avoiding the potential for stereotypes and caricatures when stories are set in countries other than those in the UK.

The story raises the issue of the unintended consequences of traditional practices and celebratory customs. In this story, it is the purchasing of plaster figures of Ganesha to place in the river, which is the focus. This results in the pollution of the river as the colourful dyes and chemicals in the plaster, disperse into the water. The main character, Prema shows the reader how even small, creative and thoughtful acts can make a difference. Prema finds that using the clay from the riverbed is a much more sustainable and environmentally aware approach to the making of Ganesha statues. The story also demonstrates the power of friendship and community, where working together can have a greater impact on the issues that matter, than trying to solve issues on your own.

The book is beautifully illustrated and provides an opportunity to look at the details. The illustrations can be used to prompt discussion and to map what is known and what we might want to find out about temples, rivers used in religious festivals, Ganesha, the variety of clothing worn, religious symbols and festivals.

This is a hopeful story and one worth sharing for the many curricular avenues that could be explored as well as a good read-aloud story for enjoyment.

Chitra Soundar
 & Frane Lessac
Pattan has an amazing pumpkin... it grows BIGGER than the goats, BIGGER than the elephants, until it is as TALL as the mountains. But can Pattan's pumpkin save his family and all the animals when the storm-clouds burst and the waters rise ?
Sufiya Ahmed
 & Reza Dalvand

Tiny Owl’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ range celebrates a rich global heritage of story-telling. It explores how many stories from around the world have their own flavour but also striking similarities. Sufiya Ahmed’s recent addition to the series, Under The Great Plum Tree, is based upon the stories of the Panchatantra, a collection of ancient Indian animal fables.

Miss Bandari, the kind-hearted monkey, and Mr Magarmach, an old crocodile who likes to tell stories of his youth, have become unlikely friends. Each day they meet under a plum tree to share fruit and tales. Until the day when Mr Magarmach decides to take Miss Bandari for lunch at King Crocodile’s swamp. Will they just enjoy a nice meal together or is King Crocodile trying to manipulate their friendship to get his own tasty lunch?

This is a beautifully written picture book about the nature of friendship and forgiveness. It would be a wonderful text for exploration and discussion relating to work in PHSE or Philosophy for Children. It could form the basis of a debate on the importance of forgiveness in friendships and family relationships. Due to the underlying message of Under The Great Plum Tree, it also could be used for comparing/contrasting with fables from other traditions.

Reza Dalvand’s strikingly vibrant illustrations are inspired by Indo-Persian tradition. The depiction of the lush foliage in the jungle lends itself well to the study of shapes found in nature. The use of pattern and marking would make a great stimulus for exploration in sketchbooks.

I absolutely loved Under The Great Plum Tree and think it’s a must for traditional tale collections!

Rashmi Sirdeshpande
 & Ruchi Mhasane

Dadaji’s Paintbrush is a sumptuous story of a young boy’s special relationship with his grandfather, set in a small village in India.

This is a beautiful story that deals with the difficult subject of the loss of a grandparent in a gentle and understanding way.  The beautiful Indian setting that will be unfamiliar to many readers highlights the universal experiences of love and loss, showing that no matter where you are, some human experiences unite us all.

The illustrations are simple and beautiful and we particularly liked how the colours linked with the main character’s emotions. We also loved the evocative and sensory setting descriptions in the story – we could almost taste the mangoes!

As well as gently exploring the topic of grief, the story is ultimately filled with hope and draws out the values of art, community and legacy. There’s so much to unpack in this stunning story.

Sally Pomme Clayton
 & Rhiannon Sanderson

The King with Dirty Feet is inspired by an Indian and Bangladeshi folktale called The King and the Cobbler. It is a story of the invention of shoes, designed for an Indian king who has a problem keeping his feet clean. It is a retelling; perfect to read aloud to young children and is accompanied by vibrant illustrations full of traditional colour and detail which transport us to another culture and the explanation of how the first shoes came to be.

The King has a problem – he smells! He hasn’t had a bath in a whole year and when the smell becomes too much for even himself, he decides to have a bath! But unfortunately, no matter how clean the rest of him is, his feet remain dirty. The King sets his servant Gabu the task of ridding the land of dirt and dust in three days. So Gabu begins to clean up the kingdom but that in itself causes problems. Firstly, the people sweep away all the dirt, but the air becomes filled with dust. Secondly, the dust gets washed away but the land is flooded with water. Finally, everyone works together to produce an enormous tapestry to cover the whole kingdom. However, one little old man points out, “There will be no grass or flowers. The animals will be hungry. There will be no fruit or vegetables to eat.” Thankfully, he has an answer. He takes a pair of scissors from his pocket and proceeds to make the first ever pair of shoes. The King can now walk anywhere and the grass will continue to grow.

The story is written with repetition and uses onomatopoeic words such as ‘Zut’ together with action verbs, bold font and capitalisation. These devices make this retelling a great book for oral story telling. It deserves to be read aloud! Children will love to follow the monkey character who appears throughout the book, helping Gabu with his tasks.

This book would be an excellent introduction to traditional tales in Key Stage 1.

Malachy Doyle
 & Christopher Corr
The perfect picture book to introduce children aged 6+ to Rama and Sita and the story of Diwali, with text by award-winning author Malachy Doyle and stunning, colourful illustrations from Christopher Corr.Rama and Sita live happily in the forest – until Sita is kidnapped by the demon king, Ravana. Can Rama and the monkey king Hanuman follow the trail she has laid for them and save Sita, or will she be lost forever? Whether you're looking for a Diwali gift or a simple introduction to the Diwali story to share with your children, this beautiful book, now reissued in a larger picture book format, is ideal.
Chitra Soundar
 & Poonam Mistry

A captivating picture book that marries a lyrical and rhythmic story about bedtime fears with striking artwork inspired by Indian folklore.

It is bedtime for the baby animals; the dark blanket sky is filled with an enormous moon and twinkling stars. But the comforting allure of night time soon gives way to fears when the winds rise and a thunder storm begins to set in. “You’re Safe With Me,” reassures Mama Elephant, as she explains the natural processes behind each stage of the storm, from the water raining down on the plants to make them grow to the clouds colliding to create crackling thunder. Through Mama Elephant’s storytelling and simple explanations, the animals are reassured in the knowledge that the noises and movements of the storm are natural processes and eventually feel safe to sleep soundly again.

The lyrical narrative has a lullaby feel with its onomatopoeia and lilting rhythm, evoking the connection between the environment’s natural processes and the baby animals’ instinctive sleep cycle. The text weaves its way beautifully through the distinctive artwork that embodies the sensuous and exotic jungle through a filter of earthy tones and an intricate pattern design inspired by traditional Indian prints.

This is a beautiful story about feeling safe and about how gaining an understanding of the natural world can help to overcome fears, and it would make a lovely classroom library addition for EYFS and KS1.

Joanna Troughton
This lively folk tale from Orissa, India, explains why tigers eat their food uncooked and why cats live with people.The tiger child is sent to fetch some more fire from the village, but on the way he gets distracted by his friends. By the time he gets to the village, he has forgotten what he has been sent to fetch.

Recommended chapter books set in India

Jasbinder Bilan
Chapter book

Jasbinder Bilan’s debut novel has the perfect cover – her writing is as rich and bright as the wonderful illustration. Asha’s story braids courage, friendship and the power of family beliefs together into a great adventure across India.

When money from Asha’s father, working in the city, suddenly stops without word and their farm comes under threat from moneylenders, Asha and best friend Jeevan set off to find out what has happened. Accompanied by what Asha believes is the spirit of her grandmother in the form of a lamagaia bird, they travel far into the mountains and beyond, facing all kinds of danger from both animals and humans.  

Asha carries enormous faith and hope with her, making this a positive, uplifting read despite the fact that Bilan is not afraid to show some of the poverty and human cruelty that exists side by side with the soaring beauty of India and the kindness of the people Asha and Jeevan meet along the way.

The text is peppered with Hindi words and phrases, with a glossary at the beginning to aid the reader, and the balance is just right – there is enough new vocabulary to intrigue an enthusiastic reader, but not so much as to put anyone off. The book would sit well as a class read alongside an RE topic of Hinduism, delving into the stories and beliefs of the faith; or a geography topic covering India. 

Jasbinder Bilan
Chapter book

This story is full of intrigue and family secrets. Tamarind travels from England to India to stay with relatives while her father and his new wife jaunt off on their honeymoon. Tamarind’s impressions of India, as a newcomer, are fresh and detailed. At its heart, this upper middle-grade story is one about grief, but it’s also about familiarity; Bilan explores this beautifully through place in the atmospheric house and spirited forest.

Jess Butterworth
Chapter book

When the Mountains Roared is the much-enjoyed second novel from Jess Butterworth, and one that has gone down a storm in Key Stage 2 classrooms. The physical book itself is actually really beautiful both inside and out, with its stunning cover by Rob Biddulph and the leopard-print design of its pages.

The story follows Ruby, a twelve-year-old girl who is grieving the recent death of her mother and has become filled with fear since her mother’s car accident. Ruby is an animal lover and she enjoys photographing wildlife. At the beginning of the story, Ruby faces the devastating news that her Dad is planning to uproot them from their Australian home and relocate to a remote mountain village in India to run a hotel.

Unimpressed when she arrives in her new home, Ruby does manage to find some things to like about the foreign setting. Jess Butterworth’s descriptions of the mountain landscape are beautiful and evocative as nature-lover Ruby takes in the new smells, colours and wildlife of the Himalayan habitat. Although the hotel is quite isolated, Ruby quickly befriends a local shepherd boy called Praveen, who shares Ruby’s admiration of the natural world.

Together, Ruby and Praveen set about to protect the few remaining leopards from the threat of poachers. The story is full of danger and adventure as Ruby undertakes a perilous trek through the mountains and comes face to face with some very hostile poachers, putting aside her own fears in order to save the leopards.

This is an atmospheric and enticing animal rescue story that explores an important theme about preservation and it will appeal to readers in Years 4-6

Joan Haig
Chapter book

A unique and atmospheric middle-grade fantasy adventure exploring themes of family and what it means to find a home. Tiger Skin Rug is a page-turning adventure set between Scotland and India, with a sprinkle of magic based around an old tiger skin rug that transforms into a magic carpet.

Lal Patel and his family have just moved to Scotland from their Indian home. Within three days, despite trawling around three Scottish castles (seen one – seen them all), Lal is not sure that he will ever acclimatize to the culture here, especially with the endless drizzle. Worse still, their new home, Graystanes, is a world away from the slick city apartments Lal was expecting, offering instead a bungalow with dusty furnishings passed on from its previous elderly resident. Real home, thinks Lal, was back in India – lush and green with its modern housing compound, his familiar mango tree, beloved cricket fields and his best friend Ajay. Graystanes, on the other hand, is creepy, dim, lifeless and ‘wrong, wrong, wrong.’

There’s nothing that sharpens someone’s perspective on life like a good and proper adventure, and that’s exactly what’s in store for Lal (along with his brother Dilip and new friend Jenny), as the old tiger skin rug from the house unexpectedly leaps to life with its own tale to tell. The tiger has a promise to fulfil and offers to take Lal and his friends home in return for their help. A thrilling, child-led adventure across continents follows, leading Lal to reconsider what it really means to be home.

There’s something timelessly appealing about magic carpet adventures. This one is a quick read – less than 200 pages in total – with a measure of Indian cultural heritage that gives depth and added interest. With themes of hope, displacement, forgiveness and justice being explored through Lal’s story, this is likely to be a hit with children in modern KS2 classrooms.

Dev Kothari
Chapter book

Winner of the Commonword Diversity YA novel in 2018, Dev Kothari brings us her much anticipated, debut novel bringing to life her experience of growing up in a small village outside of Mumbai.

Aimed at the middle-grade market but equally compelling for older years too, Kothari has artfully created a gripping mystery story interwoven with a narrative that leaves you simultaneously fearing for and cheering on the main characters.

Lena has grown up in the shadow of her older brother, Kay-Kay, always feeling second-best at school and at home but, when KayKay goes missing, Lena realises just how much her brother has always been there for her and vows to help find him.

Bringing back Kay-Kay is a story of love – for India, for family and sometimes even for those who seem least deserving. Touching on the true-life, shocking statistics of missing children in India, as well as some quite difficult issues, such as depression, poverty and runaways, this story is most suitable for UKS2 and beyond. Suitable as a class read or as a good quality library addition.

Varsha Shah
 & Sonia Albert
Chapter book
A high-stakes adventure story full of heart from debut author Varsha Shah, featuring charming illustrations from Sònia Albert and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2023.Abandoned on the Mumbai railways, Ajay has grown up with nothing but a burning wish to be a journalist.Finding an abandoned printing press, he and his friends Saif, Vinod, Yasmin and Jai create their own newspaper: The Mumbai Sun.As they hunt down stories for their paper, the children uncover corruption, fight for justice and battle to save their slum from bulldozers.But against some of the most powerful forces in the city, can Ajay and his friends really succeed in bringing the truth to light? Not to mention win the most important cricket match ever...A high-stakes adventure story full of heart, written against the backdrop of modern India: Emil and the Detectives meets Slumdog Millionaire.Winner of the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2020.Wonderfully illustrated by Sònia Albert and starring a lovable ensemble cast of characters.Tackles tough topics such as social justice and truth in journalism with a lightness of touch.
Tania Unsworth
Chapter book

Eleven year old Elsie leads an unremarkable life; overshadowed by everyone and everything around her. In her daydreams and the stories which she writes though, she is Kelsie Corvette- a brilliant adventurer who can turn her hand to anything and who dazzles anyone she meets. During the summer holidays, Elsie finds herself being sent to stay with her ancient Great Uncle for what she anticipates will be an extraordinarily boring week. Then, she meets the tiger in his spare room.

It’s a tiger skin to be exact and Elsie’s great uncle explains his great regret at shooting it whilst living in colonial India as a boy. His love of India is shown by the greenhouse in which he grows many exotic plants from his childhood home. Elsie is captivated by an empty pot, which soon transports her to India in I946. Upon meeting the child version of her great uncle, Elsie realises that her mission is to stop him from shooting the tiger- the act which has brought him so much sadness. So Elsie introduces herself as Kelsie and seizes the chance to live the life of her alter ego. In her adventure with John, she faces great danger and adversity through the challenges of the Indian jungle and the encounter of a particularly deadly hunter named Sowerby. 

The Time Traveller and The Tiger provides an excellent adventure story and also opportunities to discuss themes including endangered animals, hunting, the treatment of the natives of the British Colonies and attitudes towards women in the 1940s.

Read our guest blog post from the author to find out more about the background of the story.

Swapna Haddow
Chapter book

It is October 1947 and the British Raj have just left India as an independent country: the country is splitting into two states; Pakistan and India. This split is not only geographical but the start of a divide of religions and therefore the country’s people – the start of the Partition of India.

This story follows two young boys, Ibrahim (a wealthy Muslim) and Amar (a Hindu street child). Ibrahim is split from his family after they are violently attacked as they try and flee Delhi to the safety of Pakistan. Delhi is no longer the safe place he grew up: he soon begs for the help of Amar to help him to the Pakistan border with the promise of money – something Amar has never had. They start their journey and learn more about each other and soon their new friendship is tested to the highest level and they must trust each other if they want to survive.

The Partition of India is something that I did not know a lot about and after reading this story I feel that I know so much more. The story, although fictional, utilises factual information and is set around real places and events. The use of the two boys gives the reader an opportunity to hear the events told from both sides, using the voices of children at the heart of Partition. Some of the scenes are reflective of the violent nature of the real-life events, making the book most suitable for readers in Year 6 and beyond.

The book also contains an Author’s note with a short summary of the history of this time which ends the story allowing the reader to reflect upon what they have read. There is also a timeline outlining the history which could be used as a helpful teaching aid. The story uses Urdu and Hindi language and there is a page at the front to explain these terms.

Children's short story collections about India

Nikita Gill
 & Chaaya Prabhat

‘Stories are ‘like a river flowing backward in time,’ writes Nikita Gill as she explains that the tales in this collection were originally told to her by her grandmother, who got them from her mother, who got them from her grandmother – and so on back through thousands of years of Sanskrit tradition. Each one, she says, is ‘as precious as the moon itself’ and she retells them all with an infectious love for stories.

I was quickly drawn in and soon entranced by the stories of Fierce Yowl and Clever Snout the jackals; of nomadic geese and a talkative tortoise; of an entitled lion and a resourceful bear cub. Each story begins conversationally as the author introduces the characters, and then ends in the same tone as, with the lightest of touches, she points out the moral. The reader can almost hear the voice of the older generations passing on the tales.

In between, the stories themselves are told with vividness and pace – a balance of description and narrative with direct speech at the key moments. Luscious illustrations by Chaaya Prabhat and high-quality production make it not only a wonderful gift book but a gem for any primary school too. The stories will provide wonderful read-alouds, each about the right length for a satisfying end-of-the-day storytime.

There is an opportunity for interesting book talk, comparing the stories with traditional tales from other parts of the world – Brer Rabbit, Aesop, Anansi – and a lot of scope for initiating PSHE discussions – about friendship, loyalty or honesty, say. Should your class be writing traditional tales, here are some richly written models to help inspire young writers. If your class is studying India, what happier way to illustrate the rich culture of the subcontinent?

Versatile and beautiful – I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Bali Rai
Short story collection
Folklore and short stories are a brilliant way to introduce children to cultures different from their own. These retellings, which maintain a traditional feel, hint at the diversity within 'Indian culture'. Educators can pick and choose from twenty lively stories to share with young people learning about India (and there's a glossary and extra activities included!).
Madhur Jaffrey,Michael Foreman
Chapter book
India is particularly rich in colourful folkore. These stories, told by parents to their children for many generations, make a rich and dazzling collection of mythological tales drawn from a great heritage of Hindu epics - from the life of the great god Krishna to how the monkey god Hanuman helped defeat the Demon King Ravan and a host of other magical and spectacular creatures. The stories are arranged according to the sequence of the Hindu year and each is prefaced with a short personal anecdote from the author's childhood. Beautifully illustrated throughout in black line and tone by Michael Foreman.
Chitra Soundar
 & Uma Krishnaswamy
Short story collection
Here is a bunch of dung-dropping, sweet-stealing, luck-jinxing villains!Four stories about young Prince Veera, who, along with his friend Suku, helps his father, the king, solve some of the problems he is having with his subjects. Trickster tales with lots of humour and colour, based on traditional Indian folktales.

Short chapter books about India

Chitra Soundar
 & Soofiya
Chapter book

This is a great first chapter book for readers aged 6 or 7, plus an engaging way of learning about India and Indian culture.

Nikhil and Jay got to India with their family over the Christmas and New Year period. They are sad to leave their cat but very excited to visit their relatives in India. The story tells you about Christmas in India and the New Year celebrations held as well. Traditions, stories, culture and food are also explored in the story so it brings alive the feeling that the family are away from home experiencing new things.

At the end of the book, there are activities, a glossary and some facts about elements referred to in the story. This is a really good way for younger children to learn about a different country and culture, or to explore their heritage.

Chitra Soundhar
 & Jen Khatun
Chapter book
Sona Sharma lives in India with her busy family, where she learns about the ups and downs of family, friendship and life.Sona and her friends are excited to learn their beloved teacher, Miss Rao, is getting married – but then they panic that she might leave their school for ever after her wedding! They try all kinds of tactics, like wishing on a peacock feather and even starting a petition to keep Miss Rao. But Miss Rao's beautiful Indian wedding has a surprise in store for the girls.

Children's non-fiction books about India

Jasbinder Bilan
 & Nina Chakrabarti

India, Incredible India written by Jasbinder and brought to life by artist Nina Chakrabarti is a joyful celebration of India. For years the BooksForTopics inbox has received requests for recommendations of good books to support curriculum learning about India – and for the first time we really do have a book that hits the spot. Layered between the information is a story of the bond between Nanijee (Grandmother) and Thara (her granddaughter). Each night when Thara sleeps over, Nanijee lets her choose an object from her beautiful carved trunk. Each of the objects has been lovingly collected over many years and when it is taken out, Nanijee tells a story of the object and where it is from over a series of beautiful and informative double-page spreads.

Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara,Albert Arrayas
In this book from the critically acclaimed, multimillion-copy bestselling Little People, BIG DREAMS series, discover the life of Mohandas Gandhi, the father of India.As a young teenager in India, Gandhi led a rebellious life and went against his parents' values. But as a young man, he started to form beliefs of his own that harked back to the Hindu principles of his childhood. Gandhi began to dream of unity for all peoples and religions. Inspired by this idea, he led peaceful protests to free India from British rule and unite the country – ending violence and unfair treatment. His bravery and free-thinking made him one of the most iconic people of peace in the world, known as Mahatma, meaning 'great soul'. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the activist's life.Little People, BIG DREAMS is a bestselling biography series for kids that explores the lives of outstanding people, from designers and artists to scientists and activists. All of them achieved incredible things, yet each began life as a child with a dream.This empowering series of books offers inspiring messages to children of all ages, in a range of formats. The board books are told in simple sentences, perfect for reading aloud to babies and toddlers. The hardback and paperback versions present expanded stories for beginning readers. With rewritten text for older children, the treasuries each bring together a multitude of dreamers in a single volume. You can also collect a selection of the books by theme in boxed gift sets. Activity books and a journal provide even more ways to make the lives of these role models accessible to children.Inspire the next generation of outstanding people who will change the world with Little People, BIG DREAMS!
Donna & Vikesh Amey Bhatt
 & Salini Perera
Publishing for the 75th anniversary of the Partition of India in August 2022, this book is a unique exploration of the rich and complicated history of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Britain.There are many ways of telling the same story, and how you tell it depends on your point of view. Some stories are so complicated, or difficult to explain, that they're not often told at all. Like the story of how a company ended up running a country, or how one man drawing a line on a map could change the lives of millions of people forever.This book aims to piece together the interesting, surprising, and sometimes very sad story of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Britain, and how these countries have shaped one another over the centuries. From exploring the vast empires and amazing inventions of ancient India, to revealing the challenges faced by South Asian migrants to Britain - or celebrating the amazing culture, innovations, inventions, and achievements of British people of South Asian heritage today - this book shows how the past, present and future of these four countries will always be intertwined.Written by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhatt who were inspired to write this book for their two young sons, with consultancy by Rajbir Hazelwood, historian of South Asia and Modern Britain, Lands of Belonging includes an exploration of the impact of British rule over India (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were all one country at the time), from the foundation of the East India Company to India's involvement in supporting Britain during both World Wars, to India's fight for independence and the British government's decision to Partition the country, resulting in the largest migration of people in history.

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