Rating: 5 stars
“In Andal’s House” by Gloria Whelan is a book that can be read with two different outcomes. It’s a story about class, or caste, as it’s called in India. Although it’s a picture book, using this book with 5th grade students to illustrate how discrimination is still prevalent in many places was very valuable.
The tale begins in Kumar’s house where his family is eating dinner. If the difference in clothing that is vibrantly illustrated on the page doesn’t give away that this takes place in a different culture, the dinner consisting of dal and mango pickles will. The holiday Diwali means that there will be fireworks later, and Kumar has been invited to see the fireworks at a fellow student’s house.
Kumar’s mother asks him if he is sure he was invited to the house of his friend, Andal. Kumar assures her that although the family is high-caste Brahmin, Andal is not stuck-up. He is friends with many other students. Kumar is happy that he was one of the students invited even though his family doesn’t have much money.
Throughout the story, there are many clues about how life in India is different from life here in the United States. Kumar lights oil in clay pots along the path to their house. He feels guilty because his sister, a talented artist, is working to make money so Kumar can go to school instead of studying art the way she would like.
Kumar knows three languages (most of us know at most two). He hopes to get a scholarship so that Anika can go to school or save the money for a dowry. On the walk to his friend’s house, readers learn that the monsoon rains are gone (it’s November). The bright colorful illustrations by Amanda Hall show a town illuminated by fireworks and lamps with people out and about in bright clothing.
Standing outside Andal’s huge house, Kumar realizes that he’s never been in a high-caste Brahmin’s home. His family have no caste and were once called “Untouchables.” When he enters the house, Kumar painfully learns that caste still matters when Andal’s grandmother refuses to allow him to see his friends, telling him that they “cannot have a boy of no caste” in their home.
The holiday is ruined for Kumar. At home, his family is out watching the fireworks, and only his grandfather is still there. When Kumal tells him bitterly that nothing has changed, his grandfather disagrees. He tells Kumar about growing up and how horribly he was treated.
The only job he could get was street sweeper. He had to shout so that people had time to get out of his way; even his shadow was considered unclean. They called him “dirty dog,” and if his shadow fell on someone that person had to take a bath. He was not allowed to get water from the well but had to beg water from others. They would only give him water from a clay cup which was then broken. He couldn’t go into stores or go to school.
Now, his grandfather explains, things are different. In Andal’s house there is the old, the grandmother, who will always consider Kumar’s family untouchable, but there is also the new, Andal, who wants to include others regardless of caste. And Andal is the future, which is also Kumar’s future.
Teachers from second grade through fourth can use this book to teach students how to find clues in text. Common Core Standards require deeper and closer analysis of text, and this story provides lots of material for thought and for analysis. Although this is fiction, there is a plethora of information about India and its customs, food, dress and holidays.
Students studying other countries could compare and contrast the culture described in this book with others. This is a text which can be read and re-read by students seeking more and more information from the story about the Indian culture.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, for review purposes.