Middle Grade Books Spotlight the Partition of India

Despite the importance and impact of the 1947 Partition of India, there is little taught about the event or written about it in children's literature. Authors Saadia Faruqi, Ritu Hemnani, and Veera Hiranandani are filling that gap with new titles.

The 1947 Partition of India led to one of the largest migrations in human history, radically changing Southeast Asia’s landscape. The area that was India under nearly 90 years of British rule was divided into two. The division that came with independence from Britain created a new Muslim-majority state of Pakistan and a Hindu-majority state in India. Muslims in India were forced to leave their homes for Pakistan (which was later divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh), while Hindus in Pakistan had to leave their homes for India. Approximately 15 million people were displaced, and an estimated one million died from violence or disease.

Despite the event’s trauma and impact across generations, relatively few children’s books describe the history of the Partition, and school history classes in the United States rarely, if ever, discuss it.

Three authors help fill that gap in new middle grade novels. Saadia Faruqi, Ritu Hemnani, and Veera Hiranandani place their stories during and immediately after the Partition, as well as in the present day.

In Lion of the Sky, Hemnani puts a 12-year-old Hindu boy’s story at the center of the political event.

“I believe that we must learn from the lessons of the past to shape a better future,” says Hemnani. “I hope that readers, especially middle grade readers who are at an age of self-discovery, can find inspiration in these stories and be empowered to choose love, understanding, and compassion in their own lives, embrace their unique identities, and find the strength to overcome obstacles.”

Hiranandani originally wrote about the Partition in The Night Diary. In that novel, 12-year-old Nisha receives a diary for her birthday and documents the family’s confusing and difficult exodus.

“I hadn’t planned on writing a companion to The Night Diary,” she says. “But about a year after it was published, I started missing the characters. I wanted to go back to [that] world but also do something different with the story.”

The result is Amil and the After, set in the immediate aftermath of the Partition. “Books about a traumatic experience, like the Partition of India, often follow the characters through the immediate crisis, yet end when the characters are out of immediate danger,” says Hiranandani. “But what happens to them after that? How do they rebuild their lives, heal, and find joy again?”

Faruqi’s inspiration for The Partition Project, set in the present day, came from her experience as a parent.

“I grew up hearing the stories of the Partition from my grandparents and other elderly relatives,” says Faruqi. “It was part of my history and background in Pakistan, not just personally, but collectively as a nation.…But when I immigrated to the U.S. and began to raise first-generation American kids, I realized that they’d never have that connection to a very important piece of their heritage.”

All three novels provide a humanizing glimpse into this important event.

Lion of the Sky by Ritu Hemnani. Balzer + Bray. May 2024.
This moving novel in verse takes place during the Partition. Twelve-year-old Raj, who is Hindu, loves flying kites with his best friend, Iqbal, who is Muslim. Raj and his family are initially excited about India’s independence. They believe neighbors will still be friendly with one another after the Partition, regardless of religious beliefs. When religious violence breaks out in their town, Raj’s family is devastated. They will be forced to move into what is now India, leaving their home and friends behind. The family experiences numerous traumas and difficulties. Being torn away from his best friend and home devastates Raj. When his sister is lost on the train, their father blames him. However, once in India, Raj’s perceived weaknesses—in cooking and shying away from violence—lead to the family’s success.

Despite the bleakness of these events, Raj retains hope and finds his bravery. Lion of the Sky’s lyrical verse is both striking and accessible as readers follow Raj’s emotional journey.

Amil and the After by Veera Hiranandani. Kokila. Jan. 2024.
Amil and the After is set immediately after the Partition. While Nisha was the narrator of The Night Diary, Amil and the After is told from the perspective of Nisha’s twin, Amil. The twins are half Muslim and half Hindu. Their Muslim mother has died, so they moved to Hindu India, where their father has relatives. Amil loves to draw but has difficulties in school. He is still reeling from the traumas the family experienced and sometimes finds himself stuck in those moments, feeling unable to breathe. One source of comfort is a friend Amil makes at school. The friend’s tenuous post-Partition circumstances help Amil see how lucky he and his family have been.

Amil and the Afteris a compassionate exploration of PTSD and the aftermath of living through traumatic events.

The Partition Project by Saadia Faruqi. Quill Tree. Feb. 2024.
Faruqi explores how the Partition continues to affect people today. Twelve-year-old Mahnoor, who is Pakistani American, dreams of becoming a journalist. She mistakenly believes journalists don’t deal with history and focus only on current events. When her grandmother, Dadi, comes to live with Mahnoor’s family and tells Mahnoor of her experiences during the Partition, Mahnoor begins to realize that history is very relevant to the present. Talking to Dadi makes Mahnoor more interested in her Muslim heritage, and for the first time, she fasts during Ramadan.

When Mahnoor’s media studies teacher assigns the class a documentary, Mahnoor decides hers will be about the Partition. This cleverly written, voice-driven novel delves into a journalist’s impact in preserving stories and histories and how history can directly relate to current events. 

Margaret Kingsbury is a writer, editor, and teacher.

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