Book Review : National Geographic Series - Holidays Around the World: Celebrating Diwali and Ramadan

February 14, 2007

Author Deborah Heiligman has embarked on an ambitious "Holidays Around the World Series" with National Geographic

Aimed at 6-9 year old children the series is rich in photographs from around the world and lower on textual explanations, letting the pictures speak for themselves.

Celebrate Ramadan & Eid Al-Fitr with Praying, Fasting and Charity and Celebrate Diwali with Sweets, Lights, and Fireworks are the first 2 titles in the series.

Deborah has collaborated with a Consultant for each book who personally celebrates the festival being discussed.

I'm not sure what the scope of these consultants was though, because I spied a couple of technical errors in the book on Diwali. For example the Taj Mahal is called a mosque, Lord Ganesh is said to symbolise prosperity, the meanings of deepa and vali have been interchanged. The Consultants could have been limited to just writing the afterword instead of proofing the text of the whole book.

I'm not too sure about the exact technicalities in the book on Ramadan because whatever I have viewed has been as an outsider looking in. Although, I have been able to observe it in greater detail here in Cairo, where the sahour's and iftars are celebrated even in 5 star hotels. The entire city fasts, the timings turn topsy turvy. Offices close earlier. Unlike India where most praying and fasting happens inside closed doors of houses and mosques, in Cairo the sheer numbers forces them onto the street even during the regular Friday noon prayers.

The pictures are amazing and well laid out. For someone who celebrates either of these festivals, the pictures will seem incomplete because Diwali there are so many more aspects than can be represented in a 32 page book. But for someone who has no idea about Diwali, Ramadan, Islam and Hinduism, this is a very good introduction. I would have loved to compare these 2 books with the books on Hannukah or the Passover which I do not know about as well as these 2.

I especially loved the satellite pictures of India on Diwali and 6 days later showing the difference in intensity of light between these days. The pictures in both books represent an excellent geographic spread.

There is a recipe in each book that a 6-9 year old can easily help an adult assemble. Children who see these books will be instantly attracted and it could be a great way to initiate dialogues into cultural differences.

The books are an excellent buy for someone who is trying to introduce children to an alternative culture and festival. Priced at $15.95 per hard cover version, the entire series will be a wonderful addition to any Children's or School Library.

They are available for sale on the National Geographic and Amazon websites.

Kim blogs on a variety of subjects on her many blogs : Egypt, Restaurant Reviews, her alma mater, Mumbai & other stuff Currently she is in Egypt among the pyramids, bedouin & camels & blogging furiously about them all.
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Deborah Heiligman
March 15, 2007
06:12 PM

Thank you so much for your thoughtful review of my book Celebrate Diwali. I take mistakes seriously, so I'd like to address what you point out. First of all, my consultant was very, very involved. We talked extensively before I wrote the book, and then she saw every draft, with photos in place. She was even intimately involved with my making her peda--I e-mailed her photos as I was making them to make sure they looked right. On all of these books the consultants are true consultants. I also showed the pages to other experts as well. This is a big part of the joy of writing these books. That said, mistakes do crop in and the onus is on me. I apologize for them. Here are my answers to your "catches."

The Taj Mahal is usually referred to as a mausoleum, you are correct, though since that is an unfamiliar concept to our readers (in a book of unfamiliar concepts) we decided to call it a mosque. In fact it does, of course, have a mosque as part of the complex. My consultant thought it would be fine to call it a mosque, though, in fact, at first she didn't really want us to have the photo at all because it's Muslim, not Hindu. However since the girls are placing deepa on the river and it is such a beautiful photo, we wanted to keep it, so that's why we made sure to say it was Muslim. I suppose for a reprint we could say it is a Muslim building. What do you think?

I'm not sure what you mean when you say we've interchanged the meanings of deepa and vali. Deepa means oil lamps or lights, and vali means necklace or row so maybe you think we should say, on page 18, instead of Deepavali means necklace of lights it means lights in a necklace or row, but we do define the actual words. But if we are lucky enough to have a reprint on this book I want to make sure everything is perfect. So please weigh in on this if you can.

And yes I have Ganesh wrong. I trusted a photo source and should not have. (Lesson learned.)

Thank you again for your thoughtful review. I really do appreciate it.



March 15, 2007
08:13 PM

Dear Deborah,

Thanks for stopping by & reading my review.

I did love the books, but as a Nat Geo collaboration, we are accustomed to expecting perfection :)

When I mentioned about the consultant, I would have expected that consultant to catch the errors that I ennumerated above. But these could have cropped in during publishing time.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum & the mosque is very much a part of it, but a very small part of the entire Taj Mahal complex. You will need to check with someone better qualified than me about what word to use instead of mausoleum, because "building" is a very non evocative word. The picture itself is beautiful, so please do not take it out in the next reprint. It highlights the cultural diversity of India, so please leave the picture in.

The Ganesh part you have already caught.

Deepavali was fine on page 18, the error crept in, in the fine print on page 31. "The word diwali is a shortening of Deepavali, which comes from the sanskrit dipa meaning row & vali meaning lights. We in South India use & prefer the original word"

This is where the interchange has hapenned. You have got the right interpretations in your comment above & if I remember right you have given the correct meaning on your website too. But do make the correction on page 31.

Your series is a wonderful addition to any library for children, but it is also a heavy onus on you to have everything perfect just as we would expect from a National Geographic Collaboration.

I would love to take a look at your other holiday books too.

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