Celebrating Asian and South Asian Heritage Month with Sarla in the Sky

Posted On Thursday May 28, 2020
Book - Sarla in the Sky
Sarla in the Sky is a children’s book written by DDSB Educator Anjali Joshi and is based on the incredible accomplishments of Sarla Thakral.

The Durham Educators’ Network for South Asians hosted
an online live-reading of Sarla in the Sky with author Anjali Joshi

The month of May is celebrated as Asian Heritage Month in Canada, and South Asian Heritage Month in Ontario. Each May, the Durham Educators’ Network for South Asians (DENSA) hosts an event that salutes Asian and South Asian culture and heritage in innovative and unique ways.

This year, with schools being closed, DENSA decided to host an online live-reading of the book Sarla in the Sky. The book was written by Anjali Joshi, and the artwork was created by Lisa Kurt.

Joshi is a Durham District School Board (DDSB) teacher currently seconded to the Ministry of Education as a Science Education Officer.

Pursuing Your Dreams

Sarla in the Sky is a story about a little girl named Sarla,” explains Joshi. “She often dreams about flying and being free in the sky like a butterfly. The story is set a century ago in India when certain occupations, such as being a pilot, were male-dominated. As such, Sarla is told again and again that she should abandon her dreams of flying. She ignores the discouraging words of naysayers and works hard to become the first female pilot in India. This story is loosely based on the achievements of Sarla Thakral, who was the first Indian woman to earn her aviation pilot license in 1936 at the age of 21.”

On May 15th, students, families, and educators from the DDSB and beyond were encouraged to join the live-reading via Google Meet. Over 100 participants joined the meeting, and Joshi also took time to answer questions after the reading.

A Need for Diverse Books

Joshi says it’s important to her to share stories like Sarla in the Sky for a couple reasons, “First, I am of Indian heritage and I was 28 years old before I ever heard Sarla Thakral's incredible story! By breaking barriers and gender stereotypes to pursue her dreams, she is truly inspirational, and I was eager to share this beautiful message with children.”

She adds, “Second, we need diverse books. We need books in our classrooms and in our libraries that reflect the lives of ALL children. In education, we talk about books acting as mirrors and windows; mirrors so children can see themselves represented in the books they read. Finding yourself reflected in a book is powerful. There is a strong sense of belonging that we feel when we see ourselves, our culture, or our family life being shown in the stories that we read. Books also act as windows so we can learn about other cultures and stories to understand and appreciate others.”

Joshi’s other works include Let’s Celebrate Diwali and Ganesh and the Little Mouse, and she says she is hard at work on a few new projects, “Much like Sarla in the Sky, these projects are based on the lives of real people who accomplished amazing things.”

Connecting with Families

Kavita Kanavalli (DENSA Chair and Vice Principal of Pickering HS) and Tharmila Apputhurai (DENSA Co-Chair and DDSB ESL Coach) say that it’s important for students and families to feel connected, especially during this time.

Apputhurai states, “Our students' mental health and well-being is at the core of everything that we do as educators. When we offer options to engage in learning in a variety of ways, we ensure that all students have an entry point or access to continue their learning. Especially during this time, it's important that students feel connected and know that we care.”

Moving forward, Kanavalli adds that DENSA hopes to continue the conversation around Asian and South Asian heritage, “We would like these events to continue beyond the month of May where educators are facilitating conversations related to student identity throughout the school year.”

To find out what events and initiatives DENSA has going on, check out their Twitter page @DensaNetwork.

If you’re interested in any of Joshi’s books, please visit https://mangoandmarigoldpress.com/pages/anjali-joshi or reach out to her directly on Twitter at @Anjali_Joshi_.