I know literally zero things about Saris. I think they’re beautiful, and I admire their beauty from afar, but the closest I’ve ever gotten to one was my childhood best friend’s mother, who always looked gorgeous & ready for whatever kind of day she might encounter, when I would go to their house after school.
Mistakes though? Trying something and messing it up? More than once? Sometimes in a really big & embarrassing way? Well I’m a professional at that, friends. And you all should be too. Because, as grown ups, we know that mistakes are just … part of the process. One of the many things that happens along the paths to success. Or additional failures. The only way through life, basically.
And – again, as a grown up – I recognize all those things, but I still have a hard time, sometimes, with mistakes and failures. It’s the former gifted-kid in me, the “if this isn’t perfect then you aren’t worth anything” voice in my head that… needs addressing.
Now imagine raising children who don’t have that voice? Who experience setbacks and mistakes as … natural and positive (?!) and something that literally everyone does their whole lives long? Doesn’t that sound nice? How can we do THAT?
Well, part of that process is talking about screw-ups like the regular, everyday occurrences they are, and not potential flaws in a child’s core personality that they should be wary, ashamed, or embarrassed of. And one of the best ways to do that is to provide examples.
All the better if that example comes in a body positive, person of color, culturally underrepresented, self-esteem building blockbuster like How to Wear A Sari by Darshana Khiani. The main character in the book is a young Indian girl who wants to rock a sari to show her family that she’s not “too small.” Sick of being treated like the little kid she obviously is, an episode of many trials and errors ensues until, finally: the perfect fit! Complete with essential sparkly sandals, when she goes to show her family her new achievement, unfortunate errors occur. Heels and children, so often a disaster, as proves the case here. Still, after some lecturing & apology making, her family embraces the girl & her glamourous new look, and shares stories of their own mistakes & mess-ups, a whole family’s Hall of Fame worth. The celebration of the minor “oopsies & ouches” that are sure to occur in life commences, complete with absurd pictures of aunties & uncles looking like the fools all of us occasionally are.
I started out the review with a whole lot of reasons this book is unique: The depiction of an intergenerational Indian-American (basing that on the Goodreads keywords, but also the author is Indian-American) child & her family; The different body sizes that are represented within that family – the main child has a little tummy ON THE COVER, dancing joyfully in Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s playful illustrations, and it’s sad that I have to point out how amazing that is, and just how rare; And this little girl thinks the world of herself, as she should, but just the self-confidence of this kid shines through so strongly, another thing that isn’t as common in picture books as it should/could be.
There’s a universality to a lot of the book, too, though. Little kids of all genders, races, most ages love playing dress up… There’s just something about putting on your mom’s shoes, or your dad’s work coat, or the firefighter hat that is unexplainably in the back of your closet that feels transformative: I’ve never interacted with a young person who didn’t like to change their appearance in SOME aspect. The way Khiani was able to make this girl’s experience seem both so individual and so communal is a real feat: The ordeal of pleating a sari correctly may be singular to the Indian culture (and other cultures that wear saris), but the joy of adding JUST the right sparkly accessories is something most kids are familiar with, as is the frustration of ‘too long, too short, hold your breath to tuck in here, check the look & try again.’
It’s a great take on making mistakes, fixing what you can, and moving on. It’s a simple story, with a simple message, but it’s one a lot of kids need to hear. Anecdotally, the increase I’ve seen in kids with anxiety (pre-pandemic) hasn’t been minor, and a lot of kids with anxiety issues have HUGE issues with perfectionism. (Also prevalent in ADHD & other neurodivergencies.) But if you’re building a classroom community, or reading to your kid at bedtime, imagine the space a book like this creates for errors. For kids to mess up, and not feel like it’s the end of the world. This book just hits a spot I haven’t seen addressed a lot in children’s literature, and it’s a welcome addition.
Those beautiful smiles on the cover count as people, for my CBR Bingo13 square