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DEAR TAKUYA: LETTERS OF A SIKH BOYby Jessi Kaur. International Institute of Gurmat Studies, 2008.

In the tragic aftermath of 9/11, we all read stories like that of a Sikh who was shot by an ignorant man, a man who had decided to take revenge on “Muslim terrorists” by committing an act of violence against a man wearing a turban. Many books have since been written since to help children understand different cultures and religions. However, few kids’ books exist to explain the teachings of Guru Nanak. Now Jessi Kaur, who has addressed the World Parliament at Barcelona and who is the co-founder of the International Institute of Gurmat Studies, has written Dear Takuya: Letters of a Sikh Boy, a story told through a young boy’s letters to his pen-pal.

Kaur’s compassion for Sikh children encountering prejudice became clear during our phone interview. “After 9/11,” she said, “[Sikhs] are often mistaken as being part of a terrorist group. Nirbaan Singh, who posed as Simar for the illustrations of Dear Takuya, would come home bewildered because kids called him ‘Ali.’” Kaur has spoken in many schools at the invitation of Sikh children who have wanted her to enlighten their classmates about the Sikh religion. She told me how students’ views change after her talks; they accept and embrace her inclusive message. With  Dear Takuya, Kaur has empowered all Sikh children with a likable hero, Simar, to whom they can relate.

Eight-year-old Simar lives in Sunnyvale, California. After his school starts a Pen Friend Club, he begins writing letters to a boy named Takuya, in Japan, telling him how he is spending his summer vacation. The story begins with Simar’s exciting and apprehensive disclosure to his friend that he will be getting a sister and that his mother has told him everyone is part of the same family with God as the common parent. In the second letter, Simar deals with a hot issue: bullies. As the only longhaired boy in his school Simar gets teased. Patty, a girl who frequently gets picked on for being fat, tries to comfort him. The matter is resolved after his mother goes to the school, and like Kaur, teaches children the values imparted by the Sikh Gurus, including the instruction not to cut their hair to respect God’s design.

One day Patty and Andrew (another friend of Simar’s) accompany him to thegurdwara, where they learn about prayer and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. When Simar’s mother goes to the hospital, he is sent to a Sikh camp, where he learns all about being a Sikh, the three golden rules, and the daily prayers.

At first glance, the pictures in Dear Takuya could be mistaken for photographs. The artist, Brian Johnston, combined traditional techniques with cutting-edge technology to create the illustrations. The pictures’ photographic quality adds to the realistic depiction of the characters and scenes. At the same time, they have the delicate touch of works of art.

Dear Takuya is an excellent resource for teachers. The epistolary format and Simar’s frank voice work well to impart a lot of information about Sikhism. Each letter conveys one main idea. In Simar’s last letter, Kaur deliberately includes images, like the Golden Gate Bridge, that evoke a connection between people. “The Golden Gate Bridge symbolizes my deep desire to build bridges between cultures and bring harmony in a diverse world,” she says. “Needless to say, if we demolish walls and build bridges during early education, we will create a better world for the next generation.”

Dear Takuya effectively communicates that Sikhism promotes equality, freedom, justice, and liberty for all. All American children stand to learn much from this book about the world’s fifth largest religion, which will enable them to give Sikhism the respect it deserves.

For more information about the book and to buy a copy, go towww.deartakuya.com. All proceeds go to the International Institute of Gurmat Studies, a nonprofit organization.

Tara Menon is a freelance writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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