The first half of 2024 brings three middle grade novels relating to the British Partition of India and Pakistan and its aftermath. Veera Hiranandani’s Amil and the After is a companion to her Newbery Honor-winning historical novel The Night Diary. Ritu Hemnani’s debut novel in verse, Lion of the Sky, follows a boy and his family forced to flee their home and become refugees after Partition. And Saadia Faruqi’s The Partition Project tells the story of a contemporary Pakistani American girl whose passion for journalism drives her to learn more about her grandmother’s experience of the Partition. We asked the three authors to discuss their new books, their personal connections to this traumatic moment in history, and how its impact has reverberated through generations of families.

Veera Hiranandani: I was so excited to hear about both of your books! When I wrote The Night Diary, I wasn’t sure if the U.S. children’s book market would be that interested in a story about the Partition of India. But I was wrong! And now I see more and more Partition stories popping up. It’s such a complex and significant moment in our global history and holds many stories that need to be told. I wasn’t finished exploring it with one book, which is why I wrote Amil and the After, where I’m looking at what happened after this particular family survived Partition and how they rebuilt their lives. What were your main reasons for writing your books?

Saadia Faruqi: Quite honestly, Veera, your book The Night Diary—and the Newbery Honor it received—was a big reason why I decided to tell my own story in The Partition Project. I felt that the market was ready and in fact, eager to hear about other cultures and histories, especially if couched in terms of South Asian immigrant families who are now living here and have those stories as part of their family histories. I mean, so many kids reading our books today have those backgrounds and traditions “from other places,” don’t they? And they deserve to be seen in the books they read as well. As an aside, The Night Diary is mentioned in my book as a mentor text that the main character Maha reads in order to understand the Partition!

Ritu Hemnani: For me, the journey of writing Lion of the Sky began the day my daughter asked me a homework question: “Why do people migrate?” I told her that our family was involved in the largest mass migration in world history, where over 14 million people lost their homes and over one million died. She was fascinated, so I took her to the library here in Hong Kong, but when we couldn’t find a single children’s book on the Partition, she accused me of making the whole thing up. It broke my heart. I decided to write the book we couldn’t find. Today, I’m delighted to see a growing number of books on the Partition. Though it was challenging to write about the darkest period in India’s history, the world needs all our stories and histories. With that in mind, what inspired the writing styles for your books?

Faruqi: I’ve published 40 books so far, and the writing style for each is different, based on what I wish to impart to the reader and what feels right for the characters. In The Partition Project, I’ve used a dual style: the more traditional first person, present tense prose, broken up every few chapters by video transcripts. These transcripts, I felt, were important to show the obsession the main character Maha has with journalism and the reported story, and it also helps the young reader process some of the more violent and upsetting aspects of the history of Partition. I’m hopeful that the mix of two different styles will resonate with readers and showcase the depth of the story.

Hiranandani: Saadia, you were one of the first people to contact me after The Night Diary came out. I remember you shared your own family’s story of having to leave India and go to Pakistan. That conversation was so meaningful and hopeful to me—that our generation, the children of Partition survivors, can help create more bridges of understanding for all the pain our families experienced no matter which direction they had to go. And the fact that you mention The Night Diary in your book blows my mind!

Ritu, I also hear what you’re saying about wanting to write the story you and your daughter couldn’t find. I also didn’t learn about Partition in school in the U.S. As far as style, I like to experiment with form and point of view. In Amil and the After, I wanted to inhabit Amil in a close third-person point of view, which gave me a little more narrative distance. It’s not easy to write in any form about this difficult topic. I struggled at times to balance the truth and violence of the history and make it appropriate for a young audience. How did you manage that?

Hemnani: Writing Lion of the Sky as a verse novel allowed me to use rhythmic flow, metaphoric language, and vivid imagery to evoke raw emotions and show the impact of Partition in an evocative way. By using poetic language, I aimed to create an immersive and emotive reading experience that would resonate with readers and stay with them long after they finished the book. To strike a balance between depicting the violence and ensuring that it remained appropriate, I focused on highlighting the themes of resilience, friendship, and hope amidst adversity. While I did not shy away from acknowledging the reality of violence and upheaval, I used symbolism and nuanced storytelling to convey the emotional weight of Partition.

So, as your novels emerge into the world, how do you hope they will resonate with young readers?

Hiranandani: Yes, nuance and sensitivity are so important when writing about difficult topics. For me, I hope readers of Amil and the After will not only learn more about what happened during the Partition, but also look at how people managed to rebuild their lives if they survived. I hope young readers will make connections to their own lives, perhaps in the way they’ve been changed by the pandemic, or by any difficult experience, and understand that it’s okay not to be okay. As a writer, I’m always trying to humanize people beyond the labels they live under. We’re all vulnerable people underneath, with our own stories and our own struggles.

Faruqi: My hope is that readers today can make the connection with the Partition, not just as fantastic storytelling or a terrible historical event, but as something that makes up our shared history. There are millions of first-, second-, and third-generation South Asians in the U.S. today, all connected through the Partition because of how it shaped the lives of their parents or grandparents, even great grandparents. Those of us—like me and my family—are alive only because my grandparents survived the violence in 1947. As Maha’s media studies teacher Mr. Goode says in The Partition Project, “Historical events have a huge impact on people. When you’re reporting on those people, the history that shapes them becomes important too.” And as Maha learns during the story, history gets repeated a lot, in different forms, and it’s imperative we learn from it so we can do better in the future.

Hemnani: Beautifully said, both of you! My hope is that Lion of the Sky will ignite empathy and understanding in young readers. As they reflect on the struggles faced by individuals forced to leave their homes, I also hope it fosters a deeper appreciation for the human capacity to endure and overcome challenges. Above all, I hope it will serve as a powerful reminder to choose kindness and understanding over hatred and division, emphasizing the importance of unity and compassion in our world today.

Hiranandani: Thanks everyone! I loved this conversation and I hope all of our books are widely read for years to come!

The Partition Project by Saadia Faruqi. Quill Tree, $19.99 Feb. 27 ISBN 978-0-0631-1581-1

Lion of the Sky by Ritu Hemnani. Balzer + Bray, $19.99 May 7 ISBN 978-0-06-328448-7

Amil and the After by Veera Hiranandani. Kokila, $17.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-525-55506-3