The story of Mohandas Gandhi comes to life in this interactive nonfiction book with 21 activities. Gandhi for Kids – His Life and Ideas helpsyoung readers learn about Gandhi’s extraordinary life, and the unique worlds of India, South Africa, and England where he lived. They’ll read about his early life in India and learn more about his travels, work as a lawyer, different ashrams, social reform methods, time in jail, and much more.
Gandhi worked tirelessly and courageously for Indians’ rights in South Africa and for India’s independence from England. His profound message of nonviolence is very relevant in our complex and changing world today. He always sought to promote important ideals: be kind to others, seek truth, respect differences, practice nonviolence, and know change is possible. He saw goodness in people and accepted many different religions beyond his Hindu faith.
The book includes many historic images, a time line, informative sidebars, and a helpful resource section. In addition, 21 activities, such as design a vegetarian menu for a day, practice anti-consumerism, and make a meditation mat, are woven into the text to give young readers a chance to learn via vibrant hands-on experiences.
Q & A
Why did you write about Gandhi?
I remember watching the movie, Gandhi, starring Ben Kinsley, when it first came out in 1982 in the U.S. I was living in California at the time. The movie was so long, it included an intermission, which was a new experience for many moviegoers back then. Two scenes stand out—the burning of the Indians’ registration cards in South Africa, and the beatings of the Indian marchers at the Dharasana Salt Works near Dandi, India. Learning about Gandhi via this film was profound. I then went on to read a number of books about his life. But, I wanted to write about Gandhi for young readers because I believe his message of nonviolence is so important in our world today where we witness violence on a daily basis. Gandhi’s message of peace and kindness is a powerful and necessary one.
How did you conduct research for this book?
Learning about Gandhi’s rich and complex life wasn’t easy. I first watched the Gandhi film again, which reminded me of key elements of his life. I also found the film somewhat hard to follow in terms of locations. Was Gandhi in India, England, or South Africa? I realized I needed to write the book so it was clear for readers. After feeling inspired from watching the film, I then read two key books: Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, and Arun Gandhi’s book, Kasturba, a Life. These books gave me an important background for Gandhi’s life, even though his autobiography only spans to 1921, when he is in his early 50s. I then read a number of books about South Africa and India, researched many websites, researched nearly 25 books about Gandhi’s life, and watched relevant films, television specials, and YouTubes. I also contacted a number of academics who were of great help, and I researched books about individuals influenced by Gandhi such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Malala Yousafzai.
In the summer of 2014, I visited the M.K. Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence in Rochester, New York. I also had the honor of talking with Gandhi’s fifth grandson, Arun Gandhi, over the phone.
What surprised you about Gandhi’s life?
First of all, it’s rewarding to invest a great deal of time getting to know about someone else’s life. And, yes, there were surprises. I guess my main “surprise” was realizing that a shy, tongue-tied young boy could become such a prominent, outspoken and courageous world leader. I was also amazed by Gandhi’s willingness to travel to new places, which meant adapting to new cultures, and at times, being subject to horrifying discrimination. I enjoyed reading about Gandhi’s eclectic eating and health habits, which are described in Gandhi for Kids.
In addition, I was impressed at how Gandhi had a natural charisma and ability to befriend all sorts of people, even people who attacked him, who were willing to follow in his footsteps. And, even though Gandhi experienced war firsthand, and even though he was harassed, humiliated, beaten, and imprisoned, he continued to work toward peace. Now that’s remarkable.
Why did Gandhi wear a dhoti?
When Gandhi lived in England, and as a lawyer in South Africa, he wore the formal British attire of a starched shirt and tie with a suit. But in time, he decided to simplify his life including his clothing, and he started to wear a dhoti in South Africa, and when he returned in India in 1915. A dhoti is a traditional Indian garment made from cotton that wraps around the body. Gandhi wore a dhoti and shawl to identify with a wide range of Indians of different economic levels. He also wore the dhoti with pride for his Indian culture.
Why did Gandhi focus on spinning cotton at a spinning wheel?
Through his spinning, Gandhi reminded Indians of their rich heritage of creating beautiful homespun “khadi” fabrics. Spinning cotton was an age-old tradition that changed with the Industrial Revolution. Machinery took over much of the Indian handiwork and craftsmanship of creating thread from cottonseeds and weaving it into fabric. At one point, Indians were exporting cotton to England at low prices, and then buying back high-priced cotton clothes from England. Gandhi wanted Indians to regain strength and dignity through self-reliance and local production by “taking matters into their own hands” through spinning their own thread and making their own clothes.
The spinning wheel, or “charkha,” became a powerful symbol of Indian independence and freedom and was represented on the flag of India at one point. Today the flag of India features 24 spokes of the “Ashoka Chakra,” the wheel of the law, signifying many qualities such as love, courage, patience, and peacefulness.
What is your hope for this book?
I hope young readers gain a better idea of who Gandhi was and his most important message for our world—be peaceful and create a peaceful world. I hope readers embrace his key ideals such as: be kind to others, seek truth, respect differences, practice nonviolence, know change is possible, and never give up.