LION OF THE SKY by Ritu Hemnani — Book Recommendation



Author: Ritu Hemnani


Publisher: New York: Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, May 7, 2024


Genre: Middle Grade Fiction


Audience Age: 9 to 12


Themes/Topics: Partition of India and Pakistan, Indian Independence 1947, family, political conflict, religious intolerance

It is an honor to share this amazing book with you today. Thank you, Ritu, for writing LION OF THE SKY.

Opening Sentences: 

My kite comes to life
in the endless blue,
free and wild
as it
bucks and whips.

Hold on tight, Raj,
says my grandfather, Nana.
Soon the wind
will change in your favor,
just as long as you
don’t let go.


The words “soon the wind will change in your favor, just as long as you don’t let go” are words that Raj, the 12-year-old protagonist of LION OF THE SKY, holds on to through unimaginable heartbreak and inner growth.

Raj is a boy filled with fears and uncertainty, who doesn’t understand the math that his father and brother deem all-important for succeeding in business. All he wants to do is cook and bake with his mother and younger sister, which his father finally forbids, as it is women’s work. Raj yearns just once to hear his father give him praise, and he hopes to do this by winning the annual Kite Festival. He and his Muslim friend, Iqbal, practice together as often as possible. Raj, a Hindu, and Iqbal, a Muslim, have built up their solid friendship despite their differences in religion, and have sneaked around the restrictions about never eating each other’s food. They both eagerly look forward to the Kite Festival, and to Independence – for with it will surely come all things good and right.

But not everyone agrees that all is or will be good and right. As British rule ends, the British are throwing obstacles in the way of true freedom for the people of India. And there are those who oppose with violence, not the peaceful resistance taught by Gandhi. The most devastating blow is the final act of the British – to send someone in to India to draw boundaries that will make two separate countries, one with a Muslim majority, one with a Hindu and Sikh majority – the Partition of India that carved out Pakistan from part of India, separated families, pitted friends against each other, and caused many deaths and broken hearts.

When the borders are drawn, Raj and his family find that their home in their beloved Sindh is now part of Pakistan, and they quickly discover that Hindus are no longer welcome there. They flee to Bombay, leaving behind dear Nana, Raj’s grandfather, who stays in Sindh to gather the bodies of Hindus who have been killed in the uproar, and give them a proper cremation so that their souls will be at peace. The family will never see him again.

More family separation and tragedy lies before them as they try to find their way in an India where they should belong but do not, where Sindhi is not spoken, where nothing is the way it was before, where it seems impossible to hope.

And yet – and yet, Raj remembers his grandfather’s words, “soon the wind will change in your favor, just as long as you don’t let go,” and moves forward into what lies ahead.

My thoughts:

Using the extended metaphor of kite-flying – something at which the protagonist, Raj, excels – and the medium of verse, Ritu Hemnani weaves her story of the days of Indian Independence and Partition.

Ritu has a way of writing something that seems innocent on the surface, like a boy playing snakes and ladders with his grandpa, but then sums it up with a stanza that sears right to the heart, and you remember that this game is played against the backdrop of the fear the threat of Partition put into the hearts of the people who were trying to survive through this. And when one day Raj is winning the snakes and ladders game, he has a heart-wrenching realization:

I realize it is not so much
that I am winning,
but that Nana is playing
in a way that says
he has already lost.

Ritu was inspired by her own family’s story of having to leave Sindh after the Partition – her own great-grandfather stayed behind as Raj’s Nana did in LION OF THE SKY. I would urge you to listen to/watch Ritu’s TEDx talk in which she tells her family’s story. “An Inheritance Worth Sharing” – be prepared to be deeply moved and greatly inspired.

Ritu’s book will touch your heart, sear your heart, and finally lift up your heart and make it soar.

This is a moving, eye-opening book that I think should be on everyone’s reading list.

Availability: Should be readily available after May 7, 2024 – book release day! Check your local independent bookstore, or find one online. Make sure your public library orders it, too!

For Further Enrichment: 

For kids: Did you know that the games Snakes and Ladders (known as Chutes and Ladders in the United States) and Carroms originated in India long, long ago? I was delighted when at one point Raj’s family are seen playing carroms (a game in which small wooden discs are shot into netted-cotton pockets in the corners of a square wooden board). That was one of the favorite games of my family – my dad was particularly good at it – and I cherish my grandparents’ carroms board. No matter who we are, there is always something that unites us, if we look for it. (Here’s a short video of how to play carroms. Their board is a lot fancier than the one I have!)

Good article on Edutopia about teaching kids about the Partition is here

*Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a review.

I was truly honored to do this review.

Ritu Hemnani is a journalist, teacher, and storyteller, who hopes for every child to see
themselves in the pages of a book and know that their stories matter. She is also a voice actor and motivational speaker. Ritu recognizes herself as ethnically Indian, a British national, and calls Hong Kong her home, where she lives with her husband and three children. Ritu’s debut historical Middle-Grade Novel-in-Verse, LION OF THE SKY, is set for publication by Harper Collins/Balzer and Bray in the Spring of 2024.

Ritu is passionate about promoting diversity and nurturing inclusivity and empathy through writing stories that center marginalized communities and encompass universal truths; spotlighting human interest articles with heart, and collaborating with local literary and charity organizations to promote literacy. She shares the seeds of her writing journey and the inspiration behind her deep dive into her own family history in her 2019 TEDx Talk, An Inheritance Worth Sharing.

When not writing or teaching, Ritu delights in family game nights, strumming the strings of her guitar, and paddling through Hong Kong waters on her carrot-colored kayak.

You can find Ritu on Twitter @rituhemwrites or at her website:

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