for ages 4 and up
A rare and touching story about a young girl in the Himalayan mountains, Namaste! is both a window into another world as well as a way to touch another soul. Bright illustrations unite with simple prose to present an accessible picture book perfect for schools and libraries.
Namaste! by Diana Cohn, illustrated by Amy Cordova
SteinerBooks 978-0-88010-625-2 Hardcover, $17.95
Chomolongma is the Tibetan and Sherpa name for the tallest mountain in the world. It means “Mother Goddess of the Earth.” In the Nepali language, it is called “Sagarmatha,” which means “forehead in the sky.” In the West, this mountain is well known as Mount Everest.
Namaste (pronounced nah-mah-stay) literally means “I bow to you.” It is generally translates as “the light in me meets the light in you.” When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow. The gesture is made with the hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upward, in front of the chest. The greeting “Namaste” represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us. The gesture without the word carries the same meaning.
Nima means “Sun.” It is traditional for the Sherpas to give a child the name of the day on which he or she was born, and so Nima’s name indicates that she was born on a Sunday.
Sherpa means “people from the east.” Sherpas are an ethnic group who live in Nepal and are known worldwide for their great skill as mountain climbers, guides, and traders.
Tenzing is a common Tibetan name that means “holder of the teachings” or “bearer of wisdom.”
Information about Prayer Flags
Tibetans consider prayer flags to be holy. Prayer flags are hung in the open—outside temples and holy sites, strung across bridges, rooftops, and mountain passes—where the flags can meet the wind. The Tibetans believe that when the flags are blown by the wind the prayers printed on the flags will spread good will, peace, and compassion to all. The five colors of the prayer flags represent the elements:
Activities and Projects
Activity 1: Make Your Own Prayer Flag
Art, pre-kindergarten through 5th grade
- Blue, white, red, green, and yellow felt
- Fabric markers
- Twine or clothes line long enough to stretch across the classroom or program space
- Clothespins or butterfly clips—two for each flag
- For fun: an oscillating fan!
Read the book Namaste! to the group, pointing out the colorful prayer flags on the cover. Ask the listeners to look for the prayer flags in the illustrations—they are on several spreads throughout the book.
Tell the children about the prayer flags, including the significance of the colors. Each prayer flag contains a “Ta,” a powerful and strong horse, at its center. On each corner, images (or the names) of four animals (also known as the Four Dignities)–the dragon, the garuda (a wise eagle-like bird), the tiger, and the snow lion are depicted. Ask the children to think about images of power, peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom from their own experiences.
Ask the kids to select a background piece of rectangular felt for their flags, each child choosing one that reflects an element that they connect with in a personal way. For example, a swimmer might pick green for water while a child who enjoys camping might select red for fire. They then decorate their flag to reflect their own personal vision for power, peace, compassion, strength and wisdom.
Suggest that they draw a picture of an animal that symbolizes each quality with power in the center and the remainders on each corner.
Once your flags are created, attach them to your clothesline or twine with the clothespins or clips and string them across your room. Turn on the fan and watch the flags spread good will, peace and compassion. You might want to use this as a technique after the exercise by turning on the fan when you think your group needs an extra helping of good will, peace and compassion.
If you and they are really ambitious, create your own version of woodblocks and apply the images just like the Tibetans do! Here’s a brief video showing how you can make block printing masters from styrofoam.
Activity 2: A Mountain by Any Other Name
Geography, Language Arts, 2nd through 5th grades
Nima Sherpa and her family live in the Himalayan Mountains near what we know as Mount Everest.
- Ask the students to research the other names for the tallest mountain in the world in the languages those names originate (see glossary).
- Lead a group discussion about the most distinctive geographic feature in your area. Perhaps it’s a rushing river or a bald mountain. Ask the students to come up with their own descriptive name like “Sagarmatha” meaning “forehead of the sky.” Note: If your group is unfamiliar with natural geographic formations because of where they live in an urban area, you can adapt this step to identify shapes of local parks.
- Take it one step further. Are there names for towns, mountains, lakes, rivers that come from another language? Perhaps the names spring from Native American roots. Ask each student to research your county or state to find a name from another language that is descriptive.
Activity 3: Spreading the Joy
Character Development, pre-kindergarten through 5th grade
Nima Sherpa wants to help her community so she searches for ways to help. Ask the kids to think about how Nima’s father helps people (guides people, carries burdens, knows the weather and the danger it may bring). Now, ask them about the ways that Nima helps people (her simple greeting spreads smiles among those carrying heavy burdens, crosses cultures when she greets the tourists, and gives joy to Tenzing). Ask the kids about ways they can spread joy in their community. Help them to understand that though they are still children, a smile and a greeting have their own kind of positive power.
About The Mountain Institute
Many people and organizations care deeply for this part of the world and are dedicated to safeguarding its beauty and cultures. One organization working to preserve mountain cultures all over the world, including in the Himalayan region, is The Mountain Institute (TMI). Based in Washington, DC, TMI has offices and community-based programs in the Andean, Appalachian, and Himalayan mountain ranges that empower communities living in some of the world’s most remote and rugged regions to protect their environments while enhancing their livelihoods.
Mountain people themselves live close to the land, and their farming, grazing, hunting and woodcutting maintain a delicate balance between sustainability and destruction. But mountains, often in the world’s “hot spots” of biodiversity, are rich in timber, water and mineral resources that attract severe development pressures to fragile areas. TMI works in partnership with other organizations to create effective means of conserving the unique mountain ecosystems and species. The creators of Namaste! witnessed the work of TMI while doing research for this book in Nepal and are donating a portion of the proceeds to support TMI’s work around the world.
The Afterword in Namaste! is by Ang Rita Sherpa and includes an expanded glossary as well as further information on Nepal, the Himalayas, the Sherpa people, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and Preserving Mountain Cultures.
Continue your journey with Namaste!
There are more resources available to guide you in using Namaste! in classrooms and library programs. You can start with the book’s pages on TeachingBooks. For further information about this or any of SteinerBooks’ offerings for children, teachers, and parents, contact Ellen Myrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Namaste to you and yours!