By Niveditha Subramaniam
Tulika Publishers, 2019, pp. 20, R165.00
MOUSE AND BEAR
By Nandini Nayar. Illustrations by Suvidha Mistry
Children’s Book Trust, 2019, pp. 16, R50.00
THE MAGIC OF CURLY WHORLY
By Santhini Govindan. Illustrations by Priya Nagarajan
Children’s Book Trust, 2019, pp. 24, R60.00
FLYING WITH GRANDPA
By Madhuri Kamat
Duckbill Books, 2019, pp. 74, R199.00
‘A poem should begin in delight and end in wisdom.’ What Robert Frost says of poetry holds true for children’s writing too, I believe. The four books under review all have different audiences they might appeal to, though they all have elements of both delight and wisdom.
Niveditha Subramaniam’s Ammama’s Sari is a beautiful wordless book appropriate for children between 0 to 100. Please acquire it whether or not you have children in your life. It captures the essence of the Indian design philosophy of affordance of everyday materials and objects—the very antithesis of the modern affliction of ‘use-and-throw’. Subramaniam mounts exquisitely textured fabric collages that evoke the texture and feel of a Sari. Ammama’s never-say-die Sari will not bow out because of a hole in it—it will serve the family in other avatars—as a curtain, a baby-sling, a companion for a pet…I recommend this book as a souvenir to be gifted to even adults when you go visiting other cultures. In many ways, this gem captures the soul of a culture that respects its resources and materials, and expresses love for relationships and family possessions in unusual ways.
Mouse and Bear by Nandini Nayar and lovingly illustrated by Suvidha Mistry is a prize-winning book in the Read-Aloud Books/Picture Books category in the Competition for Writers of Children’s books organized by CBT. It reminded me of the life lessons in Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and a Squeeze. A Mouse who lives alone in a tiny house that seems to have space only for him learns a few things about sharing and accommodating a companion when Bear decides to become his Plus 1. The delightful and quirky illustrations will draw young readers again and again. The diction and syntax are extremely accessible to young readers as well, and you can be assured that your emerging readers will return to this simple yet profound tale on the value of companionship again and again.
The Magic of Curly Whorly is yet another tale of companionship, though of another order. Written by Santhini Govindan, illustrated by Priya Nagarajan, is a heart-warming tale of a young dyslexic girl named Amira who struggles to read and write, and consequently faces bullying in school. Amira finds solace and refuge in drawing and colouring, and one fine day a brown smudge on paper sends out a baby dinosaur who must be fed, taken care of , and even put to sleep! The imaginative storyline weaves together delightful details of the things that Amira must draw in order to feed and take care of the dinosaur she names Curly Whorly, along with positive and supportive information on dyslexia. Young children can be inspired and reassured that dyslexia does not stand in the way of achievement or influence: Amira tells her classmates that greats like Galileo Galilei and Albert Einstein suffered from the condition as well. The magical dinosaur leads Amira through a journey of building a positive self image and turning baiters into friends along the way. I loved the message of the story, though I would have liked the narration to be a little less text-heavy. The text may be daunting to dyslexic readers themselves. That said, I would recommend this to any adult who hopes to raise empathetic readers who must learn to respect all kinds of abilities on their way to adulthood.
The final book under review is a delightful Duckbill book by Madhuri Kamat called Flying with Grandpa. Kamat weaves a heart-warming tale of a Parsi family that must take care of Grandpa who possibly has a form of dementia, and manage the growing-up pains of young Xerxes Wadia who has to become like JRD Tata to please his demanding mother. I loved the finely etched detailing of the Parsi way of life: the excitement around Xerxes’s Navjote ceremony, Parsi pride in JRD’s superlative achievements, and the values of ‘humate, hukhate, huravaste’ meaning ‘good words, good thoughts, good deeds’ in their daily lives, amongst other nuances and vignettes. The book will appeal to younger readers and their adults alike (I caught myself swallowing a lump in my throat twice), especially in descriptions of the utterly charming relationship between Grandpa and Xerxes with all their make-believe games and adventures to escape, even if for a little while, the regimented life that Sonji , Xerxes’s no-nonsense Mum (and Grandpa’s daughter) has decreed for them. The conflict in the tale is simple: Sonji believes that her senile father might be a bad influence on the happy-go-lucky Xerxes, who must chase grades instead of butterflies if he has to go beyond her husband Noshir’s bakery. Poor Xerxes wants Grandpa to take the pilots’ eligibility test if that will help matters. Read the story to remind yourself and young ones the place of grandparents in their lives. Read it also to remind yourself that along with ambitions, a family must chase the simple joys of everyday bonding. If Xerxes can believe that he can be like both, the legendary JRD and his precious Grandpa, then there is hope yet for our young ones walking impossible tightropes between the pushes and pulls of home and school. Niloufer Wadia’s sensitive illustration adds a valuable dimension to this warm tale of the emotional core of a family that must learn to accommodate all kinds of hopes and dreams.
Priyanka Bhattacharyya lives with 2500 trees, 515 schoolboys, and two sons of her own on the Doon School campus. She also teaches English there.