When I was small my grandmother used to tell rhyming stories and we loved them. I still remember some of them. Though the book targets the readership of three to five it can interest the children of any age particularly from rural areas. These stories do not end, the child can go on adding new words and rhymes.
In today’s world of intolerance to anyone who is not like you this book is like a whiff of fresh air. The Village of Flowers is full of flowers of different shapes colours and hues. A camel comes to the village. Camel is a stranger as he is not a flower. Aak flower asks the question, ‘Whose flower are you?’ Camel is puzzled ‘I am not a flower I am a camel.’ ‘Then you are flower, flower of camel,’ Aak flower is convinced that the camel was a flower. The dialogue that takes place between Camel and Aak flower is funny humorous and simple. In the end Camel gets irritated and speaks loudly, ‘I am a camel’. ‘Ah! Now see you are flower, flower of camel.’ Aak is happy. Camel is also happy. He goes to other camels and tells them, ‘We are all flowers.’ The book is meant for children of 5 to 7 years of age.
Around The World With A Chilli is meant for independent readers. One imagines that the child who reads it may be above eight years old. A boy goes to pluck green chillies from his garden and is startled to find a chilli plant speaking to him. The spirit of chillies, Ajar Uchu, gets into a conversation with the boy and begins to tell him how chillies reached India from Mexico. When the child shows interest, Ajar Uchu tell him many more interesting things, such as how Christopher Columbus found America in his search for India, the development of sturdy ships to cross the seas and reach India, the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India, and so on.
The Boink Mystery is for level 3 readers, that is, children who have begun reading independently. The theme is about cleanliness in public places and in general. One feels happy that Pratham has taken up this theme and tried to create awareness about it. The mantra of ‘catch ‘em young’ is very apt in this situation. Aman is on a school trip to the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur when a strange flying object called Yontrik befriends him. The creature or the object starts beeping in distress every time someone does something dirty! He says that his ears or nose or eyes get a headache when he sees someone picking their nose or spitting or defecating in the open.
Brushing Is No Fun! is a level 2 book which means that it is for children who can read simple words and can read new words with help. The book is a square picture book with a paragraph or two of text on each page. This length of the text seems a little too much for such young children. Wouldn’t the book serve level 3 better? As the title suggests, the book is about the tediousness of brushing one’s teeth everyday. There’s a child who doesn’t want to brush his teeth, nor bathe, nor do all those boring personal hygiene things that all children ought to do.
The story revolves around Franklin, a little boy—the main character in the book who spends his days gazing at the clouds in the sky. He thinks he doesn’t need friends. His clouds are his friends—unfailing, omnipresent and always welcoming. And in his imagination, he finds not only shapes but stories and adventures. However, Franklin’s loneliness is dismissed when Scruffy Dog shows up one fine day. This creature seems to follow him everywhere and simply won’t leave him to the loneliness he’s used to. Franklin wants nothing to do with her.
Annie Besant, one of the most pro lific writers for children in India, is the author of this beautiful gift set for little readers. The world of Beebop, the most friendly and special buzzing bee, is peopled by Sarah, the leader of the group, Jay, a true explorer, Chalk the beloved doggie companion, Zubin and Zoya, the twin enfant terribles. Aimed at the Level 1 reader, the four story books are paired with four activity books. As each story unfolds, it takes the reader through the most exciting and magical expeditions.
The Will, meant for level 3 readers, is again a singularly inappropriate choice in storyline and comes across as morbid.To have a child read about how a father makes a will against the event of his death, how the three sons ignore the naseehat in their hurry to find his vasiyat, and the mother has to intervene to prevent them from fighting with one another—makes one squirm.
Pratham Books, an NGO, has been engaged in publishing books in multiple Indian languages to promote reading among children. Their mission is to see a book in every child’s hand, one that they have been successfully carrying out over the last 12 years. The Children’s special issue every November has always carried reviews of Pratham titles (available online on the goodbooks and the book review sites). However, the two titles being reviewed here are a bit problematic in more ways than one.
This bilingual text for age 3 , written by Meenu Thomas (author of Fakhruddin’s Fridge, Tulika) in English and Hindi, is about two little boys, as different as chalk and cheese in their likes and what they like to do. But all the same, they are the best of friends. With minimum text but brought alive by exuberant illustrations, a story of universal friendship will be understood by the toddler without any need for explanations.
The moment one thinks of an alphabet book, boring boxes with letters printed in one corner and a garish image of fruit or an animal in the rest, come to the mind. So when gems like The Book of Beasts show up on bookshelves, it is time to rejoice and grab your copy. Children need to be connected with Nature and it is books like these that accomplish the task. Even if you’re old for children’s books, you will surely enjoy it because it is so insightful. The book starts off with the foreword from the author’s granddaughter, who had been given these animal verses as a birthday present by her grandfather.
Who doesn’t love a superhero? Even if he’s one with seven and a half limbs? Rot8 is the resident octopus at Goa Sea World. An accident at birth leaves this cephalopod with half a limb missing. This is soon put to rights by vet Reena Renaldo and the scientist ZubbuZwami.
One for Sorrow sets out to explain the many proverbs and sayings that are a ‘key facet of our conversations.’ The say ings are all, of course, taken from the English language. The book covers everything from the most common sayings like ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’, to the less commonplace such as ‘It is ill prizing of green barley’. Chloe Rhodes is a journalist and this is evidenced in her clear and precise reporting of the etymology, history and reasons behind the usage of the various sayings she has outlined. She references everything from literature to religion and myth conscientiously. However, it is probably this very straightforward way of reporting that consigns this book to being a reference book and not really a book that one would read with avid interest over and over again.
The Lal Badam Tree is a translation of an Urdu story written by Rumana Husain. This level 3 book (for reading independently) from Pratham effortlessly merges the charm of an old world story with the contemporary colours and textures in Ruchi Mhasane’s art. At the heart of the picture book is the Lal Badam Tree that is both a source of endless joy and irritation. It brings joy to Rashida and Anwar—and the parrots that frequent their house—who constantly gorge on the kernels hidden within the seeds.
A colourful kaleidoscope of originals from well known writers, traditional favourites from OLUGUTI TOLUGUTI collection—sounds and resonances from a world familiar to children.’ This smartly written blurb had me in a tizzy of excitement, eager to read the rhymes and to become a child myself. I’m happy to say the book did not disappoint. Tulika’s Dum Dum Dho is a fun collection of Indian rhymes both new and old; the new ones written by favourite authors like Sandhya Rao, Manjula Padmanabhan, Zai Whitaker and Jeeva Raghunath, and the oldies sourced from Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Mizo and many other languages.
Poverty is often a concept many of us find ourselves uncomfortable discussing. We get discomfited by them and react with varying combinations of indifference, irritation or pity, and seek to forget them as soon as possible. We distance ourselves by imagining the poor as some sort of separate being—either idealizing them or villainizing them, but inevitably making caricatures who do not resemble ‘people’ we can identify with. Rinchin and Manjari Chakravarti’s The Trickster Bird is a beautiful and very important story which narrows the chasm between ‘us’ an ‘them’ and presents a small cross-section of the life of a little rag picker girl who lives in the city and ekes out a living with her family.
Just as Dennis feels isolated because he is not understood by others, Clumsy! is a book about a little girl with two left feet and all thumbs—food spills on her clothes, milk tumbles from her glass, and things just seem to ‘wobble, tumble and shatter’ around her. She faces constant reprimands and recriminations, teasing and scolding, until she begins to withdraw into herself and all the thoughts she finds herself unable to voice fill her head, and which express themselves became pictures and drawings of the world around her.
As that old song goes ‘Everybody needs somebody’—someone who understands and accepts you as you are, and can enter into your schemes and plans. The ‘someone’ in question need not be a romantic partner—often our closest relationships can be with a friend, who stands with you through thick or thin, and just gets you. But the corollary to this is that because our friendships are with people we can relate to, those to whom we can’t often get treated as outsiders and can feel isolated and alone.
Everyone loves Gajapati Kulapati, a cheerful young el-ephant who is friendly with everyone. And because of this, people love giving ‘little’ snacks to him! But what happens when a rather young elephant eats ten bunches of bananas, a big bundle of sugarcane, coconuts, jaggery, and rice…all at once? The stomachache which results is as painful as it is inevitable, and it worries the young elephant’s friends, who rush about to try to help him. The book is a happy and cheerful little story with simple words and evocative sounds, but which can be a springboard into discussions about moderation about eating ourselves, or moderation and being careful about feeding animals—be they pets or just our friendly strays on the street.
Lion Goes for a Haircut is another lovely children’s story, this one on why lions don’t get haircuts. Anyone who has ever had cats or been around them, may have noticed that they either studiously avoid looking at mirrors, or if they accidentally do, will hiss and puff themselves up to scare the image away. Well, the hero of this book is a lion who casually strolls into a hair cutting saloon, happily handles a computer as he takes a photo of himself and photoshops various options to see which hairstyle suits him most, then turns towards the mirrors in the saloon, and turns into a pussy!! He is so befuddled by the images that he runs back into the forest.