Twelve-year-old Sarojini goes to Ambedkar School in Bengaluru. Her feisty Amma works as a maid and cares about her daughter’s education deeply. Sarojini is fine with the school and its inadequacies till her best friend, Amir, moves away from their area into a better one and starts going to Greenhill, a posh private school. Things are not the same between them any more, Sarojini feels. And so, she decides that she must go to Greenhill too. Or bring back Amir to Ambedkar School.

The Panchatantra is a testimony to the rich tradition of the oral story telling culture of the subcontinent. Handed down over centuries, kids over generations have been brought up on a wide variety of tales from it, with each story underpinned by a moral message. Animal characters are central to the narrative, further enhancing the appeal of these stories to young minds.

Roopa Pai parses the Bhagavad Gita for younger readers in this new volume from Hachette whose back cover exhorts interest by declaring ‘It’s one of the oldest books in the world and India’s biggest blockbuster bestseller!’ Keeping with the hyperbolic tone of the cover that insists that the young person is missing out on something mementous, Pai opens the book by addressing the eager reader with this observation.

Sowmya Rajendran’s The Boy Who Asked Why is an apt choice for a child’s first view of our society and its flaws. The book is meant for children aged 6 and above and is a very simple yet powerful introduction to India’s caste system, hierarchies, discriminatory practices and their repercussions over time. The Boy Who Asked Why is the story of Bhim, born to untouchables in British India.

History Retold for Child Readers

The blurb at the back of Subhadra Sengupta’s A History of India for Children clarifies that it is sufficiently updated with the relatively recent approach to the study of history. ‘History is … about how ordinary people lived—the houses they lived in, the food they ate, the clothes they wore and what the children studied in school … it is the story of our past.’ Such a sensitization has also marked the rewriting of history textbooks in schools.

An Unholy Nexus

Ben Antao has tackled the birth of Goan Independence with humour and an unrepentant pen. That politics is money is unquestioned in this novel. That politics is business is also boldly stated. And with the events in this tale taking place in the early 1960s when, for those of us who were raised in a more idealistic time and were led to believe in statesmanship and leadership (Kennedy, Gandhi, Churchill et al), and in altruistic nation-building in a post-WWII era, this book comes as a bit of a shake-up and a wake-up call.