This amazing book by Sudarshan Khanna et al brings to mind the Chinese saying about a man not having to starve if he knows fishing. Certainly, kids can keep themselves engaged for hours with this book as they figure out how to make the toys, how to make them work, and how to play with them in a zillion creative ways. The book contains step-by-step instructions and illustrations to make a range of toys—toys that make noise (oh, joy!) toys that move with the wind, toys that play tricks, toys that dance … In addition, it explains the science behind the functioning of the toys and offers ideas on what to do if it doesn’t quite do what it ought.
All the toys described here can be made with material found in most homes—newspaper, cardboard, string, pencils, sticks, clay—you get the idea. They help reinforce the notion that everything can be recycled, upcycled, reused or remade. The book—a paean to a culture unmarked by consumerism—challenges the commonly accepted notion that toys can be found only in specialized shops or the aisles of a supermarket. After all, haven’t you seen how babies and toddlers enjoy the rustle of the gift wrapper more than the actual gift inside? Or how little ones can play for hours with onions and potatoes and spoons and bowls, oblivious to the charms of colourful mass-produced toys that do not stimulate the imagination but deplete one’s wallet.
Today, we live in a world which is being steadily engulfed by gadgets that threaten to distance us from others, and worse, distance us from ourselves. With this bleak possibility staring us in the face, it is a relief to find someone inviting us to ‘get physical’—to spend time folding paper, twisting it, working with glue and string and sticks to create simple toys that can be used in as many ways as we can think of. The authors also remind us of a compelling argument—to make a toy is to claim responsibility for it and for its functioning.
In the making of this book, the authors have not only worked with groups of school children, they have also introspected on notions of childhood, the future of a capital-intensive toy industry, science pedagogy, commodity-based play, and ideas of gender among children. At no point do they talk down to the child reader, but instead through a series of comments, questions and brief explanations, invite the reader (adult and child) to see the world from a different perspective.
Sudarshan Khanna is India’s leading expert on traditional toy-making and it shows here, on every page. Priya Sundram’s illustrations and mixed-media collages beautifully complement the lucid text by Khanna, Wolf and Ravishankar.
Before I reviewed the book, I lent it to 12-year-old Abhinav, a friend’s son. When he returned it a week later, he also handed over a box full of the toys he had made while reading the book. Abhinav had tried out all the toys! Excited, he told me that the Buzz was awesome, the Rat-a-tat was addictive, the Pen cycle was challenging but entertained the entire family … But the last word should probably come from six-year old Mitali, his sister who sent me a Post-it stuck on the book, with the words, ‘My brother thinks it’s the coolest book ever’.
Padma Baliga is a library consultant and an independent researcher whose interests include children’s and young adult books, gender studies and Indian literatures.