Pterodactyl’s Egg by Annie Besant is a book about a Pterodactyl egg which Sam discovers on the playground and takes home. Little does he expect it to hatch, and what follows is not for the faint hearted!
Sam with his glass bottle bottom like spectacles is an adorable child. Along with Priya, his sister, he somehow manages to convince his mother to let him keep the ‘creature’ for a few days while his father is away on work. The dinosaur grows at an incredible pace and is soon flying. Meanwhile the evil scientist, Dr. Poongothai aka Dr. Pox is fuming in her lair which she has priced away from a tribe— she wants the egg back no matter what. She sends BENO, an agent to recover the creature from Sam and his family.
The tinge of sarcasm and humour to the whole story makes what seems like a straightforward stereotypical plot line interesting. One can easily guess what’s going to happen next, and that’s exactly what happens. But still, there is something charming about resurrecting the dinosaur.
Sam and Priya are your everyday adorable children. Sam in particular is endearing. He tries to toilet train Biscuit (the Pterodactyl) and teach it to do dog tricks. Dr. Pox is built up as this evil scientist and till the end lives up to the billing. She has people killed for not obeying her orders, she terrorizes everyone who comes before and Bio-Engineers soldiers. BENO, who is sent to recover the egg is one of those soldiers, but manages to find a little bit of humanity which was left in her.
The writing style might not be easy to get for everyone. There are plenty of snarky remarks and asides, and the overall tone of the narration is with an edge. Dr. Pox’s story is the usual genius child forced to behave normal. What’s of concern is the author’s treatment of young Dr. Pox’s counselling sessions. While as an adult or even a teenager it is easy to spot the humour, it may not be the same for children. This especially can have disastrous consequences in a society which already looks down upon psychological issues. It could be argued that anyone who does get the tone and language of the book, will get the humour, but it isn’t too convincing. This is a pity, since the author has smartly dealt with the ‘no one likes girls who are clever’ stereotype later in the book. The rest of Dr. Pox’s history—the bits of harsh reality like people stealing her ideas and hating her for being clever makes Dr. Pox a bitter person, and at no point does it sound pitiful or miserable—a wonderful villain, in fact.
A little bit of adventure thrown in alongside a bit of fantasy, there is a solid plot line to the book, albeit a bit predictable. There’s nothing wrong in using tropes. The key is to write them well enough to be entertaining and that the book is certainly entertaining. There are quite a few dramatic scenes, like Sam and Priya flying on the Petrodactyl, which make for wonderful Hollywood-esque picturization.
The book seems to target children who are used to reading quite a bit. Otherwise, an average ten or an eleven-year-old might not necessarily pick up on the snarky tone of the book. The illustrations by Vishnu M. Nair complement the story well. Sam in his big spectacles, especially comes out as an child everyone loves. The Pterodctyl’s Egg by Annie Besant is an entertaining read with a good few smirks and snide remarks thrown in.
The Indian Writing bookshelf is filled with a plethora of books by IIM graduates. Samit Basu isn’t one of them—he dropped out of IIM-A to pursue a career in writing and has gone on to produce numerous well-written books. The Adventures of Stoob is a wonderfully humorous, relatable and fun series for young adults. Narrated by Subroto Bandhopadhyay, fondly called as Stoob, the series follows his life at school and outside it.
The first book in the series, Testing Times, sees Stoob in the fifth grade. T-Rex, the Head Mistress decides to test our young protagonist and his friends by subjecting them to an exam—an event clearly not suited for children who still wore shorts and pinafore to school. How does our hero perform in this arduous task? It isn’t as straightforward as you would expect it to be.
Writing for children is a challenge. Writing good books for children is an art, not to be attempted by those grave adults who have long lost touch with their childhood. Samit Basu retains that touch. Stoob and his friends Ishani, Prithvi and Rehan are the typical ten year olds you find nowadays. They google everything and own iPads and other gadgets. While this make them seem a little precocious, there is still that touch of innocence left, and this can specially be felt in Stoob’s narration.
What’s a test without the ultimate temptation—should one cheat? When Prithvi decides to employ the darker arts to get through the tests and suggests to Stoob it probably is the easy way out, Stoob contemplates it. Does he give in though? Stoob discovers, cheating isn’t just those strategically hidden chits of paper anymore. It is driven by technology and Stoob finds out there is a full-fledged underground ring committed to it.
The illustrations by Sunaina Coelho are funny in their own right. It can be seen that the illustrator has spent time with the author, taken ideas from the book to develop them into quirky, humorous illustrations. This is no surprise considering Samit Basu has worked on comics before and knows the importance of illustrations.
Stoob, Ishani and Rehan all come out as characters you grow to like immensly. Rehan is that genius kid, who seems to know everything, while Ishani has all the notes and pushes Stoob to study and do well in his exams. Prithvi is a character whom parents tell you isn’t a good influence—but that’s not what friendship is about.
While the book is set in Delhi, it should appeal to any child growing up in an English (the language) education. While the language is simple enough, it might be a challenge for a ten year old not exposed to a lot of reading. The book has many hilarious moments and at the same time Stoob learns quite a few important lessons in life; and these aren’t set out in bold with double underline—rather it strikes you. What stands out is that it doesn’t feel like an adult has written it, it is like listening to a ten year old (with spick and span grammar) narrating his day at school.
Adventures of Stoob: Testing Times by Samit Basu is a wonderful free flowing fun read, a must for all children nine and above. It could also be used as a bait to lure all those kids who shy away from books. In fact, the second book is the series is also out, and it surpasses the first. Stoob might just be the character certain nine year olds grow up with right into their teens (and beyond?).
The Sundarbans maybe only three hours away from Kolkatta, but they are a different world all together. The mangroves and tigers, along with other flora and fauna, make the Sundarbans almost a living being. Set in an island in this ecosystem which sees its unfair share of poaching, indiscriminate hunting and cutting of trees, Mithali Perkin’s Tiger Boy is a story which revolves around saving a tiger cub.
Neel is the brightest boy their village has seen in years. The Headmaster and his parents want him to win the Sundarbans scholarship which will take him to Kolkata to continue his education. But Neel isn’t entirely fond of the idea—he admires his father’s carpentry and ability to fish, and loves to swim and play with his friends. The Headmaster is convinced that the only way Neel is going to win the scholarship is if his parents hire a tutor from Kolkata. This would require a sum of money which his family cannot afford. Gupta, a rich smuggler has put a price on a tiger cub which has escaped the fenced-off Reserve. Neel’s father sets out with Gupta’s men to find the cub, going against everything he taught Neel and his sister Rupa— to protect the wildlife and trees and not exploit them for personal gains. The siblings are troubled by this, and set out to find the cub.
It is difficult for a fifth grader to be told that he has to win a scholarship which will give him a chance to go far away from the world he knows. The author presents Neel’s conundrum well—he just can’t resist a swim and he lies to his sister that he hates studying. But he soon realizes how much this means to his parents when his father sets out to hunt for the tiger. Rupa, a school dropout, is smart in her own way. She looks after her brother and thinks on her feet when the moment demands it.
The author visited the Sunderbans to spend time in understanding the place, its people and their life and this is seen in the book. An instance which illustrates this when Neel and Rupa are out searching for the cub and wade through water at night—Neel first checks for crocodiles before getting into the water—a seemingly small details, but which tells you more about the setting. While the temptation to write long-winded descriptions is always there, she has firmly stayed away, keeping it simple bringing in the details into the story.
The book deals with complex issues like conservation and poverty. While Neel’s father has taught him the need to preserve the jungles and protect the wildlife, he is forced to confront his own beliefs when he sets out with Gupta’s men to hunt for the cub. While Neel’s family isn’t the poorest, they need the money to fund Neel’s education. The author also brings out how education is important in alleviation and pulling families out of poverty.
Neel is forced to confront his own desire to stay at home and that of his parents and sister. In the end, he realizes that winning the scholarship might not be a bad idea after all and comes up with a solution to do this without spending a huge sum of money.
Tiger Boy is a thrilling, fast paced read which goes beyond just telling an exciting story and deals with major conundrums and decision making, both for adults and children. Through Neel we learn much, and most importantly realize the need to conserve environment.
Written for mid-level readers, the language is simple and easy to comprehend. The Headmaster’s habit of confusing English proverbs and aphorisms and Neel correcting them (in his head, to himself) serves as a good way to introduce these and is also amusing.
Not to be mistaken for a rhinoceros, Vishesh Unni Raghunathan is a poet and Chartered Accountant from Chennai. He also owns a DSLR.