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Lessons from Peppa Pig

In another example of the universality of stories, an Indian mother writes about what BAFTA-winning Peppa Pig has taught her about parenting and toddlers. Originally published here.

What Peppa Pig taught an Indian mother about parenting in a world without innocence or security

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A special play

An adaptation of Mahasweta Devi’s The Why Why Girl had a successful run of six years in Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre as Kyun Kyun Ladki. It struck a special chord with its cast and audience. Originally published here.

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A hundred girls who rebelled

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo is an inspiring collection of stories, brilliantly illustrated, for all girls, boys and others. Originally published here.

Stories about 100 heroic women

Rusty and the Magic Mountain

Reviewer: 
Anandam Ravi
Review content: 

There is a certain homespun nostalgia and comfort in Ruskin Bond, a feeling of being transported back to one’s childhood, dreamily listening, with your head on your grandma’s lap, as she tells you a story of a long time ago, a place far away. That is, if you’re an adult. If you’re a child fed on a diet of Harry Potter and Twilight and the Avengers, this book will perhaps open up a whole new world of adventure and action.

Ruskin Bond possesses a rare sort of style, evocative, yet simple, that rings of the mountains and valleys of Dehra Dun and Mussoorie that he writes about. Right from the poetic introduction to the way the tale is spun, the book beckons you in with its charm and simplicity, without artifice or flamboyance,.

Rusty and the Magic Mountain is a tale replete with innocent teenagers, magic hats and cats, mule rides to the top of the mountain, an evil hag, a beautiful but mysterious princess, and other delightfully old-fashioned plot constructs. It is far removed from today’s stories with evil all around. Here, one courts adventure, takes great pains, travels long distances, climbs tall mountains, and invites danger with open arms in order to find it.

Rusty and his friends, Popat and Pitamber, embark on their adventure and climb the much-feared, much-talked-about Witch Mountain and come face-to-face with gently spine-tingling thrills like mysterious faces against windows and cats that draw blood by relentless licking.
And yet, just when you are lulled into a predictable mildly horrifying thriller, the book startles with uncharacteristically bloody twists—such as, a guard being killed by a tiger as the boys watch. What makes this event even more chilling is the flippant way that it is described:

The tiger had dragged its victim to its lair to dispose of the body at leisure. An occasional aa-oonh! from the forest indicated that the other tiger was still in the vicinity.
“And now how do we get back?” asked Popat who had fervently decided that tigers were not his favourite animals.

But the book also provides a few serious takes on life and art for art’s sake.
The Rani asks Rusty and his friends to fetch her a magic musical stone from the top of the mountain:

“Does it have a purpose?” Rusty asks.
“Must everything have a purpose?” The Rani retorts, “Must a star have a purpose? Must a pretty sparkler have a purpose other than to emit light? Must a beautiful stone have a purpose?”

And later, when Rusty discovers another face to the beautiful princess, he protests:

“No! You can’t be two people! Not at the same time.”
“We are all two people—all the time,” the Princess responds.

Rusty and the Magic Mountain has all the wisdom and innocence that one would expect from it. The illustrations are good and well place, capturing much of the essence and mystery of the book. However, whether it will find favour in the bookshelves of today’s tweens and teens is something only time will tell.

Review Year: 
2017
Review thumbnail: 
Reviewer Profile Note: 

Anandam Ravi is a corporate learning designer by profession and a writer at heart. She finds inspiration in lost keys, kitchen debacles, the world around and her children.

Book1: 

Rusty and the Magic Mountain

28150762.jpg
Rusty and the Magic Mountain
Author:
Ruskin Bond
Illustrator:
Archana Sreenivasan
120 pages
English
Rs 299.00
ISBN: 978-0143333579
Story Rating: 
4
Illustrations Rating: 
4
Language Rating: 
4
Design Rating: 
4
Overall Rating: 
8

Once There Was a King and Other Stories

Reviewer: 
Nandini Nayar
Review content: 

Stories by Rabindranth Tagore have about them an indefinable charm because of how they effectively recreate a bygone era. New translations of these stories continue to entertain and educate every generation of young readers.

Once There Was a King and Other Stories is a collection of eight stories by Tagore, translated and retold by Aniruddha Mukherjee and Mamta Nainy. ‘Kabuliwallah’, which I recall reading both in English and Hindi, is an all-time favourite of mine. The story highlights shared human experiences. What is interesting is that Tagore chooses to focus on the bond that the fathers share with their children to do so. The Kabuliwallah is a part of little Mini’s childhood, but when he is arrested and taken away, she forgets him. She lives on in his mind, for him forever a little girl sharing a secret joke with him. When he comes to meet her after his release from prison, he is shocked to realise that in the time that has passed the little girl from his memories has grown into a young woman who is now getting married. He reflects, then, on how the passage of time would have changed the little girl he left back home.

‘Holiday’ is a sentimental story of a naughty boy named Fatik who is sent to live with his uncle but longs for the holidays when he can go home. His attempt to run away goes horribly wrong, and Fatik falls ill. His mother is sent for and when she comes, a now delirious Fatik, tells her that he can go home. ‘Good Riddance’ is another story that highlights the angst suffered by children who feel unwanted. In this case it is the orphan Nilkanta who is first adopted and made much of by Kiran, a young woman recovering from an illness, only to be forgotten when she has other things to occupy her. Both Fatik and Nilkanta are neglected by the adults who are supposed to be responsible for them, and Tagore subtly highlights the impact of this rejection. ‘Missus’ is a story in the same vein, where Ashu is ridiculed for playing with his sister and her dolls. In all these cases it is the adult who lets down the child, resulting in a traumatic experience for the latter.

‘So It Shall Be!’ is the story of a father who longs for his youth and a son who longs to be older being granted their wishes. The resulting confusion helps both of them understand and appreciate their actual ages. ‘The Notebook’ is a story about Uma, who is given a notebook to jot down her thoughts. Although she only records the small, insignificant details of her life in the notebook, it comes to stand for her freedom to pursue learning. When Uma is married off to Pyarimohan, her new family looks on her notebook with suspicion. Ironically, her husband, who himself writes essays, discourages his young wife from writing because he believes this will lead to the ‘destruction of the marriage’. The narrow mindedness of Pyarimohan and his suspicion of progress in any form is sadly visible even today, especially when it comes to educating girls.

This ability to write stories that continue to resonate with readers is Tagore’s particular strength, and the reason people continue to translate, publish and read him. ‘Once There Was a King’ is perhaps the weakest story in this connection. True, it talks about the importance of storytelling and its impact on children, but it fails to grip.

The writers have taken care to select stories that are sure to appeal to children today. The translation is fluid and manages to retain the essential simplicity that lies at the core of all of Tagore’s stories. The illustrations are attractive and the production of the book is tasteful, with dream-like pictures of flowers on every single page adding to the magic of reading.

Review Year: 
2017
Review thumbnail: 
Reviewer Profile Note: 

Nandini Nayar has written over two dozen books for children of all ages. To picture book enthusiasts she is known as the author of the ‘Atta book’ while older readers know her as the writer of the ‘Chicken book’ and the creator of Apoorva.

Book1: 

Once There Was a King and Other Stories

bk_8701.jpg
Once There Was a King and Other Stories
Author:
Rabindranath Tagore
120 pages
English
Rs 195.00
ISBN: 978-8126453450
Mango Books, 
2015
Story Rating: 
4
Illustrations Rating: 
4
Language Rating: 
4
Design Rating: 
4
Overall Rating: 
8

The Girl in the Mirror

Reviewer: 
Dakshayini Suresh
Review content: 

Nandini Nayar’s The Girl in the Mirror is a ghost story for middle readers, told with the kind of care for emotional detail that makes any book worth reading. Eleven-year-old Tara is her grandmother’s favourite grandchild. She loves spending time with her Aji, with whom she shares both a name and a birthday. But Tara isn’t quite able to wrap her head around the mysterious summons she receives to Aji’s home in their ancestral village. She arrives there, both nervous and curious, to find that her beloved grandmother is having delusions, visions of a girl called Chanda who has a nasty habit of appearing in mirrors, and who claims that the only person who can free her is a girl called Sitara. It isn’t long before Tara starts seeing the girl in the mirror herself, and realises that the key to her Aji’s sudden rages and terrible visions lies somewhere in the past, buried in memories of a long-lost friendship and a pickle-making hobby.

Nandini Nayar’s narrative moves deftly between the present, in which Tara is staying with her aunt and uncle while she attempts to solve the mystery of Chanda, and the past, which emerges in little shreds as Tara begins to learn more and more about her grandmother’s growing-up years from her aunts and uncles. Nayar’s treatment of memory is particularly clever—her descriptions leave us with the unsettling feeling that the present is not always as it seems. Another subtle but well-developed thread that the resolution of the narrative rests on appears in the form of Tara’s recurring memories of a fight she had with her friend Sandhya just before the holidays. Each mode of storytelling carries its own weight. Flashbacks are rendered with feeling and a sense of place, and the character of Aji as a little girl is complex, believable, and even slightly vindictive in the way that young children can be. Tara’s relationships with her aunts and uncles are just awkward enough to remind us of weekends and vacations spent in the alien homes of extended family, in strange beds, briefly swallowed up into unfamiliar routines.

The Girl in the Mirror is primarily a ghost story, however, and there are moments in the narrative when the pace slackens and the focus on the Chanda plot point is lost. But these moments are only slightly distracting, and the narrative is generally quick to return to its original trajectory. What is perhaps more disappointing is the way in which the story turns from a nuanced tale of suspense into a friendship fable preoccupied with resolution. Once we understand that the girl in the mirror, Chanda, is a childhood friend of Aji’s, she loses her mysterious quality, more so because she speaks to Tara, explains her predicament, and in most un-ghostly fashion, reveals outright how a solution may be arrived at. She is suddenly solid, accessible, no longer enigmatic, and this comes as something of a shock to an older reader.

But Nayar’s audience is middle readers. And by turning the adventure-suspense story into one about people and relationships, she attempts to convey something about the way that conflict and resentment shape our lives. Her story becomes about the power of forgiveness, and the volatility and comfort of friendship. These ideas don’t need to be communicated via a ghost story, but they add significantly to the atmosphere of the novel.

The physical object of the book does somewhat let the narrative down. The grey and black cover isn’t very eye-catching, and the illustrations, while not unpleasant, don’t add to the mood and feel of the story. They do provide relief from the text, however, and this might appeal to younger readers. On the whole, The Girl in the Mirror is a light and enjoyable read that plays into the pre-teen reader’s need for a fun narrative and a strong sense of resolution.

Review Year: 
2017
Review thumbnail: 
Reviewer Profile Note: 

Dakshayini Suresh is a student of BA English Literature at Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi. In an ideal world, she would spend all her time reading, writing, cooking, eating, playing with her dog and watching Eddie Izzard stand-up. This is not that world, however, so she just attends classes.

Book1: 

The Girl in the Mirror

thegirl_in_the_mirror.jpg
The Girl in the Mirror
Author:
Nandini Nayar
Illustrator:
Shailaja Jain Chougule
136 pages
English
Rs 125.00
ISBN: 978-8126463688
Story Rating: 
4
Illustrations Rating: 
2
Language Rating: 
4
Design Rating: 
2
Overall Rating: 
6

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