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Home away from home

A picture book called Home Away from Home conceptualised by the non-profit Mumbai Mobile Creches brings the kids of urban construction workers an exciting mystery story they can see themselves in. Originally published here.

A picture book for children on construction sites offers a look into their lives, joys and sorrows

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Going up in smoke

In these days of hyper-nationalism and muzzling of free speech, Paro Anand’s work, especially on Kashmir and other conflict situations, is especially relevant. Are the grown-ups listening? Originally published here.

‘Children can read about the Holocaust, but not about the violence in Kashmir’: Writer Paro Anand

Ten ‘mindblowing’ illustrated books

The award-winning illustrator and animator Priya Kuriyan picks her favourite illustrated books for young readers, books that she insists that ought to thrill any adult as well. Originally published here.

Ten fabulously illustrated books for young readers that adults will enjoy just as much
Illustrator and graphic artist Priya Kuriyan picks her favourites.

Discovering Indian sci-fi

The ‘extremely successful history of modern Indian SF’, says writer, academic and documentary maker Sami Ahmed Khan, is more than a century old. It’s not just produced in India, but has its own ‘soul’. Originally published here

Aliens In Allahabad, Zombies In Zamrudpur: Discovering Indian Science Fiction
Indian science fiction has had its own history and tradition.

While I'm Away

Reviewer: 
Maegan Dobson Sippy
Review content: 

The latest addition to Little Latitude’s popular ‘Anahi and Vir’ series is a charming day-in-the-life story that manages to completely capture the nuances of sibling love. Over the course of just five books, these two have become well-known characters in the world of Indian children’s books. Working in an independent children’s bookstore in Bangalore, people frequently drop by and ask for the ‘Anahi and Vir’ books—really quite special, considering that the first was only published in 2011.

Apart from strong writing across the series, this ‘brand identity’ partly has to be credited to Prashant Miranda’s iconic illustrations, which are instantly recognisable. His watercolours are whimsical and stylised, yet manage to show the children’s expressions and feelings, and the world they inhabit, to great effect. It’s not surprising to find out that the characters are modelled on real children, as there is a depth to the way in which they are portrayed which would have been difficult to achieve otherwise.

In this latest offering, older sister Anahi is delighted to be starting school, but sternly warns her brother Vir to ‘make sure to stay/out of my room and/away from toys’ while she spends her day with the ‘big girls and boys’. Vir, of course, is happy to do quite the opposite—reading his sister’s books, playing her games, and renaming all her animals in her absence. Somehow though, as the day goes on, both siblings realise that there are certain things that are much more fun together, perhaps demonstrating that absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

The structure, which narrates each sibling’s day separately before they come together at the end, works well, and overall this is an excellent example of how to pace a picture book. The way in which both Anahi and Vir experience the excitement of doing things alone before realising that they miss the other is cute but entirely believable.

As with all of Little Latitude books, the design and production are excellent, and well worth paying slightly more for. Hand lettering throughout by Miranda is a wonderful final touch, and this sturdy board book will certainly withstand multiple handlings by small paws.

It’s always a good sign when you pick up a rhyming picture book that you can easily read aloud without stumbling. Olson Kennedy’s verse scans beautifully throughout and doesn’t feel contrived. This will be perfect bedtime reading for anyone wanting to talk to their kids about sibling relationships, sharing or starting school.

Review Year: 
2017
Review thumbnail: 
Reviewer Profile Note: 

A freelance writer, Maegan came to India to work with Tara Books in 2010, and has had a soft spot for visual books for children ever since. Together with Bijal Vachharajani she now runs the Instagram handle BAM! Books, which curates children’s book recommendations with a South Asian focus. Her first picture book, Rats Bigger Than Cats, is due to be published by Karadi Tales shortly. She lives in Bangalore with her husband, daughter and cat.

Book1: 

While I'm Away

while-i-m-away.jpg
While I'm Away
Author:
Christy Olson Kennedy
Illustrator:
Prashant Miranda
24 pages
English
Rs 375.00
ISBN: 978-8193166833
Little Latitude, 
2016
Story Rating: 
4
Illustrations Rating: 
5
Language Rating: 
4
Design Rating: 
4
Overall Rating: 
8

The Unknown Indians: People Who Quietly Changed Our World

Reviewer: 
Anil Menon
Review content: 

In the Ramayana, there is the story of the squirrel who sought to help in the building of the bridge to Lanka, one small pebble at a time. The vanar-sena make fun of the helpful creature, but Lord Rama intervenes and blesses the squirrel with a stroke of his hand, thus marking its tail with three stripes. The story says, of course, that no sincere effort can ever be so small that it is insignificant. And when such small efforts are multiplied a million-fold, then vast bridges can spring into being, unjust traditions can be changed, and entire civilisations renewed. Sen Gupta's wonderful and much-needed book is about many such humble squirrels of Indian history. Specifically, it is about the “quiet Indians” who helped our civilisation change with the times. These quiet Indians include our weavers, potters, ironsmiths and carvers; farmers and cooks; poets and rebels; and, of course, our countless storytellers and mythmakers. The young reader lucky enough to encounter this book will find it hard to recognise in its lively and interesting stories that dreary and yawn-inducing subject taught in their classrooms as “history”.

Sen Gupta covers a lot of material in 62 pages. The introduction explains that what we call Indian civilisation has not only adapted to new circumstances, but also thrived because of this willingness to change. Distinguishing real achievements of ancient India from the fake ones, Sen Gupta warns her young readers that there is no use being nostalgic for some non-existent golden age.

The remaining chapters describe various kinds of contributors. She starts with the storytellers and minstrels, describing how the smritis, “people's literature” as she calls it, were composed by many minds, many of them now forgotten or unknown. Much of this chapter is taken up with the factual and mythic history of the Mahabharata, and though interesting, it would have been useful to get a better sense of the contributions of other groups. What stories did the Syrian Christians tell each other? Did the Greeks bring any stories? What about our many tribal groups? There's also a superficial dismissal of the shrutis, which is unfortunate. It lends credence to Hindutva claims that for Indian liberals there is never any virtue to be seen in Hindu sacred texts.

I learned lots of fascinating nuggets in the chapter on weavers and the contributions of other craftspeople. I hadn't known the English “chintz” came from the Hindi “cheent”, or that textile blocks printed in Gujarat have turned up in excavations in Cairo, or that the Buddhist Jataka tales lists 18 craft guilds.

But for me, the next chapter on farmers and cooks was the real shocker. Bernard Shaw remarks somewhere that all learning is accompanied with a sense of loss. If that’s the case, then I learned a lot. I had no idea the samosa was an Arabic import. Ditto for jalebis. In one of my stories I’d described a character as being as authentically Indian as a chikoo. Well, chikoos are from South America. Ditto for rajmah, papaya, cashew nut, potatoes, green chillies—look friend, roll up the flag, just sit back and enjoy your rasgulla (the Portuguese gave us cheese). This was a lovely chapter and left me wanting more.

The book ends with a chapter on poets, those viruses of rebellion. Sen Gupta discusses Bhakti poets, their varied backgrounds—often humble—and what they critiqued. About Kabir, she remarks that “his voice seems to get stronger with every decade”. These men and women weren’t quiet, nor are they unknown today. But in their time, the hegemony, though severely irritated, mustn’t have too perturbed. Let the squirrels ferry their pebbles.

The story of Lord Rama and the squirrel isn’t in the Valmiki Ramayan. Devdutt Patnaik explains how it first appeared in the Bhakti poet Balaram Das’s 15-century Odiya work, the Dandi Ramayan. Clearly, Balaram Das worked the story in because he knew he lived in a world where far too many had been told far too long that they were too unimportant in the scheme of things. I have no doubt that Subhadra Sen Gupta’s quiet little book will serve to inspire the next generation of Indian readers.

Review Year: 
2017
Review thumbnail: 
Reviewer Profile Note: 

Anil Menon started out wanting to be an accountant, took a long detour through computer science and ended up a fiction writer. He’s the author of The Beast With Nine Billion Feet (Young Zubaan, 2010) and Half Of What I Say (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Book1: 

The Unknown Indians: People Who Quietly Changed Our World

The Unknown Indians.jpg
The Unknown Indians: People Who Quietly Changed Our World
Author:
Subhadra Sengupta
Illustrator:
Tapas Guha
64 pages
English
Rs 195.00
ISBN: 978-8129137593
Story Rating: 
4
Illustrations Rating: 
3
Language Rating: 
4
Design Rating: 
3
Overall Rating: 
8

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