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They mystery of George

It is possible to love and hate Enid Blyton, but she did make misfits feel like they were represented, never more so than in her character George. Originally published here.

George, me and the misfits

By Jerry Pinto

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A chat with Rashmi Narzary

The winner of the Sahitya Akademi Bal Sahitya Puraskar (Children's Literature Award) 2016, Rashmi Narzary talks about what inspires her. Originally published here.

Rashmi Narzary: The carefree world of a Bodo boy

An interview with Rashmi Narzary, who won the Sahitya Akademi award for children’s books

Arundhati Nath

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A special Bond

Ruskin Bond is arguably one of India's best-known storytellers. On the ocassion of his 83rd birthday, here's an excerpt from his latest book. Originally published here.

Ruskin Bond is 83 today. He reveals where he found the novels he wrote

‘The Room on the Roof came out of my longing for India and the friends I had made.’

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Feather Tales Series

Reviewer: 
Zai Whitaker
Review content: 

These stories are part of Deepak Dalal’s Feather Tales series and feature a group of garden birds, a member of the avian police force, Longtail, Shikar the gallant squirrel-friend of the birds (who even speaks the bird language), and others. The first story, Talon the Falcon, concerns the fate of a caged peregrine falcon, one of the fastest and most sky-bound birds in the world. Its owner, an appropriately crass and greedy (and obese) man, wants the bird for all the wrong reasons; mostly, to improve his status and make others jealous. After an initial fright, the bird gang realize Talon is caged and therefore harmless, and then join Shikar in his daring and successful bid to release Talon. In return, Talon swears on Greatbill, Lord of the Birds, never to harm squirrels. After which there is a satisfying swoop on the greedy owner by his now-free pet, and a return favour for Shikar from Talon when he is being attacked by a dog.

The second story, Flamingo in my Garden, deals with the bird-napping of Sunglow, a beautiful flamingo denizen of the Mumbai mudflats. The culprits are the gulls and crows, more specifically Skull and S-Crow. Sunglow is incarcerated in a cave by these wicked birds, and is rescued by noble Longtail after a series of adventures. These include a sunset deadline set by the crows, a koel whose fellow-nestlings are crows and is therefore able to prise the secret whereabouts of Sunglow from them, and the Cave of the Dark Heart which only Scowl the Owl can negotiate. But having led Longtail there, the owl pushes off, and the rescued flamingo and Longtail can’t find their way out. They are completely lost … until the shrewd police-bird remembers S-Crow’s riddle: The raven’s right wing was stronger. This, he rightly surmises, means they must keep turning left, and they eventually emerge from the cave. But the adventure doesn’t quite end here either.

Deepak Dalal is a children’s writer who focuses on the environment and wildlife. His knowledge of birds and animals gives his writing a special perspective, as with the descriptions of creatures and their habits. This is how Talon enters the story: “This was no ordinary bird; it was the biggest and most fearsome bird that Shikar had ever seen. It perched proudly on talons so large that they sent shivers snaking down Shikar’s spine. A casual slash would rip a squirrel to shreds – no question about it. As Shikar watched, the bird cocked its head. Its eyes swung towards the squirrels and settled on them.” Definitely a naturalist speaking, and that too one who has watched raptors perch, hunt and observe.

There are other messages in these stories apart from the obvious ones of cagedom/ imprisonment and right and wrong thoughts and actions. Shikar looks and thinks different – with a white face, and a bunch of bird friends – and is therefore ostracised by the other squirrels. This message, that differences are not only acceptable but wonderful, is an important one to include in children’s literature today, given the rapidly deteriorating social norms about differentness, in India and indeed worldwide. There is also a good reminder, laced into the flamingo story, that there’s no absolute black and white in our characters, and we all deserve a second chance. Pidgin preaches this to Longtail, again a good thing for children to think about.

Dalal’s language is generally even and appropriate, though now and then there’s a slight shock to the system; as when someone suddenly says “Ooh-la-la”, or a couple of obscure metaphors such as on Page 49 of Flamingo: “See, Skybird, your egg is starting to crumble. And the crumbled shells aren’t going to favour you, I’m afraid.” Also, Dalal should have limited his characters to those who have a focal part to play in the story, and done away with the likes of Mitalee. Having been introduced to her, one keeps wondering when she will reappear and become part of the story.

These are definitely two books that seamlessly combine fun and learning, and the characters and narratives can be used for vigorous pondering by children with a bit of help from parents or teachers.

Review Year: 
2017
Review thumbnail: 
Reviewer Profile Note: 

Zai Whitaker is the Director of the Madras Crocodile Bank, which she helped start in 1976. Earlier, she taught at the Kodaikanal International School for eighteen years, and then was principal of two schools, Abacus Montessori in Chennai and Outreach in Bangalore. She has written over a dozen books for children including Andamans Boy, Kali and the Rat Snake, and Cobra in My Kitchen.

Book1: 

Talon the Falcon

Talon-the-falcon.jpg
Talon the Falcon
Author:
Deepak Dalal
Illustrator:
Lavanya Naidu
58 pages
English
Rs 199.00
ISBN: 978-0143427902
Penguin Books, 
2016
Book2: 

A Flamingo in My Garden

A Flamingo in My_.jpg
A Flamingo in My Garden
Author:
Deepak Dalal
Illustrator:
Lavanya Naidu
96 pages
English
Rs 250.00
ISBN: 978-0143427919
Penguin Books, 
2016
Story Rating: 
4
Illustrations Rating: 
4
Language Rating: 
5
Design Rating: 
3
Overall Rating: 
8

Maya in a Mess

Reviewer: 
Payal Dhar
Review content: 

If books were ever to be judged by their covers, Duckbill’s growing collection of hOle books would get an all-round thumbs-up. All of them have bright covers, engaging illustrations, a simple and easy-to-read story, and that hole in the top right corner that is at once completely useless and absolutely brilliant. As an aunt to a diverse set of niblings with varying tastes in books, I can say with certainty that if nothing else, those holes are winners. In the more recent books of the set, most of the holes have also been incorporated in the illustrations in amusing ways, though I’m sure the target audience have more than enough innovative ideas about how to use them.

Maya in a Mess, like the others, is a chapter book for young readers, possibly a sequal to Meera Nair’s Maya Saves the Day. In this story, the eponymous Maya has been coveting the office of monitor-ship for a while, and when she’s finally handed the key to the class stationery stash, including the world’s tallest, biggest, bluest bottle of glue, her cup of joy truly runs over. Despite the taunts of her nemesis Nidhi, Maya is determined to be the Best Monitor Ever. But tragedy is around the corner: Maya and her friends’ regular game of cops and robbers during the break becomes a little extra spirited, and the next thing she knows, the key is gone. What a mess!

As for what happens next, well, the plot is fairly predictable and the focus on the big bottle of glue a bit annoying, but Meera Nair paints a believable picture of a youngster going through what must surely be a major catastrophe. It is difficult not to like the irrepressible, slightly cheeky and conveniently dishonest Maya—give me such “complex” young protagonists any day compared to the dull, goody-two-shoes, black-and-white Enid-Blyton-esque characters we grew up with. The author didn’t have too many words to play with in this seventy-odd-page story, but she manages to give quite a few of the characters distinguishing quirks: Maya’s mother’s newly acquired driving skills, the kid sister with a keen interest in bodily excretions, the prim and proper Nidhi with all her buttons done up and not a hair out of place, and more. The storytelling is fun and peppy, though there are some repetitions in places. Priya Kuriyan’s illustrations also add a great deal of fun to the narrative. In the end what happens to the key and how Maya gets it back is a little disappointing, but it isn’t a bad read overall.

Fans of the hOle series ought to find Maya in a Mess a satisfactory addition. New or reluctant readers are likely to be enticed by it as well, with its simple language, easy pacing and engaging characters. Priya Kuriyan’s illustrations easily make up at least fifty per cent of the appeal of the book. It’s the little details, like the expressions of the characters and the way the holes are fitted into the drawings, that bring joy. My favourite illustration, though, is the one of a top-down view of a despondent Maya lying on her bed in her room. (Though, if one must nitpick, Maya’s mother is on the wrong side of the car in one of the illustrations.)

Chapter books in general are notoriously tricky to get right. These are exactly the type of children’s books that wannabe authors think is “easy” writing (it isn’t) and something that anyone can do (they cannot). The line between keeping it simple and talking down can be a bit hazy, and sometimes even well-intentioned authors can be sidetracked into trying too hard or ending up with a didactic, moralistic tone. One recalls some of the NBT and CBT titles of a decade or two back with horror, and can only be glad that this current generation of kidlit writing is breaking free of such shackles.

Review Year: 
2017
Review thumbnail: 
Reviewer Profile Note: 

Payal Dhar spends most of her time making up stories, and the rest of it writing on books and technology. She has written several books for young people.

Story Rating: 
3
Illustrations Rating: 
4
Language Rating: 
3
Design Rating: 
4
Overall Rating: 
8

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