You must have heard of The Very Hungry Caterpillar if you’re even remotely connected to the world of infants and toddlers. Well, you may have read it yourself as a child! Eric Carle’s classic tale of growth and change has struck a chord with children and parents alike, over the past 50 years.
This is the story of a caterpillar who transforms into a butterfly. The mother butterfly lays an egg, and the caterpillar hatches on a Sunday. The book follows a week-long eating spree. Yes, there is a bit of junk food involved as well! After the escalating food rampage, a nice green leaf settles down the dietary upset! The caterpillar snuggles and nestles into a cocoon before of course, emerging into a beautiful butterfly.
Why has this formative piece of literature gripped the hearts of children and parents over fifty years? What is that endearing quality which is sure to take it through the hundred-year mark as well?
I think it has a lot to do with fusing educational concepts with a really fantastic story! Books for children are often sneaky ways to get them learn without them being aware of it of course! Think of the different concepts that a simple story like The Very Hungry Caterpillar brings forth to the child- the days of the week, colours, fruit names, junk food names, the importance of eating healthy, and above all the concept of metamorphosis! How many books for children can actually boast that kind of abundance of concepts?
But this ‘educational’ aspect of the book merges with beautiful illustrations and a very striking visual style. The book has holes on all the pages, and this makes it fun and memorable for the children. They can engage with this book in a very different manner.
There are also board books inspired by the original book. These include a touch and feel element as well, such as the book below.
For slightly older kids who enjoy doodling, books like the one below can combine old familiarity with newer explorations!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a character that any child would instantly recognise. Here is a little round-up of some interesting accessories and items inspired by The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
2. Kids will love walking in the rain with this themed umbrella!
3. Here is a simple board game for unto 5 year olds…though older siblings might just enjoy playing it!
4. Nothing quite like having the very hungry caterpillar itself right besides you!
5. Why not indulge in some themed-lacing activities?
For more themed toys explore this link here
« Give me six months and I will teach your sons how to live wisely. They will make you proud » said Vishnu Sharma, the great Pandit to whom we trace the inception of Panchatantra. The famed guru employed the unique technique of storytelling to educate the sons of the king of an ancient kingdom. Through the annals of time, these worldly-wise stories have enriched generations of readers. A Basketful of Animal Tales by Sreelata Menon dips into this rich literary legacy and chronicles these timeless gems.
This book presents stories from the Panchatantra in an easy to read and accessible format. The text is simple and comprehensive, enriched with great vocabulary as well. This makes the book perfect for younger readers who could look at vocabulary enhancement in addition to the moral aspect of the story.
Each chapter tells a popular story in simple but rich language. The morals given at the end are short and snappy. The lovely illustrations by Megha Punater that accompany each story work well with the text.
Tales from the Panchatantra have been an important part of our literary heritage. This book sets the stage for some interesting tales involving a host of much-loved animal characters. Children may be familiar with some of the more common stories such as The Monkey and the Crocodile for instance. However, this is a mixed basket and you’re also sure to hit upon several unread gems.
In all, A Basketful of Animal Tales by Sreelata Menon is perfect for a weekend read and also a nice timeless gift for children!
In a nutshell, Defining India Through Their Eyes by Sonia Singh (published by Penguin) has conversations with illustrious personalities whose own personal stories have been interwoven with the India narrative. As citizens of a country, when we look back at our lives, and we compare this journey with that of our country we will invariably notice that somewhere these two stories intersect. The personal becomes the political. And, the political becomes the personal.
It is one such journey that Sonia Singh is taking the reader through. Except, this is not really about one individual. It is about a diverse range of personalities who look at India through the unique spectrum of their experiences.
I think that as Indians, engaging in this narrative with the people who have had some role, however big or minuscule in shaping India, is indeed enlightening.
For me, these conversations threw some some interesting behind the scenes information. Reading about Arun Jaitley’s experiences in prison on being arrested during the emergency for instance was quite fascinating. The interview with Dalai Lama threw up wonderful glimpses of how different Prime Ministers of India, right from Pandit Nehru to Narendra Modi have walked the tightrope with China on the issue of Tibet. Raghuram Rajan’s insights into the workings of bureaucracy were an interesting aspect to the chapter that obviously talked about economics largely. Aruna Roy’s activism is inspiring in how it led to a defining moment for the people in form of the RTI act.
Another point I must mention is the selection of personalities. They are so diverse and that really makes it interesting ! You have opposing personalities – on one hand there is Pranab Mukherjee who stood with Indira Gandhi during the Emergency and on the other there is Arun Jaitley who was imprisoned during that time. Personalities like Aamir Khan and Kamal Hassan from the film industry and sports stars like Sania Mirza and Sachin Tendulkar add to this wonderful curated mix of people that includes several more luminaries.
All interviews stand out strongly on their own. Depending on each reader, of course, some of these conversations will resonate more strongly than others.
For me, one of the best interviews was one with our current Finance Minister, who earlier headed the Defense Ministry. We can’t really talk about defining moments in India without reference to some bold decisions taken on the Indian response to terrorism. The interview with Nirmala Sitharaman, who at the time of the publication of the book was the Defence Minister, is very fiery and very inspirational. A woman helming one of the most crucial ministries (both then as Defense and now as the Finance Minister), I felt her interview was quite interesting.
Another one I particularly enjoyed was the conversation with Nandan Nilekani. The reasons are obvious- conceiving Aadhar under one government and implementation of the same under another. What were the challenges that the corporate honcho faced in the corridors of power in Delhi? Aadhar has redefined identity for Indians and has been a crucial milestone in nation building.
Just when you think that it cannot get better and more candid than this, you turn the page and there pops another equally fiery personality.
The simple purpose of any conversation is to be enriched by it. And, by talking to these diverse minds about defining moments in their lives, and how these moments intersect with the story of India is inspiring.
Defining India Through their Eyes by Sonia Singh brings forward interesting perspectives on India. Some conversations give you a background to behind the scenes politics. Some show how decisions taken at top levels have connotations spread over decades. Some show the power of a single idea. But all of them have something enriching to offer!
Today, more than ever before it is necessary to create awareness about the reality of climate change. The signs of our abuse of the earth are showing clearly now. The wounds are bare for all to see. It is more important than ever to teach children about climate change. That is why perhaps, a guide to climate change, or rather to teaching children about climate change is called for. As we all know, children represent hope. Perhaps the way to change things for the better is to create awareness within children.
Teaching children about Climate Change need not be a daunting task, as many of us would assume. This book presents a curated selection of poems, stories and short information snippets, with enchanting and beautiful artwork, to bring forth the theme.
The text evokes wondrous images of the natural wonders that we are lucky to experience. But then, it gently introduces the concept of climate change and the dangers that this phenomenon brings for us.
Climate Change is a problem that belongs jointly to the whole world. It will not just impact one country or group. Keeping this broad aspect in mind, the book has pieces from varied places. Thus, a translation of a Gujarati poem sits alongside an old folk tale from Japan for instance.
Interspersed gently across the book are questions that encourage children to think about climate change and what they can do about it. How can they find their voice, and more importantly how can they express it?
Besides several well illustrated and simply explained facts about climate change, the book has clear and direct call to actions. These are simple suggestions about how a small child can make a difference at an individual level.
The book is also available in Hindi-Jalvayu Parivartan Se Prabhavit Dharti Hitrakshak Sandarshika
The Earth Carer’s Guide to Climate Change will resonate with children as young as 5 right up to 10-12-year-old children. It is a useful resource for parents and teachers to broach the subject of climate change in a humanistic manner!
Almost 25 years ago, Pico Iyer visited Japan for the first time, as a transit passenger. This little diversion must have been some preordained plan, because Japan made way into his soul. Well, quite visibly. Few years later he found himself in the country, and also found love. Japan had claimed the California boy as her own.
Japan also gave him his first book- The Lady and the Monk. In the famed author’s latest offering , Autumn Light- Season of Fire and Farewells, published by Penguin Viking, Japan once again makes a dominating presence felt. The perspective has changed though. This time the story gently touches on concepts of death, decay and impermanence, probably the ultimate truths of life.
There is a beauty in impermanence. There is a joy in capturing the transient. Where else can this eternal truth be encapsulated but in the essence of Japanese philosophy. Within Japan, where Pico Iyer first made a defining decision, lies this exploration of what autumn represents.
The author returns to his beloved Japan in Autumn and all around him he observes changes. But, he seeks out the « changelessness in change ». Through the narrative of his own story he ponders over this much larger question.
There is a gentle discussion of death as Pico is confronted with the same. His father in law passes away; his wife decides to shift her mother in a nursing home ; the ponderings of the mother on this decision; the ritualistic markings of obeisance to the dead ancestors ; the stories of the pain of war stuck into the minds and collective consciousness of common people; the separation and disintegration of familial ties…All these streams of thought have been approached gently but remain deep and poignant.
There are many threads that run through the narrative. One of them is the relationship of old parents with their young children. How do the filial ties hold once birds have flown from the nest? How does the modern generation confront mortality and old age of parents?
Deftly woven words, wry humour, and a gentle, almost inviting manner of addressing what many may call dark topics, is what is so endearing about the book.
Another running theme in the book has to do with Ping-pong. While in Japan, Iyer regularly plays ping-pong with people much older than him. They may be seniors but that’s no deterrent to their agility and perfection at the game. It is through the prism of this game that we get one more glimpse of how the old can be celebrated.
Autumn slips into his spirit and voice. His wife, Hiroko, has a family story linked to the wars and the bombing of Hiroshima. Through her memories of the days the sad tales of the futility of war come out strongly. The personal speaks for the collective. The war still haunts the people who have memories of it.
But, I am sure that readers, as they take time to savour this profound book, will come to realise, as Iyer does, “Why, I wonder, must I be so often running against time, when I know the only way to be happy is to make my peace with the autumn and see it as a friend “!
Mindfulness (Mindful parenting included!) has almost become a fashion in our troubled times where fast paced living seems to be hacking at the very roots of a peaceful life. We are mindful about eating, working, socialising and so on. But, it is the need of the hour to be mindful about an activity that actually sets the stage for our future as a civilisation- parenting. But Mindful parenting is more than your typical new age lifestyle term, as this book from Harper Collins goes on to show. The Children of Tomorrow (A monk’s guide to mindful parenting) by Om Swami presents age-old wisdom crystallised in a format palatable for modern parents.
The chapters in the book stress on the need for parents to be mindful and collaborative with each other on raising their children. Jokes and hilarious cartoons between the chapters add an element of humour. The last chapter gives a ready reconer of tips that parents must bear on mind.
I think this book is, in a sense, a manna for modern parents. Belonging to the current generation of parents with young kids, I can’t help but acknowledge the unique challenges that our lot faces – we may have lesser kids and more resources than our own parents did, but we still grapple with many questions and parenting issues. We have google at our fingertips but sometimes can’t really know what information to choose! We are individuals with multiple hopes and dreams, a generation that is individualistic and high achieving, we are made of yummy-mummies and ever growing young dads, we juggle our schedules and that of our kids with finesse (and the latest apps and a team of staff). But still, we are, at the end of this all, lacking something substantial and something deep!
The thoughts that Om Swami presents have their roots in his experiences of interacting with young children, young adults and parents at different parenting stages. As an impartial observer he looks at their problems and the potential suggestions on what can help them. I think most of these thoughts are applicable to all relationships and not only the parent-child one.
I particularly liked the chapter on building an identity capital. Just like one needs financial capital to get through uncertain times in life, or maybe just as a buffer, building an identity capital is crucial for children to cruise through life. This may be a buffer against phases of identity crisis that seemingly impacts a variety of age groups today, including parents themselves !
As the book progresses, I notice that a lot of the lessons are targeted at self-improvement for parents. And then it dawns- changing your child for the better or bringing them up in the right manner actually begins with the parent. One of the main lessons that all parenting books must amplify, and that this one clearly does, is that the first step to great parenting is by setting an example ! Mindful parenting simply could well translate into mindful living yourself. But more than anything else, The Children of Tomorrow (A monk’s guide to mindful parenting) by Om Swami shows that “Good families begin with great parenting,”.
Ziya Us Salam’s book, ‘365 Tales from Islam’, (published by Om Books International) for children is a treasure trove of fascinating reads. A supposedly closed window is opened and 365 stories tumble out one by one giving meaning to the different facets of Islam.
Assalam-u-aliakum! (A greeting or salutation in Islam meaning peace).
The Muslims believe that Adam was the first prophet sent to earth by Allah and Prophet Mohammad was the last to whom the revelations of the Quran in Arabic (foundation of Islamic faith) were revealed bit by bit in parts during his lifetime. The Quran mentions that Isa (Jesus Christ) was one of the last Israeli prophets and a healer and talks about Musa(Moses) to whom the scriptures were revealed ,a criteria on how people should lead a happy, content and harmonious life. There are 114 Surah’s (verses) in the Quran and Muslims should read them regularly. Insights are offered as to why preference should be given to education and all children whether a boy or girl should be welcomed in the family, why the first Athaan/Azaan was called out loud since in the early days there were no watches and people lived far away and hence they needed to be informed about the time for prayers, why performing the wudu/ablution, a hygiene ritual is important for the purity of a Muslim, importance of praying five times a day, observing rituals, fasting and the suhoor meal and so on.
The author, Ziya Us Salam is a noted social and literary commentator and author of many books for adults. He has been associated with The Hindu group for 19 years. In this book, the tales have been simplified so that the language and text is easy to comprehend. Each tale has something special to teach and moral stories of value have been highlighted. All the stories are illustrated and they are colourful and eye catching. Many a times, if the children find the stories difficult to comprehend, the illustrations provide a link.
Om Publications always comes up with appealing and entertaining books for children and 365 Tales from Islam is just that! It is educational and highlights life in ancient era and modern times with funny anecdotes included so that children do not tire while reading or being read too. It is a book to keep, the tales are detailed and we learn so much more about Islam and its teachings.
Title: 365 Tales from Islam
Author: Ziya Us Salam
Genre: Religion and Spirituality
Appropriate for Children 6+ and with Parental Guidance
Publisher: Om Books International, Hardbound
Depressed and anxiety ridden art restorer, Mila is frantically trying to gather her bearings following a brutal assault. A Buddhist nun Pema wills herself to face the illusory nature of the balance she thought she had achieved. Through Atish, her third character, Khanna gives voice to the condition of migrant labour, the education system and religious customs. The intertwining narrative between these three central characters forms the crux of this story. A conversation with Kajoli Khanna revealed her inspiration and writing process for this novel.
Based on deeply personal experiences, Khanna returned to Delhi and was experiencing the symptoms of severe trauma due to a physical assault she had suffered in the mountains. Carrying a burden that needed to be shed when her survival instinct kicked in and guided Khanna towards writing. She unconsciously channelized all those disturbing emotions and released them into a book. She finally zeroed in on a murder mystery based on her terrifying experience and started writing the story of Mila, the art restorer. But it would only form a novella.
Since Mila steps into a spiritual arena Khanna added the destructive effects of negative emotions into the story for a deeper understanding. Thus, Pema the saintly bhikshunni who harbours hatred and a terrible anger, was born. She suited the arena well so intertwining her narrative with Mila’s was invigorating. Her sisters were inspired by the nuns the author personally met at nunneries in Spiti.
However, Khanna still felt that there was something lacking in the story. The character of Atish kept popping in Khanna’s mind, asking for attention. He was obviously inspired by the underprivileged children she worked with and decided to cross the ugly barriers of class and expose the foul nexus of power that lives off the blood and sweat of the underprivileged. He also became the orator and hero through whom Khanna shared her opinions on the conditions of migrant labour, the village education system and religious customs.
Albeit with a satiric humour, Atish is intelligent, well-informed, gutsy and articulate because she wanted to tell the readers that underprivileged children are as capable (if not more), as clever, as talented, as spoilt as kids who go to snooty private schools. Atish’s achievements in the book are those that the author dreams for all her students. His mistakes can be made by any one of us, but his grit and determination, his formidable resilience belongs in the lives of the brave young warriors she has encountered.
An unfavorable experience
Talking about her terrifying experience with a criminal, Khanna shares, “I was in the mountains, working on a project when I was brutally assaulted in the middle of the night. The criminal stayed in my room for 2 maybe 3 hours. It was petrifying. I had two bodyguards following me everywhere but the fear had infiltrated my being and I was forced to return to Delhi. Even there I was terrified the man might track me down because we had reported the incident to the police. He had threatened to kill me if I did. The doubt and the fear, the frustration of having to leave the project unfinished wreaked havoc with my confidence. And I was angry that a criminal was able to dictate the terms by which I lived. This led to feelings of helplessness, despair and eventually bouts of depression. I was experiencing the symptoms of trauma.”
Miraculously, Khanna’s survival instinct arose to guide her towards writing. She began writing the story of Mila who suffered an assault similar to her. Describing the physical details of the incident was traumatic but also it was cathartic. “As I wrote I re-lived the incident, and each time I did that I cleansed myself, a bit at a time, of the grossness of it. Writing became a therapy. I firmly believe my work with the underprivileged helped my recovery. As I worked with the students their levels of confidence began to grow and so did mine. I shared the same sense of satisfaction, of joy and hope as they did. My fears and worries melted away. Years later I came to understand; by benefitting others you benefit yourself and this is what I wanted to illustrate in the book.”
Infused in Mila’s story are these essential formulae required for healing. The author wanted to share these miraculous but simple processes she had experienced with the world. It was a traumatic struggle which ended with a heartening, illuminating outcome. Mila’s tale which began as a murder mystery turned into a story about reinvention and recovery.
A champion for mental health
At a time when social, emotional and psychological problems are prevalent, solutions are needed. This is what Khanna’s book Destiny’s Flowers sets out to provide. One of the main streams running through the novel explores a single sentence the Buddha uttered – WHAT THE MIND CREATES ONLY THE MIND CAN UNDO. This timeless wisdom is illustrated particularly by the stories of the two female protagonists, Mila who is crippled by fear and Pema, a novice who is slave to anger and hatred. Travelling with Pema and Mila through the twists and turns of the tale, the pitfalls and strengths of human emotions emerge, revealing the obstacles we create in our minds and the formula needed to dissolve them. When faced by the labels society thrusts upon us Atish shows us how to live ‘Out of the Box’. Here too it is the manner in which he thinks that turns the spoilt teenager into a wonderful human being. A dose of this book is what all modern minds need. After all, the struggle for freedom from our anxieties is universal.
“I have received an overwhelming response here in the Shimla Hills where I have given two talks on Destiny’s Flowers. In both I have related the book to overcoming trauma, reducing the destructive effects of negative emotions and living in the moment. A novel must speak to the reader (whatever their age) help them find direction or give meaning to life. I certainly hope this is what Destiny’s Flowers will do,” says Khanna.
Changing for the better
When asked if the events in the book will have last impressions on the lives of the characters, she reveals, “They do implement the realizations and changes which will have a lasting impact on their lives. By the middle of the book, events culminate to arrive at exciting and favourable conclusions for all three characters. The flowers of destiny shower their paths making wishes come true and realizations abound. Mila proves to be a catalyst in Pema’s life and later Atish as well. The bhikshunni is granted two boons that help to change her distorted view of the world and make her question the code of conduct she has lived by. Though several factors contribute to Mila’s success her journey is one of self-discovery. Atish makes a major blunder in the Fort of Joji which turns out for the best, aiding Mila (who plays spiritual detective) to ascertain the finer nuances of the philosophy she has discovered. And again, Atish’s reaction to Pema’s mistakes lightens the load of shame and guilt the novice carries. Though epiphanies and tumultuous events alter the lives of all three protagonists throughout, the last chapters are the most poignant and revealing. Both their stories and the characters come to fruition.”
A piece for everyone
The beauty of this book lies in its universal appeal, apart from being above 18 years of age, there is no restriction on whom this story is for. There is something in the novel for every age and audience. From the feedback the author has received, the book has appealed to a variety of people for a variety of reasons. Seasoned readers have called it a seamless page turner, some are taken by the final realizations Mila reaches, others resonate with the adventures of Atish and the journey of Pema and still others by the lyrical language used to create soothing, poignant and passionate scenes, but everyone is struck by the unexpected outcomes that continuously change the direction of the tale.
‘Blessed‘ by author Deepa Agarwal comes as a breath of fresh air. It is a story that will appeal to modern readers – a fictional tale with some magic. It is a fast-paced read where the underdog emerges victorious!
The title ‘Blessed‘ primes the reader’s thoughts to someone with a gift or special power which is the central theme running through the story.
The story unfolds in a poor district, Kote, where girls are forbidden to read or write. The once prosperous kingdom was overthrown by the evil, neighbouring Agyanees. The drama unfolds with the search for a Blessed girl child who will recite the ancient hymns and close the shield of protection. This will restore the kingdom to its previous glory. Is the ‘so called blessing’ really a blessing? Or is it an unwanted burden in the guise of a blessing?
The plot takes many twists and turns which include a jealous brother, traitors, kidnappings, form changing characters and priests with super powers. Despite all the dynamic happenings, what holds appeal is the simplicity of the people, the eventual victory of good over evil and the new world order which makes it possible for girls to receive an education. The book is an admonition to backward cultures which treat women as secondary citizens and do not value education. The illogical nature of this behaviour and need for change comes through in spades.
Would a slightly longer book with more detail be preferable? Definitely! Would more depth to certain characters be appreciated? Surely! Would a better background have elevated the story? Probably! But all these minor aspects fly right out of the window when we find ourselves rooting for the innocent child protagonist, and that is indeed the strength of this novel.
Gardening can be a fulfilling passion, and even more so, when you relish the fruits (or vegetables!) of your hard labour. And, it always helps to have a good friend and guide along the way. New Vegetable Garden Techniques- essential skills and projects for taster healthier crops by Joyce Russell, published by White Lion Publishing, is a book written with the aim of guiding amateur gardeners, and tipping up information for experienced ones.
Learning Vegetable garden techniques from a book can be really easy and practical, if written in an accessible way. This is exactly where Russell’s book scores high. The best part here is the manner in which the information has been organised. There is a deep connect between the pictures and the text, and the many pictures really aid the reader immensely. Several boxed tips and pieces of information make this a very reader-friendly guide.
There are 25 DIY projects in the book. These are illustrated step-by-step. The book is very practical in nature. Each “project” is presented as a recipe, complete with the list of what you need and the method. Handy tips from experience have been boxed.
The range of skills and steps required for growing your own vegetable patch is wide. Right from preparing land (or choosing the right container), to getting the right soil, making compost, taking care of pests, tending to specific plant requirements and so on, there are a gamut of steps. A lot of comprehensive information is presented in a very accessible manner.
The book is also peppered with specific examples of specific plant requirements, again adding to the handiness aspect. I liked the DIY section on making your own basket and growing plants within. Not only can one enjoy the produce, but also have a spectacular design feature. I also found the tips of growing seedlings, micronutrients and so on quite helpful, how to improve your soil and add on to make richer soil,
There are a few really excellent diagrammatic representations which are very handy. For me, the one on soil nutrients was a great ready reckoner in giving me information about my garden soil.
Why not grow your own bucket garden? Plastic buckets make for wonderful containers and they can be moved around easily thanks to the handles. Grow your favourite veggies within! They are also a perfect solution for a children’s garden as they are light and easy to move around.
It is a good idea to use biodegradable containers to grow seedlings. Once the plants are ready to be replanted in larger containers or prepared beds, you could plant out the pots themselves, which in due course will decompose, leaving no waste behind.
This book opened my eyes to an untapped area- using fresh shoots for consuming. By germinating young seeds and using the fresh sprouts you can add immense variety and health to your diet. Microgreens are the way to go!
Keep adding to the soil to provide the right balance of nutrients and drainage that each new crop needs.
Leaves are a free valuable resource for most gardeners. Fallen leaves can be used as mulch, or compost. If you have a mower that powders them, use this to sprinkle the powder on your plants.
Planting different crops in different areas of the garden each year helps to prevent pests and diseases building up in the soil, resulting in healthier plants and harvests.
And if you’re interested in reading more about gardening, “Ground Rules” is a great book to refer to.