How much do grandparents influence their grandchildren? A lot, as we all know. Xerses adores his grandfather. His mother Sonji wants Xerses to be like JRD Tata. But, for the young child, no one could be more ideal than his grandpa, his beloved Mamavaji. His interactions with his grandfather are filled with pure unadulterated fun. The relationship between the boy and his grandfather has been very beautifully evoked in Flying with Grandpa.
However, Sonji, like most parents is always looking at disciplining Xerses and ensuring that he makes the best use of his time instead of fooling around with Grandpa. Thus, follow a turn of events where each family member grapples with their own unique realities. How does the bond between the grandfather and his grandson play out? Is Sonji ultimately able to balance between her expectations of her son with his natural inclination to do completely the opposite of what she wants? How does Sonji’s husband, Noshir, balance it all?
The book conjures wonderful and familiar images of a Parsi household. However, the theme of the story is universal. The setting of the story could well have been any household in any part of the world. The human emotions it induces are indeed common to all. The interactions between the various relationships depicted in the book- mother-son, father-son, mother-father and grandparent-grandchild, are quite authentic and relatable. The influence of grandparents on children; how this may sometimes come in the way of what parents want….and how to balance it all- these form an integral part of Flying with Grandpa! This family story will touch your heart and also entertain at the same time.
Title: Flying with Grandpa
Author: Madhuri Kamat
Illustrator: Niloufer Wadia
Publisher: Duckbill books
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Age group: 8 onwards
Amra and the Witch is a story about the adventures of a boy called Amra and his friend Veerma. This book takes young readers into the lush fields of North India in a beautiful village environ. The simple day-to-day lifestyle of the people, their language and their mannerisms are evoked quite beautifully in the story. Besides the story itself, I found these elements quite fascinating. They would present an authentic setting to the urban child who would most likely be the reader of this book.
The villagers believed that whoever needed an answer badly went to Jeevti Dakkan, a witch who lived in a haunted hut. The kids were so scared of her that when they went to school they would take a route two kilometers longer because they did not want to go near that hut. Amra had a question that was unanswered, and a serious one at that! Veerma told him to go to the witch. Do they meet the witch? Do they manage to solve their problem without getting into another one?
Amra and the Witch is a story for young readers, about the age of 7 to 9. The language that is used in the book is very simple and easy to understand. It has got plenty of humorous bits that keep on popping up and that keep readers chuckling all the way till the end.
It is a very catchy story as the suspense is held till the end of the book. The climax is revealed in a very simple way. The illustrations enhance the experience of reading the book. They are simple, but say a lot.
Other hOle Books
Title: Amra and the Witch
Author: Arefa Tehsin
Illustrations: Chetan Sharma
Age group: Younger Readers
The Great Moto-Matic House by Brijesh Luthra is the first in a series that covers the adventures of Ziptux- a science nerd and inventor in his own right, and his robot Dibbly. In order to make a special invention they go to the best DIY store in the universe, that is located on another planet. But, there is someone who follows them all the way across the galaxy. And that someone makes a really stupid mistake, that could destroy the universe. Now, it is all up to Ziptux and Dibbly to save the day…or rather, the universe! The book is a light read peppered with fantastic ideas and loads of humour!
A very good observation indeed. When the concept about the Great Fattening popped into my head, my first take was the humour angle where I imagined everyone in the universe lying on their sofas with their mouths wide open and robotic hands popping mounds of burgers, heaps of ice-cream and gallons of sugary drinks into their mouth while they watched endless re-runs of hit TV series. But the moment I converted that vision into words, it was clear to me that there was something more to that picture – a danger that humanity faces in the age of convenience today that we perhaps don’t know how to handle properly. As relevant that thought was, I needed to make sure this angle does not become overbearing. So, I tried to keep looking at it from a 10 year old’s eyes – which part of that picture would they laugh at, what would they do to avoid this scenario and so on. And the beauty of their point of view is that they don’t overanalyze or complicate things, they can take things at face value (at the risk of sounding simplistic) and deal with it in a straightforward, yet intelligent way. This exercise kept me honest. I must add that having read and re-read works by Douglas Adams, Spike Milligan, Tom Holt, Enid Blyton, Italo Calvino, and Roald Dahl, who have a wonderful tangential view of things around us helped immensely.
The spark for this book was a dreaded parental duty from many years ago – giving my young son a shower. Both of us hated that activity so much that we spent more time discussing ideas for an automatic shower machine than him getting cleaned up. I have always been a great fan of Rube Goldberg and his inventions, so it was clear that the shower machine cannot be something that one can buy in a store. However advanced that contraption might be, it would have been too simple for this book. And then there are two important aspects – First is my office, which is littered with hundreds of Sci-Fi novels, books about Science, space, the universe & humour. And the second, perhaps the more important one is the overwhelming feeling that I have had since my childhood that Earth is an incredibly boring place to live on. So, it was clear that story had to be set in a place far far away for our irrelevant galaxy that no intelligent species in the universe wants to visit. And the fact that the first draft of the book was finished just after our annual skiing trip in which we had just finished the entire Star Wars movie collection, was the icing on the cake.
Indeed, there are many planned. Their further adventures, each of which will be independent episodes described in separate books, will be quirky pursuits instigated by day-to-day errands, simple questions, desires or requests for help from friends and authorities, human as well as alien. So, you can expect a whole lot of interstellar travel, zany situations that no human has ever faced before, leaps of imagination, many of which will have a base in real science of today and things that will come tomorrow. Simply put, the series is about a curious, inventive and enterprising boy and his desire to explore the whys and the wherefores of the universe accompanied by a quirky but immensely knowledgeable friend who all children would love to have by their side. And yes, there is a prequel which will reveal how they met – a question that I have alluded to many times in this book. The decision to have a prequel was an interesting process in itself as the prequel was written before this book. What was that reason? Perhaps that’s left for another interview.
There are quite a few perceptions about AI today – a potential threat to humans as a life form, something that will ease our lives or something that will render us as slaves to the machine, or a vehicle that will alleviate the human consciousness beyond the mundane – just to name a few. The answer, as it often transpires, lies somewhere in the middle. In my version of the world, AI is nothing else but another intelligent species which has become a part of the fabric of human society. And like in any co-existence, there are aspects of vice and virtue, which will emerge in the future books. I have deliberately chosen not to analyze or dissect it further because I believe in the theory that as characters develop, they create stories and situations that an author could not have imagined when he or she started writing the book.
To get initial feedback, I did a lot of what I like to call blind testing. I would give a few pages to kids in my circle without telling them who has written it. There were two common themes that resonated positively – the first was this combination of a robot that has an ability to get into trouble and the boy who gets his friend out of trouble. And second, was the core of the story about machines doing the tasks that kids hate, which not surprisingly is a fantasy of every child. From an improvement perspective, many of them pointed out that the beginning was a bit too contrived as I was rushing through the first few pages to get the parts of the story that I wanted to tell. Fixing that took nearly a year for me! But the important lesson I learnt was that you often have to kill your darlings.
The ideas about machines that are referred in the book originally came from ideation sessions I had with kids. It’s only natural that I should carry on that theme and make it more concrete in the form of a contest. But more importantly, I want the readers to feel that they are helping to build the world of Ziptux and Dibbly, rather than just passive consumers of the stories. I routinely run creative writing workshops for kids and this sense of co-creation really excites them, which I hope to harness as a collective force.
Title: The Great Moto-Matic House
Author: Brijesh Luthra
Publisher: The Write Place
Age group: 10+
As one of the most renowned authors in the mythology genre, Anand Neelakanthan needs no introduction. With bestselling titles such as Asura, The Rise of Sivagami, Ajaya 1: Roll of the Dice and Ajaya 2: Rise of Kali, Vanara is Neelakanthan’s latest offering.
A refreshing change from the traditional heroes of Indian mythology, Vanara focuses on those who were vanquished and weaves a story around untouchables. Bali and Sugreeva are orphans who are brought up in Rishi Gautama’s ashram. They belong to the Varana class and hence they are considered untouchable and not allowed to mingle with the others in the ashram. Circumstances force them to leave the ashram and meet Tara, the beautiful daughter of Vanara Vaidya, Sushena. The love story between these three characters forms the crux of the book. Packed with family drama, love, lust and friendship, Neelakanthan explores the various facets of romance through the eyes of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara.
Vanara might come across as one dimensional at first, but like a good cup of tea, the layers unfurl as you go along. As the book progresses, the characters really come into their own and display multifaceted personalities. The story is extremely gripping and will keep the reader on edge till the very last page. Written in an easy to read format, Neelakanthan has done away with any magical or mystical elements. All characters are portrayed as normal human beings devoid of any magical powers thus making them relatable.
Although this gripping tale is set in ancient times, the author is successful in drawing parallels to modern times. As a result, Vanara is an interesting read. However, since the story is not from the perspective of popular idols such as Lord Ram, Sita or Indra, some parts might be considered offensive to certain groups of people.
Vanara is a great read for those who are looking to explore Indian mythology. It gives a refreshingly new perspective to ancient tales and helps readers understand our rich Indian heritage.
BOOKS BY ANAND NEELAKANTHAN
Author: Anand Neelakanthan
Publisher: Penguin Books
Peanut’s dilemma is well understood. But then, there is something that can rekindle the love that has diminished! This hilarious story has two parallel themes. At one level, it is about how to hold on to activities one is interested in (in this case the piano) despite the passing of time. At another, it is an exciting adventure involving a brave young girl!
Shreya Sen’s illustrations add to the humorous text penned by Yashodhara Lal. The book is funny and hilarious with a host of lovable characters- the twins, Papad and Pickle, who are the most delightful set of siblings, Moonish Sir, the Piano teacher who insists on playing with ‘feeling’, the grumpy neighbour Mrs. Jain, Peanut’s mother- the modern working mum who juggles the different aspects of her life and has her head firmly on her shoulders, and many more interesting characters.
Through the entire adventure, does Peanut experience a new feeling towards the black and white monster? It’s for the reader to find out!
A WHOLE LOT OF hOle BOOKS!
Title: Peanut vs the Piano
Author: Yashodhara Lal
Illustrator: Shreya Sen
Age group: Younger readers
Queen of Ice by Devika Rangachari is a poignant book which leads the readers through the life of Didda, a North Indian princess in the early medieval period of Indian history. Most of the story is set in the lush foliage of the Kashmir valley whose incumbent ruler, Kshemagupta, Didda marries. The story describes the journey of a lame princess who rises to be a powerful queen, conquering many hurdles on the way. The book is also going to be turned into a film, the film rights having been acquired by Adlabs Films Limited.
The book begins with Didda’s childhood and gives great insight into her loving relationship with her mother, rejection by her father and a doting maternal grandfather who is a powerful ruler himself. Her cousin Vighara who is spiteful and mean often ridicules Didda. The characters of her father and cousin hint at the low tolerance and importance of a female during that time specially one who has a disability. Through all this too, Didda maintains her arrogance and self-centeredness and banks on the astrologer’s prediction that she is destined for ‘greatness’! For Didda, the introduction of her two companions, Narvahana and Valga comes as a breath of fresh air in the otherwise heavy atmosphere. Another moment to rejoice is the birth of her brother Udayaraja who seems like the only person whom Didda loves unconditionally.
Once she is married, though she is prepared for the worst, her husband is dazzled by her beauty and comes to love her. The political conditions in Kashmira are rife with betrayals and power games. How Didda, after making mistakes, becomes adept at these and excels with the help of her loyal Narvahana and Valga make for an interesting read. But as they say, ” Great power corrupts” and this is true of Didda too who is said to have been the cause for her husband’s, son’s and grandsons’ deaths. She wins over traitors or enemies with money and endears herself to the people of Kashmira by charitable works and visiting them often to understand their problems.
A wonderful thing about this book is that it takes one through a gamut of emotions for Didda from start to finish. You alternately feel pity, pride, love and hate for Didda in various portions of the book. A gut-wrenching scene is when Narvahana kills himself when he feels has lost Didda’s trust. One feels for Didda but despises her at the same time for doubting his loyalty.
The only change I would like in this book is less repetition in the end on how Didda deals with her enemies and better clarity on her work and interaction with the common people to justify her “greatness”. Having said that, what impresses about this book is Didda’s character. She rises above the two greatest weaknesses – being a female and a cripple. She is neither victimized nor hiding behind her disability. She takes charge of her life and turns it around. She is flawed but neither proud of the flaws nor does she try to find excuses for them. Her story helps us draw a parallel with the Indian woman of today who would go places keeping Didda’s determination in mind. And hopefully, she will do so without having to murder anyone!
Title: Queen of Ice
Author: Devika Rangachari
Age group: Young Adults
One of the best memories of life belong to school days. The school campus, classrooms, friends, teachers, fun and studies form an unforgettable part of our childhood and help shape us into adulthood. Those carefree days never fail to bring a smile on one’s face as they remind us of a simpler and happier time.
The Hill School Girls is a popular boarding-school series for young adults. The book follows four school girls navigating the ups and downs of school life while dealing with families, personal problems and friendship. Trouble, the fourth in the series and follows the lives of Elizabeth, Mahrukh, Maitreyi and Ayesha.
Mahrukh is the central character of Trouble and outlines the issues faced by her family, a middle class, cash strapped household. Mahrukh has to think of creative ways to save their shop from being taken over. The predicament is common, but Mahrukh’s quick thinking and resourcefulness is quite commendable. Her sensitivity and adjusting nature is what makes her a likeable and well-rounded character. The school also appoints a former Olympics player as a basketball coach who Mahrukh wants to impress. As the story unfolds, we are given a glimpse into the personality and mindset of each of the characters. Her friendship with Elizabeth, Maitreyi and Ayesha is solid and it’s nice to see the strong female bond between the four girls.
The language used in the book is simple and easy to follow for readers of all ages. Set in contemporary India, the themes and issues highlighted in this book are relatable and will take you down memory lane. Certain scenes and dialogues bring back the innocence of school days and fill your heart with warmth and nostalgia. Mahrukh’s determination to help out her family and her loving bond with them is heartwarming.
The Hill School Girls is a good read for young adults and adults alike as it tells the story of simple girls with ordinary problems, but the extraordinary resilience and strength which they display while solving them is noteworthy.
THE HILL SCHOOL GIRLS- WHOLE SERIES
Author: A Coven
Age Group: 10 years+
There was a time when conventional adventure and mystery books for children were all in rage. Inspired by The Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew Series the Mystery Crackers Series by Jinal Doshi brings forth a group of clever problem-solvers who happen to be children.
So far, she has written two novels in the series: The Mystery Crackers: A Chest’s Tale and The Mystery Crackers: Tattooed Music and is currently working on The Mystery Crackers: The Ritzy Maartle.
The Mystery Crackers: A Chest’s Tale follows twins Prash and Nish as they try to find their Dad whose gone missing. The answer may just lie in an antique chest, which incidentally is also missing! In the second book, The Mystery Crackers: Tattooed Music, an innocent look at the dazzling replica of Daulihaam (A Blue Diamond Gold Choker) and a precious bloodstained pure silk handkerchief lure fraternal twins – Prash and Nish in to a fascinating mystery of old ships, tattooed music and a thirst to excavate the real Daulihaam’s mesmerizing history. Both brothers plunge deeply in to it to place the identity of a deadly pirate. Unaware about the dangers that lie ahead, the teen detectives get into a stunning adventure connected with a royal couple and a precious stone.
While the first novel is available as a paperback and on Kindle, the second novel is a Kindle Version. “I wished to touch the hearts of global readers. Thus, I chose the Amazon Kindle option,’ says Jinal. “I think e-readers have surely changed the way today’s generation reads. However, there are still readers who choose to hold a physical book in their hands and take in the special fragrance of the pages. So, physical books are here to stay for a long time,” she adds.
The Prophecy of Rasphora is a story of three girls- Vandana, Afreen and Tara. The protagonists of this magical adventure story are not the typical affluent or upper middle class characters that one often encounters in books of this genre. The girls run a tea stall on the hills and they live a hand-to-mouth existence. They are alone in the world, with no one but each other. However, poverty in childhood does not really have to rob it of its magic right? The girls often escape into a self-created magical world of dreams. Little do they know that their lives are also in for a magical transformation.
It all starts with the sight of a mysterious man who does not look quite as if he belongs to ‘normal’ society. One of the girls spots him, and makes it her mission to find him out. What starts off as a curious search for this man, leads the girls to one of the most beautiful places on earth-Rasphora. This place is where the magical adventure story is set. But once they enter this land they have a tough call to take. According to an ancient prophecy, they could stay and save the land that may be doomed or leave and let it wither.
The story follows the decision that the girls make and the repercussions thereof. The land of Rasphora is mesmerizing, and is sure to tickle the imaginations of the young readers. The story has been written in a simple and lucid manner. There are enough surprises for the child to keep turning the pages or find out what happens next. The book is apt for children around and above ten years of age.
BOOKS BY Varsha Seshan
Title: The Prophecy of Rasphora
Author: Varsha Seshan
Illustrated by Lavanya Karthik
Genre: Fiction, Children
Age group: 10 onwards
It all starts with the name really. The humour I mean. The little smirk and smile that appears right after you read the title will carry on right through this witty tale by Arundhati Venkatesh.
Pushkin aka Petu scores an epic win (or so he says) while playing a board game with his friends at school. Thus begins a series of lies or half-truths- as observed by his friends. Naturally, this gets them worried. His regiment of dedicated friends embark on a journey to transform him. The hilarious and exasperating attempts of the four friends to transform Petu are a source of great amusement. Do they finally succeed? The story spirals towards a surprising conclusion!
Writing a humorous book for children by incorporating the humour subtly in the language is a commendable skill. This is what Venkatesh demonstrates quite smoothly in this book. The understated humour weaved in the language respects the intelligence of children to read between the lines!
The illustrations by Shilpa Ranade beautifully complement the story, bringing out the emotions expressed and the subtle humour as well.
A great chapter book for beginning readers! Being a hOle book just adds to the fun! Duckbill’s Petu Pumpkin Cheater Peter by Arundhati Venkatesh is a must have addition to your young reader’s book collection.
OTHER ‘PETU’ BOOKS
Title: Petu Pumpkin Cheater Peter
Author: Arundhati Venkatesh
Illustrator: Shilpa Ranade
Publisher: Duckbill books
Genre: Fiction/ Children
Age group: 6 – 8 years