‘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.
This is the tale of Bhuri, a girl from the village of Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. Dotted Lines – a visual autobiography of an artist (published by Katha Books) narrates the simple life of a village girl as she grows into a young woman. Each page is filled with wonderful illustrations made by Bhuri. They bring alive the beauty intrinsic to the little scenes of life in a village. It also highlights the superstitions and beliefs that the villagers live with, as well as customs and traditions they harbour. The book is apt for readers aged 5 right up to 12 years.
Here is a book that tells the tale of empowerment as much as it illustrates the unique cultures and artistic traditions that are a part of our diverse nation.
Bhuri moves to the city to work as a daily wage labourer. However, destiny has other plans for her. Thanks to a sensitive curator, she gets an opportunity to paint traditional Bhil Pithora art on paper. Well, she is used to painting on the walls in the village. Will the art on paper be good enough? By transferring her skills on paper, she is in a sense leaving behind ‘tradition’ and yet, continuing that tradition! Would she succeed in this task? How does painting free her and empower her in ways she had never imagined?
This narrative may sound complex for a young child. But then, that is the beauty of Katha Books. Such a nuanced story is made so accessible to a young child, who will be able to enjoy it as a picture book. In the process of reading the book the child also learns about the Bhil Pithora art tradition and painting in the Bhil way, complete with the dots inspired by the maize corm grown in the area.
In addition to that, there is a new window that opens up, illustrating nuggets from the lives of people in Indian villages, the tribals that strive so hard to protect their culture, the changes in their lives- both for the better and for the worse, and how modernity can take away so much and yet give a lot.
This is a true story that reveals how art can be a saviour, when we attempt to save it! Here is a book that tells the tale of empowerment as much as it illustrates the unique cultures and artistic traditions that are a part of our diverse nation.
Young school going boys are not normally expected to have monster hunting skills, but Karma Tandin is a non-threatening exception. Book 1 of Karma Tandin, Monster Hunter (published by Duckbill ) introduces middle grade readers to a host of delightful characters led by unassuming Karma, his partner in crime Chimmi, the enigmatic Dawa and many more. Karma Fights a Monster by Evan Purcell chronicles this amazing adventure.
So, Karma Tandin is a monster hunter and the twelve-year-old has fought many different monsters and kept his town safe. But not all monsters are born equal, and some of them could be extremely confusing. When he sees the new school librarian swallowing a frog, he knows something is amiss. But, just because someone is a monster, does not mean they are evil. Or does it?
This is a book that takes you on a roller coaster ride. In terms of language it is delightfully funny. Loads of humour packed in and overflowing…not only in situations that arise in the book but in the language as well. And as the young reader chuckles through the chapters, the quick paced turn of events and surprises play their role in adding to the thrill.
Karma is a protagonist that every child can easily identify with. He is not shown to be a superhero of sorts, though he is the famed monster hunter. He is as ‘human’ as any of the readers reading the book. Excellent story, capturing plot and loads of good humour…. Karma Fights a Monster by Evan Purcell is definitely a must-read for children aged 10 upwards.
If you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited you can read the book for free.
One of the best ways to inspire children to reach and perform at their optimum best, is to narrate stories of individuals who are recognised as achievers. No wonder, biographies and autobiographies that are written for children and young adults are quite popular! Wonder Kids- 100 Children who grew up to be champions of change is an impactful read. Written by Anu Kumar, and published by Hachette India, the book has short and compact stories that provide a window to view the childhood of icons from different walks of lives. The essence that one takes away is that greatness and spectacular achievements often have roots in childhood.
A great mix of personalities both alive and dead, men and women, Indian and foreign, young and old find their way onto these pages. Arranged in alphabetical order according to the names of the famous personalities, each chapter briefly narrates the life story of the individual. A short introduction provides a snippet of what he or she has accomplished. The chapter then illustrates their story. I love the way the focus of the narrative is always on the role of childhood events and the childhood experiences of that personality.
I think this element really works wonders for the young readers. For example, when they read how Bill Gates, at thirteen, made his first acquaintance with computers, they would be able to see his success in context. After all, the seeds of that success were sown at that tender age!
The inclusion of key figures who may be less known but still have made remarkable achievements is another factor that works for this book. The story of Janaki Ammal, one of the first women scientists in India for instance, is very inspirational as is the story of computer visionary Ada Lovelace.
The illustrations by Mohit Suneja work in tandem with the text. In each chapter a speech bubble highlights a key fact or quote from the personality, adding to the fun of reading it.
There are some popular current icons such as Sachin Tendulkar, JK Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg, Malala or icons from the past such as Rabindranath Tagore and Anne Frank. Some of the personalities go way back in history, such as Akbar and Mozart! There is a good balance between the male and female personalities chosen, and I think that makes the book quite well-rounded.
Wonder Kids- 100 Children who grew up to be champions of change by Anu Kumar is a book one must buy to dip into from time to time, to read, and then reread. It will resonate with children from age 9 up, as well as with young adults. In addition to the inspirational angle, I think this book is a captivating way to introduce information about different people from varied walks of life, with the point of view of enhancing general knowledge.
Unlucky Chumki by Lesley D Biswas is a hOle book by Duckbill, that takes a peek into the life of Chumki- a bright fun-loving little girl who lives in an Indian village. She loves going to school and is brimming with life and enthusiasm. But, there is a little problem. Chumki is considered unlucky. Everyone says that she can make things go wrong with her “magic”. Why is this so? How can she get over this obstacle that makes her feel terrible every single day!
As the story cruises Chumki’s life the reader gets many undertones of the gender stereotyping and the prevalence of superstitions in our country and society. The reason why Chumki is perceived as unlucky is rooted in superstition and lack of knowledge. However, this is brought out quite beautifully in a very fun filled story, that is also loaded with humour.
Luckily, Chumki is a spirited girl, and does not allow anything to dampen her spirits, lest of all tradition and superstition. Turning a supposed disadvantage to an advantage is the sign of a winner, is it not? As luck would have it, her brother Aki hatches a plan, and she is a part of it, but on her own terms. The story follows the children as they execute the plan. Will she now get friends? Will she be happier? Does her luck finally turn around? The illustrations by Anupama Ajinkya Apte add to the spunk of the story!
The ‘hOle books’by Duckbill experiment slightly with the book form. As the name suggests, these books with a ‘hOle’, add a fun element to the book. There is a hole at the top right end of each book, which somehow younger children find very fascinating!
Art as a subject is not something that we as parents may be entirely comfortable with, or knowledgeable about. When it comes to teaching our kids about great Indian artists, we may find that we lack information ourselves. However, it is essential that we expose children to the very rich and diverse world of Indian art and artists.
Why should our children know about Indian artists? The popularity of Indian artists is not restricted to India alone. Indian art has been revered over the world for centuries, and continues to be so even today. Children must know of the modern masters that their country has created! It makes them aware of their heritage and culture. This is not something they will find in a history book, but it is something that is still very much a part of their culture.
An experience in art in form of looking at the life and works of an artist is a way of opening up the mind to creative thought. Art education and appreciation helps to understand human experience, emotions and thoughts.
What was the genesis of Raza’s obsession with the Bindu? How did a simple dot become a defining factor? This book takes us through the childhood of one of the most famous painters of our times. It introduces children not only to his life story but also the themes of his works. The book is interactive and contains several fold out pages that enable the child to become more ‘hands-on’ with the book as he or she delves into the world of Raza!
This is a set of four books that talk about Indian artists. However, these books introduce the masters in form of a story, where a young protagonist encounters the artist and interacts with him or her. Fact and biography meet fiction and the delightfully woven tale makes the child feel as if he has met an artist friend! The books feature interesting illustrations as well as reproductions of the paintings by the artists.
In Barefoot Hussain, the young Jai offers to help the artist find his shoes when he loses them. The fun story follows the duo as the reader learns of vignettes and stories and works of the master’s life.
In A Trail of Paint, Biswajit is dragged unwillingly on a culture trip, to an exhibition of Jamini Roy’s paintings. Once there, however, an encounter with an old man leads him to an intriguing discovery of fakes and forgers, down Kolkata’s by lanes!
In My Name is Amrita, the dairy narrative is used. The book reads like Amrita Sher-Gil’s diary, and is interspersed with photographs and paintings.
In Ravi Varma: The Veena Player, a young girl, Valsa is helping her aunt restore a painting when she befriends the subject of the painting- the Veena player. Through this uncanny friendship she learns about the artist Ravi Varma!
This book beautifully chronicles the life of a multifaceted artist, who unfortunately died young. She was an artist, a dreamer and a rebel! Who exactly was Amrita Sher-Gil? She was a little bit of all these things, really. Her roots touched Hungary, as well as colonial Shimla. This book is relatively detailed and is filled with many images, sketches and photographs, all complementing the text so beautifully and literally bringing the artist alive on the pages. Divided into chapters, the book brings out how her childhood experiences and travels shaped her personality and work.
Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush looks at her work in the context of the times she lived in, including many key world events. The book is organised well. The text gives information on Amrita and her life, while boxes of related information such as political and artistic movements of the times is also woven around. Many of the photographs have been taken by her father, who was one of the finest photographers in India. Her beautiful paintings are spread throughout the book. This one is for keeps, and also makes a great gifting option to a child who is fond of art.
Anyone dealing with children knows that when information is presented in the form of a story or in an interactive way, children are extremely receptive and enthusiastic. These books present the lives and works of renowned Indian artists in an extremely simple, interesting and accessible way. Do indulge in these books introducing Indian artists to children!
How does it feel to have to move away from home? How does it feel when the beautiful landscapes of childhood homes become just memories? The issue of exile is real, and it is sad. Being displaced from familiar surroundings and loved ones is something that no one chooses, but it is often forced on entire populations due to political and other disturbances. These portraits of exile now find a voice and expression that brings these concerns to children and adults alike. Three books – Homecoming, Homebound and Homeland talk about the stories of Tibetan refugees living in Bylakuppe, Karnataka.
Homeland is a story of a boy who came to India to become a monk. His idea of home is his mother. He says, “Home for me, is wherever my mother is. Once she passes away I will no longer know where that home is”. Homebound tells the story of a little girl who came from Tibet, and has matured into a young adult, nurturing dreams of writing. Homecoming is the story of an old woman who came to India as a young girl.
Poignant and heart-stirring, these are human stories that need to be told. They strike a chord in your heart, but are not depressing or sad at all. Herein lies the beauty of the words and the illustrations which evoke a happy tone in the three books. The gorgeous illustrations in all the three books, brings the breathtaking scenes of the Tibetan homeland alive on the pages. The exquisite nature of these illustrations truly mark a very high standard! Another helpful feature is that meanings of some of the longer or more challenging words used in the text are given on that page itself.
The series is a great started point to understand the life of refugees, and how beauty can be found in other lands as well. Yet, their struggles and pain need a voice, which comes out beautifully. The books are apt for children above 7 years and older kids will also appreciate these. The series is a must-have addition to school libraries as well.
Daisy Dolls is a beautiful and simple story of a doll maker named Hua. The picture book, written by Cao Wenxuan and published by Karadi Tales, comes to us from a little town in China. It has been translated to English, but the gorgeous illustrations by Zhao Lei evokes a quaint but charming rural China.
Hua is a consummate doll maker, very dedicated to her craft. She works relentlessly to make dolls that make little children happy. Her dolls have their own special personality, and go on to make a big difference in the lives of their children. All her dolls have one thing in common- they have a little daisy stitched on to them, as a nod to Hua’s memories of her childhood.
However, age catches up and when Hua grows old she makes her last doll and keeps her as her own. She treats her doll as her very own child. But, there is one more child who could do with Hua’s doll. Will Hua give it to her? What will this mean for Hua and for the child?
There are many themes interwoven in this little story. It is a story that tells us of dedication to one’s craft, and perfection therein. It also holds the message of caring for others and making a difference to the lives of people around us. No matter how old or young, rich or poor we are, there is always a way to make a difference in the lives of others.
The book also touches briefly, and fleetingly on the concept of death. It is woven quite naturally into the narrative just in the manner it should be- as a simple fact of life.
This picture book is meaningful at many different levels. It will appeal to young children from age 3 onwards up to 6 years. It makes for great gifting as well! Daisy Dolls will be a pleasant read, over and over again!
Sometimes big stories start in a small way. We are the Gardeners, the garden story of this family begins with a little plant that grows on the windowsill. The plant, bought by the father, becomes the focus of attention. Four little children visit the plant on the sunny windowsill and learn to care for it, water it and even whisper to it. The beginnings of this relationship with a small plant spirals into something bigger and more substantial.
The wonderful lesson of patience comes to them, as does the concept of trial and error. When the children love their plant to death, though zealous overwatering, they are disappointed. They soon learn that each plant is different and most plants have good manners and they ‘like to sip, not gulp’ water. The lessons about the science of growing plants is woven into the story which also talks about the sheer magic of growing a garden.
As their garden graduates from the window sill and spills over to the open space outside, the children have more ambitious plans. But then they share the garden with the world of insects and birds who do their own bit. Slowly, things fit into this humming hive of activity. And, not everything is well all the time. They have to deal with the ‘bullies’ in the garden, aka the weeds. And, they need to handle seemingly innocent animals who love to have more than a fair share of helping from the produce!
Gardens provide a lot of fruit- not only literally but also figuratively. The children experience collaborating with each other as a family to grow the garden as a team. They learn many of life’s lesson right in the middle of their own garden by the mere act of gardening and being a gardener!
The appealing language which explains the eternal lessons that gardening brings to us is most apt and delightful for children. The illustrations complement the text beautifully, adding fun and poignancy to the journey that the child-reader undertakes with the book. I think this is a book that brings the pleasures of gardening into the mind and heart of the reader. Well, you may soon start to grow your own garden story!
Title: We Are The Gardeners
Author: Joanna Gaines and Kids
Illustrator: Julianna Swaney
Publisher: Tommy Nelson
Age group: 4 onwards
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a musical genius and left his imprint on the world of music. As a child prodigy, he often performed with his sister, Nannerl. She was a good musician in her own right. What was it like to be a sibling of one of the greatest composers who ever lived? Based on research and honed by imagination, a fictional account of Nannerl’s story, The Mozart Girl, is here to entice young readers. Those who love reading the historical genre will surely love this one!
As we read the book, it is evident that Nannerl, as much as she loved her younger brother ‘Wolfi’ Mozart, did have pangs of jealousy toward him. As the story unfolds in the home of the Mozart family, this situation plays out. The duo is due to visit Bach, on a long tour and she wants to be at her musical best.
The book has imagined entries from Nannerl’s diary, which gives an insight into her dreams. She wanted to be successful and wanted to be known. She desired fame and fortune. She was unapologetically ambitious. But, her brother Wolfi, young in age and high on talent, eclipsed her.
It also evokes in the background customs and mores of the times it is set in. Nannerl’s corset hurts her and she is grumpy about it…this simple fact hints at a deeper psychological aspect, that of a girl feeling confined and not able to express herself. She also helps her mother out with household chores. Her father gives grammar lessons only to Wolfi, and teaches his how to compose symphonies, while she is supposed to play the piano, and not violin. Her apparent happiness at getting a room of her own during her visit to Paris just shows how much she yearns for freedom and mental space from her family.
The reader feels her pain and disappointments. While her parents love her and take care of her, the gender discrimination comes through in the smallest of actions that they unknowingly do.
However, does she stand up to these issues and still find her way to overcome these obstacles? How does she manage to do that? She attempts to write a symphony…. but does she finally get a chance to perform it?
The flow of the words in this story is rhythmic, almost like the notes of music! The way music pervades the lives of the children involved in it, was also something that struck a chord with me. Nannerl is creating her own symphony in her head, in secret, and how a simple action of rubbing her brother’s back to pat him to sleep when he is ill, provides inspiration for her slow piece is something that I find amazing.
This book goes on to show how we are shaped by the realities of our time and by the experiences we have. Wouldn’t we have been different, for good or for bad, if the significant people we interacted with during our formative years, had done things differently?
This book led me to question- would Nannerl have been recognized as much as a genius as Wolfgang Mozart if only she had an equal opportunity to learn, train and perform as her famous little brother did?
As the story goes by following the famous children through Europe on their performance travels, we see Nannerl’s internal growth. She grows in confidence and boldness. Albeit in little steps, her assertion of her own individuality and her talent, in a world dominated by patriarchy and over-attention to her younger brother, she insists on her own identity. Does she succeed? This is exactly what the reader wants to find out. This is exactly why the reader somehow just can’t put the book down!
The book also opens our eyes to the women of the past. As modern readers we realize that their talents may not have had the platform they deserved due to the society and thoughts of the time. It forces us to look at genius with a different eye. If her father had given her equal attention would she not have been as popular as her brother? No one can deny his talent. But, was her talent compromised or subdued unknowingly?
The genre of historical fiction is a fascinating one. The Mozart Girl, aka Nannerl, steals the show this time!
Title: The Mozart Girl
Author: Barbara Nickel
Publisher: Second Story Press
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction for kids
Age group: 8 to 14