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
Parents and teachers of middle graders are often familiar with the scenario where a child is given a piece of creative writing to do, but is immediately overwhelmed with the enormity of the task. No wonder, they are always on the lookout for some help, often in form of an apt writing activity book.
Writing is Fun by Jeanne Perrett (published by Puffin books, illustrated by Sayan Mukherjee) takes a middle grader through the joys of creative writing in a gentle and guided fashion. But there are some things that set it apart from other books available today. Firstly, the author is a published writer and a teacher with extensive teaching experience. This brings in a distinguishing element. Secondly, the book is packed with several short but useful tips that truly make writing fun- which is what it should be!
You can tell from the preface itself, which is in the form of a poem. It encourages the reader-writer to be at ease and write just anywhere, anytime and anyhow! The book is then divided into short and compact chapters, each dealing with one specific type of writing. The first three chapters give the child a warm-up of sorts. The very first chapter encourages the child to explore the kinds of writing that he or she enjoys. Well, they literally put themselves into writers’ shoes by exploring a pen name for themselves. There are quite a few tips which work towards easing the child into the task of writing and developing a positive attitude towards it. (As all experienced teachers know, the hesitance to write is more of an attitude problem with kids rather than a skill issue!). Now that they are all set to write, the concepts of editing and creating characters follow in the next two chapters.
Then, the book delves right into varied types of creative writing: Writing a pirate story, ghost story, comic strip, play, fairy tale, historical fiction story, advertisement, description, science fiction story, dairy, detective story, poem, biography, autobiography, dialogue, song and presentation.
A gradual push…
One of the basic problems that many children face while writing is that they get overwhelmed with larger writing assignments. This writing activity book introduces each genre with some basic warm up activities, including some useful grammar activities, where the child writes only in sentences or words. Hence, the child gains confidence by the time he or she reaches the last activity which requires more detailed writing. For example, the chapter on writing ghost stories introduces a couple of activities on creating a setting and describing fear. It also talks about using the first conditional tense to say that if one thing happens, then something else will happen after that. By the time the child reaches the end of the chapter, the child is equipped with some good words, phrases, sentences and ideas that he or she could use.
The quirky illustrations by Sayan Mukherjee add to the enjoyment of reading the book and doing the activities. It would probably be a nice idea to do some colouring on them as well, as it would make using the book all the more fun! There is enough space in the book to complete all the activities. The book is intended for children above 8 years and could be used in a classroom setting or as a writing activity book at home.
Put briefly, here’s what we liked in the book: An Introduction to a wide variety of genres of creative writing, guided exercises that gently lead the child to write more challenging stuff and an appealing design and presentation. A writing activity book which actually makes it easy to write right!
Title: Writing is Fun
Author: Jeanne Perrett
Illustrator: Sayan Mukherjee
Publisher: Puffin books
Genre: Non-fiction, Activity
Age group: 8 +
When Jiya met Urmila by Shabnam Minwalla is a ‘hOle’ book. This very popular version of the paperback by Duckbill Books has younger readers quite enthralled by the appearance of ‘the book with a hole!’.
Moving on to the story… Jiya and Urmila who “grew up just two Banyan trees and one wall away from each other” are as different as chalk and cheese. The story is about circumstances that bring them together for a common cause. The first chapter establishes the difference between the lives of the two girls. These differences, which basically stem out of social class differences, are brought out beautifully by Minwalla in tightly packed but simple and impactful sentences.
Jiya’s mother spoke in English and cooked pasta. Urmila’s mother spoke in Hindi and worried about the price of tomatoes.
Jiya met Urmila in the most unusual circumstances. Their paths would never have crossed had it not been for Jiya’s school project. However, fate gets them together. But, can such a (supposedly) unlikely friendship survive? The first impressions that both Jiya and Urmila have about each other are not positive. Jiya feels that Urmila is loud and wears very bright clothes. Urmila feels that Jiya has no spunk and her dress is very dull. Would they get over these petty differences and work towards a common goal- that of the downfall of Mr. Jajoo?
The story is filled with subtle humour. Minwalla creates a world that shows an inherent understanding of the psyche of children. The climax is extremely funny and will be quite entertaining to younger readers.
In the book an underlying theme concerns social differences. Minwalla has touched upon this very sensitively without sounding preachy. It must have been challenging as a writer to balance between the story and this theme which is also central to the narrative.
“I started writing this book and only then realised how segregated the lives of children have become. It was incredibly difficult, and I almost gave up on the book a couple of times. But, it was something that pushed me out of my comfort zone and engage with the other. I wanted to mention the fears and resentment on both sides. To do that without sounding preachy or journalistic was difficult. But, Anushka Ravishankar also helped me a lot and nudged me in the right direction! I hope in a small way this book helps break barriers and helps children realise that these barriers are often ridiculous,” says author Shabnam Minwalla, when contacted by Bookedforlife.
The illustrations by Tanvi Bhat add to the entire experience of reading the book and complement the text well.
This book subtly takes on the theme of social differences, without being preachy or obvious about it. But, it is also a very humorous story that will provide great entertainment. When Jiya met Urmila by Shabnam Minwalla is an apt book for younger readers. It is a chapter book, and hence a good way to introduce the concept of chapter books to younger readers.
BOOKS BY SHABNAM MINWALLA
OTHER hOle BOOKS
The Renaissance is a much-loved period of art in the history of mankind. It was an era of peace and prosperity. Thus, people devoted a lot of time and money to arts and things of beauty. This art history book for kids introduces the Renaissance in a simple and easy to comprehend manner.
This book is easy to navigate since it is divided into apt chapters, each covering important aspects of the Renaissance period. Starting with what defines this period, the book goes on to describe the influences and techniques that dominated the era, the artists who made a mark with their works, the impact and influence of the period in general and the famous artworks of the era.
The young reader will understand how and why the paintings of the era stuck to predominantly religious themes, depicting scenes from the Bible. The book also talks about two main figures of the period, such as Raphael (known for his Madonna paintings) and Sandro Botticelli (known for mythological religious characters). At the end of the book, there is a small descriptive index with a few key works of the era and details pertaining to them.
By using illustrative examples from the artworks of these painters of the time, the book brings out the main distinguishing characteristics of the art of the period.
The young reader who reads the book will be enamoured by the sheer number of paintings used to illustrate the book. I read the e-book, and the quality of the images was very good as well.
The text has been written in a simple and easy-to-comprehend manner. However, it is not extremely detailed, but those looking at a very brief overview of the period would find this art history book for kids quite useful.
Title: I Like Art: Renaissance
Author: Margaux Stanitsas
Genre: Children’s Nonfiction
Age group: 6-10 years independently, and for the 4-6 years age group, I feel the book could be read with an adult.