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.
Tashi, a cloth seller who lives in the mountains near Kalimpong wants to go to Benares to buy colourful silks. His aging mother asks him for a memento from Sarnath, the land where Buddha preached his first sermon. Tashi keeps forgetting to get a memento for her. However, one day, he picks up an old tooth fallen on the ground and presents it to her as the tooth of Buddha.
Will she know the truth about the tooth? What truth will the tooth finally reveal?
This is an old Tibetan folktale that is replete with beauty and wisdom. Maria L. Denjongpa recreates the magic of this tale in words that are simple and very accessible to children and adults alike. The illustrator, Chetan Sharma, also does a magnificent task of capturing the natural beauty and local flavour of Kalimpong, as well as the myriad emotions that the story talks about.
A concept like the power of faith is not a very easy one to explore, especially when the readership is targeted at young children. But, this book does a commendable job of that. It is a story that one cannot just read and forget. It is something that one revisits from time to time, even as the young readers grow!
The Truth about the Tooth is a picture book that explores the power of faith through the retelling of a Tibetan folktale. Maria L. Denjongpa’s words and Chetan Sharma’s illustrations capture the essence of the tale. It will be a delightful read for children over four years.
Title: The Truth About the Tooth
Author: Maria L. Denjongpa
Illustrator: Chetan Sharma
Publisher: Karadi Tales
Genre: Children’s books
Age group: 4 and above
Sonia Mehta is back with another stellar biography- that of Gautama Buddha. The fourth in the Junior Lives Series by Puffin Books, the book takes young readers through the lives and times of Gautama Buddha. Buddha is highly revered and immortalizing his story into this biography makes him more accessible to children.
The book reads like a chapter story book. It all starts with the birth of Prince Siddhartha. It gently propels the reader to discover how a prince raised in the lap of incredible luxury renounced everything worldly and turned to spirituality.
There are many legends associated with the life of Buddha. For example, it is said that he walked immediately after birth! These have been boxed and presented separately.
There are also various background facts about the life and times of Buddha. These are put in little boxes as sidebars to add an additional element of interest. For instance, I was surprised to learn that his wife Yashodhara was actually his cousin and the sister of his boyhood companion. They belonged to the neighbouring kingdom that was also home to his mother, Mahamaya.
I especially found the section on Nirvana described really well. The entire process of how Buddha attained Nirvana has been explained in a very simple and accessible manner. The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path is also enumerated in a way that children will be able to relate to. The illustrations by Jitendra Mahadik enhance the reading experience.
The book goes much beyond the life of Buddha. It continues to describe the spread of Buddhism even after Gautama Buddha attained Nirvana. It talks about how the philosophy spread to other Asian countries. A later chapter also contains some stories about different lives that Buddha had touched.
This biography presents the story of Gautama Buddha in an interesting way, explaining several historical facts and shedding light on some unknown facets of his life. It not only narrates the tale of Gautama Buddha but also highlights key teachings, principles and symbols of Buddhism.
BOOKS IN THE JUNIOR LIVES SERIES:
Title: Gautama Buddha
Author: Sonia Mehta
Illustrator: Jitendra Mahadik
Publisher: Puffin Books
Age group: 8 +
Papa’s Marathon is a story that every family is familiar with. It all starts with Gia’s father going to the doctor, and the doctor advising him that he needs some exercise.
He is very enthusiastic about starting his exercise program. And yes, the latest fitness clothes and gadgets must find a way in as well. After all, they are required for his new hobby.
Well, the road to fitness is always paved with difficulty! Gia’s father loses the initial steam. But then, what are enthusiastic families for? It is clear that he needs motivation and the entire family is here to help! With great goals comes great motivation. Hence, he aims at participating in the Marathon.
Does Papa’s Marathon actually turn out the way the family expected it? They were all so enthusiastic about his participation that Gia’s grandmother is actually set to record the entire race on her camcorder.
But what happens to Papa’s Marathon on the D-Day? Does he cross the finish line? The surprising end of the story will leave the little reader with a smile on the face!
Nalini Sorensen’s words combine beautifully with cheerful illustrations by Prashant Soni in order to create a humorous account of how we approach fitness today. Papa’s Marathon may just be the right book to read as we are set to enter the season of marathons!
Title: Papa’s Marathon
Author: Nalini Sorensen
Illustrator: Prashant Soni
Publisher: Karadi Tales
Genre: Children’s books
Age group: 3-6
Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz describes a day in the life of a young boy, whose father is a miner. The boy lives by the sea and his father goes to work deep under the sea. The boy’s day is filled with play, while his father works tirelessly in the dark confines of the coal mine.
The bright and cheery scenes from the child’s day are contrasted with the dark and dreary coal mine, where his father works. The scenes that depict the day of the child have vivid detail while darkness envelops the mining pit. While the words used for describing the boy’s day are varied, for the father, it’s only as follows:
And deep down under that sea
My father is digging for coal
The ocean is ever present and the child can see it all the time, whether he is at home, in the playground or at his grandfather’s grave. However, his mind often wanders back to his father who is digging for coal. The book portrays the pattern of life in a mining town- both on land and in the mining pit.
The beautiful words are brought alive by stunning illustrations. Sydney Smith, the illustrator of Town Is by the Sea has won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2018, UK’s oldest and most prestigious award for illustration.
Town is by the Sea may describe a coal mining town in the 1950s. But, the story evokes emotions that are relevant across time and geographical boundaries. Shared human experiences and stories can, after all, connect people from all over the world! This is a timeless picture book that children of all ages will enjoy. And yes, it will enchant adults as well!
Title: Town is by the Sea
Author: Joanne Schwartz
Illustrator: Sydney Smith
Publisher: Walker books, UK