The teachings of Chanakya are timeless. Chanakya, also known as Kautilya is best known for his treatise Arthashastra, which talks about the rules of governance. His wisdom has been expressed in many modern works. Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai, renowned scholar who holds a PHD in Arthashastra from the University of Mumbai has written many books to translate the teachings chronicled in the original Arthashastra for a modern audience. With the book Chatur Chanakya and The Himalayan Problem, he brings the teachings of Chanakya right into the minds of young children.
A new academic year has begun. Arjun is excited to be in the fifth grade. Like every year, this year too he wonders if he will have a bench partner. Enter a new and very different boy- Chanakya, a thin guy with a ‘choti’. He is welcomed with peals of laughter which makes him angry. However, he has an even bigger problem – a bully called Himalaya who sits behind the bench that Chanakya shares with Arjun.
Chanakya looks different with his ‘choti’ but he is actually a very wise boy. Himalaya bullies him, but by using a clever strategy Chanakya resolves the issue. Through his wisdom Chanakya wins the heart of children who live in his colony as well. Not only that, but through his philosophical discussions with the kids he manages to make them more sensitive, aware and mindful of what is around them.
Through the well-narrated story, the book reveals the strategies of Chanakya in practice. Wisdom is a quality one does not usually associate with a child. However, this book quite cleverly shows how a young boy uses wisdom in order to gain true respect from children and adults alike.Chanakya, the protagonist in the book, has been homeschooled and is extremely knowledgeable. It thus shows how gaining knowledge is not limited to attending school only. Through a story within the story, the boy Chanakya introduces the readers to his namesake, the great kingmaker Chanakya.
Philosophical but not preachy
The book is an easy read. Though philosophical in nature, it does not sound preachy. Little nuggets of wisdom that are a part of the great treatise Arthashashtra also appear here, disguised as a part of the story. The boy delves a little into Indian history to the life and times of Chanakya and his students. It touches upon the Indian Gurukul system where education was free and equal for all and where gurus focused on thinking rather than ‘mugging’!
“Chatur Chanakya is a character, just like Chota Bheem is a popular character for children! Chatur Chanakya is a modern boy who goes to school. There will be a series of Chatur Chanakya books. Though the stories, my aim is to teach children how to think. Many teachers and parents have also loved the book! Even when parents read the book, they learn a lot,” says Dr. Pillai.
Chatur Chanakya and The Himalayan Problem by Radhakrishnan Pillai is a book that parents must read to their children. It introduces the reader (including parents!) to the teachings of Chanakya in a very simple and accessible manner.
Author: Radhakrishnan Pillai
Publisher: Puffin books, Penguin Random House
Age group: 8 onwards
Other books on teachings of Chanakya by Radhakrishnan Pillai
Toilet training comes with a great relief for parents when the ‘training’ is finally done. But, ensuing that there is another unique problem that parents face. Once their kids have outgrown diapers and refuse to wear them, the parents must deal with this innocuous request at the oddest of times and places- I Need to Pee
Rahi has an odd problem. She loves to drink all kinds of things. Though little children drinking a lot of fluids is a good thing indeed, it makes her want to pee all the time. And that, is a bit of an inconvenience. This witty and funny picture book travels with Rahi, her mother and brother in tow, to all the public places where it is quite challenging to find a decent loo. Rahi has her book of important quotes with her, and any obstacle to her peeing, she is ready with a witty one-liner.
As parents don’t we often roll our eyes or get irritated when our child wants to pee at the unlikeliest of places and at the most inconvenient of times? In a subtle but humorous manner the book reinstates this situation from the point of view of this child.
Rahi’s attitude is amazing. She boldly reiterates her need to relieve herself despite all the ‘obstacles’ that include dirty toilets, stinky facilities and irritation from all others on her need for going to the loo all the time. I love the way Rahi sticks to her guns, demands what she wants without flinching a bit. She carries her “Book of Important Quotes” with her. Whenever any adult comes in the way of her ‘right’ to pee, she boldly reads a quote from her book and the adult is left stunned and wondering! On one level, it is humorous. But, think deeper and you will see that this is actually assertion of one’s rights. This is the stuff little children should be made of!
The book is beautifully illustrated by Meenal Singh and Erik Egerup. The artwork adds to the vibrancy of the story.
Well, I Need to Pee will certainly not solve all your ‘toilet-problems’ when you travel. But what this book truly stands for is the belief that a safe clean toilet experience is a basic right. Adults should look at it more seriously.
Title: I Need To Pee
Author: Neha Singh
Illustrators: Meenal Singh and Erik Egerup
Publisher: Puffin Books
Age group: 3 onwards
It is very special to read a Rani Lakshmibai biography dedicated to young readers. Not only is she an enigmatic historical character, but as a woman warrior known for her mental and physical strength, she continues to be an inspiration for many.
A different face of the Rani
We have known Rani Lakshmibai as a brave queen sitting on horseback with a child on her back and a sword in hand. But, Sonia Mehta delves into the childhood of the queen, to the very roots of her strong personality.
Through the well narrated tale we learn how the motherless girl who was not even a princess by birth, grew up to be one of the most revered queens in history.
My favourite aspect about the story is the thread of feminism that runs through it. The book describes how, as a child, Manikarnika (for that was what she was called) defied tradition and educated herself. She rejected gender boundaries set by the mores of the times she lived in. Not only that, but she inspired other women to break norms of the time. She had her own secret army of women!
Mehta’s narrative brings out these aspects in an inspirational and positive manner. Another small but important touch is at the of the book where Mehta gives a brief description of brave queens in the history of the world.
The story-like flow ensures that facts are narrated as if one is reading a fiction book. This angle makes it interesting for the reader. Since the story of the Rani Of Jhansi needs to be viewed against the backdrop of the British rule in India, it is necessary that the readers are aware of some relevant historical details (for example, the British policy of annexing states without an heir). Such historical facts and background information is provided in sidebars and side boxes. Thus, the flow of the story remains uninterrupted and the facts are also presented for easy reference.
The book is easy to read and divided into chapters, each dealing with a specific point in the queen’s life. It is based on extensive research. The illustrations add to the enjoyment of reading and appreciating the book. Interspersed with interesting facts and details, the book provides a refreshing insight into the life of a queen who is still very famous in popular culture, but who people actually know very little about.
A great story about Rani Lakshmibai that traces her journey from childhood through her valiant end in detail. It is pepped with interesting less known facts and supporting information which is sure to interest readers. This is a Rani Lakshmibai biography that every child must read!
Author: Sonia Mehta
Illustrator: Jitendra Mahadik
Publisher: Puffin books
Age group: 8-10 years
Other books in the Junior Lives Series
We are all familiar with a rich text environment. Look into any primary classroom and you will see that it has some elements of a print rich environment.
Way back in 1989, researchers Neuman and Roskos conducted a study. They made a classroom environment more print rich. They studied the children before and after this change. They found that after the experience of print, children used twice as much print in their play than they did prior to the changes!
Parents can benefit from this knowledge and turn their children’s rooms into havens for learning by creating a rich text environment.
A rich text environment means much more than having books all around!
Here is how you can design a home environment to make it rich in text.
A space for displaying words, text and pictures
Every child will benefit from good display space. This is also the best way to create a print rich environment since you can display any kind of print you want here. Ideas for what to include here- age appropriate charts, labels, signs, timetables, quotes, written text and work by the children.
Soft boards, magnetic boards, white boards and chalk boards are the common ways to provide a space for display. Nowadays we also get chalkboard and magnetic paint. Use them on any blank wall or even the wardrobe doors!
Having boards on the wall is not in the only way to display texts and posters. Display spaces can be created quite innovatively. One can use colourful strings and ribbons across the room and display stuff on fancy pegs. Other spaces that could be utilised for display include the back of the door and the space above the study table.
It is also important to ensure that children are able to interact with the display. For example, a child is more likely to look at a chart that is placed at their height.
When a child starts recognizing letters, it is the perfect time to label stuff in the room. This enhances and stimulates their interest in reading. However, one must make sure that the print is clear. Labelling is a classic example of how something small makes a big difference. If labelling is combined with images, it would have the maximum impact.
Playing around with colours for the labels is a good idea. For very young kids it is better to use solid colours like red or black for labelling their stuff. Later on, you can experiment with the numerous options that the markets are crowded with.
Well, this is something that obviously goes into making a space a rich text environment. A little reading corner will give the best advantage of a print rich environment. A good book-nook should be well lighted. Ideally, a child should be able to access books by himself. Books must be well organized. A seating space for cuddling up with a book is not so bad either! Rotate books regularly to ensure freshness.
Today, the market is filled with great wall décor options. For instance, wallpapers that have informational text or maps are great for a child’s room. Interactive wall décor through reusable wall stickers is another option. These come very handy there as they are repositionable. They can be peeled off as soon as the child outgrows a learning phase. They do not leave any damage to the walls. For example, an alphabets wall display can be easily converted to nursery rhymes or an animal recognition chart the following year. They are also versatile and can be used on everything from painted walls, furniture, glass, windows, and doors to bathroom tiles – so one can be creative with their display options. This is a great way to personalise a room and turn it into an interactive play area.
While map wallpapers are a good idea, map prints themselves work great. Maps look great in a child’s room and they have so much packed into them. In addition to all the print on the map, they open up literally a world of possibilities for discussion. Another subtle touch is to add a globe. It’s a great accessory to have.
The above changes can be incorporated in your child’s room or your own if you share space with your child. One can keep these factors in mind while redesigning or creating a new room. But, the most important thing to make these design ideas work is to use them for the way they are intended.
Different children respond to print-rich environments differently. For some merely having the stuff there is enough. For others, parents need to help the child interact with the room to benefit from it. A reading nook will work if your child actually sits there and reads as would a display space, if your child actually looks at what is put up there! As always, design works for those who help themselves! Well, here’s to a rich text environment then!
Here is a selection of posters for younger children:
India is known as the land of diversity. Delving into the storytelling traditions of India is expectedly a Herculean task! But, in Lore of the land: Storytelling traditions of India, Nalini Ramachandran takes up this challenging task.
Storytelling is one of the most basic cultural activities of any group of people. Storytelling can be through words, dance or music. It could be oral, written or enacted. This book is an introduction to the beautiful world of stories in India.
Story of storytelling
The book begins with an incident involving Mohini- a young girl who is born into a family of storytellers. Well, it would be more appropriate to say, a family of exceptional storytellers. But the story of Mohini begins with a failed performance, where she is not able to narrate a proper story. Disappointed, she decides to run away from home following this humiliating performance. As she sets off she encounters a book loving spirit, aptly named Katha, who takes her on a captivating journey through the world of stories.
Each chapter takes Mohini and Katha, the story loving ghost to a different part of India. They manage to cover the length and breadth of this gigantic country! They take their time, taking in the beauty of the place and its unique culture. They then delve into the storytelling traditions of that place- how these stories originated, how they changed over the years and what they are now.
Katha happily imparts all this information to Mohini in form of a story. Interspersed with this narrative are side boxes that outline facts about the traditions of the area. Most importantly, the actual age old lores that have been passed down generations are also narrated. Well, a story within a story…that’s always fun!
The book outlines 38 storytelling traditions of India in most of its states. It is also like a crash course in Indian traditions and rituals! After all, most storytelling traditions in India have roots in the agrarian lifestyles of people or are linked to mythology and religion. They are also closely interwoven with the art and music traditions of the state. Hence, a dive into the world of stories of a particular state reflects not only its stories but also its art, culture and music.
Storytelling traditions of India are not just about stories alone. They are also linked to art and craft traditions. Hence, when we read about the puppetry performances of Andhra Pradesh for instance, we learn also about the intricate puppets crafted from leather. In Arunachal Pradesh a local dance performed by a tribe captures traditional stories. Or, how Mithila and Madhubani forms of art are interwoven with storytelling traditions.
The book is quite detailed and comprehensive. However, reading it is never overwhelming because the information is broken into different headers and sidebars and also colour-coded. This makes the text easy to navigate.
To top it, there are lots of illustrations to complement the texts. The illustrations by Abhishek Choudhury bring out the story and the stories within the story in a very vibrant manner. The illustrations are apt for the story as well. For example, in the chapter describing the Madhubani traditions, one of the illustrations is depicted in the Madhubani style, thus adding authenticity to the story.
But, the most important theme that emerges from the book is the fact that stories can be told in many ways and that there is never a single story for a single thing. Mohini learns that different versions of stories exist and “people believe what suits them”.
When I think about this theme of the book, I recall a popular lecture by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie who spoke about the danger of a single story. It is with pride that I recognise that storytelling traditions of India have always incorporated multiple viewpoints.
As Katha puts it in the book:
“Why should there be only a single story about anything? “Katha asked. “There is always room for interpretation and imagination. A story can be told in a zillion ways!”.
There are many more storytelling traditions in India than have been described in the book. But, the book talks about key ones that people need to be aware of. Some of them flourish, but most of them are dying out. Maybe this beautiful storytelling attempt will open people’s eyes and ears to the wonderful world of stories that exists in our own country.
This is a book packed with information and stories, as well as stories within stories. It is a captivating and detailed introduction to the storytelling traditions of India. It has many legendary stories woven with stories of the origins of many myths and traditions. The book is written in a manner that appeals to young adults and adults. Anyone with an interest in stories and storytelling traditions in India will find the book to be a worthy addition to their library.
Author: Nalini Ramachandran
Illustrator: Abhishek Choudhury
Age group: Adults and Young adults
A thriller for young adults, mixed with a historical side of Bombay…Clues in the city’s architecture, tied to a deeply buried secret from the past- a secret for which one can kill. Not once, but many times over. What Maya Saw by Shabnam Minwalla is an exciting thriller for young adults. The tale promises to keep the reader on the edge!
The protagonist, Maya, is an intelligent ‘geek’ who joins a summer school course on the history of Bombay at the renowned St. Paul’s College, which is a fictional version of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
The setting of St. Paul’s College with its gothic architecture and centuries old building seems perfect for the story that plays out. Maya discovers that she has a strange gift- she can actually see people known as ‘shadows’ who seem to be hell-bent on obtaining a secret that has been preserved for years. This ‘secret’ has to be protected from the evil shadows, who will do anything to get it.
Can Maya fight the shadows and outwit them? The journey is filled with danger. She has to enlist the support of friends. But, who can she trust and who should she be wary of? And, all along she needs to solve strange clues that lead her to the history of Bombay itself.
The story moves fast keeping the reader guessing and eager. The satirical humour used in the book will certainly appeal to young adults. This thriller for young adults is a sure page turner!
Bookedforlife chats with author Shabnam Minwalla to reveal a bit more about the book…
There are a lot of facts about Bombay presented in the book. What kind of research did you do for the same?
For ten years I was a journalist with the Times of India, and covered city news. During those years I crisscrossed the city and saw little details- statues, trees, buildings, streets, and heard stories that stayed with me.
When I started writing What Maya Saw, I was clear that I wanted to incorporate a clue hunt through the city. So I read a few books on local history and made a long, long, long list of possible clues. Sadly, very few of these clues made it to the book. Also, as the past is a very important element in this story, I looked at lots of old photographs and read old newspapers to get a feeling for the city that once was.
The setting for the story is St. Xavier’s College, your alma mater…what made you zero down on this institute?
In 2009, St Xavier’s approached me and asked me to write the text for a coffee table book on the college. So I was lucky enough to go back to Xavier’s and see it through fresh eyes. I spent hours and hours in the glorious, golden library doing research for the book. One afternoon, I was almost alone in the library, when I looked up and thought I saw a girl with horns coming out of her head.
It was a trick of light. But for years I wondered, what if it had really been a girl with horns coming out of her head? What Maya Saw began with that moment — and that question.
What is your next project?
I have written a hOle Book for Duckbill, my third book for them, about a friendship across a wall. Jiya lives in one of those gated communities in Parel. Urmila lives in a basti on the other side of the gate. One day the girls meet and join hands to battle a common enemy. And, they realise that they quite like each other.
I am also writing a three-part middle school series featuring a girl named Nimmi Daruwala. The books tackle all the inevitable issues — best friends who turn mean, nasty teachers, fitting in, not fitting in…After that, I want to write a horror book!
Well, that’s a heady mix for sure! But for now, we’re sure readers will cherish this delightful thriller for young adults – What Maya Saw.
Title: What Maya Saw
Author: Shabnam Minwalla
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2017
Genre: Young adult/ Suspense
Age group: 13 onwards
The Feather Tales series of books by Deepak Dalal are quite special. For one, they are inspired by nature and the Indian wilderness finds a prominent space within them. Secondly, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! The third book in Feather Tales series, Feather Tales: The Paradise Flycatcher, brings one more exciting adventure for young readers.
Meet young Mitalee- a brave girl who loves her feathered and furry friends. But, where is Snowdrop, aka Shikar…her rare and exotic squirrel? The creatures who inhabit the beautiful Rose Garden are sad and gloomy. The beloved white-headed squirrel is missing. He was last seen with a paradise flycatcher, a stunning bird with a long white tail. He has left no other trail.
Can the animals and birds of the rose garden find him? Can Mitalee find him? The creatures and the humans….both embark upon a quest. Both have one goal in mind- to find Snowdrop.
While the loyal band of birds fly to distant forests to track down the beautiful flycatcher, Mitalee and her friends uncover the cruel world of illegal pet trade. Both these instances are linked to finding Snowdrop. Will they be able to coordinate their efforts for this goal? In an exciting and fast paced narrative, the creatures and the children work to get the squirrel back. But, it is a path wrought with danger. The thrilling chase is a testimony to the power of friendship and love.
The author Deepak Dalal is an avid nature enthusiast and this comes across strongly in the vivid descriptions of India’s flora and fauna in the book. Of course, the cherry on the cake are the absolutely gorgeous illustrations by Krishna Bala Shenoy.
Well, Feather Tales: The Paradise Flycatcher has an exciting plotline to keep young readers on the edge till the very end! Add to this the beautiful illustrations and evocations of the Indian wilderness!
Other books in the Feather Tales series:
Author: Deepak Dalal
Publisher: Puffin Books India
Age group: 8 onwards
Fly little Fish by Lavanya Kartik is a heartwarming picture book about a little fish who wants to fly. Well, fishes can’t fly…or can they?
In the first half of the picture book, the little fish does what any little one would do- confide her deepest desire to fly to her parents, and then her friends. Of course, her parents and friends try to explain to her what most adults do when children come to them with their impossible dreams- they nicely and very politely tell little fish that fishes don’t fly, fishes swim.
Then, thankfully, little fish does what little ones should do- try to achieve the impossible dream by itself. What’s more, the little fish is successful! It flies all the way to the sun and moon and back.
In a touching end, the little fish inspires a little bird. Now, the little bird wants to swim!
The illustrations by Satwik Gade and Ashwathy PS complement the story perfectly. The little fish is in the water, looking at the sky. The illustrators have played with the perspectives quite innovatively and shown the sky from the point of view of a little fish in the water.
In a subtle but beautiful way, the pages that show the little fish flying do not have any words, but only illustrations that show the little fish flying blissfully, crossing a dense forest, meeting the sun and also flying with a flock of birds. In one sense, the absence of words and sole inclusion of pictures alludes to the fact that the bravado of the little fish renders everyone speechless!
Well, the little fish returns back to the ocean, all safe and sound but highly enriched and probably more confident by the experience. Her ocean mates are still speechless but what is inspiring is that in the end, a little bird in the sky wants to swim!
The little fish is a very lovable character with all its grit and determination. Pictures speak louder than words and this is clearly seen in Fly Little Fish!
Title: Fly little Fish
Author: Lavanya Kartik
Illustrators: Satwik Gade and Ashwathy PS
Publisher: Karadi Tales
Genre: Picture books/ children
Age group: 3 years and above
At the very face of it, One Dark Cloud is a Counting book. Counting books are quite important and interesting for young children in that they develop math and number awareness.
As a counting book, One Dark Cloud tackles a specific area- it is a counting book for a rainy day! So right from one dark cloud in the sky on a rainy day, to blankets and umbrellas and gum-boots, the author Shobha Viswanath incorporates a theme to the numbers. She gently weaves in the concepts of counting with the art of storytelling, building up to the essence of a rainy day.
The arty feel
While the concept and the counting that follows definitely delights the child, there is something else that makes this book special- the arty feel that the design brings with it. Illustrators Ashwathy P.S and Anusha Sunder have used a combination of art techniques in order to bring out a very arty and textured feel. Each number from one to ten is beautifully depicted on a jute mat. Lightly painted newspaper cut-outs in different shapes and sizes illustrate the city on a rainy day. The illustrations are a heady combination of collages, photography and design.
The design of the book is exceptional and it is these nuances that contribute to the enjoyment of the book. For example, in terms of content the objects which are to be counted generally assume more importance. The child has to identify these. Each object to be counted, such as the frogs, raindrops, umbrellas and so on are highlighted in their own special way since that they stand out against the backdrop of the page. Little details such as the steam from the samosas made of newspaper scraps or the clouds themselves which are a collage best described as a merry mishmash, could well be a good initiation into art appreciation!
The book has an Indian ethos in terms of design and content. Hence, tea and samosas also form a part of the rainy day list!
It is a timeless book that shows visual storytelling at its best. Much after the children have learned the numbers, they can still look at the book for its beautiful art. One Dark Cloud also makes for a good gift to an early reader.
Title: One Dark Cloud
Author: Shobha Viswanath
Illustrators: Ashwathy P.S and Anusha Sunder
Publisher: Karadi Tales, 2017
Mathematics can be very cool. But, if you’re got a set of math techniques up your sleeve, that can be supercool and impressive. Yes, even in this day of calculators and computers, math prowess does score points! Maths Sutras from around the World: Speed Calculations on your fingertips by Gaurav Tekriwal takes a shot at bringing some marvellous math techniques from around the world.
A mathematical world
Have you ever spared a thought as to how exactly math is taught in different countries? Tekriwal has explored and studied math systems world over. He picks out the best amongst the lot and presents a fairly diverse range of math techniques drawn from different cultures.
The concepts of Indian Vedic Mathematics have been given key importance. The bar modelling technique from Singapore is another system that the author talks about. Then, there is the famous Japanese grid puzzle culture (think Sudoku!) that finds expression in the book through the description of Kakuro and KenKen puzzles.
The book has ten chapters covering different math concepts through specific and well-researched math techniques.
Turning conventional math over
I always thought that addition and subtraction are only done right to left. However, the chapter on Addition highlights a left-right method of mentally adding large numbers! The Super subtraction method described in the book also does likewise. He describes the Base Method of Multiplication derived from teachings of the Indian saint Tirthaji in the early twentieth century. Besides the four basic computational skills the book also tackles word problems, fractions, squares, percentages, square roots and times tables.
This adage is probably most true for mathematics! The book has numerous activities and worksheets for all the concepts and techniques described.
Yes, this is a book about math, but do look out for some interesting stories inside as well! Wherever relevant, Tekriwal has included some interesting stories and facts related to the mathematical concept. For instance, I found the story of Jakow Tractenberg who built a new system of mental arithmetic whilst at Hitler’s concentration camp quite inspiring!
Age no bar
While this book is primarily addressed to school going math learners, it would be of interest to anyone interested in mental arithmetic.
With gadgets at our finger tips, many people actually wonder at the relevance of mental calculations. As the author describe in the book, the brain behaves exactly like a muscle. It needs regular exercise. Besides impressing people with your skills, metal math prowess lead to a sharper mind and better logical reasoning skills! So, it’s time to sit back and let these Math techniques work up some mathe-magic!