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
Ruskin Bond is undoubtedly a writer equally loved by children and adults. The award winning author has delighted generations of readers with his simple and moving stories set in the beautiful mountain environs of North India. As he turns 83 today, he is all set to delight his fans with two new books- one for children and the other for devout bibliophiles.
“Looking for the Rainbow”, his book for his young fans, chronicles two precious years of his life spent with his father, who clearly remains to be the most influential person in his world, even as he crosses his eighties. He mentions in the beginning, that contrary to popular opinion, his memory has not faded with age. He remembers his childhood days very clearly.
Through the eyes of the child Bond, the book reveals a very simple and timeless parenting lesson:
Not many fathers are capable of tenderness towards their children. They are usually too busy ‘earning a living for the family’—or that’s the excuse! So I was lucky to have a father who gave me nearly all his spare time, who brought me books, took me for walks, shared his interests with me and held my hand in the dark.
Ruskin Bond’s writing is so simple that it almost makes one feel as if he is chatting with you over a cup of tea. The book starts off when Bond was an eight-year-old boy, delighting in the fact that he would be taking a whole year off from school. He describes his adventures, which of course, have a healthy dose of animal and plant life woven in.
Bond describes the period of pre-independence India and through the memoir he recreates India of the 1940s through the eyes of a child. Of course, the global context of the world wars also echoes in the narrative. Little things like how difficult it was to obtain a tin of processed cheese in the war days, will attune the current generation of readers to the life of a boarding school boy during the time of war.
Who would have thought there was a war going on in Europe, Asia, North Africa and the Pacific? Who would have thought India would be an independent and sovereign nation in two or three years’ time? There I was, enjoying chocolate milkshakes, while British and Indian civilians were trudging through the jungles of Burma to escape the Japanese advance.
The book also glides through his boarding school days. Another feature, always present in Bond’s books is the overwhelming presence of nature. Harmless trysts with animals and trees, and the innocent experiences of the natural world is also something that young children will relate to.
Pain and humour can be strange companions, but a stalwart like Ruskin Bond makes them come together with relative ease. He talks about the ‘painful’ memories in a matter-of-fact way with a dose of the quintessential Bond humour. Take for instance the lines below where he describes his parents’ separation:
It was 1942, the middle of World War II, and my parents too had been at war with each other. They had, in fact, separated, and my mother was about to marry again.
However, when he describes his father’s death, it is in tender touching words. It is honest, but not at all bitter.
What shines through most strongly in the book is the simple pleasures of life that the father and son share- looking at stamps, going for ice-cream or going to see movies at the local theatre. Despite the absence of his father for most part of the year, he holds fond memories of the man because of a strong bond that surpassed physical presence. He recalls the postcards that his father sent to him, often scribbled with recommendations of books to read, which he did read in due course.
Wonderful illustrations by Mihir Joglekar accompany the book. They liven up the words and indeed, are quite commendable. This is one of those books where the illustrations and the text work seamlessly and harmoniously with each other.
Despite the sad event of losing his father, the narrative ends on a positive note.
‘Bye-bye rainy day, bye-bye snow,
We are on our way—here we go!
Rolling round the world, looking for the rainbow
We know we’re going to find some day!’
Looking for the Rainbow encapsulates two beautiful years’ worth of memories. These are memories about father who left an indelible impression on his young son. Now, at the age of 83, they remain tender moments which stand out clearly in his mind and heart.
It may be a children’s book, but adults will also connect with it in a deep way as well. This book is a birthday gift that Ruskin Bond fans will surely cherish for years to come!
In The Dog Who Wanted More, The Rulebreakers’ Club has just been formed. But, they are a gang of five…without a dog! Well, they are the Rulebreakers and since gangs without dogs are just not cool, they decide to steal a pug named Spike. Spike has his own plans though, and is by no means an easy dog to reckon with. What’s more, he leads them to uncover a terrorist operation! Read on to see how they handle Spike (and the challenges that come with him such as his unsatiable appetite and habit of pooping constantly).
In the second book, The Ghost Who Wasn’t There, the five children are still stuck with Spike and just can’t seem to get rid of him. There is one way, and it involves the following: catch a ghost, rob a bank and save the world. How would The Rulebreakers’ Club pull of this feat? To make things worse, Spike makes a new friend in Subramaniam the accountant and finds an admirer in Prasanna, the world’s greatest bore, and is constantly at war with his arch-enemy, Kunti Devi the pissed-off cat. Well, you’ll have to read to know how they finally manage to sort things out (or do they?)!
Urban Indian youngsters are a special group in themselves and the five child protagonists mirror realistically the language and appearances of this unique readership. This is heartening indeed as is the fact that the book does not fall back on any cliches, especially related to gender! (For example, the two girls in the book, Monica and Keerti reflect the young girls of today, who are intelligent, brave and individualistic in their own right). The boys, Tejas, Rishi, and Jagannathan have their own idiosyncrasies as well. The interactions between the five are fun and interesting, taking the story forward in a humorous manner.
The formula of “secret clubs” formed by kids who then go on to have adventures may not be new, but Rajendran gives it a fresh and unique spin. The result is two hilarious adventure stories that will have young readers in splits even as they try and guess what happens next.
The Little Gardener is a very simple story. Like in any good picture book, the pictures take the story forward, with minimal but very effective text.
The detailed illustrations make the garden look like a fascinating jungle. Thanks to the highly creative drawings, the garden looks like a lush and rich forest! Fascinating details, such as the little earthworms (and many tiny natural objects that you can find in the artwork) will appeal to readers!
There was once a little gardener and his garden meant everything to him. He worked extremely hard as he tended to his garden. However, he felt he was too little, and the garden was very big. There was a hint of disappointment. Yet, he continued to labour day in and day out. One single flower did blossom. It was that one flower that gave him hope. He worked hard to save the garden from dying. One night, he wished he had a little help, before he went to sleep.
While no one heard his wish, the blooming flower caught the eye of a little girl who lived in the house nearby. It gave her hope and she started to tend to the dying garden. While the gardener slept out of weariness, when he awoke there was a big surprise in store for him. His garden was alive and blossoming!
The Little Gardener is a book that can be used with children as a simple story, complete with wonderful artwork. It can also be used as a starting point for discussions that are more philosophical in nature- for instance, the nature of hard work, value of persistence and nature of hope.
Without appearing moralistic, The Little Gardener echoes the eternal truth that it is important to persist, against all odds. As human beings, we need to do our duties and relentlessly pursue what we have set out to do. Just like the little gardener, we are all batting our own weeds in life! But, there is always help at hand, if you ask for it, and work for it. It also brings in the notion that sometimes help can be found in the most unexpected of places.
Flying Eye books, 2015
If all was well with the concept of Power, the world would be a different place. Louis I – King of the Sheep, a picture book for children by renowned French illustrator Olivier Tallec, explores the fleeting and corrupting nature of power. Tallec is known to bring deep sensitivity and beauty in his works. This book is no exception.
Louis, a ‘common’ sheep grazing in the open fields gets lucky one day. The wind blows a crown on his head. Since he has the crown on his head, he declares himself king.
AND SO IT WAS ONE WINDY DAY THAT LOUIS the SHEEP THEREBY BECAME LOUIS I KING OF the SHEEP
His rise to power is due to chance. But, power transforms him. He slowly becomes a tyrant. A change occurs within him. Obviously, this is because of the power he has now. The change comes slowly but pervasively. As you turn the pages, you can observe the change that at first occurs in small doses.
BUT FIRST and FOREMOST, LOUIS I DECIDED, HE MUST BRING ORDER TO HIS KINGDOM.
SO HE COMMANDED HIS PEOPLE TO MARCH BEHIND HIM IN SHEEP STEP.
Louis gets a special place for himself so he can rest. He hunts for lions and such royal pursuits. He receives grand artists at his place. He basically indulges in activities that kings do. But, by now, Louis I is completely drunk on power and matters turn sinister.
NEXT, LOUIS I DECIDED THAT ONLY the SHEEP WHO RESEMBLED HIM COULD LIVE AT HIS SIDE.
The OTHERS MUST BE DRIVEN OUT.
However, if power can come, so can it go. Another day, it takes but a bit of gusty wind to blow the crown away.
LOUIS I, KING OF the SHEEP BECAME LOUIS the SHEEP ONCE AGAIN.
By using the example of a humble sheep, Tallec shows that no one, not even the simplest and most innocent amongst us, is immune to the corrupting influence of power. The gentle pace of the story and a very positive end makes it a pleasant read.
Tallec’s design background ensures that the illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful, to say the least. Highly detailed and spread generously over the pages, the powerful pictures take the story forward. Each page has a maximum of just two lines of text, if at all. Yet, it is the impact of the powerful lines and the wonderful illustrations make the story what it is.
The notion of power dynamics hits us right from childhood when we face power relationships with parents and significant others. The book explains simple truths about power that both children and adults will be able to relate with. It illustrates how power depends on chance, how power corrupts and the fact that it is transitory.
Subscription boxes evoke a sense of nostalgia and surprise. In recent times the idea of activity based boxes has become very popular. However, for the very first time the magic of reading finds itself packaged in a monthly box. Enchantico is a subscription box comprising books and activities – designed to bring back the love of reading for children.
Founders Ravi Subramanian, Sangram Surve and Shalini Bajaj hit upon this idea a little over a year back. Just one year on they already have about 200 subscribers, with new additions day by day.
So, what’s in the box? Each month, Enchantico delivers a box comprising of at least two carefully curated age-appropriate books and one activity designed around one of the books to subscribers. Their website, www.enchantico.in, gives details about the age classifications and costing.
Can you talk about the process of selection of books?
We have a tie up with about eleven publishing houses. Every month we get an intimation of books that are new, written by both Indian and foreign writers. We take the entire set of books into consideration. Our curator panel headed by Lubaina Bandukwala, parents, and Ravi and myself, we go through the entire list and shortlist titles. We have discussions about the topic and relevance to age group. We shortlist three books per age group and get in touch with publishers. We go through the pre-read copies. At this stage we may reject some books. By the time the release date comes, we are ready. At any given time, our boxes have at least two books.
Curation is something that sets you apart…
Curation happens through a panel from the latest books that the publisher sends us. If the book is not the latest, then its distribution in the country has been limited. Many retail stores are not able to stock some of these fantastic titles for a number of reasons, such as preference to fast selling popular fiction. Given that, we have access to a whole new set of books that even stores don’t have. Curation starts from what is it that we have access to and what it is that’s new. We also include interesting nonfiction books and special editions of classics as well.
There is also one activity included in each box. Can you tell us about it?
Parallel to the selection process the design team works on the activity: we take into consideration learning, motor skills, sensorial skills and engagement to take forward the concept of the book. The concept needs to be different. Some of our subscribers are hard-core readers and for them the activity is secondary, albeit a beautiful add on. But then there is a group of reluctant readers who need an incentive to get engaged with the book. The activity is a great way to increase engagement and make the reading more fun. For example, we had a book about an elephant who was invited for a pajama party, but had no pajamas. Our activity was a paint-it-yourself pillow! This brought in the concept of sleepovers. Another book had a lighthouse playing a key role in the story. Hence, the activity involved making a working lighthouse, which could be used as a table lamp!
What if there is a repeat and a child has read the book included in the box?
Technically the possibility of a repeat does exist. But, let me share this example. One of our subscribers, an 11-year-old girl is a voracious reader. Her mother was worried about the possibility of a repeat. She’s been subscribing for six months now and there has not been a single instance of repeat! There are many beautiful books which people have not heard of.
What is your assessment of the business model of a subscription box?
Initially people go into trial mode. If the box appeals and is looked forward to it works. Right now, this is a metro phenomenon but moving to two-tier cities. As long as there is need, it will always have traction. In the long term there has to be newness and scope for engaging further, or else it will lose hold. This engagement is for us to explore. We have maintained the element of surprise so far. A kid loves the concept of a surprise. Currently the concept is doing very well but it will have to have a lot of legs to be able to survive in the long term. We need to create an ecosystem around it and it has to have value in the long term.
You have your own digital currency- litpoints?
Yes, but this will be in the second phase. We intend to have a digital platform. There needs to be interaction with kids, parents and recommendations need to start coming from them as well. This platform will encourage a community of readers to come together. We want to reward this community. So litpoints would be our currency that is a reward for participation and can be redeemed for book related rewards.
E-books have now become an integral part of people’s lives. How does this factor play in books for children?
It’s not something that you can stop. I have nothing against e-books, but at a fundamental level a tablet or device could be detrimental. A book takes an X amount of time to read. The physical feel of paper, the joy of buying and placing a bookmark is something different. We hope parents realise, especially for young children, that they should be allowed to explore joys of a physical book. As a child I remember I used to get excited about getting a big book, or accessing beautiful illustrations without having to zoom in. An e-book cannot give that visual joy. The joy of your own book where you have your secrets embedded is different.
What are your future plans for this concept?
The idea was always to give a product that people did not have, with a quality that they would only expect an international brand to provide. The product brings kids back to an environment where they can have active exchanges. We want to make kids fall in love with reading again. Reading ultimately has the power to impact the social fabric of the country. We are looking at a full 360 degree eco system with festivals, interactions, school tie-ups and ultimately mentoring readers through a program which engages them through interactions with leading writers.
In the age of the click of a button or swipe of the screen, it is heartening to know that the good old magic of books has been rekindled, and that too with an element of surprise, month after month!
Thanks to the proliferation of social media, we are able to access varied points of view and make up our own narratives. When my friend Rupa, recommended that I hear the TED talk on “The danger of a single story” by acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I did not realize that it would open my eyes to a hidden lurking danger that I might not even have been aware of. The talk was given in the year 2009, but remains relevant to the current global scenario.
Adichie begins the talk by citing her own example- how as an early reader, the British and American children’s’ books that she read, really impacted her and how she started writing fiction, inspired by the novels she read as a child. Several elements crept into these early stories- elements that may not have been a part of her experiences as a child growing up in Nigeria. Her stories and characters had a seeming resemblance to what she read- they talked of the weather, drank ginger beer and ate apples…just like the foreign characters in the books she read. Luckily, as she matured she discovered African writers, and this broadened her horizons. In her words: “It saved me from having a single story of what books are”.
In the talk, she recognises that while these ‘foreign’ books opened up new worlds for her, they also had unintended consequences. Using personal anecdotes to draw out the nature of these consequences, she says, “What this demonstrates I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children”.
As the talk progresses she illustrates how we often have single stories about people, and cultures. Through the prism of her experiences in Nigeria and her consequent education at University in the USA, she illuminates the danger of these stories…these narratives that creep into our collective consciousness and destroy the possibility of alternative realities.
She explores the notion that literature often (and sadly) is the cause of these single stories…and more dangerously, different versions of the same story! She also throws up the idea that power plays a role here….the power of who chooses to tell the story and how.
The lucid but powerful talk is laden with strong one-liners. “Show a people as one thing, only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become” she says, appealing to the audience that “stories matter….many stories matter”…which is why we must not “make one story the only story…”
As a mother, my takeaway from this insightful talk would be to expose my child to multiple stories….diverse narratives…not only in literature and the books that we read, but also in life!
BOOKS BY Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie