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!
The ‘hOle books’ by Duckbill experiment slightly with the book form. As the name suggests, these books with a ‘hOle’, add a fun element to the book. There is a hole at the top right end of each book, which somehow younger children find very fascinating! Timmi and Rizu by Shals Mahajan takes on this format, and narrates a tale that many young children can relate to.
Timmi is a bold girl, and Rizu a sweet and quiet boy. He “sits on the last bench and pays attention, which is why he goes unnoticed”. But he has a problem, and a serious one at that! Three bullies lie in wait for him every day when they bully him and call him names.
Bullying is something that all kids face at some point in their school lives. Timmi réalisés that her friend is being bullied, and she wants to help him. With the good counsel of Idli-Amma and Juju the Giant, who help the two kids plan tactics against the ‘enemies’ the kids finally hit upon a plan to counter the bullies. The plan is fraught with its own challenges as well…at the end, do the children achieve their goal? Well, you’ll have to jump into the Duckbill Reading Hole for that!
In all, the book is a humorous take on how to handle bullying in school situations. Moreover, the apt illustrations by Shreya Sen accompany the text perfectly. The story is laced with humour that is quite appropriate for the young readers and will have them in splits!
‘Timmi and Rizu’ is a chapter book, and is a fun story to start-off your child on his or her independent reading journey as well.
Timmi and Rizu by Shals Mahajan
Illustrated by Shreya Sen
Published by Duckbill Books, 2017
If your child enjoys this book, do look at the following hOle books as well:
If your child adores Timmi (who doesn’t?) here is another one featuring Timmi’s exploits!
What can a little boy do if his Nani turns into his favourite cartoon character? Deepu is faced with a strange predicament. On a perfectly normal evening, he is fighting for the television remote with his grandmother in a perfectly normal way. Something happens. Then, she turns into a Ninja with Ninja superpowers! What follows is an eventful night filled with adventures. Nani takes her Ninja calling quite seriously. Welcome to Ninja Nani!
Lavanya Karthik introduces the very loveable Ninja Nani in two books, meant to be read one after the other. Ninja Nani & the Bumbling Burglars presents Nani’s fantastic transformation and Ninja Nani and the Zapped Zombie Kids builds on the adventure.
The language in both the books is extremely hilarious. There is an inherent humour in the language (for example, The Schoolbag Of Endless Sorrow as a word to describe his school bag). The situations described are also hilarious (Nani acting like Ninja, soumersauting in celings, backflipping quite efficiently and so on). Both these aspects combine to make for a comical read.
There are many illustrations throughout both the books which add to the fun of reading. In some of the key sections, the books also assume the form of a graphic novel. This is a very novel and interesting aspect.
In the first book Deepu and Nani take on a gang of robbers who are all set to rob a bank. In this book, both Deepu and Nani have just discovered the fact that Nani has Ninja powers. Both are coming to terms with it, and the adventure story forms a part of the entire story.
However, the second book, Ninja Nani and the Zapped Zombie Kids has a very confident Nani take on a huge challenge. She is the Mystery Hero of the town using her great powers quite responsibly for helping the residents of the town. Only Deepu knows her secret, and both of them work in tandem. This time round though, the challenge is bigger and tougher. Mrs.Godbole’s tuition class has something strange going on. Deepu’s friends who are a part of the class are acting like sleep-deprived zombies. Worse, Deepu may just join them! It’s all up to Nani to save the day. A lot more fighting and lots of excitement in store!
While the book is a fun adventure story on the surface, at a deeper level it also shows the beautiful grandson and grandmother relationship in the context of modern times.
Ninja Nani & the Bumbling Burglars
Ninja Nani and the Zapped Zombie Kids
Both books by Lavanya Karthik
Published by Duckbill Books, 2017
Oh…the turmoils of a 10-year old! A lot goes on in the minds of children and they have their own set of serious challenges to overcome. Manya Learns to Roar explores this. Manya, a lovable young girl badly wants to be Shere Khan in her school play. The Jungle Book is her favourite film. Moreover, she knows all the lines by heart. The only issue? She stammers.
She may want to act, but not everyone has faith in her ability. Her classmate Rajat openly makes fun of her stammer. Even her English teacher thinks it’s risky to let her get on stage and her principal seems to agree. To make things worse, her stammer worsens due to the anxiety. The book follows Manya’s journey through this very tough and sensitive situation.
The story is quite delightful and is told in simple engaging language. It is easy to read and quite accessible for most kids. Children have their own set of challenges and this book will be highly inspirational thanks to its powerful message. It will not only inspire readers but also sensitize them to the thoughts and feelings of other children who may face a problem or a disability.
The pictorial code language between Manya and her friend Ankita adds an interesting element. The dialogues are also laced with humour which makes the book a very light read.
It is a story that comes straight from the heart. The author, Shruthi Rao, has also grappled with issues related to stammering and the book boldly targets the stereotypes associated with it. The beautiful illustrations by Priya Kuriyan make the reading experience all the more enticing!
Manya Learns to Roar was a winner in the Children First writing competition, organised by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts, and Duckbill Books.
Manya Learns to Roar by Shruthi Rao
Illustrated by Priya Kuriyan
Age group: 6 years onward
Published by Duckbill Books
Shah Jahan and the Ruby Robber by Natasha Sharma is a part of the History Mystery series published by Duckbill. Young Indian readers often see history as a fact-based subject learned in school. They see it as a chronology of events. However, the History Mystery series responsibly juggles storytelling and history.
The book starts off with emperor Shah Jahan waiting to try out his new jewelled throne that has taken seven long years to make. It is a grand throne that displays all the jewels and precious stones that speak of the glory of the Mughal empire. But, wait! The jewel of the throne… that is to say, the star and the pinnacle of the multifarious jewels, the great Timur Ruby is missing! What’s worse, there is a squishy squashy plum in its place!
Moments after the emperor discovers this great mistake there ensues a lot of confusion. A hilarious sequence of events follow. Shah Jahan places his daughter Jahanara in charge of finding out who the thief was. Of course, his brood of seven, including the famed Aurangzeb who is shown as quite the angry young man here, must take up the challenge collectively.
The entire play of events takes place as the plans for the construction of the Taj Mahal are going on. This context itself adds an element of fascination to the story. The simple and surprising twist in the end shows the ingenuity of the author. It proves that if one looks carefully, history has great stories to tell!
There is a lot of subtle humour in the language, which makes it funny to read and is sure to elicit some heartfelt smiles and giggles! Consider the following line:
For before him stood the greatest, the grandest, the most glorious throne in the whole world -his brand new Jewelled Throne. There it stood, awaiting Shah Jahan’s bottom for the very first time.
The genre of historical fiction for children is a relatively undeveloped one when it comes to Indian literature for young readers. However, with Shah Jahan and the Ruby Robber, Natasha Sharma once again merges history and fiction to tell an appealing tale.
Shah Jahan and the Ruby Robber
Author: Natasha Sharma
illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
Published by Duckbill Books and Publications Pvt Ltd.
October 2nd will soon be upon us. We will celebrate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. Some of us will take the opportunity to narrate stories about Gandhi to our children. For the current generation of young children, the implications and impact of the struggle for independence is something they have not known in their collective consciousness. But, they do know about the far-reaching impact of the teachings of Gandhi. Hence, this would be the perfect occasion to introduce My Gandhi Scrapbook. The book is apt for all school going children, including older ones.
Sandhya Rao, the compiler of this unique scrapbook, is an avid scrapbook enthusiast. A Scrapbook is personal and it is a canvas to explore and
express your inherent creativity without being bound by any rules. My Gandhi Scrapbook does just that, making the father of the nation become a part of your child’s life in a more participative way.
From the very beginning itself, she introduces this premise:
My Gandhi Scrapbook is a very thin book almost mirroring the look of a typical scrapbook. It is a book in which the author invites the children to become active participants. There is information about Mahatma Gandhi, but there are many empty spaces calling on the child to fill with his own thoughts, feelings and reflections on what Gandhiji means to him or her. The child can draw, write, stick and colour into the book without any restriction.
The book thankfully abandons a chronological account of Gandhi’s life. Instead, each page highlights some interesting aspect of his personality, or his life and influence. The pages are filled with many images and graphics: photographs, stamps, notes and what not. Quotes from his books and excerpts from letters are gently interwoven. You’ll find interesting and less known nuggets of information as well.
In between all this are little activities for kids. They have a chance to try out drawing Gandhi’s silhouette, stick their own pictures of him, scribble their observations, and of course, write down their own nuggets of information about Gandhi. This is one of those rare books which gives authorship to children. They are actively involved in making the book.
The last few pages of My Gandhi Scrapbook are blank. And that’s the way it should be. They are for the reader to add what he or she wants to about Gandhi. At the end of it all, this is not a book they read. It is a path of making Gandhi truly their own!
My Gandhi Scrapbook by Sandhya Rao
Indian publishers have come up with a great variety of bilingual books to introduce regional languages to children from an early age. However, for those who live abroad, the story is different. There is either a paucity of such books, or they are not accessible for parents and caretakers who may not be fluent in reading the local script. Geneticist Pridhee Kapoor sensed a lacuna in the market when she was looking out for books in Indian languages for her kids, while living abroad. Hence, she decided to write and publish such books herself. Three books later, the Founder and CEO of T4Tales is all geared up about the world of opportunities that this venture has opened up.
Excerpts from a conversation…
Das din, is an interactive lift the flap and pull tab Hindi board book for 0-6 year olds.
Gol Mol Bol is an old Hindi nursery rhymes book with downloadable music by Ramya Shankar for 0-6 year olds.
Bolo Kya? Is a lift the flap Hindi board book for 0-2 year olds.
All three books at the moment are in Hindi.
The objective has always been to spark an interest in children to learn Hindi in a fun way. But if you have a cheat sheet in English, it stops you from achieving that objective. A child or a parent will always take the easy way out and just read the book in English. The Hindi teachers I have met here complain of the same challenge with the current set of books at their disposal.
When we started writing the content, we were considering doing the books in only the actual script. When we showed our prototypes to some parents, most of them got back saying “Oh wow! I struggled to read the Hindi script. It has been too long” or “Oh I didn’t study Hindi when I was in school but I would like my child to learn Hindi”. Based on that feedback, my father, who has been in education for the last 30 years, suggested that we add the English transliteration, to help the parents and also older kids (who are confident with phonics) to read Hindi. It gives the child a sense of pride being able to read a Hindi book. Especially so for an older child who is trying to get comfortable with speaking and reading Hindi.
I also believe that there several other Indian book publishers that do a wonderful job with Hindi (and English translation) books.
Yes, the books by T4Tales are specifically for introducing the Indian language to infants and really young children.
I have heard back from parents of older children who didn’t think their kids would enjoy the book saying that their children have shared the books with teachers in class about how they good they felt to be able to read the book. I had a mom share with me that her 6-year-old daughter enjoyed the book so much that her daughter practiced her script writing by copying the words from the book on her own without the mom having to ask. That for me was a nice surprise since we were always targeting really young children.
I once attended a talk in Singapore about the history of pop ups and other interactive features in books. Popups had started coming up in the 1770s and were not made to keep children quiet or to teach them. These books were made to give children pleasure and help them understand the spatial orientation and movement being described in the books. Today’s children learn that easily from watching movement of characters on screens (especially in animation). They don’t need the books to help them understand. I was very intrigued by this. So I thought ‘What if we did it the other way round? What if you used interactive features to take kids away from screens?’
And that became my goal – to make board books with interactive elements that are so much fun, that kids don’t need to, or want to look at the screen to understand and learn something! Although financially the costs become higher, but if I can manage to pull one child away from the screen to learn Hindi, my job is done.
Based on the objective of T4Tales to expose little ones to Indian languages in a fun way through board books, we plan to do more board books with fun interactive elements. We hope to able to publish in other languages as well. We have always been asked if we would consider Tamil or Marathi or Gujarati. We hope to publish in those categories in the near future.
Staying in Singapore, when I shared the books with a school library that offered Hindi as a subject, to my surprise, the librarian got back to me saying that she had noticed that not only the Indian children but also children that did not speak Hindi were picking up our books. For me that was a great feedback in terms of illustrations. Pictures don’t speak a language yet can convey meaning. If the illustrations are able to connect with a child that can’t speak Hindi, the book in my mind has completed its objective of engaging that child to pick up a book and not a screen. To me that was the biggest benefit of a well-illustrated and good quality book.
Parents have got back saying that they are excited to read a Hindi book that won’t fall apart at the mercy of the little one’s hands!
At the moment most of the retail and distribution for T4Tales is directly through us or online through Amazon US, Amazon India and Shumee in India. But recently we have been contacted by boutique bookstores in India and US to stock our books. Our books are available on Amazon US which automatically makes it worldwide.
T4Tales has made an amazing start and opened up a world of possibilities for parents who want their young kids to be in touch with their mother tongue. We’re surely looking forward to new releases that promise to take our little ones on another flight to fantasy!
There are few leaders who leave an indelible mark in the world, not only during the times they live in but much beyond. Nelson Mandela is one such leader who continues to inspire long after his death. His autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, chronicles the story of the long and painful struggle for freedom in South Africa.
This amazing story has been beautifully abridged by Chris van Wyk and charmingly illustrated by Paddy Bouma, especially for children.
Those who have read the original autobiography, will understand that the task of picking out relevant bits to include in the children’s version would have been a Herculean one! Yet, Wyk has done a fantastic job on this one.
The text is in first person and traces Mandela’s life from his birth in a small village, a life filled with struggles and sacrifices, to finally become the first elected president of independent South Africa.
It also weaves in a lot of contextual information about apartheid, the various tribes of Africa and the political scenario of the times. This helps children connect with the book and place it in context.
When ‘Madiba’ as Mandela is called, was young, his father nicknamed him ‘troublemaker’. As the book traces the development of the playful child to the socially aware young adult who grew to be the staunchest supporter of equality and justice in the world, one realises how this label eventually became true, albeit in a very positive manner!
The parts about the development of the African National Congress and Mandela’s long prison sentence are particularly interesting. Mandela’s life had been long but filled with struggles and sacrifices on his part for the greater good. Long walk to freedom touches upon several such sad instances in a mature, simple and straightforward manner, quite apt for children.
The illustrations accompany the story beautifully. They aptly aid the understanding of the text. Starting off with a map, placing the geographic context the illustrations move with the story taking us through the life of one of the greatest men who ever lived!
Long walk to freedom, Nelson Mandela
Published by MacMillan
If you’re also inspired to read the actual autobiography, that’s a great idea as well!
I’ve always loved picture books, and the profound messages that these apparently simple books convey. In today’s competitive world where children enter the rat race in the same manner and intensity they should be entering playgrounds and parks, maybe, it is time to pause and really ask yourself and your children, what is their inner voice…Their true inner voice. Maybe, The Blue Songbird will facilitate this process.
Written by Vern Kousky, The Blue Songbird tells us the story of a little blue bird. It is springtime and a young songbird hears beautiful songs all around her. These joyous songs are sung by her sisters, who are, no doubt, quite accomplished singers. The little songbird wants to add to this. She wants to sing what her sisters sing and be a part of the chorus. But, she finds this difficult. She gets dejected.
Luckily, she has a wise mother. When she complains to her mother that she does not seem to blend in with her sisters, her mother advices her instead to stand out.
“My dearest one,” replied her mother, “Not just any notes will do.You must go and find a special song that only you can sing.”.
The songbird goes on her quest. The story follows her varied encounters with different birds. Finally, when she returns home she realises that she has her very own song to sing. This is because of her own experience, her own story born out of her travels, and her very own song created from her adventures!
The words in the book have a very simple lyrical quality to them. The watercolour illustrations are sure to delight!
This is a gentle way of instilling a desire for individuality, at ones own pace, in a child. It is an empowering book that you may want to turn to from time to time. Like the songbird, our children are all unique individuals who need to be set off on their own adventures of self-discovery so that they can discover who they really are and express themselves when they choose to. This process must take its own time and not be a hurried one. While we all know this simple truth intrinsically, sometimes it takes a little picture book to remind us. And, The Blue Songbird does the task well!
Published by Running Press Kids (20 April 2017)