Why Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer Should Be the Wake-Up Call of Our Generation

By Nikki Jacob

I’m not going to try and fight the cliché of crying at the end of a Khaled Hosseini novel and would rather embrace this predicament and relish his masterpieces. And if there is a book that has torn me apart yet somehow also made me feel whole, it’d be his debut novel The Kite Runner. But all expectation crumbled into a numb spirit when I recently read his latest literary fiction- Sea Prayer.

The short, gorgeously illustrated book is a Syrian father’s letter to his son, Marwan. A country now rife with war and destruction, was for the father, a place of solace, where the only noise and havoc that the people were accustomed to came from the busy souks. Syria was his identity and his comfort- it was where he felt secure and loved. The memories of his childhood are filled with nature, family and the joyous ‘clanking of cooking pots’, community and acceptance, and even the smell of ‘fried kibbeh’.

I wish you remembered Homs as I do, Marwan.

These lines help me reminisce my own early years. My mind doesn’t cease to replay the rush that came from hiding behind doors, or falling off of the bike- but all in the name of fun and games.

Because for Marwan, hiding behind doors meant survival.

You have learned that mothers and sisters and classmates can be found in narrow gaps between concrete, bricks and exposed beams…

Not just him, ask any child of the present-day war-torn countries what emotion they’d derive from the word ‘childhood’, and it would sound like an excerpt from a ridiculous, gory tale. The stateless Rohingya babies and the new-borns abandoned in the hospitals of Yemen would probably never know the joy of riding a bike with no trainer wheels attached or just… craving an ice cone and even receiving one. But, what they would know too well is their constant state of physical pain and fear. The Syrian children dream to make it to school and back home without being killed. They sit in classrooms that are overpowered by the sound of death outside the windows. They run in groups to the stores, jumping over debris from a night that nobody wants to remember, hoping they’d all make it back home in one piece. For some children, home is a distant reality.

That’s what Sea Prayer has so beautifully, yet heartbreakingly depicted throughout as poetry and intense illustration. In his letter, the father paints a surreal picture for his son whose only memory of Homs, Syria will be that of protests and bloodshed.

you have learned dark blood is better news than bright.

The land that once thrived on hope has now taken deep roots of despair- and with each page turned I was left with a diminishing sense of that word hope. With brevity, Hosseini paints a grim picture of a world torn by war.

 First came the protests.
Then the siege.
The skies spitting bombs.

The book doesn’t use extravagance to tug at your heartstrings. The minimal but vivid illustrations by Dan Williams succinctly encapsulate the tragic transition from a peaceful Syria to one under siege. Each water-coloured page is a work of art in itself and subtly shifts from a dreamlike world with colour to a deep, sombre one with hues in monochrome.

Sea Prayer is dedicated to Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while his family was trying to reach Europe and to the many refugees who were forced to flee from their world and lives and died at sea.

Nevertheless, Marwan’s father ends the letter with hope- the only word that makes their fight for justice and survival worth every loss of their loved one. There may never be the right answers for all the questions asked out of helplessness, yet faith triumphs over them. And maybe one day, after the war ceases, these children will grow up to blind the nations with their radiant versions of these unanswered questions. Till then, hope will be their anchor.

The publisher of Sea Prayer, Bloomsbury will donate 1 pound from every sale of the book to the UN Refugee Agency which is dedicated to supporting the people who are forcibly displaced, around the world.

Nikki Jacob is a 25-year-old who loves dogs, the moon, and anything that has everything to do with minimal humans involved.

Pull Out and Pop-up!

Pull-out and pop-up books have usually been associated with very young children, giving them the extra oomph to keep them engaged. Well, here are some gorgeous pull-out and pop-up books that will capture the imagination of children and adults alike!

A Village is a Busy Place!, Illustrated by Rohima Chitrakar, Text by V. Geetha, Tara Books (Activity book)

Unfold each page like a scroll to uncover striking artwork depicting everyday life in a Santhal village. The bright and bold paintings in the style of the Bengal Patuas is a treat as you lose yourself in the many animals, rituals and musical instruments of the Santhal tribe.

Knock! Knock! , Kaori Takahashi, Tara Books

A little girl comes home and finds her bear missing. There begins a journey, in her building, to find him. The book unfurls higher and higher as she knocks on each apartment door to find beautiful and varying scenes within each door. As mentioned in the blurb, this is stunning ‘book architecture’.

Tiny Box of Awesomeness, Various, Kokaachi

ezgif.com-optimize.gif Does a story always have to be in a book? No, of course not! These tiny stories unfold as miniature pamphlets from a matchbox. They are delightful, colourful and easily accessible for a quirky present. From absurd to wonderful stories about a Kokaachi monster, alien spaceships and a sheepish sun who forgets to wake up, these pithy stories have much to offer.

An Indian Beach – by day and night, Joëlle Jolivet, Tara Books (Activity book)

Indian Beach_2This is a book to slowly explore and savour. Artist Joëlle Jolivet depicts a busy and well-used Indian beach inspired by her time at Elliot’s Beach, Chennai. Each scene is painstakingly etched in lino-cut images to create a stunning panorama of a day and night at the beach. The details with the morning joggers, fishermen, dogs, crows, goats, small domestic scenes in people’s homes and the church are breathtaking. This is a circular book, the insides of which display the diversity of fish. Children (and adults!) can colour-in, spot fish and people.

To the Ocean Deep, Illustrated by Sara Yoon, Produced by Hourglass Press LLC, Laurence King (Colouring Book)

Ocean_1Wouldn’t you like a never-ending colouring book filled with mysterious underwater creatures and oodles of treasure? Opening to an astounding 15 ft, that is exactly what this book is. Start just above the ocean with a little boat bobbing on the waves and follow it down to the ocean floor, on the way discovering sea snakes, pagodas, pyramids, ancient towns, an underwater forest and of course, treasure.

Around the World in 80 Animals, Guy Parker-Rees (Activity Book)

80 Animals_1.jpgGo on an animal safari to know squids, penguins, narwhals, tigers, sloths, tapirs, reindeer and other diverse creatures. Colour the animals, give them imaginative habitats and add-in your own fantastic beasts. As a bonus, you can look for a cheeky little snail in each landscape. Once your artwork is complete, you can cut out the strip and adorn your walls.

Megalopolis and the visitor from outer space, Cléa Dieudonné, Thames and Hudson (Activity and Story Book)

Meander slowly with an alien visitor in the magnificent city of Megalopolis. A sweet story where you discover the city’s many vistas together, from the dormant volcano, to Chinese gardens, the river with the mermaid and a surprise ancient creature at the bottom. While you’re admiring the delicious illustrations you can look for many sights mentioned in the book, including 94 cakes!

2017 – A Year in Children’s Books

Over the last few years we have seen a noticeable shift in Indian publishing for children – an enormous wave of new writing and illustration. Thanks to the launch of new publishers for children as well as some exciting fare from existing publishers, 2017 saw a huge list for children emerge from India with great and varied styles of writing and brilliant illustrations. We were impressed! We decided to put a list together of the books we had read and enjoyed this year. We would like to add a disclaimer that though we tried to, we couldn’t read each and every book that was published and apologise for inadvertent omissions. Please let us know if we missed something really special!


Ammachi’s Glasses, Priya Kuriyan, Tulika (Age 0+)

This book needs little introduction, what with it being one of the runaway bestsellers this year! A wordless picture book about an Ammachi who can’t find her glasses and the hilarious outcomes.

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Where Shall We Go, Big Black Crow? Arielle North Olson and Christy North Olson Kennedy, Illustrated by Caity Kennedy, Little Latitude (Age 1+)

This lift-the-flap board book takes young children on a journey with a little crow to find clues leading to her scrumptious dinner. It is a treat to look at, with vibrant illustrations of common Indian birds like crows, parakeets, red jungle fowl, peacocks, pelicans, orioles and a wise old hornbill.

The Birdie Post, Bhavna Jain Bhuta, Illustrated by Jaikar Marur, Translated by Sushmaa Roshan, Tulika (Age 2+)

Welcome to the Birdie Post – one lazy bird doesn’t want to fly faraway to give a message to her aunt so instead she tells her friend Mili, the kingfisher to pass it on, who in turn passes it on to the pigeon, Brahminy kite, parakeet, flamingo and so it goes.

Maharani the Cow, Christy Shoba Sudhir, Illustrated by Nancy Raj, Tulika (Age 3+)

Now this is a scene we have all seen many times – a crowded noisy street, full of people rushing to be somewhere important and an enormous cow sitting serenely in the middle of it. This story will give your little ones much to find, make sounds with, giggle and be generally amused.

HIC! Anushka Ravishankar, Illustrated by Christianne Pieper, Tara (Age 4+)

This book is printed on a Risograph that combines the technology of screen printing with a photocopier machine. It uses three colours: black, blue and mustard and the natural white of the paper. And what a gorgeous book this is! It shows a girl trying many imaginative ways to cure her hiccups, of course they do not work and sometimes have hilarious consequences.


Abba’s Day, Sunaina Ali, Illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta, Katha (Age 4+)

A Sunday in the life of little Aaisha – on this special day Abba and Aaisha make masala chai, give Ammi a break and go grocery shopping. A great book with bright illustrations and a simple, heart-warming story, it is part of Katha’s gender series giving a positive message about the dignity of labour and breaking down gender stereotypes.

Dive, Rajiv Eipe, Pratham Books (Level 3)

A simple book about a deep sea dive deserves special mention for the gorgeous illustrations that capture the underwater world so beautifully.

Jadav and the Tree-Place, Vinayak Varma, Pratham Books (Level 3)

Distressed to see dying snakes on a hot treeless sandbar, Jadav decides to take matters into his own hands. Over many years he grows a vast forest on this sandbar next to the Brahmaputra River. This is an inspiring true-story based on the life of Jadav ‘Mulai’ Payeng that leaves you with a feeling of empathy and empowerment.

Salim Mamoo and Me, Zai Whittaker, Illustrated by Prabha Mallya, Tulika (Age 5+)

The young protagonist Zai, a niece to none other than the famous ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali, is trying to hide that she has no interest in birds from her entire bird-loving family. When she can’t escape the endless bird-watching weekends, she devises a strategy: she simply pretends not to see them. This book makes for a funny read and ends on an optimistic note with Zai overcoming her anxiety.


How old is Muttajji? Roopa Pai, Illustrated by Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, Pratham Books (Level 4)

Putta and Putti do some excellent detective work to find out how old Muttajji, their great grandmother, could be. She helpfully gives them multiple clues in the form of interesting historical events and how old she was then. A fun read with warm illustrations.

The Secret God in the Forest, Anuradha Kumar, Illustrated by Piyush Verma, Tulika (Age 6+)

Part of the ‘Our Myths’ series from Tulika, this book encourages different ways of seeing and understanding and incorporates the forgotten story of a tribe called the Sabaras and their secret god, living in the forests of Odisha, into the modern day story of Jagannatha from Puri. This unique book shows the dynamic nature of myths while telling an absorbing story with contemporary illustrations.

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Mama, What is the Night? Manjula Padmanabhan, Tulika (Age 6+)

We are exposed to the habits of the creatures of the night as each one explains to us what the night means to them. Earthworms, jellyfish, night-blooming plant, cat, octopus and many others reveal their unique perception of the night, leaving us with a richer and deeper understanding. Set in darkness, the illustrations are striking and draw you into this ‘other’ world.

Twins, Dhwani Shah, Bhaddu Hamir and Gita Wolf, Tara Books (Age 6+)

Twins is a large format, unusual activity book which comes with a paper stencil that you can flip forwards and backwards to create two images of the same animal. You can then go wild and use your creativity to make them interact, modify their landscape and make your own story. This is an absolutely gorgeous book and we cannot recommend it enough.

One’s Own, Yet Different, Meena Kakodkar, Illustrated by Charutha Reghunath, Katha (Age 6+)

Another book that is part of Katha’s gender series the book questions gender stereotyping and brings up equality between male and female offspring. Banu and her grandmother share a special bond and tell each other stories from their lives. Through Banu’s many questions, the grandmother sees her views on life changing.


Amma, Take me to the Golden Temple, Bhakti Mathur, Puffin Books (Age 7+)

This time Amma takes her boys on a trip to Amritsar and to the Golden Temple, where in the course of a morning spent there she narrates the stories of the ten gurus and of how Sikhism came into being – well researched and written, the book is full of interesting facts and anecdotes and made us want to pack our bags and travel to Amritsar immediatey!

Watcha Gonna Do, Rosie Singh?, Rasil Ahuja, Puffin Books (Age 8+)

Rosie Singh is an 8-year old girl who has an embarrassing moment in front of her entire class! She discovers that everyone in her family has a tale to tell about being in a muddle where they had to choose how to act. How she deals with the incident makes for some fun reading!

Manya Learns To Roar, Shruthi Rao, Illustrated by Priya Kuriyan, Duckbill Books (8+)

This book ticks so many boxes for little readers – overcoming fear, bullying and accepting oneself with the help of supportive teachers, friends and parents. A spunky Manya auditions for the school play, ‘The Jungle Book’ to be Shere Khan. He is her favourite character and she knows all the lines by heart. But when her classmates tease her incessantly about her stammering and doubt her, she finds it hard to go on. Find out how she prevails in this book with a lot of heart.

The A to Z Detective Agency, Parinita Shetty, Illustrated by Jit Chowdhury, Puffin Books (Age 9+)

The adorable, mystery reading, 10-year old protagonist Ashwin keeps trying to think of ways to earn money for a class trip to Gujarat, which his single, working mother cannot afford. He stumbles on a book on Djinnis at a bookstore and manages to summon one in the form of Zubeida, a girl his own age and not a brilliant djinn by her own admission. The two begin a new venture – the A to Z Detective Agency and enter a murky underworld! We really enjoyed the crisp writing, the well thought out characters and the element of fantasy.


Wingless, Paro Anand, Illustrated by Atanu Roy, India Ink (Age 9+)

Though not a new book, Wingless was reprinted in 2017 and we were keen to include it!

When Princess Chutki, the daughter of the King and Queen of Angels, is born without wings all hell breaks loose in heaven! The King and Queen do not want to part with her, but when left with no choice they find a loving home for her on earth with the help of a wonderful cat family and a myna. Find out if Chutki overcomes hate and brings the two worlds closer together. Intricate black and white illustrations by Atanu Roy really add to this lovely imaginative tale.


The Boy with 2 Grandfathers, Mini Shrinivasan, Tulika (Age 10+)

Appa and Ajoba, Amol’s maternal and paternal grandfathers are outwardly two completely different people. But inside, where it matters most, they are wonderfully alike: interested, unafraid and capable, also they dote on Amol. This tender story approaches the difficult topic of loss with compassion and empathy as Amol copes with his mother’s death with the help of his supportive family.

India through Archaeology, Excavating History, Devika Cariapa, Illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan, Tulika (Age 10+)

Did you know why the Harappan civilization was almost not discovered or why coins are called the little superstars of the world of archaeology? Journey through India’s ancient history, with this fascinating book, chock-a-block with information seen through the eyes of an archaeologist. It is almost like a fast-paced detective novel as you find out what archaeologists do and how they uncovered mysteries through the ages. We also love that there are helpful notes on what the rest of the world was experiencing during the same time periods for context. A great introduction to India’s diverse history for children as well as adults.


Alone and Secrets, A Coven, Duckbill (Age 11+)

The first two books of The Hill School Girls series written by A Coven (we couldn’t help but try and uncover the identity of its mystery author!) We grew up on a healthy staple of school stories and were excited about this one being set in an Indian boarding school, that too one with progressive ideas on education. Both books are filled with a delicious familiarity and wonderful mix of humour, mystery, angst and friendship – we lapped them up on two consecutive afternoons.

Set in a fictional hill town, the four protagonists – Elizabeth, Ayesha, Mahrukh and Maitreyi get together despite their differences. The first book is narrated by Elizabeth who feels apprehensive about returning to school after the holidays because her best friend has moved to another school thanks to the new ideas on education adopted by the school – the book tells us how she copes with the changes and attempts new friendships while solving a mystery along with her friends. The second book, Secrets is told through Ayesha’s perspective – her adjustment to the new school and what the foursome do when a girl they know is harassed by boys from their town.

Needless to say we cannot wait to read the other two books in the series!


So You Want to Know About the Environment, Bijal Vachharajani, illustrated by Sayan Mukherjee, Red Turtle (Age 11+)

Easy to read and filled with facts as well as stories, jokes and activities, So You Want to Know About the Environment is a comprehensive look at climate change, food, waste, wildlife and water. Despite the seriousness of the content, the author manages to make it simple to read and follow. Essential reading to get children to start thinking about these things.

The Ooze Books, Trupti Godbole, Govind Mukundan and Poonam Bir Kasturi, Illustrated by Ishan Ghosh and Girish T.S, Daily Dump (Ages 4-80)

This is a set of two books: Junior Ooze and Senior Ooze. Junior Ooze is an activity book for children of 4-8 years. It asks questions to clarify the role of batteries in our lives and the potential danger if not disposed properly. The Senior Ooze book is a fact-filled, clearly illustrated story of a little boy with his fancy remote car. It gives a lot of information on the Lithium ion battery and even has ideas about power sources in the future. Overall essential books in children’s literature filling a lacuna on e-waste management.


It’s Christmas Time

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It’s Christmas time again and to add to the holiday cheer we have picked out some of our favourite books. These colourful Christmas themed books are perfect either to gift or read with your little ones.

Olivia Helps with Christmas, Ian Falconer (Simon and Schuster)

Olivia can’t wait for Christmas to arrive. While waiting for Santa, the whimsical, mischievous and loveable piglet also sets about trying to help her family get ready for Christmas – make sure her father sets up the tree properly, watch her mother cook the Christmas dinner and oversee the way in which the stockings are hung. And all this of course with her characteristic panache!

One Christmas Wish, Katherine Rundell, Illustrated by Emily Sutton (Bloomsbury)

Theo is alone at home with an uninterested babysitter as his parents have to work late on Christmas Eve. When he starts feeling sorry for himself he sees an unusual shooting star in the sky and wishes with all his heart to not be alone. His wish comes true when four Christmas decorations – a tin soldier, a rocking horse, an angel and a robin come alive. He helps each of them find what they need in a sweet adventure across town. This touching story is accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Emily Sutton.

Father Christmas’s Last Present, Marie-Aude Murail and Elvire Murail, Illustrated by Quentin Blake (Penguin)

Julien thinks he might be too old to believe in Father Christmas but when a mysterious present appears under the Christmas tree he is overjoyed. In this short story with striking illustrations by Quentin Blake, Julien adores his beautifully painted red and blue train even more than the expensive video game console his parents get him. There is a bit of suspense at the end when the family wonders whether the present was really meant for Julien and whether it will be taken back?

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Angelina’s Christmas, Katharine Holabird, Illustrated by Helen Craig (Puffin)

Part of the popular Angelina Ballerina series, this book beautifully brings out the magic and spirit of Christmas. It evokes values of kindness, inclusivity and sharing as Angelina goes about making a better Christmas for old Mr Bell, the retired and lonely postman. Warm and welcoming cottages, with bright Christmas lights on a snowy December evening immerse you in the picturesque landscape of Chipping Cheddar.

Eloise at Christmas Time, Kay Thompson, Illustrated by Hilary Knight (Simon and Schuster)

Little Eloise is an energetic little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel with her dear Nanny, and beloved pet turtle Skipperdee and dog Weenie. It is Christmas Eve, and she has a lot to do from hanging up decorations, to singing carols and crashing every holiday party. She spends considerable time choosing and packing thoughtful presents for all the hotel staff and even for the carriage horse next door! ‘Eloise at Christmas Time’ is written in verse and is quaintly illustrated in black, white and pink.

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Christmas in Exeter Street, Diana Hendry, Illustrated by John Lawrence (Walker Books)

This is a merry tale of kind Mrs Mistletoe in her big house at Exeter Street as it fills up with guests for Christmas. She good-naturedly finds a place for all the visitors in absurd places after the rooms are filled to capacity. It makes for a funny light read as shelves, mantelpieces, bathtubs and even a kitchen sink are converted to warm and cosy beds.

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Lightroom Bookstore

The Hunger Games


I decided to write this article when my mother referred to The Hunger Games as a “series book”. The term is used by my family of voracious readers to describe a book with a plot that mainly revolves around running, fighting and kissing e.g The Twilight Saga. And I thought The Hunger Games shouldn’t be compared to such books. Technically it does have all the given components (running, fighting and kissing) but I feel there’s more to the trilogy than that; so here’s to The Hunger Games and why I think it shouldn’t fall under my family’s terrible category.

The basic plot of The Hunger Games is this: Panem — the future dystopian nation of North America, is divided into 12 districts and the Capitol. The people in these districts work to provide food and resources for the people in the Capitol to live in luxury. Additionally, every year two teenage tributes from each district are selected by lottery to participate in the Hunger Games where the 24 participants are forced to fight to death until only one survives. The games are broadcast throughout Panem and the citizens forced to watch.
If you have read The Hunger Games then you probably know that it is full of politics. There is politics in the fights, in the conversations and quite a bit even in the romance. That’s what I enjoyed in the trilogy, it took away the simple “this guy is good, that guy is bad” logic and brought in something more complicated.

Speaking of bad guys, the villain is well sketched out and I find that a plot with a good villain is bound to be an interesting one. A good example of this is Batman. When I was younger I used to think Batman comics were so awesome because they had batman in them, but after I read more comics and started paying attention to their plots, I found that what actually makes Batman comics awesome is Joker. Joker’s psychotic character makes the whole plot interesting, without him there would just be a millionaire dressed as a flying rodent (no disrespect intended). The reason I brought up Joker is because the stark contrast between him and Snow (the Hunger Games villain). Snow has reasons to justify his cruelty. Joker has no motive, in one of the comics he describes himself: “I’m like a dog chasing cars, if I ever caught one I’d have no idea what to do with it”. Joker’s evilness is untainted, it’s what makes him a good villain despite being “just a bad guy”.

Coming to Snow, Coriolanus Snow, a cunning old man who is the president of Panem. What I like is the way the author, Suzanne Collins, brings out Snow’s character. While reading the book I understood Snow’s frustration with the heroine and how she repeatedly refuses to die. Though Snow is blatantly cruel, putting kids in an arena to kill each other, he doesn’t come out as simply sadistic but someone who foresees trouble and rebellion and acts quickly to suppress it. Technically Snow could just put all the tributes in a room and blow it up, it would be simpler, so why create a massive arena filled with explosive traps, man-eating hounds and countless other dangers? To show his power. It’s the dark logic behind Snow’s cruelty. He broadcasts the games so that the citizens watch it and fear his power, simultaneously keeping the people of the Capitol entertained. It’s what he calls killing two birds with one stone. Of course this doesn’t work perfectly, there eventually being a rebellion; which brings us to the one who started it all, Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss Everdeen, who bravely volunteers to go to the Capitol and participate in the Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, Prim, who was chosen. Throughout the book Katniss is portrayed as this brave girl who will do anything to survive, including switching boyfriends at momentary notice. This is where the politics comes in. She has to choose between two boys, Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne, but there’s more to it than that, considering that she also intends to stay alive. Which wouldn’t be possible if she stuck to one of them. Due to this, from an outsider’s point of view she seems to be forever leading both of them on.

Despite the extremely complicated romance going on, it’s not what rules the plot, there being a lot more to Katniss’s unusual character. One such example is while most of the tributes say “the buildings”, “the roads” and “the fountains” when asked what they like about the Capitol, Katniss says “the lamb stew”. What Suzanne Collins neatly brings out is the fascination the tributes have in the capitol, after living under thatched roofs their entire lives.

I repeatedly get asked who my favourite character is in The Hunger Games. Though I don’t get what it is with people and their favourite every things, I would probably settle for Haymitch (Katniss’s mentor). Despite being perpetually drunk, Haymitch is ceaselessly witty, even when his life is at stake; calling Katniss sweetheart after she tries to stab him. Haymitch’s character is undoubtedly the most bizarre and brings in some humour to the otherwise serious books.

I also wanted to make a point about the movies and how all the actors suited their respective roles like Jennifer Lawrence who played Katniss, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne and last but not least Josh Hutcherson who generally hung around and looked constipated as Peeta Mellark.

The first book in The Hunger Games trilogy was written in 2008, before The Maze Runner, The Mortal Instruments, and Divergent. I think it started the “dystopic world” trend or at least contributed to it. The Hunger Games trilogy is fun, action packed and stupefyingly complicated… A good read.

This article is written by Ishaan Ramakrishnan, a 13-year old homeschooler who enjoys reading and writing, among other things.
It was first published on his blog:  https://medium.com/@ishaanrk

Finding the Father of the Nation


With Gandhi Jayanti approaching, we pick out some of our favourite books on the Father of the Nation, for both early and middle readers.


Mahatma Gandhi: The Father of the Nation by Subhadra Sen Gupta (Puffin)

Part of the Puffin Lives series, this is aimed at the 10+ age group. Despite being a lot more text heavy than the other books (there are no internal illustrations), it’s written in such a way that it’s very readable. Sen Gupta invites children to discover what Gandhi was ‘really’ like, and while there’s a lot of focus on his remarkable personality and achievements, some nuances are brought out, which will make children pause. Why was it that Gandhi indulged children generally, but was very strict with his own sons?, for example.


My Gandhi Story by Rajesh Chaitya Vangad, Nina Sabnani and Ankit Chadha (Tulika Books)

Bringing together three different voices (that of a Warli artist, an inquisitive child, and Gandhi himself) this book has a novel approach. The voice of the village artist reflects upon the life of the Mahatma, while the child is able to post the kind of questions young readers might like to know the answers to. Why is it that Gandhi gave up wearing English clothes? Did he work hard in school? Wasn’t he afraid of going to jail? It’s also beautifully illustrated, with a striking combination of black-and-white photographs and Warli art.


Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus (Simon & Schuster)

This is a beautiful picture book, offering a new perspective on Gandhi, from the point of view of his Grandson, Arun. A collaboration between Arun Gandhi and American writer Bethany Hegedus, it focuses on Arun’s time as a child in the Sevagram village. The book narrates a very personal incident of Arun losing his temper on the soccer field, and the way in which his grandfather helps him overcome his anger and make him realise that we don’t have to be perfect to be good people, is very moving. The striking mixed-media illustrations by Evan Turk are also stunning, giving an extra depth to the book.


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi by Aditi De (Scholastic)

We’re big fans of this series of books from Scholastic India, which take on great personalities, re-telling their lives through well designed and illustrated pages, some of which are laid out in graphic novel format. The book is split into short, easy-to-read chapters, and is full of lovely details which children will relate to – from Gandhi being scared of the dark as a child, to him treasuring the gifts (birthday candles, a tin plate, jelly sweets and a blue pencil) given to him by children from the East End during his 1931 London visit.


Kasturba by Tanaya Vyas (Tulika Books)

A new offering from Tulika, this book is actually very much not a book about Gandhi, and instead focuses on his oft-overlooked wife Kasturba. When Nina is selected to play Kasturba in the October 2 play, she doesn’t know much about Kasturba except that she was Gandhi’s wife. Throughout the simply-narrated story, though, Nina finds out some things about Kasturba that enable her to play her role with strength and courage.


Marching to Freedom by Subhadra Sen Gupta (Pratham Books)

Rather than giving an overview of Gandhi’s character of life, this illustrated book, also by Subhadra Sen Gupta, hones in on one particular event – the Dandi March, recounting events from the point of view of a young boy living in Gandhi’s Sabarmati ashram. As well as illuminating the run-up to the Salt Satyagraha, it also gives a sense of what it must have been like to live in this community in the 1930s. Sen Gupta has also included a section on the historical context for children who might want to explore further.


Bapu & the Missing Blue Pencil (Terrapin)

Another book on Gandhi by Subhadra Sen Gupta, Bapu and the Missing Blue Pencil is the story of two fictional children called Rano and Gokul who live at Sabarmati Ashram where there parents work and they themselves help with small chores like watering the garden, weaving khadi and feeding goats. In the story Bapu loses his blue pencil and asks the children to help him search for it. Though at the time no one was talking about it at all,  Gandhiji was very aware of consuming consciously, reducing waste and recycling and this book looks at that aspect of him.


National Book Trust, Rediscovered


From Tulika to Karadi Tales, Tara Books to Red Turtle – these days we’re spoiled for choice in terms of Indian children’s publishers. Though just a generation ago, it was the National Book Trust and Children’s Book Trust which held the fort in terms of Indian children’s publishing. And while the websites can be tricky to navigate and the quality of books variable, there are still some wonderful gems to be found. We recently rediscovered a few old favourites and found some new offerings.


1 to 10 Procession, Mickey Patel, Rs 18

Count from one to ten by joining a wedding procession! This whimsically illustrated book only has a number per page in terms of the text, but there is so much to absorb in the illustrations. From the one white horse decked out in its finery, all the way through to the nine trumpeters and ten dancing children. The soft colour palette adds to the appeal.


My First Railway Journey, Mrinal Mitra, Rs 25

This one is completely wordless, but manages to perfectly capture the spirit of taking a journey on the Indian Railways. Join the train on the platform, jostling amongst the coolies and other passengers, take your seat in the carriage and have your ticket checked by the conductor. After all that you can enjoy the view from the window and of course get to know the other passengers sitting close by! This would also work as a good prompt for a creative writing exercise for older children.


Rahul and the Dream Bat, Ken Spillman and Suvidha Mistry, Rs 50

We’re big fans of Ken Spillman, and this one stands out for the quality of the story. Rahul can’t seem to stop hitting ducks when it’s his turn to bat, but it’s heartening to see him regain confidence in himself, and to discover that every match is a new chance to improve.


This is Rajasthan, S Sen Roy, Rs 25

Again, a wonderfully simple but beautifully conceived of book, which combines soft pencil sketches with rhyming couplets about different aspects of this Indian state. Facial expressions and details within the art make it possible to pore over again and again and find new elements.


Search, Jagdish Joshi, Rs 20

With just black etchings enlivened with splashes of green, this book takes you on a hide-and-seek trail through the jungle. On each page there’s a rhyming couplet, giving clues of what might be hiding in the illustrations for you to pick out. Spot birds, fish, deer and even an elephant … and there are answers at the back if you get stuck!


Mora, Mulk Raj Anand and Ruprecht Haller, Rs 25

Told from the perspective of a baby elephant, it’s the illustrations which stand out here. The elephants are sketched in pen and ink, while splashes of colour are saved for the environment around them, drawing you into a narration of everything an elephant calf must learn from its mother in order to become independent, including sobering lessons about the dangers posed by elephant hunters.



Long and Short Big and Small, Pulak Biswas, Rs 45

Pulak Biswas’ art is always a delight, and this is no exception. The concept of the book is also clever – rather than illustrating size through comparing large and small animals, Biswas makes things a bit more interesting by picking out features – for example comparing the long tail of a langur with a goat’s short tail, and the rabbit’s big ears with the mongoose’s small ears.


Rupa the Elephant, Mickey Patel, Rs 30

We couldn’t resist a second from Mickey Patel, which is equally delightful in terms of both story and art. Rupa the elephant is sad about being plain and grey, but the other zoo animals are happy to help out – lending her colourful stripes and spots. In the end, though, it seems that those around her loved Rupa just the way she was.


The Day the River Spoke, Kamala Nair and Shankar Sen, Rs 30

Suitable for children who are reading independently (though it could also be read together) this is a moving and important story about a young village girl who desperately wants to go to school along with her brothers, but is tied down by household responsibilities. The story is accompanied by dreamlike, two-colour watercolour drawings.

What’s also great about these books is how reasonably priced they are – it’ s possible to pick up three and still have change from Rs 100! Watch this space for a curated list of Children’s Book Trust (CBT) favourites, too.

Memories of the Boy Who Lived


There’s something undeniably nostalgic about the release of a new Harry Potter story. It’s almost ten years since a fresh Hogwarts story hit the shelves, and this time around the generation who grew up with Potter are, like him, well into adulthood. So as a new generation gets into the swing of Potter-mania and midnight parties, we speak to some Bengalureans about their memories of how things were the first time around.

Monica Pillai

I remember the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows releasing in July 2007. At that time there was a large Crossword Bookstore on Residency Road, which had promised to open at 6am so that eager fans could get their hands on copies as soon as it was released. I’d just bought a new bicycle, and at that time there was no traffic, so I cycled there all the way from Cooke Town, arriving at about 5am. I hadn’t cycled in years, so that itself felt a bit like being a child again. When I got there, there was a crowd of children, but I was the only adult waiting in line for a copy. In fact, a TV crew who were covering the event asked me to step out of the line so that I didn’t interrupt their shots of the eager children! After that, I felt a bit bad about regaining my place, so I let quite a few youngsters in front of me.

Monica with her bike & book!

Mehvash Arslan

I started reading the books when I was 12 (the summer of 1999 – which makes me the same age as Harry!) and haven’t stopped since. I really don’t know what it says about me that I’ve been reading the same books over and over again for the last 17 years. I’m pretty sure I can recite a lot of them from memory. Doesn’t stop me rereading them though!

I have oddly fond memories of standing in long queues at ungodly hours of the morning to get the latest book. The last one was a very memorably read in the general compartment of a train from Bombay to Pune (no mean feat considering I was standing for the entire 4 hours in an incredibly crowded train!). This was meant to be a trip to visit my boyfriend but I started reading as soon as I got on the train, continued reading while I waited for him to pick me up from the station, then spent half the day at his house finishing the book. He then started reading the book, and by the time he finished it was time for me to return to Bombay!

Sabarish Suresh

Growing up in Bangalore, I came to the Harry Potter books later than some. But I think I’ve made up for that since, in terms of sheer enthusiasm! My introduction to Potter came when I was in the 5th standard and watched The Prisoner of Azkaban film, after which I was hooked! I went back and watched the first two movies and then started reading The Philosopher’s Stone around the same time as the release of the sixth book. By the time the final book was out, I had read all the others.

Subsequently, while studying law at Jindal Global University, I’ve done an elective paper on Harry Potter and the Power of the Imagination. This course, taught by Professor Rashmi Raman, delved into the philosophical ambits of Harry’s universe, and acted as an impetus for me to enter Harry Potter scholarship – I’ve begun reading and writing on various critical perspectives of life based on the Potter series. It seems like I just went from one kind of a fanatic to an entirely different kind!

Sabarish with his sister, before watching the final movie

Bijal Vachharajani

I really couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Newspapers were writing articles about some boy wizard and even my second hand bookstore was stocking copies of the Harry Potter books. I couldn’t help but be curious. So one day, while looking for a copy of The English Patient for our creative writing class, I also ended up buying Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I of course didn’t know it was the third in the series. That’s all my bookshop guy had. I surreptitiously read the book at home and in the train to college (I was fresh out of college and pursuing a diploma in communication and media in Mumbai). To my utter bewilderment, I was loving reading a children’s book! My sister teased me mercilessly, and I fibbed and said that our creative writing teacher had recommended this as a part of our class, because there was so much to learn about the nuances of writing from it. I wasn’t lying about that part at least.

It’s been 15 years since then and I am a certified Potter head. I have woken up early to get my Potter books, made virtual Hogwarts in my head, and fallen in love with the magic, since then.

Bijal as Belatrix Lestrange

Samhita Arni

I still remember reading my first harry potter book when visiting my parents, who were living in London, during a college break. My younger brother had a copy of the first book, and I stole that from him, sat under a tree in my parents’ backyard, and was absolutely riveted. And over the course of the next few books, became a die-hard fan.

Back in college, there was a popular local band who would come and play at college. They were called Harry and the Potters and sang songs inspired by episodes in the book. One extremely popular song was Rock the Library – and because my college, Mount Holyoke, was an extremely studious one where the library was the most exciting and busy place on campus – this became a campus hit. Another very popular song was “You can’t stop Lord Voldemort,” but my own personal favourite was Save Ginny (Weasley). I had t-shirts for each of these songs, and these t-shirts were among my most prized possessions, until they were lost – I believe that an unscrupulous dhobi-wallah stole all of them.

Samhita in the now lost t-shirt

Afsha Khan Jayapal

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the last book my sister and I shared before she moved away from home.It was also the cause of the biggest fight we ever had in a history already fraught with sibling rivalry. It was so bad, in fact, that my parents were forced to jump in and tear their two teenagers apart before we tore each other to shreds.

I remember that week quite clearly. The book had just been released and my sister and I were taking it in turns to read it. We each got it for an hour at a time before we had to pass it on to the other. When my sister left to meet a few friends one evening, I decided to take it out for a spin on my own, while I met with friends in the background.

I came home to grim parents and a seething sibling smoking at the ears. “How could you… you cheat!” My parents sat silently, shaking their heads at me.It was so unfair! Why couldn’t I take it out with me while she was off gallivanting? So what if she didn’t get to read it the instant she returned? Why did we have to share one stupid copy, anyway? We could totally afford to buy two!

I would eventually inherit our old Harry Potter series as my sister bought herself a new set. But as I look back on that week in 2003, I feel a tug at my heartstrings because the Order of the Phoenix was the last book my sister and I read together TOGETHER. Today, we both get our own copies of books by default, but we still long for the good old days when tempers flew and hair was shredded, but sharing a book made us appreciate the world of words so much more.

The much fought-over book

We’d love to hear more stories! If you have a Potter pensieve to share, then do write to us on lightroombookstore@gmail.com

Finding Your Family

FullSizeRenderWhether you’re welcoming a new child into your family, or would just like to discuss families in all their many forms with your child, these picture books are great starting points for talking about adoption. As well as books from abroad, there’s a fair few Indian offerings. Between them, these books talk about ethnic heritage, nature vs nurture and the unconditional quality of a parent’s love.


Whose Lovely Child Can You Be?

Shobha Viswanath & Christine Tappin (Karadi Tales, Rs 175)

Lyrical and literary, this book tells the tale of a young girl’s adoption from multiple perspectives within the family – with inputs from her parents, grandparents, brother, aunt and uncle. While Gulgul is initially worried that she doesn’t belong, reassurance comes from many quarters and the tale ends with Gulgul having to reassure her relatives that she is a part of all of them, too. Easy to read aloud and to relate to, there’s much to be charmed by here.


A Mother for Choco 

Keiko Kasza (Puffin, Rs 280)

This was first published in 1992, but has absolutely stood the test of time. Baby bird Choco goes in search of a mother, but he just doesn’t seem to be able to find anyone who looks quite like him. Dialogue-driven, deceptively simple yet wonderfully touching, it’s gratifying that Choco discovers that when it comes to love, it doesn’t matter what you look like.


Elephants Never Forget

Anushka Ravishankar & Christiane Pieper (Tara Books, Rs 200)  

One of several books which use animal characters to help explain the concept of adoption, Elephants Never Forget is a beautifully executed picture book. Etchings from Christiane Pieper, loose rhyme from Anushka Ravishankar and typography by Rathna Ramanathan come together to tell the story of a lost elephant who is taken in by a herd of buffalo, and grows up in their midst. The return of the elephant herd leaves the protagonist with a difficult dilemma, touching lightly on a question many adoptive children may face – whether they should reach out to their birth families.


Dragon Loves Penguin

Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury, Rs 199)

This one is heartwarming and nostalgic on multiple levels, and manages to capture the very essence of what it means to be a family. Starting with a young penguin wanting to hear the story of where he and his mother came from, a tale is spun which touches upon the bonds that bind generations together, the strength that can come from being ‘different’, and of course the magic of storytelling. We love the reference to the young penguin being given, “love and time, the greatest gifts of all.” How very true.


The Odd Egg

Emily Gravett (Macmillan, Rs 299)

This is also a tale about a lost egg being taken in, and having surprising contents! A popular fixture in the store over the last few years, this has all of Emily Gravett’s hallmarks: unusual design, beautiful illustration, and a fun twist. Another one to show that looking alike isn’t the most important thing when it comes to family, and that parenthood isn’t just about mothers. Especially great for toddlers.


A Mummy for Owen

Marion Dane Bauer (Simon & Schuster, Rs 250)

Many of these books talk about adoption in the context of babies – what makes this stand out is the fact that Owen the hippo can remember his birth family, and life before he lost them in a flood. While he has happy memories of playing in the river with his mother, when he is separated from her, he finds love in an unexpected place – from a 130-year old tortoise called Mzee. What’s even better is that this is based on a true story.


The Lonely King and Queen

Deepa Balsavar (Tulika Publishing, Rs 120)

When a king and queen start to hear a voice inside their house they can’t work out where the sound is coming from … but they know they want to follow it! Their search leads them to a yellow building, where they find a small baby calling out for Papa and Mamma. Balsavar’s text and illustrations work beautifully together in this little book and the repetitions as the king and queen search high and low make it a great bedtime book. What’s really lovely, though, is the idea of the baby making sure that the right parents hear its voice.

On Our Wish List

As usual, we’re also hankering after more books! Titles currently on order for the store from far flung places include Bringing Asha Home (Uma Krishnaswami, published by Lee & Low), and written by the same author who gave us the wonderfully fun Out of the Way! Out of the Way!, published by Tulika.

Dealing with inter-racial adoptions (but in very different ways), we’re also looking forward to having a closer look at Over the Moon (Karen Katz, published by Macmillan) and Allison (Allen Say, also published by Macmillan). The moving Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born (Jamie Lee Curtis, published by Harper Collins) – guaranteed to make you feel warm inside – is also heading our way.


Sharpen your pencils

It’s that time again! As the start of a new school year creeps up on us, we’ve picked out just a few books that are in store at the moment, which are great for broaching the subject of starting school.IMG_9393

Pranav’s First Day at School  

Nandini Nayar & Dileep Chinchalker (Eklavya, Rs 25)

A simple story about what is possibly the trickiest part of starting school – getting past the front gate, alone, and leaving your parents behind! Pranav has been told all about school, so he is not going to cry … but what about all the other children he meets? Chinchalker’s sensitive pencil sketches are perfect for conveying Pranav’s emotions, and there is much to pore over in the illustrations.

Starting School

Janet & Allen Ahlberg (Puffin, Rs 299)

This one takes us through not just the first day of school, but the first term! It’s based on a British school, but much of what happens has universal relevance. Somehow doing something is always easier if you’ve talked about it – or at least thought about it – first, so there is much reassurance to be gleaned from this run-through of school rituals, with illustrations that will make you nostalgic for your childhood.

While I’m Away

Christy Olson Kennedy & Prashant Miranda (Little Latitude, Rs 375)

In perfectly scanning verse, this is an upbeat yet realistic portrayal of a first day at school – from hopping onto the bus, to making new friends and eating lunch. Part of Little Latitude’s ‘Anahi and Vir’ series of books, this also touches upon sibling relationships – lightly portraying both how a ‘big sister’ might feel as the first in the family to go off to school, as well as how the ‘little brother’ feels about remaining at home alone.

Rani’s First Day at School

Cheryl Rao & Mayur Mistry (Rs 30, or free to download on Storyweaver)

Have we ever mentioned what a fantastic concept Pratham Books’ Storyweaver is? An open source platform, it’s part of Pratham Books’ mission to get a book into every child’s hand, and allows you to read and download content, or even create your own stories. This short tale focuses on the school gate ritual, showing how Rani finds the courage to leave her mother behind, safe in the knowledge that she will see her again at the end of the day! We have physical copies of this little book in Kannada and Hindi. Download the story here