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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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National Book Trust, Rediscovered

Together

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Colour Me!

What can you do with one artist, two books, a handful of parents, fifty children and a whole lot of colouring pencils? Have a lot of fun, that’s what!

Last month, artist Prashant Miranda, the illustrator of Little Latitude’s most recent titles What Can You Do with Red, Yellow and Blue? and While I’m Away was at the store. Apart from officially launching the books, Prashant gave a live (and very impressive!) sketching/watercolour painting demonstration, before the kids got to work on their own creations.

Children added their own splashes of colour to one of two Prashant Miranda sketches, which were created especially for the event. Little Latitude publishers Vinay Diddee and Neha Vasant-Diddee documented the event, and the photos are collected together here for this visual blog:

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All photos courtesy Neha Vasant-Diddee

Wild about Wildlife

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Some of the best-loved books from Indian publishers have animals featured in them. Perhaps it’s because animals are so integral to our culture. Or maybe it’s because children have an innate ability to empathise with the natural world around them. Whatever the reason, on World Wildlife Day, we decided to round-up of some of most popular ones.

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Big Cats

Where better to begin than with India’s national animal? Last year, we loved journeying into the Sundarbans with Tiger Boy (Duckbill, Rs 199), a beautifully written chapter book in which two children race to find and rescue a tiger cub before it can be caught by poachers. We’ve always been more than fond of Anushka Ravishankar’s Tiger on a Tree (Tara Books, Rs 200) – with its standout typography, rhyming text and two-colour illustrations by Pulak Biswas, it is perfect for reading out loud. A less well-produced and designed book (but an equally charming story) is Little Bagha (Eklavya, Rs 35), in which a tiger cub tries to find out if he’s able to frighten other animals as much as his mother can. Dorje’s Stripes (Karadi Tales, Rs 175) is a gentle introduction to the subject of tiger poaching, through a fictional story with charming watercolour illustrations.

The tiger is not the only big cat that features in books. One of our all-time favourites is The Ghost of the Mountains (Kalpavriksh & Snow Leopard Conservancy, Rs 100). Get past the underwhelming cover, and you’re straight into the delightful story of a boy from a Himalayan mountain village, who saves a snow leopard from the wrath of his neighbours. Black Panther (Tulika, Rs 150) evokes the patience and courage required to see the stealthy black panther, rarely spotted even by those who live side-by-side with it in the Western Ghats.

Crocodiles

Both Catch that Crocodile (Tara Books, Rs 200) and Cricket for the Crocodile (part of the anthology Ranji’s Wonderful Bat and Other Stories, Puffin, Rs 199), narrate tales of crocodiles straying into urban areas – and both have plucky child heroes who manage to save the day without any harm to man or beast. We’d love to know of a tale of a crocodile in the wild, though, – perhaps we’ve overlooked something?

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Monkeys

And then of course there is the monkey! In When Ali Became Bajrangbali (Tulika, Rs 160) it’s a monkey whose cunning plan saves both his tree – and his neighbourhood from destruction. Five Little Monkeys (Tulika, Rs 135) is a lighthearted counting book in which mischievous monkeys taunt a crocodile, but ultimately suffer themselves. Also worth mentioning is Monkey Photo (Tara Books) which turns the tables on traditional human-animal dynamics when a monkey steals a tourist’s camera, and proceeds to swing around the jungle taking photographs. Based on a story from The Jataka Tales, greedy humans try to drive monkeys away from their mango tree in The Monkey King (Karadi Tales, Rs 195), but kindness and reconciliation ultimately win the day.

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Elephants

It might not have the status of national animal, but the elephant is even more popular than the tiger as the subject of Indian children’s books. Magnificent Makhna (Tulika, Rs 150) uses stunning, whimsical illustrations to tell the story of a much-feared, tuskless elephant who is able to protect the forest from poachers. An elephant with seven trunks takes the help of a small girl to plant trees and make rain in The Elephant in the Tree (Katha, Rs 175), while in Ambili (Pratham Books, Rs 40) it’s a baby elephant who learns not to be afraid of the rain. The hero of Elephants Never Forget (Tara Books, Rs 200) is also afraid in a storm, but luckily he’s befriended by a herd of buffaloes in a charming tale which is as much about identity as it is about elephants. Both Lai Lai the Baby Elephant (Tulika, Rs 115) and I Am Aan (Katha, Rs 120) take us through a young elephant’s development – the former through photographs and the latter with colourful illustrations. Ashok Rajagopalan’s Gajapati Kulapati and Gajapati Kulapati Kalabalooosh!  (Tulika, Rs 135) need special mention here because though not necessarily wildlife themed, this beloved elephant has brought much laughter to a whole lot of children.

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Birds

Khari – journeys through Kachchh (Kalpavriksh, Rs 100) really stands out. Kalpavriksh is an environmental NGO, and its wildlife books are spot on. Let yourself be guided though Kachchh by a demoiselle crane, with puzzles, activities and facts for entertainment and enlightenment along the way. Affectionate observations of birds delight in Birds from My Window (Scholastic, Rs 125) – a collection of anecdotes about some of the common birds that the author, Ranjit Lal sees from his window.

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Insects

Often neglected but no less important! Ranjit Lal’s Dancing Bees (Tulika, Rs 75) is a fun collection of creep crawly trivia, while Circle of Life (Kalpavriksh, Rs 100) delves deeper, specifically into the lifecycle of the honeybee. Here, the balance between a fun story and well-narrated factual information is perfect, and there’s enough to keep even middle school readers interested. Similarly engaging (but for a slightly younger audience) is The Spider’s Web (Tulika, Rs 100), which offers glimpses into a spider’s lair – through the lens of a camera.

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Sea creatures

Riddle of the Ridley (Tulika, Rs 150) is a factual but lightly-told tale about sea turtles. Odisha is one of only three places in the world where sea turtles come ashore to nest en masse, and wildlife film-maker Shekar Dattatri perfectly captures the sheer magic of the event. Equally special is Putul and the Dolphins (Tulika, Rs 135), a fictional story which manages to tease out the delicate relationship fisherfolk have with the river, and its creatures. Also featuring a dolphin protagonist is Ira The Little Dolphin (Tulika, Rs 135) brought to life by photographs of the Irrawaddy dolphins of Chilika lake.

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Deer, Rhinoceros & Bear

While deer, rhinoceroses and bear are all native animals, books about them were harder to find. U Sier Lapalang (Katha, Rs 80) is a heartbreaking but powerful book –which doesn’t shy away from showing the harsh reality of what happens when a young stag migrates close to an area populated by the Khasi tribe, in Meghalaya. Less hard-hitting and with a happier ending (but ultimately with the same message) is Run Ranga Run (Katha, Rs 95) – in which a rhinoceros is taught to charge by his mother, so that he can escape from human predators. We were also extremely moved by Dancing Bear (Karadi Tales, Rs 175), in which a young bear trainer realises that the animal whom he loves can never be truly happy unless he is allowed to be free.

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All together now …

Then there are of course some favourites which star more than one creature! The inaugural Hindu Young World-Goodbooks award was won by Dead As a Dodo (Hachette, Rs 350) – a fast-paced novel in which the Animal Intelligence Agency (which comprises a tiger, a langur and a human boy) must save the last remaining dodo in the world. Aimed at readers from the age of ten upwards, it touches upon issues like poaching, hunting, and of course extinction.

With a hornbill as your guide, you’ll also find an assortment of animals in Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah (Katha, Rs 175) – from swinging monkeys and flying squirrels to small dung beetles. Written by wildlife biologists, it’s fact-based but also fun and closes by encouraging children to take up wildlife activism. The companion book Walk the Grasslands with Takuri (Katha, Rs 195) is similarly informative, and has a pygmy hog as its guide!

In Shero to the Rescue (Kalpavriksh, Rs 100) we meet animals from the grasslands, wetlands and desserts of Kachchh. While the illustrations are somewhat ‘cartoon-y’, the story of the impact of human activity on animal habitats is well-told. Finally, we can’t finish without a nod to the Grandfather of India children’s books – Ruskin Bond is known for his masterful forays into the animal kingdom, and Panther’s Moon (Puffin, Rs 199) is quite rightly a classic. There are ten collected tales of human encounters with animals and birds. While the reading age makes it appropriate for middle school, it can be enjoyed aloud with younger enthusiasts.

We may have missed your favourites! Do write in, or comment with your suggestions

 

The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Award

GoodBooksBlog22015 was a fantastic year for Indian children’s books, and it was especially encouraging to see the inauguration of an award to recognize and encourage talented children’s book authors and illustrators.

Whittled down from an extremely strong short list, the winners of The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Awards across the categories were as follows:

Best Picture Book (Story): Bumboo…The Donkey Who Would Not Budge. Written by Sujatha Padmanabhan and illustrated by Madhuvanti Ananatharajan. Published by Eklavya.

Set in the hills of Ladakh, this is the story of Padma, a young girl who dotes on her family’s donkey, Bumboo. When it looks like Bumboo might have to be sold, it’s up to Padma to come up with a solution.

Best Picture Book (Illustrations): The Alphabet of Animals and Birds. Written and illustrated by Prabha Mallya. Published by Red Turtle.

You may have heard of a Murder of Crows, but what about a Conspiracy of Lemurs? In these delightfully quirky representations of collective nouns, there’s much for children and adults to pore over. The typography and hand lettering add an extra element to this distinctive alphabet book.

Best Book (Fiction): Dead as a Dodo. Written by Venita Coelho and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan. Published by Hachette.

A tiger, a langur and a young boy come together to try and save the planet – using their combined forces to tackle everything from mass extinction to high-school bullying. Plot twists, engaging dialogue and a racy pace make for an an adventure which is hard to put down.

Best Book (Non-Fiction): The House that Sonabai Built. Written by Vishakha Chanchani and illustrated by Stephen P. Huyler. Published by Tulika Books.

Simple yet powerful text and photographic images come together to tell the remarkable story of Sonabai Rajawar, a self-taught artist whose creative journey began by creating clay figures for her young son, and ended with international recognition.

 

We, The Children of India

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As something to read on Republic Day, we can’t think of anything better than Leila Seth’s We, The Children of India. An introduction to the Constitution written by India’s first female Chief Justice (with a little help from her grandchildren), it’s perfectly pitched at a young audience.

Starting by breaking down and explaining each part of the Constitution’s preamble, Leila Seth encourages children to think about the meaning of words like secular, democratic, justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Difficult concepts are explained in simple terms and are visually explored through colourful illustrations by (the late) Bindia Thapar, while photos set the historical context.

Adults might enjoy the trivia as much as children (and perhaps find out a few things that they didn’t know). The book also chalks out a brief introduction to key figures on the constitution’s drafting committee.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this important book is the section at the end, which encourages children to think about what still needs to be done. The Constitution gives every Indian child the right to food, health and education. However, we have children in India who are poor and hungry. A wonderful way for children to start thinking about both the privileges and responsibilities which come with citizenship.

Published by Penguin India (Rs 150)