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.
Starvation.
Burials.

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!

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

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Books for Boredom?

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It’s around half way through the summer holidays, and we’ve been getting more and more parents asking us for books that will help keep their children entertained. Activity books are becoming increasingly sophisticated and well-thought out, so we’re sharing a few of our current favourites. With these, you can stay busy by doing anything from colouring and making toys from trash, gazing at the stars to creating your own monsters.

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8 Ways to Draw Fish (Tara Books, Rs 200)

The second in Tara’s 8 Ways to Draw …. series is just as wonderful as the first, 8 Ways to Draw an Elephant. Looking at the ways in which artists from different Indian tribal and folk art traditions render fish enables the book to explain to children what art – in the broadest sense – actually is. Gorgeous end paper is an added bonus.

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Sticker book and Draw It! series (Bloomsbury, Rs 199 upwards)

The Draw It! series encourages and enables young artists to try their hand at all sorts of things – from sketching dinosaurs, to London monuments. And the Bloomsbury sticker books are excellent too: infinitely affordable, and with themes that range from baby animals and sea creatures to princesses and dinosaurs.

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AHA! Activities by Arvind Gupta (Eklavya, Rs 135)

We recently held a workshop based on Arvind Gupta’s ideas, so we can safely say that his toys made primarily from trash are fantastic. Using readily available materials, you can create some really exciting things, while (sneakily) learning some scientific concepts along the way.

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Build Your Own Dinosaurs (Scholastic, Rs 175)

Dinosaur stories are always immensely popular, but this book takes things a step further – with the chance to actually make your own! What’s lovely is that you can not only cut out, fold and assemble these 3D creatures, but also create their habitats, and place them there.

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Escape to Wonderland (Penguin, Rs 299)

A raft of great colouring books arrived at the store recently, but this remains our favourite. Venture into Wonderland, with gorgeous illustrations to colour, interspersed with quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Intricate enough for older children to get stuck into. And we’ve seen quite a few adults buy this for themselves, too!

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Monster Garden (Duckbill, Rs 150)

One of Duckbill’s latest offerings is this wacky monster-filled adventure, where you will encounter creatures as deliciously horrid sounding as a Scrumpeelious. What would such a creature look like? Well, that’s up to you, as there are gaps throughout to fill in. Plus a full-colour pull-out monster poster!

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Animalium Activity Book (Big Picture Press, Rs 671)

There’s no two ways about it – Big Picture Press’s gorgeously illustrated and produced books are in a league of their own. Animalium and Maps are bestsellers at the store, and this companion book takes you on a whirlwind tour of the animal kingdom – with things to ponder upon, sketch or decipher at every turn.

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Around the World in 80 Puzzles (Scholastic, Rs 275)

Richly illustrated and jam-packed with things to do, Around the World in 80 Puzzles will keep children occupied for hours. And it’s great way to introduce children to far flung places without actually travelling! Activities like deciphering hieroglyphs, working out the height of Mount Rushmore or discovering which museum houses the Mona Lisa were some of our favourites.

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The Great India Activity Book (Scholastic, Rs 195)

Priya Kuriyan’s illustrations can light up any book, but it’s fun to see her take sole authorship here. The book promises puzzles to crack, mazes to solve and pages to colour – all with a distinctive Indian flavour. So you’ll find yourself spotting the odd Bombay cab out, decorating a hand with a mehendi design or working out what doesn’t belong at the fish market.

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Mega Mash Up series (Nosy Crow, Rs 350)

This series from British indie publisher Nosy Crow is absurdly wonderful. What do you get when Romans meet Dinosaurs on Mars? Or when Pirates meet Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum? Fun, fun, fun, that’s what! There’s a story running through each book, as well as spaces which invite the reader to use their imaginations and make their own contributions.

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Find the Constellations (Macmillan, Rs 499)

There are not too many books published in the 1950s which are still going strong today, but this is certainly a classic. The new edition contains updates (even the locations of the planets throughout 2016) but has all of the original charm, and is written by the same author who gave us the Curious George series. A perfect guide to star gazing, with diagrams and factoids on every page.  

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The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes (Scholastic, Rs 1,120)

Who knew that there was so much to know about making paper airplanes? This is an easy-to-use (and great to gift) spiral bound volume, with instructions for making no fewer than ten distinctive planes from paper. The expected flight speed/time and ease of making is mentioned, so you can challenge yourself accordingly! The steps are simple to follow, and interspersed with bite-sized portions of science.

A Picture for a Thousand Words

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Anyone who works with children’s books will have, at one point or another, heard someone explain that a book is not for them because it doesn’t have ‘enough words’. And some of the time that’s certainly valid – getting the right balance between words and pictures is an art form.

Reading with young children, though, is often an exercise in meandering away from the written story. Picking up clues from the pictures, questions follow and independent stories emerge. This visual literacy is something we don’t talk about much, despite the fact that it’s intrinsically tied up with attention to detail and creativity.

So today we’re shouting about wordless (or almost wordless) picture books. And not just the ones for prereaders – also those which are engaging for older children. Here are ten of our current favourites.

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The Red Book by Barbara Lehman (Houghton Mifflin INR 799)

A fantastical tale in which two children (a girl in what looks like a wintery New York, and a boy on a tropical beach) each find a red book, and discover that they can see one another through its pages. Something about the square format combined with the simple illustrations works perfectly, and this is a wonderful allegory for the potential books have to connect people – especially if you share them.

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Do! by Gita Wolf (Tara Books, INR 150)

Illustrated in the Warli style of folk art from Maharashtra, Do! is not quite wordless – each double page spread has a single word – which could be anything from ‘Farm’ and ‘Grow’ to ‘Dance’ and ‘Play’. A fascinating insight into village life, with plenty of visual stories to discover on every page. Plus, it neatly finishes by encouraging you to try drawing in the Warli style yourself.

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Mr Wuffles! by David Wiesner (Anderson Press, INR 599)

A cat chances upon an alien spaceship in this delightfully absurd picture book, in which Wiesner manages to convey layers of humour and irony through illustration and a single (very well chosen) line of text. Lovely because it mixes the everyday with the fantastical to great effect. We also like the fact that the division between words and pictures is blurred by the ‘alien script’ spoken by the creatures the cat encounters.

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Flutterfly by Niveditha Subramaniam (Tulika, INR 160)

Black and white pencil drawings are illuminated by a single splash of colour on every page, as a butterfly guides us through a child’s dreams, as he thinks back over his day. A brave foray into wordless territory by Indian publisher Tulika.

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Time Flies by Eric Rohmann (Dragonfly Books INR 250)

Dusky colours and shadows capture the atmosphere of a natural history museum after closing time, as a small bird flies through the exhibits. That is, until, the bird takes us on a flight of fantasy in which we can see the dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures as they lived.

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Tuesday by David Wiesner (Random House INR 450)

Tuesday may seem like a rather mundane day, but the Tuesday in this book is anything but ordinary, when toads fly into town on lily pads, looking every bit the part of aliens. There are a few carefully chosen words (in this case times) which manage to convey a great deal. Perhaps the best bit is the closing page: ‘Next Tuesday, 7.58pm’ – but we won’t spoil the surprise about what is flying into town then!

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Quest by Aaron Becker (Walker, INR 499)

In the sequel to The Journey, two children are given a map and mission by a mysterious king, before he is captured. Armed with coloured pens and the ability to draw themselves out of trouble, so begins their quest. If anything shows that you don’t need words to tell an intricate and moving story, it’s this.

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Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinska (Big Picture Press, INR 935)

Beautifully illustrated in quirky style and produced as a sturdy hardback, Mamoko is wordless apart from the introductory page, which tells you a little about each of the characters you’ll encounter as you read on. We’ve found that you can pour over the book multiple times, following each wacky character in turn.

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Flotsam by David Wiesner (Anderson Press, INR 299)

He really is a master wordless storyteller, so we don’t even feel bad that this is the third book by David Wiesner on this list. This is potentially our favourite – though it’s a very close call. When a boy goes to the beach to find flotsam, he discovers a lot more than he bargained for, in the form of an old camera. Again, a bit like The Red Book, we love the way this brings out the connections between children – in this case over time, rather than geographically.

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Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie De Paola (Voyager Books, INR 350)

A good one for connecting us back to where our food actually comes from! When an old lady wakes up dreaming of pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast, she runs into a few storeroom obstacles. No eggs? Then better visit the chickens. No milk? Then it’s time to milk the cow. Run out of maple syrup? A trip to a neighbour who has maple trees is in order. But even once she has all the ingredients, everything still doesn’t quite go to plan …

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

 

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)