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

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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

 

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) 

An Abundance of Alices

To mark 150 years since its first publication, this is a blog post we hope you’ll help us add to, charting the incredible print history of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
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If you’ve ever exclaimed ‘curiouser and curiouser!’, told someone that they are grinning ‘like a Cheshire cat’, or that they are as ‘mad as a hatter’, then you are, of course, influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Often cited as the origin of modern children’s literature, few books have captured the imagination as much as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Pop Up, Walker Books, 2015. Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the book’s first publication by Alexander Macmillan in 1865. Since then, the book has never been out of print, and has been published in around 176 languages. Without even delving into its film and television adaptations, its print history is fascinating, with different illustrations and formats over the years.

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Spanish language edition (Nordica Libros, S.L, 2010)

The first edition was published with engraved illustrations by John Tenniel. The edition sitting in front of me in the bookstore today is a gorgeous copy illustrated by Tove Jannsson, the Swedish illustrator behind the Moomin series. We’ve just ordered what looks like a stunning pop-up edition from design-led publisher Tango Books. Everyone we spoke to about the book seemed to have a different story to tell, connected to their copy of the book.

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Tate, 2011. Illustrated by Tove Jansson

So here, we open things out. We’ve collected together pictures of some of the editions we could lay our hands on, with just a brief description of each. Please share yours! If you email a photo, plus the name of the publisher and year in which it was published, we will share it here, and continue to update this blog for as long as you send us things. Bonus points for foreign language editions, interesting illustrations and unusual formats. For what is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?

You can reach us on: lightroombookstore (at) gmail.com

Walker Books, 2015. Illustrated by Anthony Browne
Walker Books, 2015. Illustrated by Anthony Browne
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Pop-up. Little Simon, 2003
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Quality Paperback Bookclub, 1994
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Heirloom Library, 1949
Piccolo Pan Books, 1977. Cover illustration by Peter Richardson
Piccolo Pan Books, 1977. Cover illustration by Peter Richardson
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Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1963
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Puffin, 1994
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Penguin Classics, 2012. Illustrated by Yayoi Kusama.

Starting local: Indian reads

For our first blog post, it seemed appropriate to pull together some of our favourite children’s books from Indian publishers. We’ve included fiction and non-fiction, and gone from picture books up to teen reads. What was a very long list has been whittled down with great difficulty to just fourteen, but we’d love to hear what you would have done differently …

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A Pair of Twins (Karadi Tales, Rs 195)
Picture Book/ Author: Kavitha Mandana / Illustrator: Nayantara Surendranath

These are not the kind of twins you might expect from the title, being as one is an elephant, and the other a little girl. Born on the same day in the stables of the Mysore palace, their unusual bond enables them to rise above what is expected of them. We love books that challenge gender and societal norms without being preachy, so this one ticks all the boxes.

A Children’s History of India (Red Turtle, Rs 295)
Non-fiction/ Author: Subhadra Sen Gupta/ Illustrator: Priyankar Gupta

A chronological history of India from the beginning of Indian civilization circa 2600 BCE till the India we know today, this well-researched, well-written and very readable book deserves a special mention because it makes history feel approachable and easy!

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The Honey Hunter (Young Zubaan, Rs 395)
Picture Book/ Author: Karthika Naïr/ Illustrator: Joëlle Jolivet

Books don’t get much more beautiful than this. This large-format treasure will transport you to the Sundarbans, a land of eighteen tides ruled by the goddess of the forest. Karthika Naïr narrates a poignant fable about the delicate balance between man and nature, while Joëlle Jolivet brings the story to life with illustrations which have the power to take your breath away as you turn the pages.

Timmi in Tangles (Duckbill, Rs 125)
Chapter Book/ Author: Shals Mahajan/ Illustrator: Shreya Sen

A very worthy winner of the Crossword Book Award earlier this year, this one is a stand-out, above all for the character Timmi. She is a heroine who likes to go against the grain, has an imagination which soars, plus heaps of spunk. It works particularly well as a chapter book for children just starting to read alone, because it’s so wonderfully child-centric in terms of its perspective.

Catch that Crocodile! (Tara Books, Rs 200)
Picture Book/ Author: Anushka Ravishankar/ Illustrator: Pulak Biswas/ Designer: Rathna Ramanathan

Starring another favourite female protagonist, this time the young fish seller’s daughter Meena, who outsmarts the rest of her village by finding a solution to the crocodile menace! It’s hard to choose which element we like best: Anushka Ravishankar’s rhyming verse, Rathna Ramanathan’s typography which leaps off the page, or the arresting two-colour illustrations by Pulak Biswas.

The Battle for Number 19 (Puffin, Rs 250)
YA/ Author: Ranjit Lal

A book which shows that morality is not black and white, the story is set against the backdrop of the 1984 riots in Delhi, following the death of Indira Gandhi. Fast-paced and full of action, we particularly loved Puja (and her archery skills, but we’re saying no more), and the fact that Ranjit Lal doesn’t shy away from writing about difficult and disturbing events. A real page turner.

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The Alphabet of Animals and Birds (Red Turtle, Rs 295)
Picture Book/ Author & Illustrator: Prabha Mallya

Who knew collective nouns could be so much fun? You may have heard of a Murder of Crows and a Pride of Lions, but what about an Ostentation of Peacocks, or a Conspiracy of Lemurs? Gorgeously illustrated and incredibly reasonable, this is one of our favourite books published last year. Rhyme can be difficult to pull off flawlessly, but Prabha Mallya gets it spot on.

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Captain Coconut & the Case of the Missing Bananas (Tara Books, Rs 400)
Graphic Novel/ Author: Anushka Ravishankar/ Illustrator: Priya Sundram

Something of a graphic novel for younger readers, Captain Coconut is a genre unto itself. The witty, collage illustrations are full of incredible details – spot the Chennai road sign on the opening page! Anushkha Ravishankar is at her witty best in the irreverent text, and the design fuses the two elements into an undeniably special book.

Talking of Muskaan (Duckbill, Rs 225)
YA/ Author: Himanjali Sankar

Inevitably labelled as a book about sexuality and gender (because there are so few of them), Talking of Muskaan is that, but also so much more. Unpicking the events that led a teenage girl to attempt to end her life, the story is narrated by several characters, which allows Himanjali Sankar to bring out a rich variety of perspectives. A story that stays with you long after putting the book down.

The Princess with the Longest Hair (Katha, Rs 145)
Picture Book/ Author: Komilla Raote/ Illustrator: Vandana Bist

Published by Katha in the year it was founded (1998) this remains a classic title. The illustrations by Vandana Bist are gorgeously intricate, with the black of the princess’s hair contrasting with splashes of colour across the page. An empowering story about free will, coming of age and sharing what you have with others.

A Silly Story of Bondapalli (Tulika, Rs 135)
Picture Book/ Author: Shamim Padamsee/ Illustrator: Ashok Rajagopalan

This really is a gloriously nonsensical story, in which you find out that bondas were actually invented by a stressed chef trying to cater to the whims of a fussy young Prince. The illustrations are bright, bold and wacky, and the story is sure to appeal to your silly side. Sound words and punchy dialogue make it good for reading aloud.

Ouch and Moo Books (Daily Dump, Rs 250)
Picture & Activity Book/ Authors: Trupti Godbole, Govind Mukundan, Poonam Bir Kasturi/ Illustrators: Girish T.S, Ishan Ghosh

Talking about sustainability and the environment is all very well and good, but these Daily Dump books actually make the issues relevant to children’s everyday lives. Apart from two fun stories, there are well-thought through activities, and talking points on every page.

Dear Mrs Naidu (Young Zubaan, Rs 295)
YA/ Author: Mathangi Subramanian

Twelve year old Sarojini decides to use the Right to Education Act, a law that might allow her and her friends have access to better education. We see the transformation of a girl who goes from being someone who never questions anything to one who wants to change her world and will not allow little things to come in her way. The impressively researched plot unravels through Sarojini’s letters to her namesake, freedom fighter and poet, Sarojini Naidu.

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Adventures with Hanuman (Rupa, Rs 195)
Chapter Book/ Author: Arshia Sattar/ Illustrator: Sunaina Coelho

Last but definitely not least is a fun ride through the annals of mythology! A boy finds himself having the adventure of his life when Hanuman suddenly appears in his room and takes him along to rescue Sita from Lanka. This charming and funny retelling of Hanuman is accompanied by wonderful illustrations by Sunaina Coelho.