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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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