Earth Day: Nine Indian books that teach children (and adults) the need to protect the environment

https://scroll.in/article/876413/earth-day-nine-indian-books-that-teach-children-and-adults-the-need-to-protect-the-environment

April 22 is celebrated every year as Earth Day to demonstrate support for environmental protection, but as we face what is perhaps our biggest environmental crisis ever, here is a list of books that will have readers – young and old – give careful consideration to the planet we inhabit.

The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street

A crotchety crone and a dreadful dragon team up to chop down the Bimbli trees in Cosy Castle. If you think this sounds like a fantasy plot, then think again. Or perhaps don’t think again. Confused? Don’t be – instead, read The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street by Shabnam Minwalla. A delightful modern day Mumbai book, this is the story of Nivi, Venu, and Sarita who need to use all their imagination and wits to stop their beloved trees from being felled and prevent the magic from being leaked from their lovely building garden. Svabhu Kohli’s illustrations are deliciously fable like, in keeping with this fantabulous adventure which celebrates trees but also the power of children who won’t take no for an answer.

Trash: On Ragpicker Children and Recycling

Gita Wolf, Anushka Ravishankar, and Orijit Sen’s book Trash evolved from a series of workshops they conducted with ragpicker children. Set in Chennai, the story starts with Velu arriving in the big, crowded city after running away from his village. He is soon befriended by Jaya, a ragpicker child who takes him under prickly wing. As Velu gets to work, Sen’s illustrations capture the world Velu and his new friends inhabit. Trashbreaks down complex issues of child labour and ragpicking, and gets readers to question their everyday habits and understand what is the invisible, collateral damage of their waste.

Our Toxic World: A Guide to Hazardous Substances in Our Everyday Lives

A project by NGO Toxics Link, Our Toxic World is a graphic novel by Aniruddha Sen Gupta and Priya Kuriyan and a keeper for all green bookshelves. When you meet the Sachdeva family, they seem like just another ordinary family but as readers get a closer look at them, they recognise the cocktail of toxic substances that are a ubiquitous part of their lives. From building construction, automobile and industrial pollution and green laws to chemicals, waste, food toxins, it’s all in there. The book lays out the effects of hazardous substances but more importantly, it suggests alternative routes to minimise their presence.

The Cycle’s Dream

All a little cycle wants is to grow up to be a motorcycle. After all, what a fine life would it lead, vrooming to lands near and far. Until it reaches a point where it cannot go further because all oil in the world is finished. Spoiler alert – the cycle realises that it very much prefers to be a non-fuel guzzling, eco-friendly vehicle, thank you very much. A brown paper book, The Cycle’s Dream is beautifully produced, written by Prabhat and illustrated in bold black art by Bidyut Rai. A scathing critique of wants over needs.

Something to Chew On

Rohan Chakravarty aka Green Humour has that rare ability to elicit a chuckle while getting readers to think about environmental policies, wildlife issues, and their personal role in the ecosystem. He does that very successfully with his illustrations in Something to Chew On, a book that takes a stab at explaining the weighty subject of food security. Created by Sujatha Padmanabhan, Shiba Desor, Sharmila Deo and Tanya Majmudar, this information-packed book takes a look at the history of agriculture, while tackling the complex issues of food miles, trade, and hunger. It introduces readers to the wonderful world of biodiversity through indigenous foods, cuisine and cultures. As our nation continues to be obsessed with food on social media and television, Something to Chew On helps make connections between the farm and the plate.

The Ouch & Moo Books

The Yellow Ouch & Moo Book for young readers and The Red Ouch & Moo Book for older ones look at the omnipresent plastic bag and the way it impacts the environment and animals, using the cow as an example. Written by Trupti Godbole, Govind Mukundan, and Poonam Bir Kasturi, the yellow book is illustrated by Ishan Ghosh and the red one by Girish TS. While the rhymes aren’t fantastic, the back pages are really informative – with fun games that kids can play at home to reduce plastic consumption as well as simple activities they can do to track it as well. The “Know Your Plastic” section explains the different kind of recyclable and non-recyclable plastics and what happens to them once they are binned. A super way to introduce waste and recycling to children and adults. There’s also their Ooze book series that looks at e-waste.

My Big Books

Fresh off the press is the “My Big Book” series which includes My Big Book of Earth and My Big Book of Global Warming, edited by Geeta Dharmarajan. The books are a mash of drawings, stunning illustrations, stories and poems about the planet. My Big Book of Earth comes with a translated poem from Tamil poet Avvaiyar, stories by Vijaya Ghose and M. Mukundan, and illustrations by Murali Nagapuzha, Kalyani Ganapathy, Jemma Jose, Sumati, Asudev, Meena Verma among others. My Big Book of Global Warming is also a mix of fiction and non-fiction, with tips and trivia.

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What Happens When A Battery’s Life Is Over? A New Children’s Book Has Answers

http://www.earthamag.org/stories/2018/4/2/what-happens-when-a-batterys-life-is-over-a-new-childrens-book-has-answers

Ooze

By Trupti Godbole, Govind Mukundan, Poonam Bir Kasturi

Batteries are innocuous things. They are ubiquitous in our electronically powered lives. That new toy. The new coffee whisk. The many remote controls. Two for the air-conditioner. Two for the television and two for the cable set top box. Sometimes you feel you’re constantly buying new batteries and chucking dead ones.

But what happens when a battery’s life is over? Most people just toss it into the dustbin and it becomes someone else’s problem. But now a set of two new picture books – Junior Ooze and Senior Ooze – are here to tell you what exactly happens when a battery drains dead.

Published by Daily Dump, a waste solution company based out of Bengaluru, the set of books are written by Trupti Godbole, Govind Mukundan and Poonam Bir Kasturi. The junior book is illustrated by Ishan Ghosh and the senior one by Girish T.S.

Junior Ooze is the story of a pair of siblings – a boy’s little sister is fascinated by his toy robot. She would love to bite it, but he knows better. Because as he explains, batteries ooze harmful chemicals and you can’t reuse them. At the end, his mother puts the batteries into an e-waste bin.

Senior Ooze is about a boy who gets a remote-controlled car on his birthday. To his dismay, his mum confiscates the batteries one day, so he sneaks around the house and gets cells from other gadgets. The ones that don’t work, he throws away. But what happens to those dead cells? That’s when Girish T.S. illustrations bring the story to life – with some really cool illustrations of zombie cells that come alive and “kill through water, land and air”. The book goes on to explain the components of an alkaline battery, the lifecycle of a lithium ion battery, and safe ways to dispose them.

The books are extremely informative and well-intentioned. The rhymes though feel quite unnecessary, the notes sometimes jarring the reading experience. It also would have been great to have had some stronger girl protagonists in the books.

But despite all of that, the pages are power packed with information. Like a spotting game on what household objects need batteries to run and what material is reusable and what isn’t, as well as an experiment that young readers can conduct in their homes. In fact, it’s the back pages that will make children think, ask question, and act. And hopefully it will also get adults to do the same.

The biggest thing the books manage to make you do is to think about the chemicals hidden inside electronic products and toxicity in our daily lives. It makes everyday chemistry much more accessible and helps break down the complex subject of e-waste as well. And what a great title.

Finding wonder in the ordinary: Meet Julia Donaldson, the writer behind the beloved Gruffalo

https://scroll.in/article/865955/finding-wonder-in-the-ordinary-meet-julia-donaldson-the-writer-behind-the-beloved-gruffalo

On a tour of India, the children’s writer opens up about writing, rhyming and why children need to enact the stories they read.

Julia Donaldson’s face lights up when she is on stage, especially when her husband Malcolm joins her. On one Delhi morning, she donned a pair of furry pink mouse ears while he fastened the Gruffalo’s distinctive prickled spine onto his back, and together they sang, danced, and whisked the audience away into their unique world of storytelling.

One of the most popular picture book writers of our time, Donaldson is famous among toddlers and parents as the creator of The Gruffalo, a delightful rhyming book illustrated by Axel Scheffler. The book has sold over 13 million copies since its publication in 1999 and been translated into over seventy languages. At 69, Donaldson’s energy is infectious. While talking about her India tour – she was at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, as well as in Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai this January – she often slipped into song, as did her husband, reciting bits and bobs of poetry and snippets from her books.

The origin of her most popular book is as fascinating as the tale itself, about a tiny mouse who outwits the fearsome Gruffalo in the forest. Donaldson came across a Chinese folk tale about a girl who tricks a hungry tiger and later decided to write a picture book by creating her own monster. “I thought having ‘Grr’ in the name would be a good beginning,” she said. But the name needed to end with an “O” to rhyme with “doesn’t he know”, and thus was born the Gruffalo, with terrible tusks, knobbly knees, and turned-out toes. Ever since, The Gruffalo has captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of children across the world.

All about the rhyme

What encourages young readers to read her stories again and again is Donaldson’s delightful rhymes, and that is something the English writer pays a lot of attention to. “Sometimes I think with rhyming books you get some laboured ones, and they have been written very quickly. And the ones that trip off the tongue probably took quite a long time to write,” she said. “I could just talk to you in rhyme, but it would be rubbish. I could just write any old thing in rhyme but it would be ridiculous.”

Not all her books are written in rhyme, but once she decides to, Donaldson works on finding a good chorus that binds the narrative together, such as in her latest book, The Ugly Five, the story of a hilarious safari through South Africa. “With The Ugly Five, I knew it’s going to be a chant – “we are the ugly one, we are the ugly two, and we are the ugly three…”, I have got to make sure there are rhymes for one, two, three, four, five. I couldn’t just write it up to four and then suddenly there’s no rhyme for five. It’s all quite planned, especially the chorus,” said Donaldson.

The Ugly Five, also illustrated by Scheffler, is a wonderful story about parenthood that challenges notions of perfection. Like many of her other books, it roots for the underdog. So, although the Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant – often dominate the landscape, this book introduces young readers to the lesser-known and lesser-loved wildebeest, warthog, spotted hyena, lappet-faced vulture and Marabou stork.

Universal themes

Many of Donaldson’s stories explore memory, grief, and death subtly, some of them resonating with her own life – whether it’s the loss of her son or her hearing difficulty. Both What the Jackdaw Saw, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, and Freddie and the Fairy, illustrated by Karen George, feature deafness. Then there’s The Paper Dolls illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, which talks about the fragility of memory and loss.

In her young adult book, Running on the Cracks, Donaldson weaves together threads about mental illness, immigration, and abuse. It features 15-year-old Leonora, who is on the run from a creepy uncle, while attempting to trace the Chinese part of the family in Glasgow, meeting an eclectic set of characters along the way. “My favourite character is the mentally ill woman, Mary, who is very kind and generous,” said Donaldson, talking about the woman who takes in the runaway Leonora. “She is not just schizophrenic and manic depressive, she’s a real person. I enjoyed writing her character a lot.”

Donaldson has also written middle grade fiction (for readers aged between 8 years and 12 years) and plays and says picture books have been excellent training for writing longer stories. With over 60 books under her belt, the key is to plans all her stories carefully before writing them. In fact, on her website, she describes a typical day in her life in rhyme, and ends it by writing, “Story planned! Tomorrow, start writing it – the easy part.”

“Obviously, I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen in the book but I probably did a little bit more of planning,” she said, talking about Running on the Cracks. “It’s a very different writing procedure – I had to devote days and weeks, come downstairs, sit at my computer, write a thousand words, even if they were rubbish. Then the next day I would review those. And I couldn’t have a gap. With a picture book, I might solidly do it for two weeks, whereas for this, it took probably six months.”

A team of two

Her husband Malcolm said they read many of the drafts together, often out loud to each other. In fact, he looks at the books at each stage, confessing that he is her sounding board – “solid as wood and twice as bright”. When Donaldson jumped in to mention how he encourages her, he laughed and added, “Over nearly 50 years, I must have made the odd helpful suggestion. With the creation of a book I feel like a father being present at the birth of his baby. In other words, very involved, terribly hoping things will go alright, but not much able to do anything.”

Having been together for almost fifty years, the couple have a delightful camaraderie. “We have been together since we have been twenty,” said Malcolm, who is also a governor at a local primary school in West Sussex. “We have been performing and singing together in restaurants, in streets, in parties, long before Julia became a writer. It is part of us really.”

Both of them strongly believe that encouraging children to enact stories improves reading skills. In 2011, Donaldson was appointed Britain’s Children’s Laureate, and she continues to champion public libraries and dramatised readings in a bid to get children to love books and stories. “It’s very good for the confidence of the not-so-good readers when they perform,” she said. “Their reading does improve but also confidence and success in the role, they see,” said Malcolm. “It’s the point of reading.”

With her books only becoming more and more popular, what makes Donaldson’s writing a constant favourite is a wondrous ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Anything is possible if a mouse can imagine a hungry Gruffalo that is very real, if paper dolls can have adventures of their own, and if the unlikeliest of friendships can be forged. In The Snail and the Whale, a snail hitches a ride on the back of a whale to see the world and eventually ends up saving the whale when it gets beached in a bay. “I liked the idea of this very small creature and this very big creature seeing the world in a different way,” said Donaldson. And that’s what Donaldson offers children – a completely different way of seeing their world.

Colours of the Third Rock

Why Oliver Jeffers wrote a new picture book for his son, and why he doesn’t talk down to children.

Colours of the Third Rock

When the Apollo mission crew took that famous photograph of the earth in its entirety, the planet was dubbed the “Blue Marble”. The earth, as NASA puts it, was “revealed as both a vast planet home to billions of creatures and a beautiful orb capable of fitting into the pocket of the universe.”

Now, decades later, once again we get that sense of preciousness, the sheer weight and the worth of this blue marble, while reading Oliver Jeffers’s latest picture book, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (HarperCollins).

Jeffers, over a phone call, says that he started writing and drawing Here We Are for his son. In his dedication, he writes, “To my son, Harland. This book was written in the first two months of your life as I tried to make sense of it all for you. These are the things I think you need to know.” The back of the book says it all — an arrow points at the earth and it says “All the people live here”, and then it points at another planet, “No one lives here (yet).” It suddenly hits you — this is it, our one home. By the end of the book, all you want to do is cradle the book (and the planet) and whisper a thank you.

The cover of Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth.

“It’s one of those ideas that kind of hits you over the head like a hammer when it occurs to you,” Jeffers says. “I didn’t start off thinking that, ‘Oh, I have got a book idea to write a guide for my son, let me see what will be in there.’ I was slowly explaining things to him as he walked around, and I was putting out things that he had never seen before … and I was sort of writing and drawing and putting together almost a metaphor for him. It occurred to me that it’s the premise of a picture book. It occurred to me that a brand-new life is a completely blank slate where he was my responsibility as a parent.”

Jeffers explores this “bewildering place” for newborns and the weary of heart with the help of little notes. He begins with a hand-lettered “Well, Hello and Welcome to this planet. We call it Earth.” The journey he takes the readers on is a spectacular one. We travel to land, sky and sea, to cold and hot places, to pointy, bumpy, and flat lands; and are reminded that we share it with others. Each page is more exquisite than the other — purple-pink mountains iced with snow; the velvety depths of the sea, complete with translucent jellyfish, pop-coloured octopus, and shipwrecks; a star-studded quilt of sky turning from day to night. A spectacular tribute to the planet. From there on, we meet a diverse pool of people and animals (one quibble, it’s not the best representation of India with rajas and yogis). But Jeffers underscores that we are all individuals and that “every beating heart is a human being.”

Here We Are is a searing reminder about the most important things on earth. The fact that we may be different, but we are all people. That just because animals don’t speak our language “that’s not reason not to be nice to them”. Most importantly, time is finite and you need to use your time on earth well.

The book is quintessential Jeffers. It’s funny, heart-rending, and very real. There’s something for parents as well, who will smile as they explore the book alongside their children at bedtime. But then, most of his books offer that shared joy of reading experience — whether it’s The Incredible Book Eating Boy (2006), a story that celebrates books, or the extremely imaginative Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters (2014), which explores the letters through themes of fear, sadness, friendship, and the likes.

Jeffers with his son.

The latter, said Jeffers, emerged when he was going through his sketchbook. “Some of them were stories. Short stories,” he said. What was missing was a structure. So, he went back and “squeezed them into a letter”. His books are true to the picture book format, distilling an idea down to its most economic form. A writer, artist and illustrator, Jeffers, as he puts it, “makes art and tells stories”. “I try to show something rather than say it,” he says — evident in The Heart and the Bottle, which tells the story of grief and loss with very few words and poignant illustrations.

His debut book, How to Catch a Star (2004), is about a boy who loves stars and decides to catch his own. “I was sitting on the edge of a water pier. And I could have sworn that I could reach this tiny, shimmering object. It was the reflection of a star. It was a funny moment. As a kid, I was perhaps naïve that it was within reach,” he says.

Jeffers has always loved picture books — Eric Carle, Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake — and also collects them. “They are lovely examples of design,” says the 40-year-old. “They are powerful in a very simple way.” Like many other authors and illustrators, Jeffers doesn’t make a distinction between his audience — to him these are picture books, not children or adult books. “I don’t call them children’s books,” he says. “I don’t try to talk down to children or assume what they want to hear. I tell stories that I want to tell. And, luckily, they seem to share my sense of humour.”

Coincidentally, Here We Are releases in the same month that the climate change discussions in Bonn were held. “It’s a pressing issue facing us,” says Jeffers on the global phenomenon. “Just look around us — hurricanes, floods. Of course, climate change is real. ”

Those who follow Jeffers on social media — he is very active on Instagram — know that he often highlights social and political issues on his feed. “Global politics is taking strange turns. Humanity is moving in a dark direction,” says Jeffers, talking about the vitriol that we often see on social media. “We are at a crossroads. We are fully connected, even parts that are very rural and remote. It’s suddenly a global network. And these [social media] are the ways in which people communicate. I am worried that people aren’t looking at the larger picture. It will be a dangerous thing,” he says.

But he is optimistic. “As things are changing, we are learning, almost as fast as the things are changing. I hope it is the dawn of an age of a new enlightenment, one which is more liberal, socially conscious and aware. And we can override this trend of selfishness,” he says. Kindness is the sentiment that echoes throughout Here We Are. As Jeffers writes, “It looks big, Earth. But there are lots of us on here (7,327,450,667 and counting) so be kind. There is enough for everyone”.

Ten Indian books featuring disabled children that every child (and parent) should read

https://scroll.in/article/860015/ten-indian-books-featuring-disabled-children-that-every-child-and-parent-should-read

It doesn’t matter if a children’s book has twelve pages or two hundred. What does matter is its ability to pack in diversity and uniqueness in those pages. Books for children that truly celebrate differences are few and far between. Writing about disabled characters, without othering them, isn’t something we see often – most books tend to explain the subject condescendingly to the abled reader.

Independent publishers such as Duckbill and Tulika Books have been taking the lead in this area, publishing books laced with empathy and sensitivity. On International Day of Disabled Persons, here are ten children’s books that feature disabled children as the heroes of their own stories.

Abba’s Day

Sunday is Aisha’s favourite day. It’s the day Abba wakes her up and they make masala chai for Ammi. The family spends the day together, running errands and having fun. Written by Sunaina Ali and illustrated by Desbasmita Dasgupta Abba’s Day (Katha) is about the moments that uplift an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. Only towards the end is it revealed that Aisha is on crutches, but the book does not create a fuss about it. It’s just a part of the story.

Catch That Cat

Oh dear! Kaapi the cat is lost and Dip Dip wants to help her friend find it. Off she goes, on her wheelchair looking for Kaapi in Catch That Cat (Tulika Books). Dip Dip looks everywhere until finally she finds Kaapi high up a tree. But it takes more than a naughty cat to outsmart Dip Dip, and no, she’s not going to let the fact that she is in a wheelchair stop her. Written by Tharini Vishwanath and with quirky illustrations by Nancy Raj, the book is quite an adventure.

Flute in the Forest

You can’t help but be enchanted by Atiya, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of Flute in the Forest (Puffin) by Leela Gour Broome. Stricken by polio, Atiya finds happiness in the jungle, where she lives with her father who is a forest officer. One day, she hears the notes of a flute and befriends Ogre Uncle and his daughter. She begins to learn the flute, against the wishes of her father. It’s a story about the transformative power of music, how it transcends prejudices and heals.

A Helping Hand

In a letter, the protagonist of A Helping Hand (Pratham Books) writes, “Ma says that it is not good to stare at people, but I can see that everyone stares at you.” A new girl has joined the school and everyone is gawking at her prosthetic hand. Payal Dhar writes an epistolary picture book about friendship and the idea of fitting in, especially when you are different. It is a book about the curiosity of children, their inadvertent cruelty as well as their easy acceptance of differences. Vartika Sharma’s abstract illustration are in sharp contrast to the text, which is frank and candid (just like children tend to be), making it an unusual but poignant read.

Kanna Panna

Kanna’s head is always down. Although he doesn’t speak much, words play inside Kanna’s head – “They roll and tumble and play games”. Even his Amma’s younger sister Chithi struggles to talk to him normally. But when Chithi and her family get stuck inside a dark cave temple, it’s up to Kanna, who is visually-impaired, to save the day. After all, as he says, “Lights on or off, as if it made any difference to me.” Kanna Panna (Tulika Books) is written by Zai Whitaker, while Niloufer Wadia’s illustrations give the book a dream-like feeling. The story takes the idea of normalcy and turns it around, questioning prejudices and preconceived notions. Kanna says, “For once, others were depending on me. It felt good.”

Manya Learns to Roar

Shruthi Rao’s Manya Learns to Roar (Duckbill) is an adorable school story about a girl who wants to be Shere Khan in the school play, The Jungle Book. Her classmate Rajat is going to be playing Mowgli and he torments her about her stammering. Rao describes Manya’s anguish – “tentacles would come snaking out of her stomach and clutch her throat. And trying to get a word out of her mouth would feel like trying to squeeze a hippo through a ring” while Priya Kuriyan adds moments of lightness and depth with her wonderful black-and-white illustrations. A story about self-confidence, friendship, and the relationship between students and teachers.

The book, along with Kittu’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Mad Day by Harshikaa Udasi, was one of the winners of the Children First writing competition organised by Duckbill that aims to find more stories about children with disabilities.

Simply Nanju

Zainab Sulaiman’s Simply Nanju (Duckbill) is a triumph of a book not only because it is set in a school for disabled children but because it is a wonderfully warm story with an immensely endearing motley crew of characters. Tanvi Bhat’s loveable cover of Nanju sets the tone for this school story which weaves together themes of social inequalities while evoking the innocence of childhood.

Why Are You Afraid to Hold My Hand?

“What to say? What to do? I don’t know?” “Don’t be confused. It’s simple, see. You be you and I’ll be me.” People react “in the strangest ways to those with disabilities”, writes Sheila Dhir in her picture book, Why Are You Afraid to Hold My Hand? (Tulika Books). She counters attitudes of pity, silliness, guilt, fear and hurtful behaviour – by delivering simple home truths. “Just because my legs are wobbly, people think my mind is wobbly too,” she writes. Rendered in a striking white and yellow colour scheme with black line drawings, the picture book reminds children and grown-ups that disability does not define a person.

Wings to Fly

Sowmya Rajendran tells the story of international para athlete Malathi Holla in Wings to Fly (Tulika Books). When Malathi is about a year old, she finds herself confined to a wheelchair. She has to live away from her beloved home (and mangoes) to get treatment in a medical centre in Chennai. Yet, little Malathi is determined to win a race. And she does, many of them. As she realises, “She could win as long as she tried”. Arun Kaushik’s illustrations paint a picture of this brave girl, her grit and determination, hopes and dreams, and her triumphs, complementing Rajendran’s sharp storytelling.

Unbroken

One of the few Indian Young Adult books on the subject, Unbroken (Duckbill) by Nandhika Nambi starts with a promising cover – it’s designed like a fragile package. Akriti despairs that “almost everything was impossible” after an accident which rendered her unable to walk. She finds herself caring less and less about herself, her family and friends, plunging into the depths of gloom and bitterness. She is an unusual protagonist – not really likeable, but then as she comes to accept the permanence of her disability, she also begins to realise that she can change the way she responds to it.

Sea of stories: Children’s books that inspired our wanderlust

Here are some of my favourite fictional islands

http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/8PTXXkYXPKWTae27UYwteP/Sea-of-stories-Childrens-books-that-inspired-our-wanderlus.html

As a child, all I wanted was an island of my own. Okay, I also wanted a dog, a dress for my doll, and better marks than my friend, but the island topped that list.

I hadn’t visited any islands. But when my parents refused to get me said dog or my sister and I squabbled, I’d think that it would be rather fine to live on one of those islands out of books, where I would not encounter horridness of any sort. It did not matter that lots of weird and scary things happened to the characters on those islands.

After all, adventure beckons as friends row together, finally pulling the boat on to a rocky beach. Whether it’s the remote isle in Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson, or the many islands of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (for some reason, men seem to be taking most of these journeys), these stories have inspired so many of us to take boats to islands around the world. Here are some of my favourite fictional islands.

‘The Famous Five: Five On A Treasure Island’.

‘The Famous Five: Five On A Treasure Island’.

Kirrin Island

If you are George from Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five: Five On A Treasure Island, and someone tells you, “Children don’t usually own islands, even funny little ones…,” you prove them wrong. After all, Kirrin Island is owned by her mother’s family. It is a “curious rocky island with what looked like an old ruined castle on the top of it” and is full of rabbits and gulls. It’s surrounded by rocks and, on a still day, you can even see a bit of a shipwreck in the water. The five proceed to have thumping good picnics there as well as an adventure or two.

A quick online look suggests that Blyton’s inspiration was Corfe Castle in Dorset. However, a letter published in 1962 mentioned that she may have been inspired by one of the smaller Channel Islands, which she visited on her honeymoon.

‘Professor Shonku And The Mysterious Island’.

‘Professor Shonku And The Mysterious Island’.

Florona or Swapnadwip

The protagonist of Satyajit Ray’s short story, Professor Shonku And The Mysterious Island, has been dreaming about Florona or Swapnadip, an island “filled with strange unknown plants and flowers and fruits, but no living creatures. At least no human beings”. When seven famous scholars vanish somewhere in the Philippines, Prof. Trilokeshwar Shonku knows he must investigate. He sets off in his Shankoplane, flies over the Nicobar Islands and Sundarbans, crosses Borneo and the Pacific Ocean, rests at Sumatra, and finally gets to Long. 136 E-Lat. 16N (it’s splat in the middle of the Philippine Sea).

It’s a bewitching island, teeming with colourful, odourless flora. Visitors, if they are not careful, may experience extreme light-heartedness, or be attacked by a flower that sucks away all knowledge and skills. The mysterious business of Florona, as the scientist realizes, will never be solved completely.

‘The Land Of Neverbelieve’.

‘The Land Of Neverbelieve’.

The Land Of Neverbelieve

Norman Messenger’s gorgeous book The Land Of Neverbelieve transports readers to the Magical Lake that teems with the Balloon Frog and the Octofrog. The Giant Dragonfly (it’s a dragon, yes), Double-Cream Cow and Wader Bird can be found on its fringes. As well as the Multi-Winged Parrot that is rather shy, and the Waterfall Tree that makes a pleasant tinkling sound.

Most of all, you must stop by the Book Mountain, which “tells stories at bedtime”. The book-shaped rocks “split open to reveal book pages”, the sound resembling the crack of ice. A triumph of imagination, Messenger’s book is a reminder that plants, animals, insects, birds are all wondrous and deeply magical.

‘Why The Whales Came’.

‘Why The Whales Came’.

Bryher and Samson

Michael Morpurgo’s Why The Whales Came is a story about island life and our fragmented relationship with each other and our environment. It’s set in 1914 on the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish Coast, where best friends Gracie and Daniel build toy boats on Bryher, its smallest inhabited island. They know enough to stay away from the cursed island of Samson and the scary Birdman.

One day, Gracie and Daniel get lost in the fog and find themselves on Samson. There they learn (spoiler alert) that Samson’s ancestors woke up one morning to find a narwhal lying on the beach. As the stranded whale cried out, more whales came and the islanders butchered them for their tusks. When another narwhal is beached on Bryher, it’s up to Gracie, Daniel and Birdman to end the curse.

Finally, Indian parents have words and images to explain grief and loss to children

Bereavement is never easy to talk about, more so with children.

https://scroll.in/magazine/843221/finally-indian-parents-have-words-and-images-to-explain-grief-and-loss-to-children

Boo! When My Sister Died

Boo! When My Sister Died (Pickle Yolk Books) is a picture book written by Richa Jha and illustrated by Gautam Benegal. In it, the protagonist Noorie’s sister dies and the world, as the girl knows it, changes. As Noorie yearns for Zoya’s return, Jha and Benegal unspool a story about coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Like a child talking, the book is often straight and direct: “That night my sister Zoya was away at the hospital, I dreamt of her. The next morning Mummy said Zoya was dead. I cried.” And yet, the picture book ends on a note of hope.

Jha said the picture book initially started as a story of separation of two friends. “It was during the collaborative creative process between Gautam and I that we felt the need to create a bigger canvas to tell a deeper tale of separation in a more permanent sense,” she said. “This led us to explore whether death in itself can be treated as permanent. And if so, how does one explain the poignant memories of the dead that punctuate the loneliness of the ones left behind?”

The illustrations lend a dark yet colourful ambience. Some pages are splashed with light and rainbows, and others are resolutely dark, as if someone turned off a light switch. The crosshatch background, said Jha, mirrors the confusing unresolved thoughts and questions that emerge in the wake of a sudden death. “The illustrations are hand drawn in a crosshatched style progressively ranging from a warm space of togetherness and belonging to a space of loneliness and isolation,” said Benegal. “Finally, with closure and coming to terms with the realisation that a close person who has left us physically also gifts us with an abiding presence of shared memories and moments, we return to that warm, secure space.”

Although Jha conceded that this may be a difficult book to sell in the Indian market, she felt that as authors, editors and publishers, we “owe to it our young readers (and the parents) the freedom of choice and the option to pick up books that can help them initiate conversations on seemingly difficult subjects”.

Jha noted that children have a sharp grasp of reality, even in its most unsavoury form. She took Boo! to a summer camp in Delhi for underprivileged children and realised that at least a dozen participants had experienced the loss of a near one. “I had not expected it,” she said. “The room became emotionally charged. I put the book away the moment I felt myself slipping into an insensitive TV reporter mode about to ask, ‘so how did you feel?’. But that was also the moment I realised how important it is to create books that talk to a child’s inner most grief or fear or even joys.”

The Boy with 2 Grandfathers

Image courtesy: Tulika Books
Image courtesy: Tulika Books

Amol lives with his mother and father as well as his Appa and Ajoba in The Boy with 2 Grandfathers by Mini Shrinivasan (Tulika Books). Appa and Ajoba are as different as Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. Appa is from Chennai, spends every morning performing a puja, and wears dhotis and bush shirts. Ajoba, in sharp contrast, has stylish white hair, a thick moustache, and wears a tweed coat with a silk scarf. But they both dote on Amol. One day, Amol’s mother falls sick with cancer, and the two grandfathers rally together to help their grandson through this difficult period.

“The idea behind The Boy with 2 Grandfathers is to use a humorous tone to highlight how men and boys deal with difficult emotions and how young boys and grandfathers too can be sensitive and gentle in their own unique ways,” said Shrinivasan. “Also how families from mixed communities live harmoniously while respectfully poking fun at each other.”

Shrinivasan said she felt the need to address the “tough situation of loss” because few books do that beyond the fantasy worlds. “Children’s books can help by dealing with such real issues of real children, especially pre-teens, but by keeping some humour and fun in the story and by not being preachy,” said the author.

Shrinivasan won the Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her book Just A Train Ride Away. In it, she describes how Amol copes with the slow withering away of his mother, the long silences, and the absences. “It was very hard to write the last chapters as I could not get a handle on how a 12-year-old would feel,” she said. “It was serendipity that I came across a first-person account of someone who went through a similar experience just when I was stuck. That helped to bring the authenticity that I was looking for.”

Gone Grandmother

Image courtesy: Tulika Books
Image courtesy: Tulika Books

Chatura Rao and Krishna Bala Shenoi’s picture book, Gone Grandmother (Tulika Books), starts hauntingly. “One day in February Nina’s grandmother went away,” writes Rao. “Nina didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.” Everything was the same – the sky was still blue, the birds continued to call out from the trees and friends played hide-and-seek. Except that the grandmother was gone. Gone Grandmother is a beautiful exploration of grief, the comfort of memories, and the innocence of childhood.

Rao said she felt that children have a great many questions that need to be answered with gentleness and honesty. When her grandmother passed away two years ago, her seven-year-old niece wanted to know where she had gone. “Her mother replied that grandma has gone to Ganpati,” recalled Chatura. “The little girl said she really couldn’t see how our old grandma could have journeyed so far, all the way to Ganpati’s home. This struck me as a pretty valid doubt. When someone dear passes on, where do they actually go? As adults, we perform the rituals of death, some of us donate money to charity, or contribute to feed the poor… we find ways to accept loss. But what is a child supposed to do for answers? Gone Grandmother was born from seeing things from my niece’s eyes. I was really hoping to answer her question.” And the book becomes a beautiful way to answers these questions.

Shenoi uses light as the foundation to illustrate the book. The result is stunning. “I wanted aspects of the visuals, particularly my use of light, to reflect the progression of the story,” the illustrator said. If you look closely through the book, the story gives the sense of a day progressing – starting from daytime and then fading into darker colours as the sun sets. “The illustrations, particularly those set in the grandmother’s room, are lit with patches of golden light to bring to the images a sense of her Nani’s warmth even in her absence,” said Shenoi. “And the compositions emphasise Nina’s smallness in her grandmother’s room, giving us a sense of some of her loneliness and longing.”

For Rao, this book wasn’t easy to write. “It seems like a simple enough narrative, but it was hard to strike the right balance between a child’s loneliness and her need to understand the truth.” But she manages to do that. In fact, the author has heard from many adult readers that the book reminded them of the time they lost a beloved grandma. “They said that the book acknowledged loss and spoke of hope, and these made them feel better,” Rao said. “The children I presented it to liked the funny bits best – the lists that the protagonist Nina makes: Ways to Reach the Stars and Ways to get to God’s Home. Perhaps they too make such lists themselves sometimes.”

Rao added that stories like these can help children deal with difficult subjects. “Loss and grief expressed through a story gives the child a chance to explore it in a slightly removed sort of way. She realises that the experience is universal (because it’s in a book) and yet is personal because she feels close to it while reading. So, it’s okay to feel sad and blue, but then life goes on.”

The Harry Potter films gave us Alan Rickman as Severus Snape but aren’t a patch on the books

https://thereel.scroll.in/841902/the-harry-potter-films-gave-us-alan-rickman-as-severus-snape-but-arent-a-patch-on-the-books

Never judge the book by its movie: this is especially true for the screen versions of JK Rowling’s novels.

There is a point in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Ginny Weasley bends down to tie Harry Potter’s shoelace at The Burrow. While watching it in the movie theatre, I wanted to fling up my hands in despair and yell, “What! Why?!”

You will not find that stupid scene in the books. Not even if you were to use a Revealer (that bright red eraser that makes invisible writing visible). Ginny in the books wouldn’t tie anyone’s shoelaces, she may actually trip them instead.

Few movies can do justice to a book series, especially one as rich as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. As a reader, I have definitive ideas of how Hogwarts and its moving staircases should look, whether Cedric Diggory resembles Edward Cullen (no, he does not), and how the Mandrakes cry when pulled out of the soil. A friend and I had a really long argument over the pronunciation of Sirius – she insisted it is Cyrus, and I couldn’t believe she was “serious”. (I won, in case you were wondering.)

All of us have versions of our beloved books in our heads. Some adaptations, such as the Game of Thrones series, come close to doing justice to their literary roots. This match is possible in a television show that stretches over several episodes instead of being scrunched up into 120-minute editions. Conversely, the Percy Jackson films were pretty much a disaster when compared to Rick Riordan’s funny and fantastic books.

For Potterheads, there’s always the tussle between endlessly discussing how the movies are not a patch on the books while devouring them just to get one more gulp of the wizarding world. The movies have been a means of remembering and revisiting the books that we all love. Without the movies, Alan Rickman would not have been seared in our collective memory as Severus Snape.

Movie adaptations of popular books tend to set the dominant visual cues for fans. The younger generation will always think of Daniel Radcliffe when they think about The Boy Who Lived, rather than Jim Kay or Mary GrandPré’s illustratations in the novels. Be it the figurines or the colouring books, they are all based on the movies. Even the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in America and Harry Potter World in London are tours organised by the producer, the Warner Bros studio.

Potterheads have their absolute favourite scenes from the books that have often been ruthlessly cut on the editing table. For instance, where is the wonderful story behind the Marauder’s Map, and how can Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire even proceed without telling us that the hack Rita Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus? Don’t even get me started on how easy the labyrinth was in the final task in the Triwizard Tournament.

One of my pet peeves has to be the fact that the filmmakers reduced Ron Weasley to a sidekick. In the books, he has all the funny lines and he is loyal to a fault. His insecurities, on the other hand, reveal his vulnerable side, something that is completely glossed over in the films. That is why we should never judge the book by its movie.

 

An Indian play struck a special connection with its young audience. Just look at these Post-It notes

https://scroll.in/magazine/837812/an-indian-play-struck-a-special-connection-with-its-young-audience-just-look-at-these-post-it-notes

An actor lies down on the almost bare stage of Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre and wriggles like a fish. Another actor mimicks the gurgling of a river with fluid body movements, as Moyna, the protagonist, skips across the make-believe waterway. In the audience, a child gasps, mesmerised by the drama of a forest unfolding in front of her. This was six years ago at the opening of Gillo’s Kyun Kyun Ladki, a children’s play based on Mahasweta Devi’s book, The Why Why Girl.

At a time when children’s theatre was rife with loud comedy and slapstick scenes, Kyun Kyun Ladki was a play that stood out for its quiet, graceful reflection of a child’s innate curiosity. Mahasweta Devi’s story, published by Tulika Books, is about a tribal girl who is full of questions. As a note from the theatre company Gillo explains, “It is the story of Moyna and at the same time the story of so many children, all who always ask the question ‘Why?’ Performed through dance and movement, the play shows glimpses of their lives and of their minds.”

Now with the play nearing 50 shows, director Shaili Sathyu is preparing to retire it after a few more runs. “We initially planned the play for five shows, really because of the way [the] play was developed,” said Sathyu, over a phone call. “The actors had no idea of the entire play – they knew bits of it, and didn’t know how it came together…”

For the production, the cast and crew quizzed children and parents about the questions that kids often ask. “We took on the key questions,” said Sathyu, adding that they searched for different contexts for the same questions asked in the original story. “Why is the colour of the sky blue? Why do I have to work? Can fish talk? Any child in the world would have some of those universal questions in their mind.” But the play isn’t just about questions. It’s about the motivations and context that propel a child to reach a question, and then what happens in the ensuing conversation. Often these questions are dismissed by adults as annoying or awkward. But Kyun Kyun Ladki celebrates the questions and a child’s curiosity.

One reason Sathyu plans to retire the play is because the original cast is no longer part of the show (except for actor John Soans, who returns especially for the next run). Gillo’s adaptation of Mahasweta Devi’s story was a collective creation by the cast and crew that took four months in the making. “Every actor’s reflections added to the characters in the play,” said Sathyu. “One could say the ownership completely lies with the actors. This brings in a sense of conviction in what they are portraying and has to a large extent been the core of the play.” Sathyu added that a certain soul of the play gets lost if the actors don’t have ownership of it. “We want to leave this play with good memories, create work together with a new collective.”

In a 2011 review in the now-defunct Time Out Mumbai, this reporter wrote, “What’s fascinating is the lack of sets on the stage – the actors seamlessly transform from playing children to adults to animals and even a door, a pump and gurgling river.” The actors worked with Bharatnatyam dancer Hamsa Moily intensively to recreate scenes through movement, which became a spectacle on stage. Another goosebump-inducing moment is when the teacher in the play sings Safdar Hashmi’s poem “Kitaben”. The clear voice rings out across the hall, holding everyone from the children to the grown-ups spellbound. It is moments like these that make Kyun Kyun Ladki memorable.

Sathyu explained that their attempt has been to give space to a child’s voice through the play, and not what adults think what a child’s voice should be. Which is why, not all the narratives in the play have neat endings. “The parallel narratives are more like thought bubbles,” Sathyu said. “As you read stories, you get other thoughts, the mind goes into different thoughts, they evoke smell, memory. We were going into these thought bubbles. And it’s not important to find a closure on that.”

Before each show, Sathyu takes to the stage and welcomes the audience and advices the grown-ups against explaining the play to the children they are accompanying. “Children understand more than you realise,” she points out. And the audience – the children – seem to love it, going by the feedback the play has generated.

Sathyu said the play was well received by many friends in theatre who otherwise don’t like to watch plays for children. “We tried by not spoon-feeding children, and with the aim of respecting a child’s capacity to process a performance and make sense on their own,” she said. “We succeeded to some extent.”

After each show, Gillo keeps post-its and sketch pens for children to write their thoughts on. “I loved why Why Why girl the best,” writes Arushi; “I liked the book part. It was funny,” writes Yuvansh. Sathyu recalls a show in Pune in either 2011 or 2012, where a six-year-old came out with her mother and asked in Marathi, “Aai, tula kadle natak (Did you understand the play)? Should I explain it to you?”

“It’s these small reactions from children that are worth more than a thousand lukewarm responses from others,” said Sathyu. “This is what motivates us to continue planting more questions in children’s minds.”

Wordless books, endless possibilities

http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/wordless-books-endless-possibilities/article19498190.ece

Tucked away in Madhya Pradesh is Bhimbetka, a cluster of rock paintings that date back centuries. Here, it’s easy to step back in time and imagine our ancestors painting their everyday life and sharing stories about animals and battle scenes. I couldn’t help but think about the awe-inspiring Bhimbetka as I read Ammachi’s Glasses (Tulika Books), a wordless picture book by Priya Kuriyan. The book is a reminder that sometimes you just don’t need words to tell a story. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” sometimes.

Detailing humour

In the book, Ammachi wakes up one morning and is found stumbling, bumbling, and tumbling through the day. She trips over the dog, cooks a pair of blue-and-white slippers, and what not! Why? Because she can’t find her glasses. It certainly creates quite a to-do in the family’s life. And offers multiple moments of hilarity for the reader. Kuriyan’s book is steeped in humour and detail. Every re-reading reveals some delightful feature that you may have missed or makes you appreciate the little nuances that have been added. Whether it’s the bewildered faces of the family members, the furniture and photographs in the house, or the ubiquitous crow in the background, it all adds to the reading experience.

“Three years back, I was at a SCWBI [Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators] workshop on making picture books that Anushka Ravishankar [author and publisher] and Suddhasattwa Basu [illustrator] we conducting. We were sitting together and discussing picture books, and we came up with this story. At that time, I did it with words, lots of words,” said Kuriyan, one of India’s most beloved illustrator. She then sent it Tulika Books in Chennai who came back with some interesting feedback. They felt that perhaps the words were not working, and to think about a wordless book. Kuriyan, who was trying her hand at rhymes for the story, happily took the advice. In between her regular projects, it took Kuriyan a while to sit down with the book. But things sped up when she moved to Kochi from Delhi, and was able to finish the final art work in six months.

Memorable characters

Kuriyan said that Ammachi is a lot like her father’s mother. Her sister and she lived with their grandmother for two years in Kerala, and that’s when they had the closest interaction with her. “Before moving to Kerala with my parents, my grandmother stayed in Ranchi,” said Kuriyan. “She always wore the same costume — she was a figure in white [much like the grandma in the book]. She’s like this comic book character who never change their clothes, like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes is always in a stripped T-shirt. I have never seen her wear anything else apart from that. There was something about her appearance that made her perfect to be created in this character.”

Little quirks and foibles make the book wondrous. For instance, Kuriyan recalled that her grandmother used to hate the family cat. “She would try to scare it,” she said. “Once she tried on to pounce on the cat and she fell.” In the book, Ammachi trips over the family dog, while the cat laughs away.

Of course, the book is also very local to Kerala, from the house to the food to the clothes. The story is based on a Malayalam saying, said Kuriyan, about how when something is missing, you tell that kids that the crow took it away. Many little things come from Kuriyan’s memory of houses there. “It’s a Christian household,” she pointed out. “There’s always a Last Supper painting hanging in the dining room. Then, I have seen my parents reading only The Hindu newspaper [it’s The Hindooo in the book].” Of course, Ammachi is a bit pretentious as well, she reads existential authors only — you have to read the book to find out about the pun Kuriyan has tucked in there.

Much like reality

Nature is inherent to Kuriyan’s work. In one page you see a tree. Then you see a close-up of little white flowers and fruits, and then suddenly, you realise it as a mango tree. “I like painting lots of leaves and flowers, I find it very calming,” she explained. “I think kids should see nature in books, or they won’t know stuff like this. Showing a mall would be so boring. Also, nature is disappearing outside, it will be sad if it disappears from books also.”

What Kuriyan also gets right is just how older people are often uninhibited about their clothes or behaviour. “If you see older people, they are very comfortable, they don’t care who is watching,” she said. The book’s pages are strewn with everyday items such as a football and toaster, but also underwear. As Kuriyan says, “it is normal to see these things around you such as clothes strewn around. I don’t think anyone hides clothes from each other. What’s a bathroom without bra and underwear?”

Kuriyan’s recently made an appearance on Instagram, and it’s evident from there how much of her work is down to her keen observation sense. In the book, the mother has to run out to curtail an Ammachi-related emergency. She’s wearing a nightie, “with a dupatta draped over her, as strange men are around,” points out Kuriyan. Much like many of the women we are used to seeing. “Nuanced things make a difference, that’s what kids see. They would relate to it, I think,” she added.

More than words

Another breakaway from the picture book norm is that the story is not linear, rather it is cyclical, full of mystery and suspense. And all told without words. Wordless picture books often confound some grown-ups who don’t see how such a book aids in learning, one big reason to buy a book in the first place. But these books are a treasure trove of detail — whether it’s Flotsam by David Wiesner, which takes children into the underwater world as well as science, history, and documentation. Or The Arrival by Shaun Tan which tells the story of survival and industrialisation, through the eyes of an immigrant.

“One great thing about wordless book is that there’s no text,” said Kuriyan. “There’s nothing to tell you that the story on this page has ended. No one is telling you that now it’s time to turn the page. You can take as much time as you want on one spread. The vocabulary is also yours, not someone else’s. Perhaps it’s a nice way to getting kids to talk about what’s happening.”