What are you reading this Earth Day?

http://www.earthamag.org/stories/2017/4/6/11-delightful-childrens-books-on-nature-and-environment

11 delightful children’s books on nature and environment

Here’s a list of books that are must-haves on your children’s bookshelves. And we wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up borrowing them to read as well.

 The Honey Hunter

Karthika Naïr and Joëlle Jolivet

Young Zubaan

This marvellous book done in pop colours takes you to the Sundarbans, introducing children to mangroves, the honey hunters, and the tiger. Karthika Naïr’s prose is eloquent, while Joëlle Jolivet’s illustrations will make you want to linger over each lavishly produced page.

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Baaware Beej

Vishakha Chanchani

Tulika Books

Tree babies, as a friend calls seeds, are magical things. And if there was a book that would make you love Hindi and prose, it’s Baawre Beej (roughly translates to wild and mad seeds). This picture book by Vishaka Chanchani is about farmer Beeju Bhaiya and talks about seeds, earth and soil. The tempo of the prose makes it a perfect read aloud story – at the end of which you will be giddy with joy and itching to go and plant some seeds.

Talking of seeds, also check out Deepa Balsavar’s The Seed (Tulika Books), a wonderful bilingual book which will make the young ones toddle off to garden.

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Nature and Environment STEM Books

Various

Pratham Books StoryWeaver

For the last couple of years, the Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver platform has been creating STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – books. I got the opportunity to edit a set of books on nature and environment for them. There are books on a range of subjects, including climate change, littering, green heroes, environment and migration, seeds, seasonal foods, and canopy forests. Many of these books are also available in multiple languages! You can read about them here: http://blog.prathambooks.org/2017/04/have-you-seen-all-our-latest-green-books.html.

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When I grow up I want to be a Tiger

Prerna Singh Bindra and Maya Ramaswamy

Speaking Tiger

Meet T-Cubs, a darling little tiger cub who does what tiger cubs do. He plays, he frolics, and he learns to hunt alongside his mother. All is well in his forest, until one day his Ma disappears. Suddenly the threats that face T-Cub become alarmingly real. Will T-Cub get to grow up to be a tiger? Maya Ramaswamy’s gorgeous illustrations plunge you into the marvellous forests of India. And it’s a joy to learn about the tiger’s characteristics through Prerna Singh Bindra’s writings.

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Birds from my Window and the Antics they get up to

Ranjit Lal

Scholastic

When it comes to nature writing for children, Ranjit Lal’s books are a wonderful gateway into that world. He writes with his characteristic dry wit and astute understanding of animals. In Birds from My Window, he writes about the everyday feathered friends he observes – from the little brown sparrow to the jungle babblers. Budding ornithologists will love this book. Also, check out The Tigers of Taboo Valley (Red Turtle) by Lal. It’s the story of a Rana Shaan-Bahadur, the alpha-male tiger of Sher-Kila National Park, who finds himself lumped with the care of four tiger cubs. It’s a hilarious story with some hard truths about the perils our forests face today.

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The Sea in a Bucket

Deepa Balsavar and Priti Rajwade

Eklavya

In just ten pages, The Sea in a Bucket tells the story of the water cycle. Sonu is heading to the community tap to fill up a bucket of water, but he ends up learning about its journey from the sea to his bucket. Deepa Balsavar’s illustrations make for a lovely pullout poster at the end of the book with the entire ecosystem on it.

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Trash! On Ragpicker Children and Recycling

Gita Wolf, Anushka Ravishankar and Orijit Sen

Tara Books

In the note to Parents and Educators, the authors explain that the book “evolved from a series of workshops” that were conducted with rag picker children. “We decided to write this book on the complex issues of child labour and the environment because we believe that problematic themes have a place in children’s literature. Books can deal openly and honestly with the harsher realities of life, which children see around them every day”. Trash! tells the story of Velu, who runs away from his home and comes to Chennai, a city in South India. Here he is befriended by Jaya, a ragpicker. The book is peppered with exercises such as Houses from Trash – where readers have to observe a slum settlement and think “what some people throw away as waste is valuable to others”. They then also have to identify the waste that often goes into the making of slums.

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Our Toxic World: A guide to hazardous substances in our everyday lives

Aniruddha Sen Gupta and Priya Kurian

Sage Publications and Toxics Link.

Our Toxic World is a graphic novel co-published by Delhi-based NGO Toxic Link. The book is divided into 12 parts that look at Construction, Automobile pollution, Environmental laws, Industrial pollution, chemicals, Electronic waste, Plastics, Heavy metals, Food, Household waste, Recycling, and Festivals.

The story is told through the eyes of a family and in the form of a graphic novel. The comic form works very well, making a complex subject easy to understand and accept. Further, panel pages alternate with fact sheets that talk about hazardous substances and also offer solutions for non-toxic everyday products.

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Alphabet Books

Various

You are never too old for alphabet books, especially for fun ones like these books. Prabha Mallya looks at collective nouns in The Alphabet of Animals and Birds (Red Turtle). Learn about a pride of lions as well that a group of owls is called a parliament! There’s also the wonderful Book of Beasts (Duckbill) by M Krishnan, with some beautiful illustrations by one of the country’s most beloved naturalists.

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The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street

Shabnam Minwalla

Hachette India.

Journalist Shabnam Minwalla’s charming book is based in Mumbai. Nivi and Nikhil move to the city with their parents and quickly befriend other children who live in Cosy Castle on Dorabji Street. However, Nivi and her new best friend Sarita find that their lovely hideout, a gigantic tree in the community garden, is going to be felled by two evil neighbours. Using their wit and with a little bit of magic, they set about foiling their plans and saving their beloved tree.

Farmer Falgu series

Chitra Soundar and Kanika Nair

Karadi Tales

If you’re looking for a book where a farmer is the protagonist, then turn to Chitra Soundar’s Farmer Falgu series. In Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market, the farmer must get his produce to the market. Off he goes on his cart, but the journey is filled with lots of disasters! Will he get to the market in time? In Farmer Falgu Takes a Trip, the farmer takes a holiday from his farm and heads off on his cart. Does he find the solace he wants? Farmer Falgu Goes Kite Flying is also part of the series.

 

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Tigers are people too

http://www.thehindu.com/books/tigers-are-people-too/article17343177.ece

All T-Cub wants to do is grow up to be a tiger. And really, it shouldn’t be this hard — he is a tiger cub already. And that’s when we meet him, in When I Grow Up I Want to be a Tiger, a picture book by Prerna Singh Bindra and Maya Ramaswamy, where he is splashing about in water, jumping at his copy-cat tiger reflection, learning to hunt through play. Life’s good for T-Cub, until one day, his mother vanishes, and the cub and his sibling are left to fend for themselves. Which makes you wonder, with all the threats that the species faces, will T-Cub grow up to be a tiger?

Joys of childhood

Published by Speaking Tiger, the picture book brings together the wonders of the forest and the magnificence of the tiger, along with the many threats this animal faces today. At the same time, it’s a book about the joys of childhood, and the wonderful bond between parents and their children. Beautifully produced, When I Grow Up is designed by Pranav Capila, editor of Second Skin Media, an editorial and design agency focused on wildlife conservation.

As a journalist, Bindra has written over 1,500 articles on nature and wildlife, and authored The King and I: Travels in Tigerland and Voices in the Wilderness for adults. When I Grow Up is her first book for children. “I ran a nature column for children for maybe a year. I did it for The Asian Age,” said Bindra, who has also worked with Sanctuary Asia. “See, the world of conservation is a grim one. Full of ‘bad’ stories of forests being destroyed, elephants being crushed by trains, tigers and pangolins being poached, leopards being beaten to death, rivers being dammed and polluted… you get the drift? It’s a constant battle, and the despair hits you. So, I sat back, and thought, why do I do this? And the answer is: Because I care! Because nature is magical, mysterious, it inspires wonder, and awe. I decided to pen this book… to revive that little bit of magic.”

And the book inspires wonder, more so because of Ramaswamy’s illustrations — they are lush and awe-inspiring. A hornbill flies out of one page, and on another, a tiger’s tail disappears around a verdant corner. Ramaswamy, who is known for her wildlife art, conjures up a forest with her brush, the animals and birds rendered with painstaking detail. “Maya got the pulse of the story,” said Bindra, “and she has made T-Cub and his ma, and his sister come alive… the illustrations are gorgeous, and I fell in love with T-Cub all over again.”

T-Cub is the amalgamation of the many tiger cubs that Bindra has met over time, during her trips to the forests of India. Snippets from fellow conservationist and forest staff have gone into the book, making it a veritable trove of information about tigers. “I remember when I went to Bandhavgarh, I saw a tigress sleeping with her three cubs. One of them, the forest guard told me, was a male and a curious kid. And bold. The cub got up to take a closer look. As her got a little too close, the mamma got up in a second, snarled, and gave him a sound whack which had him scurrying back to her! She was disciplining him, just like our mothers do!

Wildlife faces a crisis

There’s a sense of beauty, followed by a feeling of urgency in the story. Bindra’s work — she has been a member of India’s National Board for Wildlife and its Standing Committee from 2010 to 2013 — has always fuelled the discussion around wildlife conservation. “There is a sense of urgency in the wildlife scenario today,” said Bindra. “Wildlife is facing its worst crisis ever; we are in the age of the sixth extinction. How can one ignore that, or not care? It’s intrinsic to the work I do, it is why I do what I do. And yes, the sense of urgency, or the conservation message does weave in my writing, whether it be travelogues or for children. The sense of beauty moves you to care for the tiger, the forest and what you care for, you fight for.”

But mostly for Bindra, this book is important because she feels the need to share the tiger’s story with children. “It is also because I find children increasingly very removed from nature, the outdoors, these days,” she said. “I hope it will bring tigers alive for them, show them that tigers are people too (only better!), that animals, even tigers have personalities.”

Mountain Getaway: Himalayan Comforts at Grand Oak Manor in Binsar

Stilling views, Kumaoni thalis, and forest hikes at this heritage retreat in Kumaon.

http://www.natgeotraveller.in/mountain-getaway-himalayan-comforts-at-grand-oak-manor-in-binsar/

As a child, I spent hours reading and re-reading Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. Like the characters in the book, I too yearned to visit the Enchanted Wood, climb up the sturdy old tree, and visit the Land of Birthdays and the Land of Dreams. This year, I met my own magic faraway tree, tucked away in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand. As my friends and I drove up in a jeep to the Tree of Life Grand Oak Manor in Binsar, we were greeted by an imposing oak tree that stood guard at its entrance. Its many branches fanned out, stretching to infinity, home to magical lands for birds, bees, and insects. Behind its canopy, we could glimpse the Himalayas. We were smitten.

Grand Oak Manor has ample natural and manmade heritage. Nestled in the heart of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, the property was once the home of General Sir Henry Ramsay, the British Commissioner of Kumaon in the mid 1800s. About a century later, in 1931, it was bought by a gent called Rai Bahadur Harkishan Lal Sah Gangola. Since then, it has passed down from one generation to another to our hosts Sindhu Gangola and his wife Shikha, a gracious couple that made us feel at home immediately.

Living in different cities, my friends and I look forward to our annual holiday together to reconnect away from the chaos of our work and daily routines. And there was no better place to do this than the balcony of our room. On most days, cotton candy clouds stole around us, softening the folds of the surrounding hills. It was a deeply comforting place: perfect for long conversations, but also for companionable silences, where the only sound we heard was leaves gently falling to the ground. Our very own magical land, especially at dawn when the Himalayan peaks shined like molten gold.

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Our mornings began with generous breakfasts of aloo parathas slathered with butter, and views of jewel-coloured minivets darting about the oak tree. With every meal, we learned a little more about Binsar’s habitat. We had bhang chutney made from locally grown plants, bottles of peach preserve made in Almora, and a Kumaoni dinner starring kathpalyo, a fragrant yoghurt broth flavoured with Himalayan spices. Almost every evening, we would leave our dining table groaning, declaring that we couldn’t possibly eat again—until the next meal when our noble intentions vanished like the sun on a foggy day.

We spent most of our time on the balcony or reading in Grand Oak’s handsome study, but occasionally, we’d venture out to go exploring. Binsar’s forest is bewitching, with its moss-covered trees, orchestra of cicadas, and abundance of birdlife. In the company of our guide, Hemjoshi, we discovered that the Kumaoni names for flora is often more poetic than their English names. Like kakudimakodi, the violet, bell-shaped flower that is named after a spider that spins her web in its hollow. When one friend and I cursed our fitness levels (it’s an easy hike by the way), Hemjoshi grinned and told us that we will go “mathu, maath”, slowly-slowly in Kumaoni.

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Mathu, maath embodies the philosophy of Grand Oak: It’s a space to wind down, take deep breaths of brisk mountain air, and live deeply and significantly, if only for a few days. My stay was about the small joys: the crunch of autumn leaves beneath my shoes, the warmth of close friendships, the velvety feel of moss under my palm. It was a rejuvenating break, and a timely reminder of what American naturalist Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Photo courtesy Tree of Life Grand Oak Manor

THE GUIDE

Accommodation 
The Tree of Life Grand Oak Manor has nine rooms, on the ground and first floor. Standard tariff includes breakfast, though it’s best to book on a breakfast and dinner plan while making reservations. (Doubles ₹9,900, including breakfast and dinner; +91-9602091000; More details here.)

Getting There

The Grand Oak Manor is located inside Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttarakhand. It is 380km/9.5hr from Delhi and 125km/3.5hr from Kathgodam, which is the closest railway station. Almora, 25km/50min away, is the closest town and Pantnagar 150km/4.5hr is the closest airport.

From Delhi, the best alternative to driving is taking the overnight Ranikhet Express or the Shatabdi, which leaves Anand Vihar terminus at 6 a.m. and arrives at Kathgodam at 11.30 a.m. Grand Oak can organise a taxi from Kathgodam railway station (Innova, ₹4,500 one way).

Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

Sanctuary gates are open between sunrise and sunset so entry and exit must be planned accordingly. Entry fee is ₹150 for Indian nationals and ₹600 for foreign travellers. Vehicle charges are ₹250.

The Secret Life of (Tree-Loving) Travellers

Getting to the root of the matter.

http://www.natgeotraveller.in/the-secret-life-of-tree-loving-travellers/

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I was all of ten years old and utterly miserable. I had just moved to Mumbai, I missed my friends, and my bedroom window was caged off with box grilles. Too shy to talk to humans, I would spend my time staring at the mango tree outside our apartment, drawn to its gnarled branches, and its leaves extending like many green fingers towards the sun. It was home to a flock of rose-ringed parakeets, whose orchestra of squawks and screeches would wake me every day. Every morning, the parakeets waited impatiently for my mum to lay out their breakfast of jowar seeds and water. With time, I noticed the other inhabitants of its canopy, an intricate overhead lace that was home to armies of ants, red and black, spiders and butterflies, birds and bees. It was like a show, of which I never tired.

Trees are an undeniable part of our urban landscape, and yet, most of us barely notice them. I hear friends—and sometimes even myself—complain about the constant need to escape the city to get closer to nature, but I forget that nature is right here, outside our windows and balconies. And despite being often smack dab in the middle of traffic, trees are a mysterious world of their own.

My climate science professor in university used to call trees “his community”—and that’s what they really are. In The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, author Peter Wohlleben tells us how trees are actually complex beings, that are very social in nature. The umbrella thorn acacias from the African savannah for instance, pump their leaves with a distasteful poison when giraffes begin to munch on them. Simultaneously, they also emit ethylene gas in to the air, warning neighbouring trees of the presence of a predator. They too pump toxins into their own leaves and within minutes, the giraffes have to move to greener pastures. The book is filled with wondrous anecdotes that illustrate how trees communicate, nourish their ailing companions, and support their young. The human race could learn a thing or two from them.

When I travel too, it is trees to which I am drawn. They are part of my mental scrapbook of the places I visit, the way other people collect memories of food and monuments. In Shantiniketan last December, I sat by a champa tree, happily sketching and procrastinating, instead of writing my children’s book. In Costa Rica where I studied for a year, I stared agape at the rainbow eucalyptus tree, its many-coloured trunk—green, orange, and crimson in parts—like a living, breathing oil-painting masterpiece. I couldn’t stop myself from hugging a mighty baobab in Mandu in Madhya Pradesh, its branches stretched out, as if welcoming me in its embrace; while in Binsar in Uttarakhand, my attention was divided between a grand old oak tree, and a bare-branched walnut tree.

One autumn in the German city of Bonn, I stared reverently at an ancient ginkgo tree, tucking away a delicate, golden fan-shaped leaf in my notebook. A piece of history is now pressed between its pages, for the ginkgo is the only living species of the division Ginkgophyta, found in fossils some 270 million years ago. A testament to the fact that trees have stood by us for eons.

Trees have fed our literary, artistic, and cinematic imagination since forever—whether it’s the talking and walking Ents in The Lord of The Rings or the vicious Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter series, or Winnie the Pooh’s honey tree. Our folk tales and mythology are woven with stories about trees offering shade, food, advice, and enlightenment. What would Bollywood have done without trees to run romantically around? Glass buildings just don’t make the cut when it comes to serenading and wooing your beloved.

My own love affair with trees has deepened thanks to a book called Discover Avenue Trees: A Pocket Guide by Karthikeyan S. Now, I don’t just look up at a tree and its canopy. I look down at its roots, the flowers and seed pods strewn below it. I pick up the Cassia javanica tree’s seed pod, listening to the hollow sound it makes when rattled. I whirl the core of the mahogany seeds and watch as it spins down, its wings turning like the blades of a helicopter. And when I am in a more ponderous mood, I stand inside the bamboo grove in Cubbon Park. As the wind begins to lift, the leaves begin to rustle, gently at first and then louder, until it rises to a crescendo, eclipsing all thoughts and sorrows. It works every single time.

It’s a poorly kept secret, and allow me to let you in on it: Trees can be the best of companions. They’re patient, entertaining, and generous. You only have to seek them out.

Fantastic Beasts shows muggles there’s no magic in a world without the wild

http://www.dailyo.in/arts/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them/story/1/14153.html

Newt Artemis Fido Scamander reminds us that without animals, Earth isn’t a place called home.

Newton (“Newt”) Artemis Fido Scamander went down in wizarding history for many of his achievements, including writing the seminal Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and bringing about the ban on experimental breeding. But after the biopic on him, I think Scamander will, perhaps, be best remembered in the muggle and No-Maj world for his wildlife conservation beliefs.

In the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, magizoologist Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) comes to New York in 1926 with a suitcase full of magical creatures. Things begin to unravel when some of these fantastic creatures escape into the city, plus there’s an inexplicable force wreaking havoc at the same time. Fantastic Beasts is a charming film, full of wondrous bits. It’s set in the familiar world of magic, but with a new narrative that also makes a strong case for conservation.

A suitcase packed with wild things

In the eponymous book that JK Rowling published as a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry textbook in aid of Comic Relief UK in 2001, we first learned about Scamander who, at the age of seven, “spent hours in his bedroom dismembering Horklumps” and then went on to travel across dark jungles, marshy bogs, and bright desserts to learn more about the “curious habits of beasts”. I couldn’t help but imagine Scamander as a cross between David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell. More so, when we got to examine the contents of his suitcase in the movie.The suitcase (spoiler alert) is a world unto itself for magical creatures, and it’s reminiscent of the many animal rescue and rehabilitation centres around the world. Such as the Wild Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Pune, managed by The Indian Herpetological Society (IHS) that offers specialised care for injured and orphaned animals, and helps rehabilitate wild animals back into their natural homes. Or Wildlife SOS’s Agra Bear Rescue Facility, a centre for rescued sloth bears. Like Frank – the thunderbird, many of these animals have been trafficked or chained up and some will be returned to their homes in the wild.

Unpacking speciesism in the Anthropocene

In his book, Scamander questions the wizarding world’s earlier attempts at designating non-human magical creatures as “beasts”, as compared to “beings”. “Being”, he says, is a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world. A stark contrast to the idea of speciesism, an idea that humans have greater moral rights than animals.

These are concepts we should reflect upon – as the planet hurtles towards a warmer period that is hastening the loss of biodiversity, as the green light is given for forests (home to the muggle fantastic animals) to be cleared for “development” projects, and as we enter the Age of Extinction for many species. The destruction is apparent, as are its consequences. The year 2016 is set to be the warmest in temperature records since 1880; climate change may be the reason behind the extinction of the small mammal Bramble Cay melomys in the Great Barrier Reef; and in India, we are already looking at horrific pollution levels and unprecedented weather patterns.

In a paper titled “The New Noah’s Ark”, research scientist Ernie Small pointed out that “Most of the world’s species at risk of extinction are neither particularly attractive nor obviously useful, and consequently lack conservation support. In contrast, the public, politicians, scientists, the media and conservation organisations are extremely sympathetic to a select number of well-known and admired species, variously called flagship, charismatic, iconic, emblematic, marquee and poster species.” Another thing that we can take away from Fantastic Beasts.

A friend pointed out that she loved that not all that animals in the movie were cute or even attractive. “Because it sort of drove the point home that you don’t preserve animals just because they’re photogenic,” she said. Whether it’s the enormous erumpent, the luminescent ashwinder, or the fragile bowtruckle, they are all as important for Scamander, like the tree frog, the grey hornbill, and the royal Bengal tiger are for wildlife conservationists.

A case for conservation in the muggle world

In fact, as Scamander writes, “Imperfect understanding is often more dangerous than ignorance”, and that’s often what determines our interactions with nature. Superstitions about unlucky owls, myths of the potency of the rhino’s horn or the fallacy of speciesism has led to owls being injured by stones, birds being imprisoned in tiny cages, and rhinos being poached to near-extinction. When it comes to his fantastic creatures, Scamander says that he hopes to, “rescue, nurture and protect them”, and gently attempt to educate his fellow wizards about them. And let us hope, some Muggles along the way.

Which is what Fantastic Beasts really manages to do – remind us that without these animals, the world would be a much drearier place to live in. Scamander writes that magizoology matters because it ensures that “future generation of witches and wizards enjoy their [fantastic beings] strange beauty and powers as we have been privileged to do”.

Kind of like what Attenborough once said, “It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

Our planet would be a poorer place without house sparrows taking a dust bath, a funnel web spider spinning her web with a funnel at its centre, or a mother elephant protecting her calf by gently pushing him behind her trunk. Without them, Earth isn’t a place called home.

 

A most unusual friendship

Maya G. Leonard’s fictional tale of a boy and the world of beetles is written with humour, warmth and respect

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/a-most-unusual-friendship/article9022609.ece

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What happens when you’re terrified of insects? You write a book about them, of course. Or at least that’s what Maya G. Leonard did, and the result is the brilliant Beetle Boy (Scholastic), the first of a three-book series.

“I was writing a different story, about a villain who I imagined living in a place filled with insects, which I recognise now is a terrible cliché,” says Leonard, who lives in Brighton and works as a digital producer with the National Theatre in London. “Insects are often used to suggest a negative otherness,” she adds.

Fascinating insects

As Leonard began researching insects, she found herself fascinated by them. “I Googled different types of insects, to describe them accurately, and I was genuinely shocked when I learned about beetles and how adaptable, important and beautiful they are,” she says, in an email interview. “I don’t know if it was my own fear of insects, lack of education in the natural world or plain ignorance that meant I’d grown to adulthood without realising how wonderful these creatures are, but I was interested in that ignorance. I’m very ordinary, and I thought, if I didn’t know how essential beetles are to our ecosystem, then there is a good chance that most people don’t know. I decided to do something about my ignorance, something positive, and tell a story where the insects are the good guys.”

About a boy

The book, Beetle Boy, is the story of Darkus Cuttle, a 13-year-old boy whose father suddenly disappears from his workplace, the Natural History Museum. The mystery deepens when Baxter, a clever rhinoceros beetle befriends Darkus. So many questions: how does Baxter understand Darkus, are these mysterious events connected with the evil Lucretia Cutter who has built an empire of insect jewellery, and can Darkus count on his new friends, Virginia and Bertolt?

Of course, Beetle Boy is a triumph in that it underscores the value of unlikely friendships and makes for a thrilling read. “Children’s hearts and eyes are open to the wonder of the world and they are slow to judge,” says Leonard. “The story had to be about children discovering the wonderful world of beetles because adult’s opinions are often already formed and resistant to change. At the heart of this story is the powerful relationship between a boy and a beetle, and the friendships he makes in the face of adversity. It is those friendships that give him the courage to be heroic and find his father.”

But what also makes it an unusual story is the manner in which Leonard conjures up a sense of wonder about arthropods. You can’t help but marvel at her descriptions of the stag beetles with their “monstrous antler-like mandibles” or frog-legged beetles with their cherry-red exoskeleton that shimmers as it moves, or wonder at dung beetles and Hercules beetles. There’s awe, humour, warmth, and respect in Leonard’s portrayal of beetles. Suddenly, you want to be out there, peering at every blade of grass, observing these beautiful, wondrous creatures.

“I did all of the research for Beetle Boy by myself, over four years,” says Leonard. “I read everything I could, watched every video, looked at a billion images and filled my head with beetles. I care greatly that I do justice to the beetles, and in writing about entomologists, I wanted to show the importance of the science and the work they do.” When Leonard got a publishing deal with Chicken House, she decided to get an entomologist to look at the story. “I wouldn’t have let it be published without a scientist approving of the content,” she says. “That’s how I met Dr. Sarah Beynon, who is a specialist in dung beetles and runs The Bug Farm in Pembrokeshire. She was amazing, and edited the book for factual accuracy, pointing out my rookie errors. For example, I’d referred to a beetle’s exoskeleton as a shell, which I corrected.”

Cast of characters

Leonard also throws in a handful of unforgettable characters: human and insects, one of the most compelling being Lucretia Cutter. “I love a good villainess, because they shock or frighten a reader by violently bucking the gender stereotypes of women as fragile, maternal or compliant,” says the writer. “For me, a great villainess has to have intense desires, a searing intellect and an intriguing glamour or mesmerising repulsiveness.

I knew before I started writing Beetle Boy that my power-hungry scientist and super-villain would be a woman. I named her ‘Lucretia’ after the infamous Lucrezia Borgia who has inspired many villainous incarnations and ‘Cutter’ for the tailoring job it describes, as well as the literal meaning of the word. There is nothing soft about Lucretia Cutter, she’s all malicious intent and sharp edges. I can’t say much more about her without ruining the story, but she will horrify you.

Respecting nature

A recurrent theme in Beetle Boy is respect for nature: there’s sinister genetics engineering at play, and at the same time, you realise how unique the insects are, without being tampered with. “When I was researching for Beetle Boy I discovered that humans have already genetically engineered insects, fruit flies and mosquitoes,” says Leonard.

“The debate around the possible dangers of meddling with genetics and the impact on the ecosystem interested me,” she says.

“I wondered what might happen if you genetically engineered the most adaptable creature on the planet, which is of course the beetle. As far as I know, there has been no genetic engineering of beetles, which left me free to imagine. I love the Frankenstein story and am drawn to questions of this nature, because there is no right or wrong, just responsibility and consequence.”

The second book in the trilogy, Beetle Queen, is slated to be published in April 2017, with Leonard promising that the “adventure gets darker, funnier, and travels further than Beetle Boy”.

If we were beetles, our antennae would be quivering with anticipation.

Three things you must know about the author

Favourite beetle

“My favourite beetle changes every week because with over 3,50,000 known species to choose from, it’s impossible to pick one. I find the tiger beetle very funny. A tiger beetle runs so fast it can’t see, so sprints in short zig-zag bursts and has giant bulbous eyes to orientate it when it stops.”

Writing stories

“I’ve always been drawn towards performed stories, and have worked with a rich variety of artists in my professional life from The Royal Ballet to Shakespeare’s Globe. I struggled with words and grammar when I was at school, which was why dance was the initial area of the arts that interested me, but as I’ve grown and become more practised with language my desire to write my stories down has increased, and I don’t mind admitting I’m proud of Beetle Boy.”

Once-upon-a-time fear of insects

“My fear of insects is important because I have come to realise that fear stems from a lack of understanding. It was an interesting challenge to use positive language to describe the insects because my brain initially gave me words with negative associations. In striving to think of the beetles positively, describing them as friendly and wonderful, I have somehow reprogrammed my own brain.

“A spider can still startle me, but I keep a pair of rainbow stag beetles at home now, and I love them. Perhaps if this book had existed when I was young, I wouldn’t have spent 20 years frightened of mini-beasts. The imagination is a powerful thing.”

Bijal Vachharajani writes about education for sustainable development, conservation, and food security. She’s the former editor of Time Out Bengaluru

From Landour with Love

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/from-landour-with-love/article8099859.ece?ref=tpnews

RUSTY & MAGIC MOUNTAIN

Sitting in a city, surrounded by buildings, enveloped in smog, Ruskin Bond’s books are like a breath of much-needed crisp, fresh mountain air. Bond’s writing takes readers into a world that for many of us is reserved for “vacation time”.

His words take us on a journey through the winding roads of the mountains, where tigers and leopards lurk in deep forests, fallen pine cones and dried leaves crunch beneath footsteps, spooky caretakers and ghosts haunt forgotten houses, and children make imaginary friends.

Even now, bookstores and e-stores are filled with titles from Bond, charming readers. A year and a half ago, when I spoke to the writer about the sheer number of his books that are out there, he said, “When I go to the bank, as I did on Saturday, and I find my bank balance has become alarmingly low, I rush back and immediately get to work at my desk.”

Inimitable humour

His inimitable sense of humour aside, Bond is a compulsive writer. “Even if it wasn’t my profession, I would still write for myself,” he said. “I am fond of writing; I enjoy it, whether I am writing an essay, a story, or a poem.”

Now, almost a decade later, Bond is back with one of his most beloved characters in Rusty and the Magic Mountain . In his ‘By Way of an Introduction’, the author writes, “But I’ll never write another,” said Rusy, “after so much bother.”

And here he is, at his desk near the door… telling a new tale. In this instalment, the Anglo-Indian boy’s “adventure wind” was calling to him. And he sets off to explore Witch Mountain with his friend, little Popat Lal, and wrestler, Pitamber, who is always eating whatever food he can lay his hands on. It’s an odd bunch, Bond’s books offer a deeper understanding of human nature.

Some characters he writes with wit and cleverness, others, he paints with a brush of benevolent malevolence, and some, with compassion. Whether it’s the eccentric Uncle Ken, the food-loving Aunt Mabel, or the shy Mr Oliver, his characters are quirky and colourful.

In Rusty and the Magic Mountain , the three friends find themselves on a fantastical quest: there’s a mysterious one-eyed caretaker who never removes his hat, a cat who has a penchant for blood, a community of dwarves whose forefathers worked in silver mines without sunshine and fresh air, and an evil Rani and the gorgeous Reema. Bond tosses together the supernatural with adventure to put together a hilarious tale that Rusty’s old and new fans will love.

Wayside stations

Bond’s stories evoke a strong sense of place — whether it’s a tea stall tucked away in a dusty corner or a sylvan forest in the valley of a mountain. For instance, he describes a pond in Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions , “To the inhabitants of the pond, the pond was the world; and to the inhabitants of the world, maintained Grandfather, the world was but a muddy pond.”

In another story, he writes about his fascination with small wayside stations. “…these little stations are, for me, outposts of romance, lonely symbols of the pioneering spirit that led men to lay tracks into the remote corners of the earth.” How hard is it then to imagine a muddy pond that’s home to croaking frogs, deserted railway stations, or quaint hill stations? Not very. But mostly, Bond’s stories evoke awe, concern and respect for all things wild and wonderful; whether it’s a blue periwinkle that Rusty plucks from a bush or a leopard crouching in a railway tunnel in Friends in Wild Places .

Lavishly illustrated

This book, lavishly illustrated by Shubhadarshini Singh, brings together stories, some old and others new, about his real and imaginary friendship with animals, birds, and trees.

Bond reminisces about the urban wildlife of Delhi, a tree that gives him a basket of walnuts every year, and a baby spotted-owlet who lived under his bed.

For Bond, his relationship with animals and plants is deep.

As he put it, “After all, animals only kill for food, don’t they? And we humans kill for land property, greed, envy, jealousy — these are our motives for killing. Animals need space, that’s all they want really. Let them have their forest and wilderness.” And maybe, that’s what resonates in his book, reverence and love (and some humour) for humanity and the environment. And that’s why we keep returning to his stories.

Bijal Vachharajani writes about education for sustainable development, conservation, and food security. She’s the former editor of Time Out Bengaluru .

When I find that my bank balance has become alarmingly low, I rush back and immediately get to work at my desk

Ruskin Bond

Bond tosses together the supernatural and adventure to put together a hilarious tale

Review: Career of Evil

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/jk-rowling-career-of-evil-third-cormoran-strike-novel-robert-galbraith/1/523394.html

Review: JK Rowling’s Career of Evil keeps the reader guessing

Career of Evil, Rowling’s third Cormoran Strike novel, is an emotionally taut read.

Detective Cormoran Strike and his secretary-turned-partner Robin Ellacott are back for the third time with a case that’s equally bloody and emotional in parts. This time around, the investigative pair is embroiled in a mystery that is pretty personal–someone sends a woman’s severed leg to Robin accompanied by lyrics from a song by the American rock band, Blue Oyster Cult. It’s a chilling message for Strike, given his disability–he was injured and lost a leg in Afghanistan. It’s also clear that someone has a bone to pick with Strike and won’t stop at just a leg. Rather, as you find out from the killer’s perspective, his next target is Robin. What follows is a trip down memory lane for Strike, as he pursues four possible suspects, each with a sinister and bloodthirsty history. In an interview with NPR, JK Rowling, who writes this series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, said that she read Ted Bundy’s accounts to understand a killer’s perspective and also trawled through forums frequented by men who discuss women in terms of murder and sexual violence.

The suspects are twisted as they come with a long history of violence–Terence ‘Digger’ Malley, a gangster who is known for his body-cutting skills; sociopath Donald Laing who is a British veteran and blames Strike for all his misfortune and problems; Noel Brockbank who has a history of paedophilia and is not quite right in the head; and Jeff Whittaker, a junkie musician who was married to Strike’s mother and tried and acquitted for her murder. They all have one thing in common–they hate Strike. To complicate matters, after their last two cases–The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm–Strike is kind of famous and he is no longer able to go out and pursue persons of interests as he once could. And with the infamous publicity about the severed leg, Strike and Robin are losing cases and with that money as well. At the same time, Robin is grappling with a tense engagement – her fiance Matthew has always been vocal about his dislike for Strike but now their relationship has taken a turn for the worse. She’s also worried about her position at work – at times Strike calls her a business partner, at others he does everything to shield her from the nastier parts of the business.

For Robin, horrific memories of sexual violence resurface–you find out that she had been raped at a university. Your heart goes out to Robin and Strike, who for a change, shows his vulnerable side, especially with his bias towards his stepfather. You also get a bit closer to understanding the person behind the hulking, impassive facade. On top of all this is Robin’s impending wedding–dresses, flowers and seating arrangements add to the chaos, while both Robin and Strike are trying hard to ignore their feeling for each other. In her acknowledgements, Rowling writes, “I can’t remember ever enjoying writing a novel more than Career of Evil. This is odd, not only on account of the grisly subject matter…” And it shows. The author takes her time building the emotional tension in Career of Evil. At the same time, she lets the tension unwind slowly, following the suspects at an easy pace all across the country, while allowing personal emotions to bubble up to the forefront. Rowling runs through a gamut of bloody and violent crimes–sexual violence, serial killings, drug abuse, and paedophilia, it’s all in there. Yet she takes her time in telling the stories. And because of that, Career of Evil tends to flag a bit. Although it has a compelling and dark storyline, the narrative takes time to pick up, and you tend to lose interest in the middle.

Suspense

That said, the suspense builds up, and you’re hard-pressed to choose between the suspects. Strike is gunning for Whittaker with obvious reasons, but the others seem equally menacing and they all seem to have had an opportunity. And that’s where the author keeps the reader guessing, making it an immense emotionally taut read. PS: A request for the writer; can we please get Strike to mop up his curry with naan, instead of naan bread next time?

The reviewer is a Bengaluru-based writer.

11 Books That Will Get Children To Explore The Wild

http://www.natgeotraveller.in/web-exclusive/web-exclusive-month/11-books-that-will-get-children-to-explore-the-wild/

World Habitat Day Special: Let a book lead you into swamps, seas and more

TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS: BIJAL VACHHARAJANI

POSTED  ON: OCTOBER 5, 2015 12:00 AM

Hitch a ride on the back of a glorious book about wildlife.

click me

Children’s books can work like portkeys to nature. Turn the pages and you can be whooshed into a dense green jungle full of mysterious tigers and merry bears, transported to a bleak desert landscape, or plunged deep into the ocean, swimming with sea turtles and dodging jellyfish. On World Habitat Day, we pick 11 books that will enchant young readers and introduce them to habitats where the wild things are.

Sundarbans with Tiger Boy

In Mitali Perkins’ Tiger Boy, Neel’s parents and teachers want him to study hard for a scholarship that will take him from the Sundarbans to Kolkata. But Neel loves his home – he can splash like a river dolphin in the freshwater pond, climb tall palm trees, and forage for wild guavas. Besides, he has a bigger problem than geometry and algebra to worry about: there’s a tiger cub missing from the reserve. With the help of his sister Rupa, a spunky girl who has been forced to drop out of school, Neel decides to find the cub and save it from being trafficked by the evil Gupta. After all, who knows the island better than him?

Tiger Boy takes children into the swampy forests of the Sundarbans. Perkins paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to live in a place threatened by climate change: islands bolstered against rising sea levels by sandbags and furious cyclones tearing away mangroves. Yet, Tiger Boy is a story of hope; it’s about the splendour of the mangrove forests and islands, the magnificence of the tiger and its vulnerability, and human resilience in the face of adversity.

Also see:The Honey Hunter by Karthika Nair and Joëlle Jolivet is a sumptuously illustrated book that brings alive the richness of the Sundarbans. Nair’s story takes children through the mangrove forest, while Jolivet’s candy-coloured illustrations bring to life the honeybees, tigers, and trees of the Sundarbans.

Africa with The Akimbo Series

“Imagine living in a place where the sun rises each morning over blue mountains and great plains with grass that grows taller than a man.” This is where Akimbo lives, on the edge of a large game reserve in Africa. Readers will be enchanted by young Akimbo and his home. British author Alexander McCall Smith is best known for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but he has a delightful repertoire of children’s books as well, which includes the Akimbo series.

Set in the heart of Africa, Akimbo lives alongside zebras that graze in the plains and lions, leopards, and baboons in the hills and forest. Man-animal conflict, poaching, conservation, and endangered animals are all part of the narrative. In Akimbo And The Elephants, his father who works on the reserve points out an animal and cautions him, “Don’t make a noise. Just look over there.” If only everybody on a safari would listen to Akimbo’s father, we would have so many more quiet and pleasant trips into the forest.

Also see: You’ve watched the movie Duma, now read the book it is based on.How It Was With Dooms is the story of Xan Hopcraft who grew up with a cheetah at his home in Nairobi. There are some lovely photos by his mother Carol Hopcraft in the book as well.

The Western Ghats with The Adventures of Philautus Frog

If you thought frogs lived only in ponds, then Kartik Shanker’s book will make you think again. Shanker’s protagonist is Philautus or Thavalai, a tree frog who has never ever come down from his Big Tree home. One day, Thavalai decides to hop off to look for the big blue sea. He has many adventures, including getting directions from a snake who could have easily swallowed him whole.

Maya Ramaswamy’s illustrations recreate the dark, deep shola forest, the surrounding hills and grasslands, and their many denizens. A hornbill sits placidly in one corner of the page, while a balloon frog puffs up in purple glory on another. Venomous snakes slither across the book and a dragonfly flits over the words. The book is packed with nuggets of information, such as that grasslands are hot in the day and cold at night, but the shola is always cool. Readers also learn that Thavalai often gets teased because Philautus frogs bypass the tadpole stage and froglets hop straight out of eggs.

Also see: Children can Walk the Grasslands With Takuri, a pygmy hog who is the protagonist of this book by Nima Manjrekar and Nandita Hazarika. Part of the same series is Aparajita Datta and Nima Manjrekar’s Walk The Rainforest With Niwupah, where a hornbill takes readers on a tour of his rainforest. Both books have been illustrated by Ramaswamy.

Hingol National Park with Survival Tips For Lunatics

Shandana Minhas’ Survival Tips For Lunatics is a rollicking tale that throws together a motley bunch of characters. There’s a squabbling pair of siblings, a Protoliterodragon who cannot stand bad poetry, and an angry black bear “with a dislike of the species that had put him on the endangered list”. The story is set in Hingol National Park in south-west Pakistan which is home to Chandrakup, the largest mud volcano in South Asia.

Changez, 12, and his brother Taimur aka Timmy, 9, go camping with their parents. Next morning, Changez wakes up to realise that the parents left them behind by mistake. Help is at hand in the form of a talking sparrow and other animals. The unlikely group end up across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where they find that the human world holds more dangers than the forest. Survival Tips For Lunatics also explores the multifarious wonderful and fraught relationships that humans and animals share, and while doing so, holds up a mirror to our flawed ideas of civilization. But Minhas’ touch is always light, keeping the reader chuckling and turning the page.

Also see: Jungu The Baiga Princess by Vithal Rajan is set in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh and spotlights conservation and tribal rights. It’s a story about the Baiga tribe and their commitment to protecting their forest.

Around the World with The Snail And The Whale

What happens when a snail has an itchy foot and wants to see the world? He hitches a ride on the tail of a humpback whale for the journey of a lifetime. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler, Julia Donaldson’s picture book is a real treat. Young readers will join the snail and the whale to see “towering icebergs and far-off lands” where penguins frolic in the water. Then they go on to “fiery mountains and golden sands” to say hello to monkeys and turtles. While Donaldson doesn’t dwell on any particular habitat, the book makes for a fun guessing game about possible locations. For instance, where in the world are caves beneath waves where sharks with hideous toothy grins lurk?  Or which place is sunny and blue and has thunderstorms?

Also see: In The One And Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate talks about the tyranny of captivity and the yearning for the wild. The story is narrated by Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lives in a glass cage in a performing mall. Ivan introduces himself in the most heartbreaking manner by saying, “I used to be a wild gorilla, and I still look the part.” Ivan chooses to not remember his real home, where his father had a bouncy belly that was the perfect trampoline for his sister Tag and him. It’s the only way he can cope with living in a cage. Based on a real life story, Ivan is both beautiful and moving – a poignant reminder of the absence of home.

We need to pass our love for nature to children

http://www.dailyo.in/lifestyle/wildlife-environment-world-wildlife-week-enid-blyton-winnie-the-pooh-rachel-carson/story/1/6549.html

World Wildlife Week starts on October 2, celebrate it by taking a walk in the park or having a picnic.

The tabby kitten was a quivering mass of fur and bones when my mother scooped her up from the roadside and brought her home. My sister, with her zoophobia, promptly locked herself inside the kitchen, making cooing noises from a safe distance. I was all of seven, and fascinated by the kitten’s round eyes and persistent mews. From the time I can remember, wayward kittens, injured rose-ringed parakeets, and heat-stressed munias found a foster home with my mother. Spiders weren’t whacked to death, instead they were gently carried out to the plants on our balcony. Lizards were pronounced cute, much to our collective horror. All cats as a rule were called Jinglu and Minglu, other animals got various names until they were well enough to go back into the big bad world of Delhi.

Years later, I picked up a copy of The Sense of Wonder by conservationist and author Rachel Carson and read this wonderful line – “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

Those words made perfect sense to me. Growing up, one of my most treasured memories is of my mother reminiscing about her childhood. My mother’s family lived on the outskirts of Bhuj in Gujarat, close to a forested area. She told us about a brown owl who would knock on their front door thrice – tap, tap, tap. He (perhaps she?) would uncannily mimic the knock that was the agreed signal for my grandfather to announce that he was home. My mother would open the door ready to greet her father, only to have the tiny owl quickly dash into the house or retreat to his favourite perch on the tree outside, staring at them solemnly with his big eyes.

There were stories of a cobra cooling off in their bathroom, and another of a fighting pair of snakes who borrowed the living room as an arena. On such occasions, a local snake catcher caught the snakes and released them back in the wild.

My mother inherited this compassionate streak from her father. Their brown-and-white cow would only go to bed after my grandfather had petted and talked to her. When my grandfather was transferred to Mumbai, the most heartbreaking part of the move was leaving their cow behind. My mother still remembers the cow mooing sadly, while the siblings sulked, unable to understand why the cow couldn’t accompany them to the city. Surely people in Mumbai drank milk.

Fascinated, I took to reading about these animals in books. I was enchanted by Enid Blyton, with her stories about children taking long walks in the moors, climbing sturdy oak trees in the woods, and meeting animals in the wild. Richard Louv, in his book, Last Child in the Woods, writes that “environmental educators and activists repeatedly mention nature books as important childhood influences”. Indeed, stories such as AA Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh or Gerald Durrell’sMy Family and Other Animals, have inspired generations of wildlife lovers. I yearned to have owls knocking on the door at our Defence Colony house, and comforted myself with fiction badgers, elephants, and Pooh bears instead.

My father, while evading my constant demands for a dog, took us to city gardens on weekends, while holidays were spent in forests and hill stations. We climbed trees, picnicked at Lodhi Gardens, and were constantly gifted books about animals. All these fuelled my sense of wonder for nature. It didn’t matter that we didn’t always know the name of the brightly-coloured birds, majestic raptors, or creepy crawlies we saw. It was enough to be able to observe them.

World Wildlife Week starts on October 2, and there’s no better way to celebrate it than by passing on your love for nature to children. Take them for a nature ramble or a hike, let them observe and learn about animals and their habitat, and share a story or two about wildlife. As Carson reminds us, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.” It’s up to us, the grown-ups, to keep it that way.

PS: No owls have come calling to my house, although I have helped rescue a few. Even now when I meet a tiny brown owl, such as the spotted owlet, in the wild, I wonder if it’s the same species as the one that used to knock on my mother’s door.