Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review – Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah by Aparajita Dutta and Nima Manjrekar

Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah

Text – Aparajita Dutta and Nima Manjrekar

Pictures – Maya Ramaswamy

Katha 

Once in a while, you come across a book that makes you look at it wistfully, making you wonder – how nice it would have been if I had this book to understand things back in my school days! They explain the facts that looked monstrous during school  so beautifully and simply, that you can’t help but marvel at it.

‘Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah‘ by Dutta and Manjrekar is one such book. It is a non-fiction book, but instead of just throwing textual information as a bundle of facts, it has a very friendly and comprehensible tone, with beautiful illustrations to go with it. As you read the book, you can actually feel that the authors are talking to you. The richness of the text and illustrations together instantly transports you to a rainforest, and you can see it coming alive in front of your eyes.

The book has been written in a conversational tone, and you can imagine it serving as your guide through the rainforest, introducing you to the various inhabitants of the place, and the rules of the house. There are tiny boxes of facts containing very interesting information – for example, did you know that cocoa beans actually came from the rainforests? The hero of the book is the Great Hornbill or Niwupah, and the write-up about the hornbills makes for a very fascinating read. The book also draws attention to the threat to the rainforests and its inhabitants, especially the hornbills because of the deforestation. We keep clearing the forests to make our homes, but we do need to spare a thought for the creatures who are the rightful inhabitants of that place. The book also inspires the young ones to take up wildlife activism, and gives them quite a few ideas and tips to get started at their own level.

The artwork in the book by Maya Ramaswamy is very eye-catching, and very detailed. The illustrations are so vivid and exact, that they look more like a photograph. The pictures have also been labelled to help identify the birds, animals and insects, and can serve as a starting point for a whole new exploration altogether. The world map at the end with the rainforests marked on it is a very useful addition too.

Get and read this book, pronto! It’s a treasure worth enjoying and cherishing.

This post first appeared on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them for giving you monthly recommendations for books.

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Book Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs

Story – Judi Barrett

Pictures – Ron Barrett

Aladdin Picture Books

Ah, rains! And the things from the childhood that are associated with rains!! The rain dance, jumping in the puddles, school holiday for ‘rainy day’, and staying indoors with the aroma of food wafting from the kitchen. In fact, if you ask me, the food memories are always high up in the list of things that come to your mind when somebody says ‘rain’. But what if it actually started raining food? Bliss, or maybe not so?

‘Cloudy with a chance of meatballs’ by Judi Barrett is a tall tale about food that rains from the sky. So, the people in the town of Chewandswallow don’t really cook, instead they wait for the ‘weather’ to come thrice a day – bringing different foods with it. It rains milk and juice, it snows mashed potatoes and there are storms of burgers and sandwiches. People store the leftovers if they would get hungry between meals. The weather forecast tells people what to expect for the food the next day, to help them plan. But one fine day, or on a not-so-fine one, the weather turns for the worse. The kitchen high up starts messing, and nobody wants to eat the kind of food that was raining. There are storms of salt and pepper with tomato tornado. What happens to the people of Chewandswallow? How do they come out of the mess? If you have seen the movie, you’d probably know, but it’s worth reading the book.

The imagination and description of the weather is hilarious, and Barrett has literally cooked up a storm. You can’t help but marvel at the way things have been thought of. The illustrations by Ron Barrett are very impressive, and come with their own quirky details. The boy drinking juice from his umbrella and ‘Ralph’s Roofless Restaurant’ will make you laugh out loud. The text is quite simply brilliant, but with the illustrations, you are actually transported to the town of Chewandsawallow.

The book was first published more than 25 years ago, and it remains popular even today because of the absurdity and silliness, that is so convincing it is almost believable. It will definitely make the kids imagine and think about what impact does the change of weather has on people’s lives. A very fun, imaginative, creative and thoroughly enjoyable book!

What’s your favourite rain or food memory?

This post first appeared on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them for giving you monthly recommendations for books.

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Book Review: First House/ Pehla Ghar : A Santhali Folktale

First House/ Pehla Ghar

Retold by Jane Sahi

Translation – Shivnarayan Gour

Pictures – Ranu Titus

Home, sweet home! But how did the home come to be about? Who thought that we could build a roof over our heads? What was the inspiration for the pillars, the structure and the roof? If you have ever wondered about these questions, this Santhali folktale will give you the answers.

How the inputs from each of these brought together the house is a nice story, and helps you see the sense in the ideas.

The story starts as two friends in the really, really old times get tired of taking shelter under the trees and in the caves – the changing weathers not being very helpful. So they think up the idea of having something more permanent, and start taking suggestions from the creatures around them – the elephant, the snake, the buffalo and the fish. How the inputs from each of these brought together the house is a nice story, and helps you see the sense in the ideas. The art work is marvelous – the illustrations have been done with the Santhali inspiration in just orange, white and black colors, and instantly take you into the world as it was in the stone age. The details in the artwork are quite interesting, and the observant kid can spend quite a lot of time pointing out the different features on each page of the illustrations.

The details in the artwork are quite interesting

The fact that the book is bilingual also helps the beginner reader in the second language. Though the story is quite short, the subject will be appreciated better by a kid 6 years and above. Read it up, and think of the other stories behind the things that we use everyday, and take for granted. I remember reading a similar story about the invention of the wheel when I was a kid – just an idea to get started 🙂

This post first appeared on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them for giving you monthly recommendations for books.

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Book Review: Mooncake (Moonbear Books) by Frank Asch

Mooncake (Moonbear Books)

Frank Asch

Simon & Schuster

Now that science has spoiled the game for us, and we know that moon is nothing but a land of craters, with perhaps some water lying around, we would not dream of ‘tasting’ the moon. But for the kids, moon is still something of a mystery. And on a full moon’s day, it probably looks good enough to eat!

Frank Asch’s ‘Mooncake’, a part of his Moonbear stories series, is all about the Bear wondering what the moon tastes like, when he is chatting to his friend Little Bird. And he doesn’t stop at wondering, instead thinks of ways how he can get a bite of the moon. He then decides to build a rocketship, so that he can go to the moon to taste it. Meanwhile, winter is approaching, and the Little Bird flies down south with the rest of her flock, and Bear is alone in his efforts. He does build the rocketship though, but does he get to taste the moon? Read up to find out – it’s such a lovely story.

The story is most suitable for kids around 3-6 years. There are so many new things that you can introduce to them through this book – how the animals behave differently in winter, with the birds flying away to warmer places, and the bears going in hibernation, the rocketship, the value of perseverance and the apprehension around trying something new. And it’s a simple, endearing story that would definitely appeal to them. The illustrations could have been better though. They serve the purpose, but not really exciting or attractive.

And now I want to read the other Moonbear stories too. I’ll look for them while you enjoy this one, and see if the moon is as delicious as it looks 🙂

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Book Review: Three Friends by Indu Harikumar

Three Friends

Story & Pictures : Indu Harikumar

Eklavya Publications (2013)

There’s something about the picture books that takes your breath away. No matter what you might be doing – the moment your hands fall on a picture book, you just HAVE to read it. And more often than not, the story pulls you deep in the admiration of something told in such deceptively simple way. Indu Harikumar’s ‘Three Friends’ is one such book, and you must get your hands on it.

The three friends in the story are the colours red, blue and green. How these three long for more friends, and come together to create new colours is what the story is about. Nothing that you don’t know already, but think of it from a kid’s perspective, and you’ll see how much sense does it make to tell them about the primary and secondary colours this way. There’s not one superfluous word in the story, nor has it been over-simplified. But what really impresses you is the unique way in which the book has been illustrated – the author has done it herself, creating the book on cloth with fabric paints and embroidery – marvellous! The applique, the designs and the stitches – it is all so mesmerising.

And at just Rs 45/-, the book is much, much better than a steal – go for it, pronto! The book is a wonderful starter for colors for ages 2 and above.

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Book Review : Custody by Manju Kapur

Custody

Manju Kapur

Random House India (2011)

In the bitter divorce battles that are becoming all too common these days, the power centres are the children, who are ironically powerless. By warring over their custody, the parental ego claims victory or otherwise – but all too shallow at the end of it all. Don’t you think so?

It is this bitterness and upheaval in the families that Manju Kapur has attempted to depict in her novel ‘Custody’. Shagun is a very beautiful woman, married to a ‘successful’ man Raman, who seems to have it all – a good job in a very respectable company, great salary with perks and two lovely kids Arjun and Roohi. In comes Ashok – Raman’s suave, handsome and dashing boss, and Shagun starts finding her husband too boring, and is drawn to his boss instead. Things get serious, and Shagun leaves Raman to be with Ashok. The messy divorce battles begin – the biggest contention being the custody of the children. How the custody battle ends, and new bonds are being formed while the old ones are scrambling to end with dignity is what the novel is all about.

Manju Kapur’s forte is her nuanced writing of the human follies. Her characters, especially women, are very well etched out. Unfortunately, she loses her touch in this novel. In her effort to be non-judgemental about Shagun’s character, she does not go deep in the description of her character or the reasons of her choices. Raman is reduced to an object of sympathy, for the other characters of the novel as well as for the reader. While not going into the details of the relationship between Shagun and Raman is understandable, there’s not much being said about Shagun’s bond with Ashok either. What was it that Ashok was offering that Raman could not, and she was happy to leave behind her stable home? Ashok and Ishita, the woman in Raman’s life after Shagun, are caricatures at best. Shagun’s mother is again reduced to a very superficial character, going along with her daughter’s wishes like a puppet. While Roohi is too young to understand what’s going on around her, Arjun is a bit grown up, and Kapur does some justice, bringing out his fears and apprehensions, and giving space to the bonding between Ashok and Arjun. You do feel sorry for the kids, embroiled in the battle of egos between their parents, reduced to pawns – amounting to not more than pieces of papers of communication between the two of them.

Kapur’s description of the upper and middle class lives in Delhi in the 90s is spot on, and you can imagine it going on right in front of your eyes – the nosy neighbors, the jealousy between families, the swish set planning holidays abroad, and of course ‘the Brand’, where Raman and Ashok work. But all said and done, ‘Custody’ is not a patch on Kapur’s earlier work – ‘Difficult Daughers’ and ‘Home’.

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Book Review : Cricketmatics by Anshumani Ruddra

Cricketmatics

Story  – Anshumani Ruddra

Pictures – M Kathiravan

Audiobook Voiceover – Rahul Dravid

Karadi Tales – 2009

The looooooong summer season is upon us, and so is the season of cricket (which never seems to end these days, isn’t it?). And when you mix the two, what ensues is fun, and then some more fun. But the kids still need to be kept indoors when it is blistering hot outside, and what better than books to do so – especially if the book is about Cricket!

The book is a surefire hit from the word go, as it blends in the world of mathematics and cricket very smoothly and effortlessly. Anirudh is an ardent cricket lover, and is the star of his school cricket team – never missing a training camp or a championship. But then, there is a problem. His love for cricket overpowers his interest in studies and he starts lagging behind, flunking in Mathematics. He is now faced up with an ultimatum – pull your Mathematics act together, or give the summer cricket camp a miss to repeat the course. For his love of cricket, he does try hard, but the harder he tries, the more confused he gets – he can’t quite strike a boundary when it comes to the problems of Mathematics. And then comes his cricket coach Vasu. Does he get him a waiver from the Mathematics exam, or does he make things more difficult for him? Read up – you’ll enjoy the story, and will be cheering for every strike Anirudh makes!

The story is written very well, with the characters etched out perfectly. Anirudh’s fan moments, or his grappling with the problems of Mathematics are all very real and relatable, and you are silently rooting for him in your heart. The simplicity of the narration makes it an easy read, and even a cricket ‘non-fan’ will not have any trouble understanding the various situations. Anshumani does full justice to the story and subject, and it is no wonder he is a hit with the tweens and teens for all his books. The illustrations are spectacular, and you fall in love with Anirudh as many times as you see his pictures.

The book came from the house of Karadi, and is a part of the ‘Will You Read With Me?’ series. Which means that it comes with an audiobook, with a narration by the cricket legend Rahul Dravid. The kids could read along with him, or just listen to the story – the audiobook with all the music and arrangements is a wonderful thought and a much needed gesture, to bring the kids back to books and reading. I wonder why are they not doing it any more!

Do read it – I bet you would have loved the subject Cricketmatics too, if you had a chance!

This review first appeared on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them for giving you monthly recommendations for books.

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Book Review : Nate the Great and the Boring Beach Bag by Marjorie W Sharmat

Nate the Great and the Boring Beach Bag

Story – Marjorie W. Sharmat

Pictures – Marc Simont

Random House

Don’t we all love the mysteries and suspense in stories – the thrill of the whodunit, the parallel solution of the case that is being worked out in our minds as we keep reading and eliminating possibilities as we go along? The ‘Nate the Great’ series is the perfect introduction of the genre for the young ones, and will definitely get them hooked.

Nate is an intelligent little boy, who is always interested in solving mysteries, accompanied by his dog Sludge. He also gets requests from his friends to look for their missing things. In this particular book of the series, Nate’s friend Oliver has lost his bag on the beach, and he wants Nate to help him find it. The story starts pretty well, and the kids get the hang of deductive logic that Nate is applying in solving the mystery quickly, joining him to give their own answers to the clues. The level of mystery is just right for the beginner readers, challenging them, but encouraging too with the simple clues. Nate comes across as a very smart kid with great common sense.

The illustrations are very engaging too – the notes and the clues hidden in the pictures attract the kids, and makes the book interesting. The story idea is just right for the ages 6-9, and the choice of words has the right mix of easy and a little difficult words to gear them into the world of ‘big books’ – and it is high on the entertainment quotient too!

Sharmat has written about 30 books in the Nate the Great series, and there is something addictive about them – you just can’t stop at one. The edition that I have comes with some fun activities at the end of the book, perfect for occupying the kids on a hot summer afternoon, and a good way to comprehend the finer details of the story.

Get sleuthing with Nate the Great and your kids then!

This review first appeared on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them for giving you monthly recommendations for books.

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Book Review : The Haunted School and Other Stories by Nandini Nayar

The Haunted School and Other Stories

Story – Nandini Nayar

Pictures – Nayana V

Mango Books

What comes to your mind when the word ‘Horror’ is mentioned to you? Ghosts, darkness, eerie sounds, screams, apparitions in white? Because these things lay so heavy on our senses, we often fail to notice the source of all these manifestations of the genre – the actual horror of the sad story. Because at the end of it all, a ghost is invariably a troubled soul.

It is this horror that is brought to the fore quite lucidly by Nandini Nayar in her collection of short stories. There is no over-the-top screaming, or creating the atmosphere in building up the horror scene. because she pulls you so hard in the story that the goosebumps are actually because of the tug you feel in your heart. It is sensitivity and poignancy all the way.

The first story ‘The Haunted School’ deals with the horror at school. The ghost of a girl who was the victim of the brutality of a temperamental teacher inspires the protagonist to raise her voice against the injustice. The plight of Padmaja and the terror of The Thakkar is bound to stay long in your mind. ‘The Tennis Summer’ is about a boy who has to fight the demon inside him, the demon of negativity of a coach who is a bully, and full of hatred towards him. The parallel drawn between this coach who is weakening his game, and the illness that is weakening his grandmother is very well depicted, and you cheer for the boy for the most important match of his life. ‘The Ghost in the Tower’ is the story of a girl who is haunted by the uprooting from a familiar city and home and by the stress between her parents. She makes a few friends, and together they end up exploring an abandoned building, which is claimed to be haunted by a ghost that makes people turn nasty. How the children exorcise the ghost makes up for a great and insightful read.

Nayar is a brilliant storyteller, and she proves it yet again in this book. The imagery in her stories gives them a great character, and is a brilliant source of learning, especially for the tender minds at the delicate pre-teens stage. Her stories are not run-of-the-mill Goosebumps, inducing horror with the descriptions of the monsters – like I said before, the horror lies in the way we feel for a situation. And she makes sure that the reader stops to consider the situation as it is – you will find that the theatrics are actually superfluous.

The illustrations complement the story quite well. The way chapters have been demarcated with the picture of an object from the story show the attention to the detail.

Do pick it up for your kids in pre-teens or ages above that, or pick it up for yourself. It is a book that is as different as it gets, and very well worth a read!

This review first appeared on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them for giving you monthly recommendations for books.

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Book Review: A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech

A Fine, Fine School

Story – Sharon Creech

Pictures – Harry Bliss

Scholastic

OK, so you love your school, you love your teachers, you love all that you get to learn there – but do you love it enough, that you want to be there all days of the week, and all holidays, AND all summers too? Scary thought, isn’t it? And if it does not sound as scary, Sharon Creech does tell you in a very simple and lucid manner, in the book ‘A Fine, Fine School‘ (published by Scholastic), why it should scare you!

Mr Keene is a fine, fine principal of a fine, fine school, where the fine, fine teachers teach the fine, fine children. Mr Keene loves his job, and the school and of course everybody there. So, five days of school is just not enough for him and he tells everybody to come to school on Saturdays too. And then Sundays, and then all the holidays like Christmas, and before you know it – the summers too! No one really wants to come, neither the teachers, nor the children – but they don’t know how to tell this to Mr Keene. And then comes Tillie, who tells him about the learning that they are missing out because they have to come to school everyday. And the fine, fine principal that Mr Keene is, he immediately takes an action to correct it – does he do it by calling the kids to school for the night too? Read the book to know!

The author has done complete justice to the subject, to the words, and her style of writing with a subtle wit makes the book all the more endearing – no wonder she has won prestigious awards like Newbery and Carnegie Medal.It’s a wonderful story, and the theme is relevant universally, irrespective of the times too. More so, when you see the urban kids around, or may be their parents – the competitions and the pressure of academics being ingrained from the pre-primary levels. Why do we forget that in our own lives, the most important and useful lessons that we learnt were not in the classroom, but in the playground, in those ‘in-between’ times, simply being observant of the surroundings? While the story is simple enough for a budding reader to understand, you should not miss the opportunity to talk about it post-reading – the discussion could be an eye-opener for you!

A word for the illustrations – they are AWESOME, and the attention to detail is magnificent.Watch out for the expressions of the dog, the pranks going on in the bus, or the banner in the cafeteria – simply brilliant!

Read it up – it’s a fine, fine book!

This review first appeared on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them for giving you monthly recommendations for books.

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