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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Book Review : Mightier than the Sword by Jeffrey Archer

Mightier than the Sword

Jeffrey Archer

Pan Macmillan

So, the Clifton Chronicles continue! And probably shall continue until Jeffrey Archer realizes that people’s patience has been tried enough, and that he should really call it a day, especially when it comes to the saga of Clifton and Barrington families.

Sound like a peeved fan, do I? And I do have my reasons. First things first, there might be spoilers in the review (though there’s not much of a thrill/ suspense in the novel as such). So, if you don’t want to know what really happened, please stop right away, and come back once you have read the book, and are looking for a shoulder to cry on, over the lost time!

Now, talking of spoilers, the biggest one was given away by the blurb itself.The fourth volume in the series, Be Careful What You Wish For, ended at a bomb blast on the luxury liner of Barrington shipping, which had all the Cliftons and Barringtons onboard. Now, that was a teaser, but the blurb mentions all of them doing something or the other in the fifth part now, so there – everybody is safe and sound! There goes the suspense.

The book does nothing to tell the readers much about the life of the protagonists. Instead, it has just gone on the tangent, with a new character Anatoly Babakov – who takes up the precious pages in the book, and precious time from the readers, without doing anything to move forward the lives of Harry, Emma, Sebastian, Giles or Samantha, except a few predictable twists and turns! And then, there’s of course Lady Virginia Fenwick, who at the end of the last volume had just sued Emma Barrington. You would hope that at least that case is resolved in this volume, but no such luck. The protagonists are all kind of lost in this volume, and seem to be doing things with no rhyme or reason – or at least, reasons known best to Mr Archer.

Should you read this book, or should you not – I hear you ask. Well, read by all means, because Jeffrey Archer has not earned the reputation of being a master storyteller for nothing! While I might argue that this story does not really belong to the Clifton Chronicles, it is a trademark Archer story nonetheless, and deserves a reading for all the subtle wit, and the layered writing that are an integral part of an Archer story.

The book was launched with much fanfare in India, with people queuing up late into the night to get their copies signed by the author himself! Let’s hope that the next volume really does deserve this kind of reception, and the author realizes that he should not drag on the series, because even the most seasoned fans are bound to have a limit to their patience.

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Fang on, Sam

See You Around, Sam!

Story – Lois Lowry

Pictures – Diane de Groat

Dell Yearling Books

What would you do if your 4 year old decides to run away from home, because they are mad at you for something you asked them not to do? Would you plead them to stay? Would you lock them up so they can’t run away? Scary though the thought is, it has been weaved into a beautiful chapter book in the series of Lois Lowry’s stories about the Krupnik siblings, Sam and Anastasia.

The story is about a day in the Krupnik household, when Sam returns from the school with plastic fangs, and wants to scare everybody with them in his mouth. Sam’s mother forbids him to take them out in the house, because she has ‘fangphobia’. And so, Sam is mad at his mother, and decides to run away to Alaska, where he could lie in a pile with the walruses and their ‘fangs’, and no one will tell him off. To his surprise, he finds that everyone from his family to the neighbourhood is really supportive, and gives him stuff to carry so that he will be comfortable in his journey. As he goes around saying his goodbyes to people who matter to him, he realises that the fangs are not that great after all, and he would rather stay back. But how he could change his mind, when no one is really asking him to stay back, he is wondering.  How that change of mind is brought about makes up for a very entertaining read.

The story has been written very well, with appropriate doses of humor and sensitivity. The community around the Krupniks warms your heart, and Anastasia is lovely as a big sister. Sam comes across as a smart, but defiant child, who realises soon enough the error he made, and then turns it about very maturely – something that is best done when the kids do it themselves, rather than the caregivers instructing the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’.

It also is a good read for us as parents on dealing with a defiant child – that all the kids and us need for coming out of a situation is just a little patience, and a lot of support, and you can get through the day without any tantrums or shouting matches.

Lois Lowry’s brilliance at story-telling shines through the book – no wonder she has won the prestigious Newbery medal twice, for her other works.This book can’t be more different in the subject from the prize-winners, but ultimately, it still talks about the bond we share as humans.

The words and the subject is just right for kids around 9. Do pick it up for them, and discuss it with your child after – it will make for a great conversation!

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This one’s for Cat!

It’s Like This, Cat!

Story – Emily Cheney Neville

Pictures – Emil Weiss

Harper Trophy

 

There is no dearth of coming of age stories in the literature, but there’s something refreshing about quite a lot of them – the situations, the background of the protagonist, the characters, the writing style, all contribute to make each story unique. ‘It’s Like this, Cat!’ by Neville is a very deserving Newbery Award Winner in the series, and its simplicity just takes your breath away.

 

Dave is an average young boy, growing up in the crowded Manhattan, living with his father, with whom he locks horns at every opportunity (don’t all of us go through that phase!) and his mother, who has asthma, which gets worse with the stress caused by the friction between father and son. Then there is their neighbor, the ‘cat lady’ Kate, who seems to love and be more comfortable in the company of cats than humans and a boy Tom who is caught for a theft, whom Dave meets when he is looking for his pet cat, who is called, well, ‘Cat’. Dave and Cat are together in this adventurous journey of life, meeting new people, discovering life, and realizing the perspectives in life.

 

The author has captured the sentiments and pathos of a teenage boy beautifully, and very simply through Cat, and nowhere in the novel is she playing favorites. It’s not Dave being all correct and his father being wrong, or vice versa, but a very balanced narrative, which makes you realise how you subconsciously weave in a bit of your environment into your own psyche – and how close and alike you are to the parents who you think are actually your worst enemies at that age!

 

Do read it, it’s more than worth your while!

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Smile, please!

The Rajah’s Moustache

Story – Asha Nehemiah

Pictures – B G Varma

CBT Books

‘Moochhein ho to Natthu Lal Ji jaisi ho…’ – so goes a dialogue in a very popular Hindi film of yesteryears, and automatically pops up in my mind the moment I see someone with a large and bushy moustache. Rajah Muchacho Singh of Mooshipur makes me say the same thing in my head, but when I read the story, it is far, far funnier than the dialogue!

So, the king is quite proud of his moustache, which is ‘curly and whirly and twirly’, so much so that he sings songs for it, and has everything in his kingdom shaped the way his moustaches are – right from the trays and mirrors, and beds and shoes, and food and hedges in the garden, even down to his favorite horse’s tail. But one day, the unthinkable happens, and the Rajah’s moustache refuses to curl up any more, poking out of his face ‘like two royal spears’.

And so begins the tryst to make the Rajah’s moustache go curly, whirly and twirly again – the tricks are so ridiculously funny that they’ll make you want to roar with laughter. Does the Rajah’s moustache regain it’s lost glory – read the book to find out!

Asha Nehemiah enjoys huge popularity amongst us book lovers for the genuine charm and humor in her stories, and for the fact that the stories are never ‘dumbed down’. This book has won the first prize in the category Read Aloud/ Picture Books in the Competition for Writers of Children’s Books organised by CBT, and quite deservedly so. The pictures do full justice to the story and make the book even more endearing.

So, go on, read the book, and laugh out loud – in honour of Asha Nehmiah and Raja Muchacho Singh of Mooshipur!

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Eat some laughs!

We Eat Dinner in the Bathtub

Story – Angela Shelf Medearis

Pictures – Jacqueline Rogers

Scholastic Books

There’s something about the cover of this book that wants you to pick it up, pronto. Apart from the very catchy title, there is this picture of a family who are actually sitting in a bathtub, sprinkling seasoning on their pizza slices, a jug of lemonade by their side, and relishing it as if it’s only natural that you eat dinner in the bathtub!

And apparently it is so for Harris’ family, who is inviting his friend Josh to dinner. And why do they have their dinner in the bathtub, you may well ask – and so does Josh, which makes up for a very interesting and funny dialogue between Josh and Harris, and will leave you in splits as it unfolds.

Apart from the humour, it is also a great way of telling the tiny tots about the different rooms in the house and their functions – something that they are already observing, but what better than an interesting tale for it to stick the words in their minds and speak them out loud. And to sensitise them to the fact, that everyone is different, and that in spite of the differences, you can still be friends!

The illustrations in the book are simply fantastic, and make the story come alive. You literally feel being in the woods with Josh and Harris, or see the different things the family is doing in different rooms.

Pick it up, and read it aloud, and do laugh out loud. I can guarantee the kids will have so much fun that they will want to read it over and over again, which will set them on the path of reading – after all, the book indeed is a part of the Scholastic Reader series.

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I meant what I said, and I said what I meant!

Horton Hatches the Egg

Story/ Pictures – Dr Seuss

HarperCollins Children’s Books

It was our favourite Dr Seuss’ birthday on March 2nd, and what better way to celebrate it than reading out his classics – each single one of them is a gem, and picking out one favourite is quite a task. We thought we will review one of the all-time favorites ‘Horton Hatches the Egg’ for reading aloud, as March 4th happens to be the International Read Aloud Day. Two great occasions – one great cause! Let’s read aloud – be happy, and make others happy!!

Horton is a very sweet, honest and faithful elephant, who keeps his word of looking after Mayzie the bird’s egg for her, while she can fly away for a rest. Only Mayzie is not really honest, and leaves poor Horton perched up on a tree in her nest, hatching her egg for months, while poor Horton is braving the weathers, the teasing by other animals and the hunters. He still does not leave his post on the tree in the nest when he is transported across the sea and sold to a circus – tree and nest and perch and all. What becomes of Horton and the Egg and Mayzie is truly amazing, and is sure to bring smiles to the faces of everyone reading or listening to the story.

A Dr Seuss story never fails to enthral – and is a great way of giving wings to the imagination of children. The rhythm and the poetry in the story tuck them well into the world of make-believe, and they will be gaping in anticipation to imagine what happened next. The illustrations do the full justice to the story – after all, illustrating your own story does make the pictures much more convincing!

The book is also a great pick to tell the children of tender age about keeping their word, perseverance and being faithful and how honesty and hard work do get rewarded. And when it is in such a fun way that they keep on laughing – it sure is going to hit home. Do read it aloud with your kids, even if they can read by themselves. In fact, make it a family thing – there is something magical about a family that reads together.

Do check out the pictures of the event we had here.

This review also appears on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them to recommend books for children every month.

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Mali Stories are Fun Stories

Mali Stories – Music Swami and Other Stories

Retold by – K Venugopal

Illustrated by – Anil Narayanan

Mango Books

Music Swami and Other Friends is a collection of stories by V. Madhavan Nair, one of Kerala’s most prominent children’s writers, more famously known as Mali, retold in a very simple and lucid language by K Venugopal.

The book consists of five stories, and the length of the stories is just right for the patience of an active 6-9 year old kid. I find collection of stories a better choice for this age group, especially for the on-the-fence readers, who need that gentle nudge and push to continue reading, while the other distractions are beckoning them. The short stories are a great tool in your hands to tantalise their reading senses – it does not take too long, and they get the complete story, too. This book does complete justice to that proposition, and the added advantage is that the book is comfortable, as well as challenging for their ever-expanding perspective and vocabulary.

Music Swami is interesting, as well as thought-provoking, making you believe in the power of music. The Street Dog’s Revenge is a simple tale, and the ending will have you in splits. The Thief and the Puppy is quite enjoyable in itself, and can be used to deliver a moral too. The Tooth on Strike is a very light read, and tells the importance of humility and teamwork. The Prince who suffered a curse will interest those who like the mythology.

The book has very nice illustrations, and they make great addition to the story. Seeing the simple pictures, children might be inspired to draw themselves. The paper quality is great too, and at just 95/-, I think it is a steal.

In the Read-Aloud month, we recommend you pick this book up to read aloud, and do tell us which story you read, and what fun you had!

This review also appears on Indian Moms Connect, where we partner with them to recommend children’s books for a month.

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