picture book Posts

Interview with Neha J. Hiranandani on “Girl Power!”

Ever since the phenomenal success of Rebel Girls some years ago there has been a proliferation of books tom-tomming about the achievement of girls/ women, many of whom whose contribution to their respective sectors has been silenced for an extremely long time —an unforgivable act. Yet with the popularisation of movements like #MeToo and the visibility of such girl-centric literature in popular culture has made a remarkable case for many more such books to appear. The danger lies falling into the trap of emulating a successful formula and creating a damp squib or creating a triumphant collection such former journalist Neha J. Hiranandani’s feisty Girl Power!

It is a challenging task to visually and succinctly represent a core idea, more so an idea that seemingly goes against the “norm”. And this is why Girl Power! is so magnificent. It stands out from much else that in this space for it puts together beautifully a profile that has charmed the author. It is as if the woman whom Neha Hiranandani is writing about has really moved her in some way. Otherwise the absence of living legends such as activists Aruna Roy & Medha Patkar, writer Arundhati Roy, historian Romila Thapar, wrestler Vinesh Phogat etc remains inexplicable. For there seems to be no other explanation, save Neha’s subjectivity, for this very disparate collection of women profiled in Girl Power!

Neha Hiranandani’s fascination for her project manifests itself in the funky descriptor she offers after every name. It is super cool, so in keeping with the loud, assertive and sparkly book cover as if to say, “We women are proud of our achievement and are here to stay!” It effectively communicates her passion with younger readers.

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Neha J Hiranandani is a writer whose columns have appeared in The Indian Express, Huffington Post, NDTV, and Vogue among others. She holds degrees in Literature and Education from Wellesley College and Harvard University.

Here are lightly edited excerpts of an interview conducted via email:

1.How did the idea of doing Girl Power! come to you?

My 7-year-old daughter, Zoya absolutely loved Rebel Girls. As a mother, I was so happy to see her being inspired by incredible women from around the world. But then one day she came to me clutching her beloved copy of Rebel Girls and asked sadly “Does India only have two rebels?” pointing to Mary Kom and Rani Laxmibai. Of course I immediately wanted to tell her all about the phenomenal women that India has had – our rule breakers, our mavericks, our smashers of ceilings. We spent the next few months discovering these women together. It was magnificent! I quickly realized that these were stories that all our girls – and even our boys – should hear.

2. There is a deluge of women-centric profiles in the market. Why is Girl Power! special?

I was very lucky to work with an incredible artist – Niloufer Wadia – whose illustrations have brought these stories to life. Unlike other books which follow a standard ‘one-page text + one-page illustration’ format, Niloufer and I wanted the text and the illustrations to work together. And so, every page of Girl Power! has the story and the artwork talking to one another which makes for an incredible reading experience.  That, and I think the selection of women is very special!

3. How did you identify the women profiled in the book? Whom did you have to drop from your original list and why?

This was easily my favourite part of the project! I was clear that this wasn’t going to be just a list of accomplished Indian women – the women in this book had to be mavericks, ceiling smashers! And so I set about finding the stories and really, what stories they are! Every story made me feel me proud to be Indian all over again. You will meet a spy princess who parachuted into France, a warrior queen who defended India from the Portugese six times! There’s Subhasini Mistry who worked as a maid before winning a Padma Bhushan for healthcare, and Chandro Tomar, the octogenarian sharpshooter, popularly known as Revolver Dadi. Of course, there are some household names as well including PV Sindhu and Priyanka Chopra.  But personally, I am very proud of the untold stories. They were so exciting to discover!

I have tried to be as inclusive as possible. Girl Power! includes stories from across the country, across industries and across time periods. I also tried to pick stories that had an identifiable ‘Kodak moment’ that could be written coherently in 300 words or less. This is easier said than done, especially given that all of these women have led very layered and nuanced lives!

With that said, I am the first to admit that this is not an exhaustive list – that would run into volumes and is well beyond the scope of this project.

4. The descriptor used as a subtitle in every chapter encapsulates the spirit of the woman profiled vividly. For example, “Raga Rockstar” for M S Subbulakshmi, “Accidental Entrepreneur” for Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, “Rule Breaker” for Dakshayani Velayudhan, “Inspirational Archer” for Deepika Kumari, or “Daredevil Doctor” for Anandibai Joshee. How did you come up with these fascinating descriptions?

These women have led such interesting lives, it would be a failing on my part to not give them interesting descriptors!

5. Girl Power! comes across as a broad sweep of profiling women across socio-economic classes giving the impression as if popular stories were incorporated. What kind of research methodology did you employ particularly what were the oral histories that you accessed?

This book will always be special to me for so many reasons. And perhaps, the most important one is that it connected me to many incredible people – men and women – who I’m grateful to have met. Apart from the internet research and the scouting in libraries, I knew that many of the stories were going to come from conversations. And so they did! Over cups of tea in the most unlikely of places – from railway stations to parks – I have spoken to people about the women who have moved them, inspired them. Some of the stories didn’t work out because I couldn’t confirm their factual accuracy but others did. For many parts of the book, I wanted to move beyond the well-known women and tell stories of ordinary women who have done extraordinary things. It was in that quest – of finding the ordinary-extraordinary woman – that our unmatched recounting of oral histories became important. Sometimes, it’s just about having the conversation!

6. Every chapter consists of a sprinkling of quotes by the women profiled. Such as ‘As long as I moved around with Mankeshaw [her husband], people did not take me seriously,” said Homai Vyarawalla, the photographer or “No field of work belongs to any gender”, says Harshini, the firefighter or actress Priyanka Chopra attributes her success to following the three Fs – “by being fierce, by being fearless and by being flawed”. Where are these quotes from as there are no bibliographical details provided?

Along with the team at Scholastic India, I was meticulous in making sure that every fact was double-checked. Many times this meant watching several documentaries for a 5 word-quote or finding obscure books and articles in dusty libraries. While there is no bibliography in the book, we have maintained an exhaustive back-of-house bibliography! So for instance, the quote by Homai Vyarwalla is from an article in the Hindu, the one from Harshini Kanhekar is from an interview with Jovita Aranha, and the one by Priyanka Chopra is from a lecture she gave on ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Chasing a Dream’ at a Penguin event back in 2017.

7. Some profiles make passing references such as to Amrita Shergill’s “South Indian trilogy” or Dipa Karmakar’s “new book” or to a “rifle club” in Chandro Tomar’s neighbourhood which her granddaughter was attending – all very intriguing and remains unexplained? Was it a deliberate intent on your part to leave these as is to encourage inquisitive readers to delve into some research of their own?

Absolutely! This book gives a quick insight into the lives of these incredible women. It provides the ‘hook’ of an interesting time in that woman’s life to lure the reader in. The ultimate idea is that a child finds that ‘Kodak moment’ interesting and says “Hey, that’s cool I didn’t know that but now I want to find out more.”

8. How important is the picture book format to communicate with young readers particularly when it is a critical idea such as challenging rules, mostly patriarchal, to pursue your dreams?

I think it’s critical! Visuals go a long way in keeping a young reader interested and this is especially so in a format like Girl Power!’s where the text and illustration talk to each other on every page.

9. With this book are you addressing both boys and girls? What impact do you hope to create?

One might assume that this book is only addressed to young girls. That would be a terrible mistake. In fact, if anything, I think this book is critical for our young boys. For far too long, our boys have seen us in certain roles – as a mother, as a wife etc. It’s time for them to see Indian women succeeding in places that were traditionally demarcated as ‘men only zones’ – as wrestlers, as scientists, as entrepreneurs! If nothing else, it will help them understand what’s coming down the pike in the future!

10. Were these stories tested on younger readers before publication? If so what was their reaction? Did you incorporate any of their suggestions in the manuscript?

My daughter and her friends were invaluable as I wrote Girl Power! Those kids were my first editors! During play dates, I would read out entire stories and meticulously comb through their suggestions. Many profiles – such as Rani Abbakka – were rewritten on the basis of these editorial inputs! Several times, the kids wanted more details on an event or character that they found interesting. So for instance, in the Rani Abbakka profile, they wanted to know exactly how she defeated the Portuguese armada. That’s when I knew I had to include the part about how Abbakka secretly gathered her best soldiers in the middle of the night. The kids were fascinated when I told them that Abbakka instructed her soldiers to attack with hundreds of coconut torches and agnivaan– flaming arrows dipped in oil – all at the same time. The arrows lit up the night sky setting the Portuguese ships ablaze. These inputs brought so much colour and detail to the profiles and I’m so grateful to the kids! I think it was those inputs that have sharpened the profiles and created the final product.

11. Did you work closely with the illustrator? Did you help the illustrator select an image upon which to build the illustration?

Niloufer Wadia is a wonderful, prolific illustrator who can handle many different artistic styles with ease. I did make suggestions for some profiles; for example, Bula Chowdhury is an ace swimmer who once said “I should have been born a fish.” And so for Bula, I asked Niloufer if we could create something dream-like with Bula in the waves, half-woman and half-fish, almost a mermaid. That is easily one of my favourite illustrations in the book. For other profiles, Niloufer created something breathtaking on her own; Priyanka Chopra’s illustration is half from an iconic Hindi movie in traditional Indian attire and half FBI agent, a character from her show Quantico. That was all Niloufer!

12. Would you describe yourself as a feminist or as someone who feels strongly about women’s issues?

To my mind, there is no other way to be!

To buy on Amazon India: https://amzn.to/2MI0zN9

14 October 2019

Book Post 36: 21 April – 19 May 2019 / Childlit and Yalit list

Book Post 36 focuses on childlit and yalit.

20 May 2019

“Get Off That Camel!” and “Cat’s Egg”

Get Off That Camel! and Cat’s Egg are two picture books published by Karadi Tales.

Get Off That Camel is a delightful tale about little Meena who is obsessed by her pet camel and refuses to get off it’s back. She attends school sitting atop her camel, she visits the library where fortunately the height at which she is perched enables her to search for books placed in the topmost bookshelves, she goes jogging in the park with her father but all the time astride her pet, accompanies her mother to the supermarket with her camel creating havoc among the aisles and so on. Her love for camels began as an infant when she was given a stuffed camel toy to cuddle with in bed. Her parents did it innocently enough little realising the unfortunate sequence of events it would unleash. It was only when the doctor examined the camel declaring “This poor animal is exhausted”, did Meena agree to climb down and let the camel live in a stable. After all Meena was a kind girl. Get Off The Camel! is an adorable picture book with beautifully designed clear illustrations. Apart from the sweet story it works marvellously well in teaching little readers about empathy and to be a little less self-centred. The only reservation about the storytelling are the roles of the parents with the mother being responsible for the grocery shopping while the father is focused on jogging and teaching his daughter about leading a healthy life. While it may be quite a simple representation of what is often seen in reality, it is still a little disconcerting as it seems to enforce well-known narratives rather than offering little readers alternative role models.

Cat’s Egg is a modern day Easter tale about a cat who is convinced she has laid an egg which will soon hatch. Cat is adamant the egg she found in her bed. So she sits atop it in the hope it will soon hatch her kittens. Despite the Dog, Crow, Magpie, and Turtle telling her otherwise, Cat refuses to listen. It is only when it is pointed out to her gently by the Turtle that the egg is turning damp, does the Cat realise there is something truly amiss with the soggy egg. It is then that Dog and Cat figure out the truth. The Cat has mistaken a chocolate Easter egg for an egg. A truly mixed-up cat if there was one! Warm and sweetly told tale introducing multiple concepts of birth, nurturing, friendships and the Christian tradition of celebrating Easter. Of course the tale is focused on the commercial aspect of how Easter is celebrated with plenty of confectionary particularly Easter eggs rather than the concept of Christians celebrating the festival in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, a new beginning, a new life — a fact that the egg symbolises. A slightly mixed-up tale like the Cat but it does not take away from the pure joy of storytelling.

Get Off The Camel! and Cat’s Egg are marvellous picture books. Wonderful additions to any book collection.

A. H. Benjamin Get Off That Camel! Illustrated by Krishna Bala Shenoi. Karadi Tale, Chennai, 2019. Hb. pp. 32. Rs. 399

Aparna Karthikeyan Cat’s Egg Illustrated by Christine Kastl. Karadi Tale, Chennai, 2019. Hb. pp. 32. Rs. 399

22 March 2019

“Poppy Field” by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Michael Morpurgo needs no introduction as a writer and nor does the illustrator, Michael Foreman. It is a formidable creative team that has together produced some magnificent books for children in the past. Morpurgo’s stories inevitably deal with stories set in conflict zones whether set way back in the past or in the more contemporary conflicts. This time too Poppy Field focuses on World War One. It is a significant publication as 2018 marks a century since the end of The Great War. Poppy Field is about the origin of using red poppies on Remembrance Sunday and 11 November. It is as always a beautiful story told by Morpurgo that has this quality of immersing the reader in the historical fiction completely. It is done so effectively with minimal details and yet it is a brilliant recreation of the historical landscape. Unlike for adult literature where many more details are provided, in Morpurgo’s landscape there is least amount of detail provided but sufficient markers ensuring that the period of the story cannot be ever mistaken. Poppy Field is the story of four generations. The story is set in a farmland that overlooks farms and poppy fields that were the erstwhile WWI battlefields. Cemeteries and memorials still exist but they are so much a part of the landscape that the present generation barely registers their presence. Martens Markel registers their presence as he often cycles across the fields with his family to visit his father’s grave. Martens father died while ploughing their fields with a tractor that went over an unexploded shell from the war that lay buried for decades in their land. The grandfather is narrating the tale about World War One and the poppy fields to his grandson, Martens Merkel, with references to the fragile piece of paper framed in their home. The framed but crumpled sheet of paper has a poem scribbled upon it with some words scratched out. A poem that would later go on to become very well-known as John McCrue’s “In Flanders Fields”.

Poppy Field is a stupendous hardback picture book that will work for children and adults alike. A hundred years after the war means that few recall the reason why poppies are used remember the many soldiers who lost their lives fighting “on one side of the other, depending simply on where they were born. They fought in a huge and terrible war, the war came to end all wars they called it, which happened so long ago now that no one is old enough to remember it.” The soldiers who lie in the cemetries were born in Britain, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Canada, India, New Zealand, Jamaica, Australia, America. The symbolism of using a red poppy to commemorate the fallen soldiers is credited to Moina Michael of the American Legion who two days before armistice was declared read John McCrue’s poem in Ladies’ Home Journal. It moved her tremendously that she promised to “keep the faith” with the fallen American soldiers and to symbolise the promise by always wearing red poppies. The practice was carried across to the United Kingdom by a French lady called Anna Guerin who persuaded the British Legion ( formed in 1921) to have a Poppy Appeal in time for November 11th. Ever since then the red poppies have come to play a crucial role in remembering fallen soldiers not just in the two world wars but other conflicts since then.  Poppies are also seen as a sign of hope — a hope that one day wars will really will stop for ever, and all the nations in the world will be reconciled and live together in peace. Poppy Field has been created in co-operation with the Royal British Legion.

Poppy Field has been published by Scholastic and is a stunning gift.

27 February 2019 

 

Author speak: Satadru Mukherjee on his debut picture book, “Good Morning India”

Satadru Mukherjee is a photographer, a multi-media whizz and a talented marketing professional, currently working in the corporate sector. Good Morning India is his first picture book. It has been published by Scholastic India.

Good Morning India is a simply told tale of a little girl waking up early in the morning looking forward to her day at school. The unnamed girl is chirpy, her happiness is infectious, as she greets everyone on her way to school. She describes the journey narrating how Abdul Chacha and Pandit Ji are off to their mosque and temple for the day. It is a happy time as she looks forward to spending the day with her friends the super smart Kasheef, the ever joyful Christina and prankster Aman as they board the school bus:

As we play together

Beneath a sky so blue,

We promise to live our lives 

Bound by friendship so true. 

It is a beautiful book filled with light and joy as emphasised by the bright colours used. It also conveys the message of peace with the symbolic presence of a white dove in every frame of the story. What is truly remarkable about this book is that there is nothing out of the ordinary in the description. The slice of India portrayed in Good Morning India is present all around us. It is not confined to a particular region or locality. There are many ways of seeing but we just have to see India for what it is and not with a prejudiced mind. Good Morning India is heartwarming little picture book which will be appreciated by young and old readers, alike!

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Satadru Mukherjee agreed very kindly to write a short note on why and how this book came to be written. Here it is:

I grew up in Kolkata at the turn of the century, waking up to the sound of the Azaan every morning. (I still do!  Now I stay in Delhi with a mosque quite close by my home.)

I would go to school (the 140+ years old Calcutta Boys’ School) each day and sing hymns, and start off the day with The Lord’s Prayer. Some of my best friends in school (we played football together) were from different religions. We went out pandal hopping during Durga Puja and stayed over at each other’s places. We were all invited for a Biryani feast during Eid celebrations at our Muslim friends’ homes. We are still the closest of friends. 

I was best friends with a gang of boys from the basti (jhuggis as they call them in Delhi) behind out house till the time I was in North Kolkata (till I was 9), and in fact got embroiled in a fist fight with boys from another basti group, till my dad arrived at the scene, caught hold of my ear and dragged me back home. 

During my college I used to save five rupees every day of my pocket money as our weekly treat was at a Muslim eatery called Qayum’s deep in the heart of central Calcutta, where you could get a plate of biryani for fifteen rupees!

Throughout my life, in spite of being brought up in a somewhat orthodox Brahmin family, my brothers and I always saw people and not what religion they belonged to.

When discussing this book with my publisher, we both agreed, given the current political scenario of aggressive polarization in the country Good Morning India should be a book that talks to young children about how all of us, irrespective of religion, can peacefully coexist. While writing this book, and working closely with the illustrators — my brothers Saswata and Susruta, — we really wanted to depict this sense of peaceful coexistence and equality that is the defining trait of India, to the young reader.

Good Morning India is scheduled to be released in mid-February 2019.

21 January 2019 

“Puu”, picture book by CG Salamander and Samidha Gunjal

Manual scavenging and rubbish pickers are a sad reality of our world. Yet these stories are rarely heard. In India it is only recently these stories have begun to make their way into “mainstream” discourses. Of late the newspapers have been reporting of the horrific deaths young men are facing while cleaning sewers. Or via Dalit Literature, an emerging and distinct form of literature, which mostly consists of testimonies for it is extremely difficult even now to offer an analysis on the demeaning life most Dalits lead. Most of this literature is restricted for adult readers which is a beginning but still insufficient. If the sensitivity towards such social ills and hopefully long term change in attitudes towards marginalised communities are to be wrought in society it is perhaps best to address young readers too. Decades earlier Gandhiji tried by renaming the Dalits as “Harijans” as they were at the time commonly referred to as and treated as “Untouchables”. It is exactly this space that comic journalist and fiction writer CG Salamander and  illustrator and animator Samidha Gunjal’s picture book Puu hopes to fill.

In Puu a nameless little girl who is drawn to be similar to other children of her age is shown to be scavenging for “flowers” in garbage dumps, sills and sewers. All the while she dreams of building with her hands recycling waste materials discarded. She is warm and affectionate but her only companions seem to be the pigs living in the garbage. Unfortunately her classmates do not see or are too prejudiced to see this side of her but treat her like a pariah by keeping their distance from her.

Narrated in the first person with minimal text used but laid discreetly within the beautifully designed pages, with a generous profusion of rose pink, does take away from the stinging harshness of the subject. But once immersed in the magical beauty of the book the hard reality of the girl’s circumstances hit the reader. It is immaterial whether this book is used by a primary school reader or older readers, the truth will hit home and it will hit hard. Despite various attempts by civil society groups and the government to encourage inclusive practices, the truth is poverty, economic hardships and social exclusion continue to be a sad fact.

The epigraph encapsulates the authors’ sentiments well:

 

To all the rationality left in the world.

No one should have to clean, carry or dispose

flowers manually . . .

Not out of homes, not out of streets and not out of sewers. 

Especially not children. 

 

Read Puu. Share Puu. Buy and distribute copies of it widely.

To buy Puu ( published by Scholastic India) on Amazon India 

Paperback

19 October 2018 

 

 

Book Post 11: 16- 22 September 2018

Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. Embedded in the book covers and post will also be links to buy the books on Amazon India. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter.

In today’s Book Post 11 I have included some titles that I received in the past few weeks and are worth mentioning and not necessarily confined to parcels received last week.

Enjoy reading!

24 September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tackling grief with a munchkin and related literature!

A longer version of this article called “What I learned about grieving and how to explain sad rituals to children” was published on my TOI blog called Bibliobibuli .    

 

A few weeks ago my maternal grandmother, my Nani, passed away. She was the last of my four grandparents and the great-grandmother with whom I grew up. My grandparents and great grandmother were a part of my life. They were also for me examples of living history, my very real connection with the past, to a period of history that stretched as far back to the nineteenth century. Now all of a sudden with Nani’s passing it is gone. All our lives Nani had been an anchor for my brother and me. She was always there for us when we were children and later for our children, her great-grandchildren. If I am feeling bereft you can imagine how the great-granddaughters are feeling.

They have been trying to come to terms with their grief, not quite aware that they are also mourning their Badi Nani. Whether it is their physical reaction or the conversations with the children, both experiences have been spectacular. In terms of the physical absence of their great-grandmother the children are trying to relate it to the recent past. Upon being told that Badi Nani had gone to another place, the youngest child wanted to know why she went when she — this grandchild–had quite regularly given Badi Nani juice. It is incomprehensible for little children that one moment a person exists and next moment vanishes. My eight-year-old daughter Sarah cannot understand why Badi Nani’s bedroom is being cleaned pretty thoroughly. She does not realise tthat it is not only a practical way of disinfecting the room but it is also a ritual that helps the grieving adults to come to terms with the devastating loss. All that my child is concerned about is “but Badi Nani’s special smell will go away from the clothes in her cupboard!” (How do children figure these things out beats me?!)

When we got home after cremating my Nani, my eight-year-old daughter Sarah was curious about what happened to Badi Nani. She is still too young to process the passing away of an individual or even internalise the philosophical concept of mortality and death. Oddly enough the child was restless for most of the night. Early in the morning, around 1am, I had to take her to the swings in the playground. While swinging she suddenly remarked pointing to the night sky shining with stars, “There is Badi Nani. She is the brightest star shining golden in the sky.” Then she was ready for bed and slept deeply till late morning. It was as if she had completed a circle with her great-grandmother.

The following day was the burial of the ashes. Sarah decided to make a card to bury along with the ashes. The card was in shades of bright yellow as Sarah knew that yellow was Badi Nani’s favourite colour. Then of her own accord she added her postal address on it “in case Badi Nani wanted to visit her” and signed it “your loving great-granddaughter”. The reality of the ashes and visiting great-granddaughter later in life was one big mush in my daughter’s head but this slice of magic realism gave the child peace. Astonishing how children negotiate reality!

While pondering over these sad days I thought of the books that have stayed with me regarding grief upon losing a dear one or even how to broach the subject of death. Of course this year’s absolutely marvellous publication is Dr Kathryn Mannix’s We Lost the Art of Talking of Death. In it she shares case studies from her many decades of experience in palliative care. It is a stunning book that everyone should read even if it gets a little difficult to do so at times, but it is very sensitively told. From this attitude towards death as well as nuggets of information can be gleaned to share with the younger children in the family immediately after a bereavement. In children’s literature, some equally memorable fiction are Patrick Ness’s dark but very moving Monster Calls about a boy who is trying come to terms with his dying mother and is kept company by a monster who tells him stories. Sahitya Akademi award winner Paro Anand’s short story “grief (is a beast)” in her latest anthology of short stories for young adults called The Other: Stories of Difference is about the young narrator coming to terms with grief at losing a parent and realising “Grief is a beast which feeds off silence. The more you keep inside, the more you feed the beast.” Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat’s young adult novel Untwine is about Giselle who has to learn to untwine herself from sharing her life with her identical twin Isabelle after the latter’s death in an accident. British poet and storyteller Michael Rosen’s moving picture book written upon the death of his son —  Sad Book. More recently Indian publisher and writer Richa Jha’s sensitively told picture book Boo! When My Sister Died is about a sibling and her family coming to terms with the loss of the sister. Australian children’s writer Ken Spillman’s is an exquisite picture book The Great Storyteller about the grief at the passing of a wise and great storyteller, the elephant, which leaves his friends in the forest devastated. For a while they are incapable of doing anything except to mourn his passing by sharing memories and participating in what can be considered one long wake.

‘When we lost The Great Storyteller, we lost his stories. Every story gives us a new beginning. Each story took us on a fantastic journey. Our imagination made them real.’ 

Slowly they realise that the pain at losing a friend will always exist but with time it will dull. More importantly they can make their own stories and “imagine colourful worlds”. Laughter and cheer returns to the forest being aware that the treasured memory of a beloved companion will never fade even though there is a physical absence of the individual. It is a beautiful book in introducing the concept of death, the accompanying grief and the healing process to children.

In many cultures there are distinct rituals for death which usually help the grieving family come to terms with the loss. More often than not children are shielded from the event by being whisked away during the funeral. Later by way of an explanation for the physical absence of the individual, a simple story is trotted out for the children. The beauty is that the story usually works effectively! So I am curious to know about more the stories, whether folktales, poetry or books, that deal with explaining death to the young.

Do write and share your stories!

25 August 2018 

“Fooled You!” by Debashish Majumdar

Very early in childhood children are teased lovingly about “April Fool’s Day”. Quite soon tiddlers have a Pavlovian reaction to any incredible news being said with a dismissive wave “Oh! It is an April Fool’s Day trick!” Debashish Majumdar’s utterly splendid picture book Fooled You! is about one such little girl, Rina. Her parents, brother, friends and teachers give her a string of happy news throughout the day but she never believes them since she is convinced they are pulling her leg for it is 1 April. She is determined not to be get April Fooled.

Read this marvellous picture book with your little ones. Great way to read together or read aloud. Easy to read for new readers. Ultimately a lovely story magnificently illustrated by Niloufer Wadia.

Debashish Majumdar Fooled You! ( Illustrated by Niloufer Wadia) Scholastic India, Gurgaon, 2018. Pb. Rs 250 

11 May 2018 

Ken Spillman “The Great Storyteller”

Creatures of the forest gathered to hear The Great Storyteller for the last time. 

‘My life has been full of wonder,’ he tells them. ‘The greatest gifts are stories, pictures, songs and play. Remember this! We can ALL imagine the world as wild and wonderful as this forest.’

Ken Spillman’s The Great Storyteller is a picture book about the grief at the passing of a wise and great storyteller, the elephant, which leaves his friends in the forest devastated. For a while they are incapable of doing anything except to mourn his passing by sharing memories and participating in what can be considered one long wake.

‘When we lost The Great Storyteller, we lost his stories. Every story gives us a new beginning. Each story took us on a fantastic journey. Our imagination made them real.’ 

Slowly with time they realise they can make their own stories and “imagine colourful worlds”. It works! Laughter and cheer returns to the forest.

Ken Spillman‘s The Great Storyteller is a hauntingly moving tale about stories, loss and new beginnings. Incredibly sensitively the concept of death is introduced to little children but also how crucial it is to grieve, to come to terms with the loss of a dear friend, and yet life goes on. It is not as if the memory of the beloved friend is ever forgotten. It exists. It remains in one’s heart as a circle of grief, if you like, with life’s experiences creating layers around it, encompassing it and couching it. The illustrations by Manjari Chakravarti accompanying the story are absolutely stupendous! The effect of using watercolours and pastels create a warm feeling. Beginning with the fabulously tactile book cover which has the elephant and the monkey illustration in matt finish; it is an excellent introduction to young readers to immerse themselves into this story. It is the only way to experience it. Something shifts inside for an adult reader, it can only have a more powerful effect on young impressionable minds.

Magnificent story!

Ken Spillman The Great Storyteller ( illustrations by Manjari Chakravarti) Scholastic India, Gurgaon, Delhi, 2018. Pb. Rs 250

6 May 2018 

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