young readers Posts

A. F. Harrold’s “The Song from Somewhere Else”

It was music of a short she’d never heard before.

She was suddenly filled with shoals of fish, darting and moving like one great whole, darting and flowing this way and that, darting and flashing, hundreds and hudnreds of silver fish all moving as if they shared one brain. That was what she saw as she heard this faint, distant music. 

No piece of music she’d ever heard on the radio or in the background of a TV show had ever made her feel so special, had made her feel so cared for, so improved.

The smell of the house, the foresty smell, was stronger now. The air was cool on her face. She heard birdsong, smelt moss, rivers, evening. 

But it was unfair, wasn’t it, keeping such beautiful music, such kind and forgiving music, such perfect and clear and mysterious music, to himself? 

It wasn’t his music now though, was it? It was hers. It was in her ears, in her brain, sparking electricity through synapses in ways that made her unable to resist it. She was hooked like a fish.  

A. F. Harrold’s The Song from Elsewhere is about Francesca Patel or Frank as she is often called and her unlikely friendship with her classmate Nick Underbridge, who is often shunned by others for various reasons, probably because he is a large child, quiet and smells odd.  During the summer break Nick rescues Frank from a bunch of boys who have been bullying her for more than a year now. Afterwards Frank accompanies Nick to his house where she encounters this extraordinarily soothing piece of music.

The Song from Elsewhere may be about fantastical creatures and wormholes or leechways opening a passage to another dimension but is also about friendships, exploring boundaries, relationships and bullies. It is an astonishing novel for young readers with a touch of magic realism. Although having said that the novel is positioned well in that space for impressionable minds for whom imaginary friends, elements of the fantastic and other dimensions run in continuum with their reality. It is beautifullly illustrated by Levi Pinfold.

The longlisting of this book for the CILIP Award 2018 is well deserved.

A. F. Harrold The Song from Somewhere Else ( Illustrated by Levi Pinfold) Bloomsbury, London, 2016. Pb. pp. Rs 299

22 February 2018 

 

Bear Grylls Adventures

Given how more and more children are being reared in urban settings it is getting tougher for them to be close to nature. For instance I was very surprised to watch the look of astonishment on a seven-year-old boy’s face when I was explaining crop cycles. Till then he was under the impression that the fresh produce arrived in the shop magically. Well, he was clued in sufficiently to realise people carted it in but was not curious enough to ask where did it actually come from? Where was it grown? So if urbanisation is robbing children of this basic knowledge of farming / nature under normal circumstances. Imagine how challenging it is to explain to the children on how to manage themselves in diverse ecosystems particularly at the time of natural disasters.

There is a paucity of literature on how adults should behave when a natural disaster strikes. What are the immediate responses and how to survive the long haul. ( Within this there are other complications of gendered responses, fragile situations and how to rehabilitate.) There is even less literature available for children on how they should respond in such situations. And if there is, it is mostly confined to Girl Guide or Boy Scout manuals, not necessarily accessible to the majority of children. Also books on disaster management need to be pitch perfect while communicating to the children rather than talking down to them. It will inevitably result in a brain freeze on the part of the kids and builld a resistance. This is where the Bear Grylls Adventures, a series of slim chapter books, created by noted adventurer and survival expert Bear Grylls are a delight to read. Simply told adventure stories in different settings where within the plot the young readers are shown how to respond and behave in different scenarios — earthquakes, blizzards, desert, jungles, sea and river. A pleasure to read these pitch perfect books.

In India the books have been published by Bloomsbury India. They are a set of six books reasonably priced and a must in every school library if not in every child’s personal library. In fact the importance the publishers rightly give to these series was evident at the posters displayed in their world book fair stall held in Delhi.

Bear Grylls Adventures by Bear Grylls. Illustrated by Emma McCann. Bear Grylls is an imprint of Bonnier Zaffre, a Bonnier Publishing Company, Great Britain, 2017. ( In India the books are distributed by Bloomsbury India and are priced at Rs 199 each.) 

8 February 2018 

 

Arefa Tehsin, “Wild in the Backyard”

Arefa TehsinI have a six-year-old daughter, Sarah, who has taken to borrowing a series of non-fiction picture books from her school library. In the past few weeks we have read books on tarantulas, cockroaches, leeches and dog care. We have watched documentaries on spiders, camels, geckos and fishes. She is reserving the joy of watching a documentary on rattle snakes with her father ( who is not too keen to indulge her this one time!). So you cannot imagine her joy when she discovered Arefa Tehsin’s Wild in the Backyard on my desk. Sarah flipped through it. To her delight she was able to read the simple sentences and descriptions. It is written in a chatty tone. ( I found it to be in a similar vein to Gerald Durrell’s lovely My Family and Other Animals). Here is an example:

If they drink your blood, you won’t become a vampire. But they may leave you, at best, itching, and at worst, drooling and feverish in your beds. Those little Draculas — mosquitoes! They fly straight from drains and sewers to buzz in your ear and feast on your blood. ( p.40)

Arefa Tehsin ( https://arefatehsin.com/)  makes science and nature fascinating whether it is for the child or the adult reader. The illustrations that break up the text are fabulous. Somewhere a cross between authentic line drawings of the creatures being described and an illustration for a children’s book. These enable the young reader to identify the insects and birds described in the environment around them. A very useful and functional aspect. Learning and sensitivity begins at home. So if children can be imparted accurate information about the significance of animals in the eco-system rather than be hostile towards creatures they do not understand, who knows there may be hope in conservation efforts in the future.

Unfortunately the illustrator for the full page drawings tipped in and the tiny drawings scattered over the pages has not been acknowledged on the cover or the title page. Nor is there a blurb describing the illustrator beneath the author blurb. I am assuming it is Sayantan Halder since the copyright page says the illustration copyright rests with him. The back cover only acknowledges him for the book cover illustration. Very confusing and not very correct! Given that this stupendous text has been brought to life by the line drawings that complement it. Surely the illustrator could have been given due credit?

All said and done, Wild in the Backyard, is a must in every school and personal library. It is a brilliant book that shares information about the environment in an accessible manner without preaching to the young readers. It is a book for keeps.

Arefa Tehsin Wild in the Backyard Puffin Books, Penguin Books, India. 2015. Pb. pp. 230. Rs 199.

24 Feb 2016