Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Review : Monkeys on a Fast

Crossposted on : Saffron Tree

Author : Kaushik Vishwanathan
Illustrator : Shilpa Ranade
Publisher : Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd.
Karadi Tales (Will you read with me?)

In the current times of craze for getting a size zero figure and 6/8/10 packs, how can the ancestors of human race be behind? A story on - what happens when a tribe of monkeys think of fasting for a day and then regularly thereafter to lose some excess fat?

A worried monkey chief - Chakrapani (Chakku) is in deep thought trying to find some ways to keep his tribe from eating anything and everything all the time. While pondering over this problem he finds a solution when he hears a temple priest telling the devotees about the “Ekadasi” (eleventh day of the waxing moon) and the benefits of observing a fast that day. Chakku finds it a wonderful idea for the monkeys too. But now he has a difficult task in hand - how to convince the monkeys to abstain from food and worse still from their favourite bananas for a whole day!!! Puzzled monkeys ask questions like - does Ekadasi mean - eka dosa? Eka dasi? Eating one dosa the whole day?

After a long counseling session (loved the tactic the chief uses to convince them - if humans can do it, can't we???), the monkeys finally go on a fast and try to meditate with their minds focused on bananas all the time.

Two little naughty monkeys Bonnet and Macaque keep giving great ideas to the chief Chakku and the whole meditating tribe - how to make it a little easier for all to continue with the fast. But do their ideas help the monkeys to carry on with their fast or do they all give up? You have to read the book to find it. But they come up with really great ideas, this much I can tell.

The zany illustrations by Shilpa Ranade are perfect to accentuate the effect of the whole story.

This book comes with a CD and Sanjay Dutt is narrating the story and has done full justice to the story. The title music is by - Shankar Ehsaan Loy, the songs are really good and I find myself humming them often, not just Raghav and Medha.
On a personal note, I remember when I was very small, our whole family used to observe(we all still do it) a fast every year - last day of the Navratri. During that day we could eat some specific things only - chapati made out of kuttu flour, special kind of rice, potatoes in any form, fruits, nuts etc. but not regular rice, wheat flour and vegetables. But this much I still remember that the whole day we used to just think about food and nothing else and we were always asking our mother - Can we eat this? Can't we eat this? I guess on those "Fasting days" we ate way more than what we ate on regular days.

Similarly in this story we see how monkeys face the challenge of imposing self-restraint.
{Image source : Amar Chitra Katha}

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Review : Mikey Series

Title : Mikey series
Authors : Amal & santa Simothy, Hitul & Seema Thobani
Illustrator : Anca Delia and Budeanu
Publisher : Kidz4mation

This review written for BookPleasures

Animal stories - a sure way to reach a child's heart. Children just love animal stories and if they are laced with some morals, parents and teachers love them even more.

Kidz4formation has published a series of animal stories each conveying a different life lesson. Stories revolve around Mikey - a little monkey in Happyland. Mikey and his friends study, play and learn indispensable life skills as they are growing up. Tiggle tree is Mikey's confidant and a significant part of Mikey and his friends' adventures. Sometimes Pari - the peacock and Mikey's dear friend Genie help make the learning part easier for Mikey and his friends.

Mikey Takes a Moment (ISBN 978-0-9563260-4-1) - In the current times when parents and teachers are struggling to harness the hyperactivity among children , a simple meditation technique is presented to calm them down a little.

Mikey Says 'I can do it' (ISBN 978-0-9563260-2-7) - Mikey learns how to overcome the mental block to reach higher goal which he thought could never be possible.

Mikey Aces His Test (ISBN 978-0-9563260-3-4) - Mikey discovers the advantage of keeping the energy focused on thinking positive rather than wasting it in worrying about the negative outcomes.

Chik-Chik's cap (ISBN 978-0-9563260-5-8) - A story of how Chik Chik gets comfortab
le with her not so perfect appearance in an imperfect world. A great skill- to accept things as they are and not letting the self-esteem get affected by anything.

Tiggle Takes Off (ISBN 978-0-9563260-1-0)- Gratitude - an important skill to learn and acquire. Mikey and his friends always play on Tiggle tree but never convey their gratitude to the tree. What trick the Tree uses to make Mikey realise his folly?

Mikey helps Toot-Toot -

The authors have come up with an original concept to teach a different developmental value through separate stories and books. The skills that the parents/teachers want to impart to children/students - Positive thinking, gratitude, raising self-esteem, calming down a little, positive affirmation, self-belief. The footnotes for children and parents/teachers are very valuable and reinforce the lesson learnt from the story.

A few observations:
1. Positive thinking and positive affirmation could have been clubbed together. Telling the children different fancy names of moral values is not the goal rather making them understand these values is the focus.

2. Including "Mikey" in all the titles could have helped in maintaining the continuity in the series - easy for the children to remember and follow the character.

3. Separate placements of text and illustrations (instead of superimposing text on illustrations) help in avoiding the clutter on the pages. For 3 to 5 years children, the text could be a little less. But for 4 to 8 years children, text length is fine but nothing beats - text neatly printed on a plain background.

4. The books get a little too preachy for little children. It starts with a small story and then goes on to tell them what to do and what not to do. The books which have a lasting impression on little children are the ones where the storyline is really interesting and a subtle message is conveyed though the story. Preaching in the raw form seldom stays for longer time.

Concept is good but in children's books the handling and presentation make all the difference. These days there is a deluge of books in this space and the challenge for the writers of children's books is how to present the concept in a unique way to children as well as to their caregivers. With so many other interesting options already available, these set of books have to be a little more prepared for the challenge of making a lasting impression on young minds.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review : Nine Lives (In Search of the Sacred in Modern India)

Author : William Dalrymple
Image source: Amazon

If you Believe it, it is God, otherwise it’s just a rock.

Nine lives - nine stories of faith and reliance. William Dalrymple is one of the greatest story tellers and travel writers of his generation. After having explored India for twenty-five years, he has wonderfully compiled extraordinary stories of nine individuals who are following different paths of faith in response to the spiritual calling and have deep conviction in what they follow. For people who have seen only the mainstream lifestyles it is very hard to imagine even the existence of such lives.

Other than India, nowhere else in the world, there is so much diversity in almost anything and everything ranging from the religions, languages, lifestyles, eating habits, dressing sense to almost every aspect of life.

A Jain nun trying hard to come out of the shackles of attachment. The attachment that she feels for her friend nun, who starved herself to death (as a part of final renouncement). Now she is on an apparently very difficult path of being a Sallekhana herself - which starts by first giving up home, then possessions and finally the body itself.

A prison warden, who feels proud to be a Thyyam dancer for two months in a year and keeps looking forward to these two months the rest of the year. During those Thyyam dance performances people take him to be an incarnate of deity and worship him.

The daughters of Goddess Yellamma called Devdasis who think it is destined for them to be a temple prostitute. A life story of one such Devdasi who was forcibly pushed into this profession but now she is doing the same to her daughters as she feels it is the call of their sacred faith.

A Tibetan Buddist monk, who very early in his life saw the true purpose of his life and left everything behind to follow his faith. During the period of Chinese invasion in Tibet, he takes up arms inspite of the non-violence preached by Buddha and now while still in exile in India, he is trying to atone for the sins that he had to commit to save his homeland. Still praying and hoping that he breathes his last in his free homeland.

A woman after having left her family in Calcutta in search of the divine goddess – Tara, now lives as a Tantric in a remote cremation ground. She finds the love and satisfaction of her life in one of the most unexpected places of all.

All unique stories and detailed account of the lives of these individuals, starting from their early years and how they all decided to take up these unconventional paths have been presented by Dalrymple for the readers to enjoy. He very rightly points out that even though majority of parts of India are aggressively running forward in every field keeping pace with the rest of the world but some parts are still deceptively innocent and timeless.

The travel writings hold the attention of the readers only if they are treated with great enthusiasm by the writer so that readers feel like travelling to that part of the world and experiencing the same joy. I think William Dalrymple has successfully executed this part. I am sure in 25years that he spent travelling around and exploring India, he must have come across a lot more than what has been compiled in the book so he must be appreciated for the filtering that he did to bring the best for the readers.

Inclusion of some pictures of the regions of India from where he has selected the nine lives would have been an icing on the cake, as is rightly said - a picture speaks a thousand words.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review : The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me

Crossposted on : Saffron Tree

Title : The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me
Author : Roald Dahl
Age : 4 to 8 yrs
Image source : Amazon

Has anybody ever imagined what would animals do to earn their living if they happen to come to human world where everything comes with a price tag? How can they use their uniqueness to their benefit ? This story deals with one such case.

The story starts with a small boy Billy longingly looking at an old grubber (sweet-shop) building because he had this cherished dream of owning a unique sweet shop which could house all kinds exotic sweets sourced from different parts of the world. But unfortunately the building gets sold to a new company - Ladderless Window Cleaning Company.

Curious Billy keeps looking at the building when he meets the owners of the new company. A self sufficient trio - a giraffe, a pelican and a monkey coming together to form a window cleaning company, who neither need any ladder to reach any heights nor any buckets to do their job. Quite an innovative method of cleaning windows. They invite Billy to be their business manager.

They are approached by Duke of Hampshire - the richest person in England to get the 677 window glasses of his huge palace cleaned. That was a big project for this new company and they manage to make an impression on the Duke with their display of cleaning feat and also by saving Duke's diamonds worth millions and millions of dollars. How? You have to read it to know how.

The duke is very impressed by how the work is done so efficiently and with minimum paraphernalia. And in return what they all get is unimaginable for them, even for Billy.

Truly, a wonderful piece of imagination. Very funny and exciting and the bonus is getting to know about some peculiar features of these animals. Roald Dahl is one of the famous story tellers of all times and true to his fame, he has weaved a wonderful and interesting story to grip the attention of children from one page to another

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Book Review: Under The Tuscan Sun : At home in Italy

Author: Frances Mayes
Image courtesy : Amazon

Frances Mayes is a well known travel and food writer and a widely published poet. She takes us through her journey to a wonderful new world, thousands of miles away from her home in California. After coming out of a divorce, she buys an abandoned old villa - Bramasole (meaning - to yearn for sun), in picturesque Tuscan countryside by stretching her financial limits too much to pay for that. She then toils with her new partner to restore and renovate the villa to fit their specifications and likings. The arduous process of restoration of the dilapidated villa and then enjoying the art of performing simple tasks like - buying the fresh produce, gardening and cooking make us feel a part of the narrative itself. She validly points out the prominent difference between the American and Italian culture how Americans follow the idea of burning the bridges after they cross it whereas the Italians like to cross and recross the bridges making present and past coexist. The descriptions are so life like that while reading, we actually see those brilliant colours appearing on the sky the way she watches them from the terrace of her villa and smell those unique fragrances of olives and herbs that she grows in her kitchen garden. She very passionately and vividly writes about the tastes and flavours of Itlay. As it becomes a part of their annual routine to spend the summer months in their new acquired villa, during these months she gets all the time to try her culinary skills using all natural and easily available ingredients for wonderful preparations.

Getting recipes of some Italian dishes in the book is an added bonus for the readers.

One thing which I found a little inadequate though, was the depth at which she has tried to explore the Italian lifestyle and the Italian people. Her exposure of that side remained restricted to the people she hires to restore her villa and to the ones from whom she buys things of her daily use. Doesn't look like an account from someone who experiences this life style year after year for a few months on regular basis.

A few months back I had read – “Eat, Pray and Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, found a few similarities in the two stories, the protagonists in both, spend time in Italy after having gone through a divorce in their lives. They both enjoy the Italian food and the flavours and revel in the beauty of the place. But Elizabeth dwelled a litle deeper in the Italian lifestyle and brought out the cultural differences more prominently.

Book Review : Sister, sister...

The review has been cross posted at Saffron Tree

Author : Roopa Pai

Illustrated By : Greystroke
Published By: Pratham Books

Age Group : 4-8 years

A set of 4 books, subtitled as "Fun Conversations about Everyday Science", which I came across by chance while browsing the shelves in Pratham Books office cum sales center.

When we go out on our after-dinner walks (sometimes), my daughter likes pointing out - "Mama, see the moon is walking with us" , and then my son asks, "Why is the moon not staying at one place, how can it be moving with every person who is walking?" These questions amuse me. I think all children have these basic questions in their minds and try to find the logical answers which their innocent minds best understand. In these books, an inquisitive little boy asks his elder sister many questions and the sister encourages him to think first what could be the reason of these things happening a certain way? He tries to think of all possible reasons from his understanding of the world, which is mainly based on the stories he must have heard from here and there.

Sister, Sister Why Is The Sky So Blue? The little brother thinks that one old lady lives on the sky and washes her big blue saree everyday and then spreads it over the sky and puts the cloud stones on top so that the wind does not carry it away(I specifically liked the explanation of clouds on the sky as stones). Or is it a sea - upside down, but how is the water held up in an upside down position? You will have to read it to find the amazing explanation!

Sister, Sister Where Does Thunder Come From? He thinks that the old lady living on the sky does not allow the children of her children to play, so they grumble. But later they start the game of chaupad, which they spread across the whole sky. The clapping of happy children and the rolling of giant dice make all the sounds of thundering. If not this, then angry roaring of Kumbhakarana, whose sleep got disturbed, must be the reason behind the thundering sound or may be the fancy bikers' are responsible for the thunder. But what are these fancy biker's doing high up there?

Sister, Sister Where Does The Sun Go At Night? His imagination makes him see the similarity between his father and the sun. Probably the big sun gets tired by the end of the day as all fathers do and goes to bed where his wife covers him with a heavy stars studded blanket so that his snoring doesn't disturb anybody. (My children think a blanket with these specifications might do the trick to keep their father's snoring a little less audible too.) But if this is not the correct reason then maybe the sun slides down in the ocean, but what will the sun do under the sea?

Sister, Sister Why Don't Things Fall Up? May be the things used to go up earlier but then the old lady in the sky got tired of cleaning the mess up every single day and because of her curse on earth, now everything lands right back on earth. Or could it be that there is a greedy monster in the earth who keeps sucking everything up? May be the delicious laddoos that their mother makes also vanish mysteriously to satisfy the greed of this monster under the earth!
After he has explored all possible flights of his imagination, his sister does tell him whatever she has read in the books, trying to explain the physical phenomena - scattering of light, rotation of earth, gravity and thundering, in a simple way.

While reading these books to my children, I found it a good time to ask them what do they think. A great opportunity to peep into their minds, and to accompany them in their pursuit of finding answers to such queries. While teaching them the routine stuff, we tend to overlook the significance of free flow of thoughts, not bothering about the correctness of the same that much.

On the last page there are simple experiments explained to show the phenomena.

Illustrations are beautiful with bright colours and even the manner in which the text is printed on the pictures is interesting and blends with the pictures very well. Some pages are simply medley of vibrant colours put together by bold strokes of brush - a delight to the eyes.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails