Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review : I Promised You Daisies

CrossPosted on BookPleasures

Title : I Promised You Daisies(Book 2 of the trilogy - Imperfectly Ordinary)

Author : Robert A. Benjamin

Publisher : Helm Publishing

ISBN : 978-0-9820605-3-7

'I Promised You Daisies' - a sequel to 'A Gift of Dreams', is an autobiographical writing of Benjamin's progression from boyhood to manhood retaining the love for building and flying model airplanes intact. Benjamin is a well known name in the community of model-aviators and earned his position in the U.S. Model Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006.

A book that reveals Benjamin's inner feelings, his failures, his determination, his rock solid commitments, his severe loss and his gradual and steady progress towards the goals - set against the backdrop of political and social settings during the times of Woodstock, hippies and Vietnam war.

The author drops out of school but after experiencing abysmal levels and deep depression, he strives dedicatedly to resolve his inner conflicts on many planes and to give meaning to his life while learning to take one moment at a time. On the journey of his life he happens to meet his soul mate Karen and they both find their thinking in complete unison on almost everything of consequence. Karen exemplifies the dedication and determination of a student while studying to be a registered nurse, and secretly carries a big emotional baggage all along to be the best in order to compensate for the imperfection around her. Benjamin eventually returns to college to qualify as a public school teacher, dons many roles in different situations but tries to keep his focus on the distant dream while concentrating on the things in hand. They start their life together supporting each other and respecting each other's commitments to reach the goals they had set for themselves. But sometimes the emotional clutter from past still creeps up and pulls the present down and it turns out that the day they had been waiting for during all these years of hard work, could not see the two of them together. The promise of enjoying daisies together could not be fulfilled.

They did achieve what they had aimed for but can the happiness be achieved by just reaching the sought after destination? A story that conveys beautifully how sometimes even the utmost determination, hard work and sincerity remain insufficient.

Author has successfully brought his devout inner feelings to the readers. I especially liked the sincerity with which he approaches anything that comes his way as if 'he belonged there'. The mutual understanding that Benjamin and Karen shared while beginning their lives together was wonderful and even during the time when situation slips to uncertain times, the commitment Benjamin displays to salvage whatever he could is very touching and emotional. A very simple straight from the heart character portrayal of guileless personality and this simplicity reaches the readers in the same form.

However, I cannot ignore pointing out that, on more than once occasions, author does reveal the climax of the subplots a little in advance and then elaborates them subsequently, disrupting the natural flow of events.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review : Guess Who?

Title : Guess Who?
Author : Geeta Dharmarajan
Illustrations by the Children of Katha Lab School

For Age : 3 years and above

This new book by Katha reached me when I was in Chandigarh (my hometown) on annual holidays. 'Guess Who?' is a very small book written in verse but this book sent me down the memory lanes of the times when I was my kids' age - 7-8 years. In those simpler times the summer vacation meant just playing and playing in the open and a little bit of leisure reading. Most of the time was spent in or around nature. Since there was no television or computer, so no staring at any screen for long hours, there were no coolers or Air conditioners, so no artificially modified air entered our systems and in contrast to that, the children of today are in close proximity to one or the other electronic gadget, artificial/machine-produced environment almost all the time. It’s a pity they are losing touch with the rich and abundant nature on daily basis.

The books like 'Guess Who?' provide the much needed speed-breakers in our lives, which make us halt for a while (even though for a very little while) and appreciate the beautiful scene around us. The book draws our attention to the colorful friends in the sky symbolizing the free spirits, bright colored butterflies amazing us by exhibiting unlimited range of nature's color palette, innumerable creatures in the deep blue waters of our oceans and unimaginable range of plants and animals.

When we start noticing just a bit of them, we marvel at the creativity and passion of the great magician who made this all possible and who is gracing all of us with His divine presence. So isn’t this a good time to bow down in gratitude for these unmatched gifts!!

A lovely attempt to connect the children to the nature all over again and to encourage them to offer gratefulness to the great creator of this whole magic. My appreciation for publishers like Katha increases manifolds when I come across such sparkling pearls. The beauty of the written words has been accentuated by the art work by children of Katha Lab school.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interview : Roopa Pai

Roopa Pai needs no introduction as she is a well known name in Indian kidlit world. She first impressed me with her wonderful imagination in Sister, Sister (Eureka series, by Pratham) books (reviewed here) and then with the Taranauts books. Besides making a mark as an author of excellence, Roopa is a tour guide with Bangalore Walks and through these walks she combines three loves of her life - history, kids and Bangalore.

Presenting here, her views on various topics for all of you to enjoy.
You mentioned in one of your previous interviews that you wanted to be a writer from a very young age, how has been this journey so far?

Yes, I think I've always wanted to be a writer. I know it isn't common for kids to know what they want to be so clearly, but I knew writing would be one of the things I would definitely be doing later in life, from the time I was eight or ten.
However, I did not major in English Literature as would have been expected for someone with such clarity. I actually have an engineering degree. But the moment I got my degree, I was fortunate enough to land my dream job - a sub editor with Target, the legendary children's magazine. And after that, there was no looking back. And it's been a fabulous journey.
I have taken breaks from writing, though - gone away and done other things for a bit and enjoyed them immensely too, but every time I come back and start writing again, it's so satisfying, so fulfilling, that I wonder why I ever went away.

What inspires/excites you? Any role models? Which books fascinate you the most?

Well-told stories inspire me. And I think I have always been more inspired by the stories than by the authors or by the style of writing. I guess I have my non-literature background to thank for that - maybe if I had formally studied literature, I would appreciate the craft of writing more, and would (over)analyse authors' writing styles, and the story would become (in a sense) incidental to the analysis. As it stands now, it is engaging stories - any genre, any style - that make me think and feel things that are my best inspirations.

Books that are sensitively written fascinate me. Also books that are intelligent. If they can be both together, those are the best kinds of books for me. The genre does not really matter - but my personal favourites are (1) crime fiction (especially ones where the detectives are fallible, human, and have the souls of poets beneath the hard-baked exterior (male) or feisty, bullheaded, tough-talking, and total softies on the inside (female) and (2) children's and young adult fiction (here sensitivity would score over intelligence). In short, books that stay with me long after I've read them, and whose mere mention has the power to reawaken all the warm feelings I felt when I first read them, would figure on my all-time favourites.

According to you, what kind of plot is good enough to be qualified as a story idea? How do you refine it and how many iterations go in the process to bring out a finished product?

Actually, again perhaps because I'm not a 'trained' writer and write mainly by instinct, I don't think of stories in those terms. Any plot is a good plot if it is developed well and presented engagingly. If you look at Taranauts, for instance, there isn't anything particularly unique about the plot; it is the most hackneyed plot in the world - good guys, bad guys, and a Quest. But it is also the best plot in the world - no one ever gets tired of reading a story with these elements!

Refining it happens in real time, every day that I am writing it. I usually have a very sketchy idea of what I'm going to write when I begin - just the MOST basic framework. I think as I write, and I put in whatever makes sense at that time. If in Chapter 10, I decide to put in something that doesn't follow logically from what happened in Chapter 1, I just go back and change Chapter 1.

Of course you can do this endlessly, and some discipline has to be exercised to stop at some point - for me, a looming deadline usually does it!

How different is writing children's books from adult books?

I don't know - I don't write books for adults! But it is the rare writer who can do both with equal felicity - Roald Dahl and Roddy Doyle being cases in point.

Sister, sister series was quite different from the Taranauts series? How do you switch between age groups and styles so comfortably?

I don't know - I guess I try to think about someone I know in the age group I'm writing for, and then write for that person. I say 'I guess' because I don't do it consciously, but my kids are my muses (and always at hand) and I suppose subconsciously I am thinking about them.

How did the idea of Taranauts and Mithya occur to you? What does it take to imagine something so different and unique?

Well, I know I'm beginning to sound like a stuck record here - but I get asked this all the time, and the true, cross my heart answer is - I don't know. I wish I could say that Mithya appeared to me in a dream, all dazzling and shimmering in the rainbow coloured light of its 32 Tarasuns, its Magmalift exploding out of the top of Kay Laas and aquautos skimming speedily across Dariya, but that's not how it happened. In fact, I had never even considered writing a fantasy-adventure until my brilliant editor and good friend, Vatsala Kaul at Hachette, asked me to consider writing a series in that genre. And then, out of an initially fuzzy cloud of Taradust, Mithya began to take shape

You have wonderful views on how history should be taught in schools - handling a particular century in one class so that it helps children in making connections. Do you ever consider to be on the panel of policy makers of some schools? What if any such offer comes your way?

In theory, I would love to be on a panel of policy makers deciding what should go into the history curriculum for schools. But in practice, I would be terrible at being part of any organised group like a panel which convenes meetings and such. I hate imposing my opinions on others, and do not have the drive to persuade / manipulate anyone into seeing things my way. So, no, I would be very very chary of accepting any offer like that.

But through my writing, through my walks, I constantly put my beliefs to the test with real kids, and when it turns out from their reactions that there is some wisdom in my views, I feel gratified and happy to have made a small difference, at least in a few kids' lives, by helping them look at history a little differently.

What kind of children's books/stories do you find missing in Indian markets?

Fun books! Particularly for kids in the 8-15 age group. And sensitive books for teens that help them deal with prickly growing-up issues in the new, facebooked world (I'm assuming you are talking about books by Indian writers, not books by western writers?)

Is there enough space for new talent or already it’s a crowded place out there? What would you like to say to the writers who are reading this interview and wondering if their ideas are interesting enough to be shared with others?

There's ALWAYS space for new talent - J K Rowling is a shining example of this. To the writers who are wondering if their ideas are interesting enough, I would say - ask yourself that question first, and answer with absolute honesty. If YOU honestly think they are interesting enough, if YOU would absolutely love to read a story like the one you're thinking of, well, then it IS an interesting idea and a story worth telling, and never mind what any editor tells you.

Do you think there are enough publishers of children's books in Indian market or should we have more to bring more variety and healthy competition?

The Indian children's publishing market is booming right now, and the next couple of years should see a flood of new writing for children coming out. There are seriously fun times ahead for both children and writers of children's books - get set for the ride!

A very big thanks to you Roopa and best wishes for all your interesting endeavours!
More here...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Review : Skinny is Overrated

Title : Skinny is Overrated :
The Real Woman's Guide to Health and Happiness at Any size
Author : Danielle Milano, MD
Publisher : Synergy Books
ISBN-13: 978-0-9842358-3-4

Seeing the presence of innumerable books in the 'Health and Fitness' space in the market, I was wondering what new or different could one more book offer to the readers? But the level of interest that 'Skinny is Overrated' generated in me, put all my doubts to rest.

Dr. Danielle Milano presents in a wonderfully simplified fashion the seemingly very complicated area of - dieting, which food items to eat, which ones to avoid, which multivitamins to take or not take, what to look for while buying stuff off-the-shelf and many more such issues, by impressing upon today's women to just follow a single magic mantra - 'Focus on Health and not on Weight'. In contrast to other health books which mostly deal with one aspect or the other, this book can be used as a single guide to answer most of the questions that anybody could have, who intends to follow a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Compelling arguments, well supported by scientific reasons and statistics have been proposed against the most prevalent myths in the dieting world where size zero has become a craze among women. The author urges the readers to love the size they are in while sorting out the spiritual and emotional needs of the self - as first step to living healthfully. Starving the system can never lead to true health rather it can be achieved by eating right, eating at right time and exercising right.

The different types of food items have been evaluated based on their ingredients and which among them are complete 'no-no' in all circumstances. Dr Milano discusses about : different types of fats, the multivitamins that are essential for our body and cautions the readers to beware - just injecting the multivitamins does not wash away the abuse the body has been subjected to while pumping it with junk food - colas, food high on starches and not making any effort to move the TV addicted body. A complete chapter is devoted to Vitamin D in order to emphasize the significance of this essential nutrient which can help reduce the risk of getting many life long diseases and conditions.

Dr Milano has taken American context only, when she talks about off-the-shelf food items and typical lifestyle, which makes perfect sense since she practices in Boriken Health Centre in East Harlem, treating American people suffering from obesity and diabetes but then the international appeal gets lost. Also exercise part was a little inadequat. When she handled the food, diet and calories part so brilliantly, I was expecting some more on the physical activity part too.

I was amazed at the amount of information that has been packed in this book in such a readable form. A very well written book which cleanly avoids the trap of 'too much talking while providing no concrete solutions' since it is beautifully peppered with some very easy and handy recipes. Besides, full assistance has been provided to the beginners in the kitchen, even in guiding them about which tools and containers to buy so that no one is left with any excuse for not following it.

The book has been written in a conversational style, spiced with just perfect amount of humor here and there, and can be used as a wonderful hand book which can be read over and over again as a guide to an energetic tomorrow and a healthier life ahead.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review : The Helping Hand

Title : The Helping Hand
Author : Kamakshi Balasubramanian
Illustrator : Kuntal Dey
Publisher : National Book Trust

I always admire the books which sensitively talk about the special children and how they look at the world or how the regular children feel about them. Sometimes people do react in very strange ways when they come across a differently abled person. There may not be any negative feeling but just not being comfortable with the uniqueness creates a big chasm when interacting in such situations so I keep looking for the books which aid in instilling compassion in kids from very early age.

A very tenderly told story of a girl Komal and her brother Tarun. The story starts with Komal anxiously waiting for the arrival of her baby sibling and Tarun is the answer of everybody's prayers. Komal is thrilled to have a younger brother to whom she sings rhymes, teaches counting and wants him to join her school. But gradually she understands that Tarun is not like other regular kids and needs help in almost everything - walking, eating, getting cleaned. He starts going to a special school. With the loving support of the family, both siblings learn different things at different pace as per their abilities. Komal grows up to be a veterinarian doctor and finds a gentle and kind helper in her younger brother and they both form a team together to heal the animals.

There are a lot of things that I appreciated about the book - the subtle way in which the uniqueness of Tarun is explained and how each individual is unique and learns at different pace. It is so very important to recognize these differences of abilities and preferences and not let one's path dictate that of others. Respecting the individuality and sensitively supporting the children can help make every child bloom to his/her maximum potential and spread fragrance in the world.

This book reminded us of one of the Tulika books that we read last year - 'Why are you afraid to hold my hand?' A beautifully written book which brings the perspective of physically challenged child. An attempt to convey to other people how it feels to always receive sympathy and pity when it is not needed and when all that is required is to be treated like the rest of them.

{Images courtesy : Infibeam and Tulika Books}

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