Talking about this generation

From an Indian Pinocchio to teenage voices that ring true, a round-up of the latest in children and YA fiction.

Written by Anushree Majumdar , Paromita Chakrabarti | Published:November 15, 2014 12:40 am

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Book: The Magic Rolling Pin
Author: Vikas Khanna
Publisher: Puffin Books
Price: Rs 299
Age 4 and above

Masterchef Junior has shown us that dishing up deconstructed panacotta and a Marco Pierre White special is not the forte of adult home cooks alone. Children all over the world, girls and boys, love to cook, and take pride in what they serve. Jugnu is one such child in Amritsar who spends his free time learning how to grind spices and dish out the perfect sun-dried pickles and watching his Biji cook. His favourite activity in the kitchen is to roll out the perfect phulkas, and so, the rolling pin becomes his best friend. Jugnu believes it has magic in it and totes it everywhere. But what happens when he loses it? Can he ever turn out the perfectly round rotis he was so good at?

Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Vikas Khanna’s delightful picture book on Jugnu and his tryst with cooking has beautiful illustrations by Mihir Joglekar and talks of how all one needs confidence and loving approval to turn out something appetising.

Book: Patua Pinocchio
Author: Carlo Collodi. Artwork by Swarna Chitrakar
Publisher: Tara Books
Price: Rs 550
Age 5 and above

One of the beautiful things about a Tara book is how it can contextualise classics in the local milieu and through an indigenous art form.

Patua Pinocchio, the story of the puppet who wants to become a real boy, draws parallels with the childhood of the Indian god Krishna and the mischief that he got into, and in the process, becomes an innately Indian story. Swarna Chitrakar’s vibrant artwork unfolds like a scroll (or a patachitra), each page coming alive in a burst of colours and a medley of lovable characters — from the serpent to the cricket to the Blue Fairy and even the Sly Cat. Read it over and over again, because despite being deeply entrenched in the cultural pantheon of the patuas of Bengal, its breathtaking artwork has an undiminished universal appeal.

Book: The Adventures of Stoob: Testing Times
Author: Samit Basu
Publisher: Red Turtle/Rupa
Price: Rs 195
Age 9 and above

Could there ever have been a world without wi-fi or iPods? Did people actually only study from books and play outdoors (no videogames, no Google Hangouts, not even landlines to recap the chats on Google Hangouts)? Stoob (short for Subroto Bandhopadhyay, because which respectable nine-year-old goes through life with a name like that!) cannot imagine such an universe, but that’s the least of his worries. Just when he thought he was almost done with Class V, the headmistress announces that there will be fresh examinations in a month’s time.

Concentration isn’t exactly his forte, and with two of his closest friends already revising their lessons and a third relaxing because he has a Top Secret Plan to ace the exam without studying, Stoob has his job cut out. Samit Basu’s Stoob could well be the Indian version of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Adeline Foo’s Diary of Amos Lee, complete with hyperventilating parents and children who have to choose what kind of individuals they want to grow up to be. Sunaina Coelho’s sketches have a life of their own and the book is breezy and engaging and gets the anxieties of a pre-teen in Delhi pat down to the last detail.

Book: Slightly Burnt
Author: Payal Dhar
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Price: Rs 250
Age 13 and above

Komal knows she has a semi-charmed life: she goes to an “alternative” school that does not believe in examinations and encourages students to talk about their feelings, she loves to bake for her friends and family and any time spent with her best friend Sahil is a good time. So, when he corners her to tell her something very important, she expects the worst. But when he does spill the beans, tells her three little words, her whole world comes to a standstill. His confession, his secret takes a toll on their friendship, her studies (the little she is expected to do) and forces her to confront her own prejudices. To add to her confusion, she is not quite sure if she knows her younger brother Vikram anymore.

This is a brave attempt to write a coming-of-age tale about young adults and their sexuality and Payal Dhar sets up the plot quite well, charting Komal’s existential angst and her subsequent epiphanies quite effortlessly. However, by choosing Komal as her protagonist and not Sahil, who is grappling with his sexual identity, Dhar missed the opportunity to make this a truly insightful story of a teen living in the shadow of Article 377.

Book: The Secret of Falcon Heights
Author: Ranjit Lal
Publisher: Penguin
Price: Rs 250
Age 13 and above

When 17-year-old Sandeep, his younger brother Manish and their seven-year-old sister Chubs head to Pahadpur for their summer holidays, they have no plans and little idea how to spend three long months in a hill station. Their aunt welcomes them to her house, Falcon Ridge, and while they settle in, they notice their next-door neighbour at Falcon Heights, Aranya, a stony-looking girl with a mysterious past. What makes her so irresistible to the three youngsters is Shaheena, a falcon who hunts with Aranya every morning. Why is the whole town against her? Sandeep begins to investigate and the truth is murkier than he could have ever imagined.

In his latest offering, Ranjit Lal colours outside the lines with a story about a young girl who struggles to have a normal life in the face of discrimination and indifference, and how an entire town chooses to succumb to power and prestige instead of looking for justice. The narrative highlights sexual violence against women in India and the little or no support that they get. And sometimes, no matter how beautiful a place is, the only friend one can find is a wandering falcon who trusts you because it has nobody else as well.

Book: Manan
Author: Mohit Parikh
Publisher: HarperCollins
Price: Rs 199
Age 14 and above

On April 23, 1998, Manan Mehta, 15 years and three-quarters old , finds proof that evolution has not passed him by and that puberty, as the rest of world experiences it, has begun for him as well. It is a momentous occasion even though he is still quite short for his age, his voice hasn’t even begun to crack and everybody treats him like a child. With his body changing slowly but surely, Manan’s mind is racing with ideas about the world around him, school, biology, his family and Hriya, the girl he hopes to be worthy of.

Manan is not perfect but it is a very impressive debut. Parikh demonstrates a deft hand at painting a picture of life in middle-class India in the late ’90s and lends his protagonist a voice that rings true, page after page. Thanks to television, magazines and popular YA fiction, the teenage girl’s experiences are well documented — Manan is an original look at a young boy’s world, much like the first Adrian Mole books. A keen observer, a compulsive problem-solver and a dreamer with his feet firmly on the ground, Manan Mehta is the boy we all know, the person we all can be. If only we could dare to be as hopeful about life with as little as a single hair.

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