Book: My Little Body Book: Keeping Ourselves Safe
Written and Illustrated by: Shruti Singhal
Publishers: Young Zubaan;
Price: Rs 225
Appropriate for: 5+
In this increasingly violent world, where news of child abuse is rampant, when is it a good time to talk to your children about privacy, about their bodies and what they need to do to keep themselves safe? And how does one do it simply, without alarming the children or letting one’s prejudices come in the way? Shruti Singhal’s colourful board book talks about the difference in male and female anatomies and the importance of privacy through Avni and Vihaan, a young boy and girl, who talk about their bodies with the same ease with which they talk about their favourite colours or activities. They run through the rituals of hygiene, talk of what to do in case a touch makes them uncomfortable and learn on the importance of confiding in an adult, no matter what they are led to believe or how confused they are. The quality of the illustrations is not exceptional, but that’s a minor gripe. It’s a first of its kind and parents and schools will benefit immensely from incorporating it in their reading list.
Book: Witch Wars
Author: Sibeal Pounder
Price: Rs 588 (approximately)
Appropriate for: 7+
The witches have had a radical makeover since the time of Rapunzel. Julia Donaldson’s witch in The Room on the Broom was a peaceable soul who needed her animal comrades to defend her. JK Rowling, of course, made the universe of sorcery hip like no other. Moving on with the times, the witches of Ritzy City in Sibeal Pounder’s Witch Wars, are a bunch with a flair for reality TV and tabloid updates. Nine-year-old Tiga Whicabim is rescued from her miserable life with her surly guardian Miss Heks and thrust into this world from “above the pipes”. To her utter amazement (and consternation), she discovers that she has been (anonymously) nominated to be a candidate at the much-anticipated reality show, Witch Wars, whose winner would become the Top Witch and rule over Ritzy City. The contest involves eight other witches, but no one as devious as Felicity Bat. As the witches rush around trying to decipher the riddles that will lead them to victory, followed by frantic fairy camerapersons, will Tiga manage to outsmart Felicity, or will she have to return to Miss Heks? Pounder’s book, the first of a series, is a breezy read, with many nods to Rowling and a television series waiting to take off.
Book: The Case Files of PI Pojo: The Killing of Mr Heathcote
Author: Meghna Singhee
Price: Rs 199
Appropriate for: 10+
Pratap Pande aka Pojo is in his first year at Heathcote, the stately boarding school in the Western Ghats his parents have sent him to, so he could spend more time with children his age, instead of ferreting around for cases. Because, like his parents – a writer of detective fiction and a director of mystery tele-series — the 14-year-old is blessed with a flair for solving crimes. Pojo is a likeable sleuth who takes inspiration from literary detectives. While his case files so far have only had minor commissions such as finding out missing tuck boxes and the culprit who leaves behind muddied Ferrari shoes in a student’s closet, Pojo seems to be set for the first big murder investigation of his life. Mr Heathcote, the ancient, weather-beaten school cat dies a mysterious death and before the vet can confirm the cause of death, his body disappears. It’s left to Pojo and his two unlikely sidekicks — Radha Rao, a senior with a penchant for breaking rules, and Pops, a reverent junior keen to learn the tricks of the trade — to solve the mystery. Singhee’s writing is fluid and assured and the narrative remains taut throughout. There’s also some lovely description of life in a boarding school with its taste of freedom, its own set of hierarchies and unlikely friendships.
Book: Dear Mrs Naidu
Author: Mathangi Subramanian
Publishers: Young Zubaan
Price: Rs 224
Appropriate for: 10+
Those familiar with the mad scramble for seats in private schools in India would know that, but for the RTE Act, 2009, children from economically weaker sections of the society would not stand a chance to get into these schools. But is the RTE implemented as it ought to be? And can nothing be done about government schools to bring them on a par with private educational institutes? Twelve-year-old Sarojini, a student at Ambedkar Government School in Bangalore, struggles to find a seat at the posh Greenhill School, where her best friend Amir has moved to. The two were neighbours in a shanty, till well-paying jobs for Amir’s elder brothers ensured that they could move out of the colony and into a small home of their own. But Sarojini’s amma is the only working member of her family and even if she slaves at the several homes where she works, she won’t have enough to pay for the bribe Greenhill wants as donation for a seat there. Sarojini pours her heart out in letters that she writes to the dead freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu, telling her about her friends Deepti and Amir, and their struggle to implement the RTE. Subramanian spins a powerful and enriching story, mixing it up with history lessons about the life of Sarojini Naidu and information about the RTE, but it’s the grit and earnestness of the child protagonists to change their world that make the book such a poignant read.
Book: Dugong and the Barracudas
Author: Ranjit Lal
Publishers: Young Zubaan; Rs 295
Appropriate for: 12+
If Jean-Paul Sartre had attended one day at Rugged Rocks High School, he’d have reaffirmed his belief that hell is other people. No school agrees to admit Alisha’s daughter Sushmita on the grounds that she is a little slow, and her chubby, ample appearance doesn’t exactly help either. Alisha turns to her alma mater, where an old senior is now principal. When Sushmita finds that she will attend a proper school, after being home-schooled for years, she’s excited at the prospect of making real friends. But the eighth graders instantly judge her on the basis of her body type, her trusting nature and her inability to grasp the course material quickly; it is up to Sushmita to come to terms with this lot of ruffians. Lal is arguably the most prolific children’s writer in India. In this book, he shines a light on the way pride and prejudice play out in schools — children are capable of great cruelty to each other, but if shown the way, could they also change themselves? This is a story of self-discovery, friendship and kindness. As a protagonist, Sushmita is heavy with promise (no pun intended) but Lal’s portrayal of her is almost one-dimensional to the point of being unrealistic. Even so, here is a heroine who is unapologetically fat, friendly and fearless, a first of her kind and there’s much to learn from that.