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Two new children’s books, Aai And I and The World Awaits, explore identity and acts of kindness

If Sanket Pethkar’s earthy hues sparkle Mamta Nainy’s South Asian references in one, Nomoco’s bright colours light up Welsh spoken-word poet Tomos Roberts’ — whose The Great Realisation went viral last year — cheerful, uplifting words in the other

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti |
September 26, 2021 8:42:57 am
children's bookA curated recommendation list for the young ’uns

Aai and I
by Mamta Nainy & Sanket Pethkar
Pickle Yolk Books
32 pages; `350
Appropriate for: 5+ years

Aai and I

In a Facebook post addressed to Indian parents seeking reading recommendations for their children, author Venita Coelho spoke eloquently of creating “a landscape of belonging” by giving children stories set in a familiar milieu, to allow them the opportunity “to learn that heroes and heroines come in many more shades than white” and to discover writers who “reflect their reality back to them”. Mamta Nainy and Sanket Pethkar’s book serves as a perfect example of all that Coelho promises from contemporary Indian writers of children’s books.

Aai and I is the story of a little Maharashtrian girl, Aadya, who awaits her mother’s return from the hospital where she’s gone for an urgent surgery. It’s the day of her return and the little girl can’t wait, her anticipation spreading like a warm glow to everyone around her — from the family pet Nimki to her Ajji, busy preparing kande pohe just the way her mother loves it. It’s Ajji who always tells Aadya how closely she resembles her mother, a fact that she takes great pride in. But now, when her mother returns after surgery, there’s something that’s not quite the same about her any longer. Can Aadya figure out a way to make things go back to before?

From its use of names of endearment to food to the way the English language gets moulded on Indian tongues, Nainy’s story is alive to the nuances of the local and the regional. Aadya’s search for her identity, though, is a universal story. Nainy brings in a tenderness to Aadya’s engagement with what makes her who she is — a repository of larger legacies of family and community but also her own unique empathy and innocence that lends her a personality that is entirely her own.

Pethkar’s illustrations, in a palette dominated by earthy mustards, yellows, greens and blues, sparkle with references that can only be found in South Asian homes — jhoolas and pressure cookers; kolams and nauvari-sari drapes and unruly tresses with the most gorgeous curls.

The World Awaits
by Tomos Roberts & Nomoco
HarperCollins; 32 pages; `499
Appropriate for: 5+ years

The World Awaits

In April last year, a video by London-based Welsh spoken-word poet Tomos Roberts had gone viral with over 60 million hits. Titled The Great Realisation, it spoke of what life had been before the pandemic and how it could be transformed for the better afterwards. The unprecedented success of Roberts’ post-pandemic bedtime fable, that he’d created for his younger siblings, led to the video being turned into a picture book. Now, Roberts, or Tomfoolery as he is known as in the online universe, is back with another picture book in verse. The World Awaits picks up on the themes of kindness and thoughtful action that had made Roberts’ previous book so uplifting and speaks of how every act of consideration, however tiny or insignificant, makes a difference. “In our core is a plus and minus,/ and they’re eternally at play./ They give us the power/ to add goodness to the world,/ or to take some good away,” he writes.

Tokyo-based Nomoco is known for her illustrations in a range of media, including silk screen, inks and lithography, and much of the book’s charm derives from the pop of bright colours that light up Roberts’ cheerful words.

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