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Two picture books take on two facets of life — a fight for it and a slice of it

By the Book: Two picture books take on two facets of life — a fight for it and a slice of it

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti |
Updated: June 20, 2021 8:30:18 am
In India, very few can claim the versatility with which Pratham Books does slice-of-life stories for primary-grade readers, introducing them to a plurality of narratives and cultures in each of their offerings.

The Germ Academy
by Rea Malhotra Mukhtyar and Shahena Zaveri
HarperCollins
64 pages; `299
Appropriate for: 5+ years

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If you have been confined to your home for over a year, foregoing school and trips to the park, friends and outdoor games for a bug that won’t let up, reading a book on germs might just feel like getting immersed in more of the same horrors. But Malhotra Mukhtyar and Zaveri probably knew that when they set off on this picture-book project. The Germ Academy keeps its tone determinedly light and tongue-in-cheek.

In a dark, dank corner of the world, a group of meanies are at their malevolent best, plotting moves to spread pestilences across the world and training hard to remain undefeated for as long as they can. As the germs vie for the hall of fame — the high pedestal of honour featuring those who have wreaked havoc in the manner of smallpox, influenza, salmonella and ebola — in walks a fuzzy ball of malice, Covie, to claim his moment under the sun.

With the stage thus set, first-time author Malhotra Mukhtyar turns the story into a battle for hygiene — how simple habits of cleanliness can go a long way in keeping germs at bay, and how the soap squad can turn a “lean, mean, squeaky-clean human being” into a worthy opponent in this battle for good health. While the story is best suited for early readers, the illustrations are a source of delight for all age groups. Graphic artist Zaveri’s water colours — from a map showing the continental spread of some of the world’s deadliest germs to the hall of fame showcasing the deadliest of the lot — leave clues for those who might want to follow up the story with more information.

Sumi Budhi and Sugi
by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar with Joanna Mendes
Pratham Books
12 pages; `190
Appropriate for: 4+ years

In India, very few can claim the versatility with which Pratham Books does slice-of-life stories for primary-grade readers, introducing them to a plurality of narratives and cultures in each of their offerings. Sumi Budhi and Sugi by writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is no exception. Shekhar’s book is a leisurely stroll through a day in the life of an Adivasi woman, Sumi Budhi, and her family, comprising her husband Moso Hadam and her beloved pets — Sugi, a goose that accompanies her everywhere, and Bhutu, a mischievous cat.

Shekhar’s narrative introduces readers to a gentle pace of storytelling, in which nothing really happens except for reiterations of everyday truths — the possibility of co-dependence between man and nature and a glimpse of a way of life quite different from urban, metropolitan existences. The illustrations, rendered in summery hues in linocut, are a treat on their own. The last image of the family sharing a meal is one that lingers on long after the slim book is over.

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