Book name: Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls
Author: Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo
Publisher: Particular Books
Price: Rs 799
Appropriate for: 8+
A game of How to Spot Gender Stereotyping in Everyday Life was never considered an essential sport for young people, possibly because there’s little hope of redemption in a world that likes its little women colour-coded and organised in various shades of docility, thank you very much. An initial $1 million Kickstarter campaign encouraged authors Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo to counter stereotyping with this delightful anti-princess book of modern fairy tales that tells its young readers to “Dream bigger, aim higher fight harder. And, when in doubt, remember, you are right.”
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls puts together the inspiring stories of 100 women who went against the grain to lead the lives they wanted. From mathematician Ada Lovelace to the partially-sighted Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, from tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams to warrior queen Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, there is an interesting and representative mix of ethnicities, nationalities and eras from which these women are chosen. The production quality is excellent as is the extremely well-curated collection of illustrations, sourced from artists across the world.
There are a couple of minor gripes — the perseverance of PV Sindhu or Dipa Karmakar make for as fascinating a story as that of Rani Lakshmi Bai when it comes to India, and, leaving out JK Rowling from the pantheon seems a bit of a travesty. But these are fairy tales that need to be added to, to be debated over and to be treasured because it tells its readers — boys and girls both, hurrah — that to choose your own happily ever after, all you need is yourself.
Book name: Looking for the Rainbow: My Years with Daddy
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Puffin Books
Price: Rs 250
Appropriate for: 8+
“When we are small, we need someone to hold our hand in the dark,” writes Ruskin Bond, flaneur to generations of Indian readers, in this slim memoir, a tribute to his father, Aubrey Bond, an officer in the Codes and Ciphers section of the Royal Air Force in the early 1940s. In the time following the separation of his parents, the young Bond is sent off to Delhi to be with his father. Freed from the tyranny of boarding school, it is a summer of many firsts for the young boy. Delhi, far from the urban sprawl that it is today, was a place of wonder for the boy from the hills. Over cinema, books, music, long walks and lots of tea with condensed milk, he would come to share a bond of deep trust and affection with his father, make friends and learn lessons of a lifetime.
But, unknown to him, this is also to be a period of brief reprieve for Bond. The world outside is changing faster than an eight-year-old’s imagination — World War II is nearing its bitter end and the struggle for Independence intensifying in India. Soon, he will return to boarding school in Simla and his father posted to Calcutta. And then, one fine day, in the middle of a marathon, he will be summoned by his teacher to be given the news that will break his young heart: his father was no more.
Paired with Mihir Joglekar’s endearing illustrations, this poignant memoir, Bond’s first for children, looks back at the most treasured relationship of his life with disarming candour, customary wit and a complete absence of bitterness.
Book name: Boo! When My Sister Died
Author: Richa Jha & Gautam Benegal
Publisher: Pickle Yolk Books
Price: Rs 450
Appropriate for: 5+
If death is bewildering for grown-ups, how can children face up to it? Learning to deal with loss is never easy, but children’s literature in particular, rarely deals with the inevitability of death or coming to terms with grief. Over the last few years, however, a bunch of thoughtful picture books such as Oliver Jeffers’s The Heart and the Bottle and Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mommy have explored the void created by the death of a loved one. Indian picture books, however, have rarely ventured into this zone, barring a few stray forays like My Grandfather Aajoba by Taruja Parande.
In the years since Richa Jha launched her independent publishing house Pickle Yolk Books, she has put together a small but well-curated list of books dealing with diversity, differences and now, death. Her new book is the story of Noorie, who has lost her sister Zoya, but finds herself unprepared for the overwhelming void it opens up in her life. She watches over her mother and her pet, Bruno, scared that they would leave her, too, frequents their favourite haunts where Zoya’s presence still lingers in the air. But, most of all, she is overcome by anger at her sister’s disappearance; at the overtures of Zoya’s best friend Dhara to draw her out, and, at her mother’s insistence that Zoya would always be a part of their lives.
Gautam Benegal’s evocative illustrations are the highlight of this beautiful volume. He captures Zoya’s disorientation and the messy nature of grief with great subtlety, aided in no small part by Jha’s economy of words and quiet understanding of the hollowness that loss engenders.
Book name: This Truck Has Got to be Special
Author: Anjum Rana
Publisher: Tara Books
Price: Rs 550
Appropriate for: 13+
When Chinar Gul, a Pakistani truck driver from the Swat Valley, finally acquires the truck that he has driven for the last five years, he takes it to his friend, truck artist Zarrar in Taxila, for a makeover. As Zarrar gets to work, Gul, who drives along the scenic mountain roads of the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush, looks back at his humble beginnings as a cleaner and the many journeys he has undertaken since that have shaped him as an individual.
Gul’s reminiscences take the reader on trips along the Grand Trunk Road “that runs all the way from Karachi in the south to Kabul in the north-west”, stopping by the Kabul and Indus rivers for a spot of fishing or a quick shuteye at the dhabas around the bends. He travels along the “Roof of the World”, the Pakistan-China road that leads from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang to Abbottabad in Pakistan, infamous as the last hideout of Osama bin Laden. Pakistani writer and truck art entrepreneur Rana’s narrative is tightly focused on the landscape and the lives of those who ply along these routes. But alongside, she also offers an exposition on South Asia’s rich history of truck art that combines calligraphy, painting and metal work to give the lumbering vehicles a colourful, distinctive look.
As is the nature of Tara publications, this collaboration between Rana, truck artists Hakeem Nawaz and Amer Khan and Indian illustrator Sameer Kulavoor offers a syncretic work that is both a celebration of and a tribute to the rich imagination and craftsmanship that contribute to the vibrancy of truck art.
Book name: Eighteen Tides and a Tiger
Author: Anjana Basu
Price: Rs 250
Appropriate for: 12+
Kolkata-based author Anjana Basu’s third novel in her Jim Corbett series takes a young adult Rohan to the Sunderbans on his first internship with the forest department. It’s a forest unlike anything Rohan has ever seen, familiar as he is with those in the Kumaon region, the land of “dry-footed” tigers. Out here in the Gangetic delta, amphibious tigers climb trees, the evil spirit of Dakhin Rai lures unsuspecting villagers to maneaters and the spirit of Bonbibi, benevolent deity and protector of the tigers, looms large over the mangrove forests. Rohan’s visit is not short of adventures, particularly when he finds himself stranded ashore after a foolhardy stroll in the forest. There are also tigers aplenty, rescue missions, and, a mysterious little girl who appears in times of distress.
One of the reasons why such books are important is because they serve as handy introductions to our unique ecosystems and give an insight into the need to maintain environmental balance. Tiger conservation, in particular, has received overwhelming publicity and support. Perhaps, if the same could be extended to other environmental causes, there would be a less foolhardy generation who will treat their environment with the respect it deserves.