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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

By The Book: Two new books that speak of neurodivergence and take readers time travelling into India’s past

Arti Sonthalia’s Read, Write, Race and Shruti Garodia and Archana Garodia Gupta’s Chandragupta Maurya and the Greek Onslaught offer lessons in empathy and history for young readers

parenting booksTwo new books to look into dyslexia and the Mauryan empire (Source: Amazon.in)

Arti Sonthalia’s Read, Write, Race is an empathetic introduction to dyslexia while Shruti Garodia and Archana Garodia Gupta’s Chandragupta Maurya and the Greek Onslaught offers glimpses into the making of an ancient Indian powerhouse of an empire

Read, Write, Race
Arti Sonthalia
Scholastic
132 pages
Rs 250
Appropriate for: 7+ years

book cover, parenting Read, Write, Race by Arti Sonthalia (Source: Amazon.in)

On the face of it, there’s very little that could possibly tie Muhammad Ali, Tom Cruise and 10-year-old Raghav of fifth grade. Of course, there’s the proven genius of the first two in their chosen fields but Raghav is yet to prove his mettle, and, from the look of things, it seems unlikely that school will be pleasant this year either. However much he tries, the letters won’t arrange themselves in a sequence in front of his eyes, reading continues to stump him, and, as for writing, all his neatly arranged thoughts seem to lose shape when he tries to pen them down. His best friend has abandoned him for Karan, the class topper, and, as if to make matters worse, Ms Joseph — she who is known across junior school for her absolute no-nonsense attitude — is his class teacher this year.

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But despite the disastrous start, Raghav will soon come to realise that all his woes that shame him and provide grist to the class bullies’ mills are really not his failings after all. And that, sometimes, the strictest of grown-ups are the ones who are the most compassionate after all.

In India, popular culture rarely addresses the problems of the divergent, barring an occasional Taare Zameen Par (2007), with which Read, Write, Race shares the theme, or Margarita with a Straw (2014), primarily meant for an adult audience. There are few films and fewer children’s books in India that focus on the difficulties, physical or mental, faced by the differently abled. The lack of understanding and empathy often result in a corrosive systemic persecution from peer groups and institutions, that whittles down self esteem and confidence.

The thing that Raghav shares with actor Cruise or boxing icon Ali is dyslexia, a learning disability that has little bearing on intelligence, but that stymies one in the conventional education system. Sonthalia tells the story of Raghav’s diagnosis and first steps towards assimilation into the mainstream after years of being straitjacketed with sensitivity and with a disarming lightness of touch that highlights Raghav’s problems without hyping it up. It allows her to weave in not just dyslexia but other forms of perceived lack — shyness and temporary physical handicaps — that children, and even adults need sensitising to. An easy read, this is a book that can be a conversation starter on divergence and why empathy makes the world a better, more accepting place.

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History Hunters: Chandragupta Maurya and the Greek Onslaught
Shruti Garodia and Archana Garodia Gupta
Hachette Books
130 pages
Rs 299
8+ years

book, parenting History Hunters: Chandragupta Maurya and the Greek Onslaught by Shruti Garodia and Archana Garodia Gupta (Source: Amazon.in)

In the times we find ourselves in, history remains one of the most contentious of subjects, constantly being reframed in narratives to support the claims of ruling dispensations around the world. This results in a widening chasm between fiction and reality, not helped in the least by the fact that the study of history in India has always tended to be bogged down by an emphasis on memorisation rather than on understanding how the past has shaped our social, political, economic and cultural lives.

One way to address this is to ensure that the subject is taught at primary levels with the right emphasis on comprehension rather than on a mindless cramming of dates and names. The other way, of course, is to take recourse in books — historical nonfiction and fiction — to whet one’s curiosity about particular eras and events.

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Before her untimely death in the COVID-19 pandemic, writer Subhadra Sen Gupta had been one such champion of historical narratives for children, making eras and personages come alive through animated storytelling. Shruti Garodia and Archana Garodia Gupta started their writing career much after Sen Gupta but they have proven themselves to be reliable flag bearers of the genre. After their successful The History of India for Children (2018), History Hunters, their new historical-fiction series, focuses on the adventures of five friends based in Goa — Rohan, Zoya, Eknoor, Ansh and Elfu, Rohan’s pet elephant. The first book in the series, Chandragupta Maurya and the Greek Onslaught, involves some good old-fashioned time travel and, as the title suggests, a meeting with Chandragupta Maurya two millennia into the past, before he becomes the exceptional ruler enshrined in history books.

One of the problems of historical fiction, especially those meant for young children, is a blurring of lines between fact and fiction, leading to a dissemination of misinformation. The writers have tried to subvert this by providing a postscript that mentions their creative liberties and a fact sheet that provides details about the Mauryan era and the bloody battles that led up to it. In a clever twist, the writers also put in hints about how easily history can be manipulated to create larger-than-life impressions that can bedazzle while obscuring the truth.

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First published on: 11-09-2022 at 10:48:46 am
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