Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review : The Laughing Onion

Title : The Laughing Onion
Author : Arun Elassery
Illustrator : Anita Varma
Publisher : Eklavya

What happens when a little boy of 2-1/2 years decides to replace his Naana in telling a story one night against the protests of his elder sister? What story will his innocent mind weave?

A Laughing Onion that eats a deer - becomes the first character in the story !!? Do you think this is a little confusing? So did his Naana. But the little child explains that a Laughing Onion lives in the forest and looks like a dog and says - Huh Huh Huh. Can you guess who it could be?

Let me help you a little here, he meant a laughing hyena. The laughing "Onion" eats the deer. After having made his Naana and his sister understand, the relieved little boy moves the story forward - 'Thhen' there is a monkey who gets angry. 'Thhen' there is a bird. 'Thhen' there is an angry lion and 'Thhen' back to their home. I think you got a glimpse of the flight of the budding story teller's mind.

While reading this book, I was reminded of the phase when my kids had their unique nomenclature for some things and we used to wonder how on earth do they relate the seemingly unrelated words to those things but that is how new and fresh minds work - thinking absolutely out of the box for which we matured minds strive so hard. Another thing that enthralled me was the beginning of each sentence, exactly the way kids feel the need to accentuate the sequence of events by prefixing every sentence with a 'Then' (as we speak Hindi at home, it is - 'Phir' always).

A thin book of just 15 pages with beautiful clear illustrations sprawled on full pages with small windows for the text. Anita Varma has used different bright colors to depict the story track of the boy and white/black/grey to portray the night time. A lovely treat for children of 2-4 years age group.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review : Climate of Uncertainty

Title : Climate of Uncertainty
Author : William Stewart
ISBN : 978-0-9767291-6-7
Publisher : Ocean Publishing
XPosted on : BookPleasures

A book by William Stewart on global warming and changing weather conditions of our Earth, aiming to 'inform and not persuade'. The ongoing debate is presented in a capsule form and the issues which are being confronted by the humanity and all forms of life on earth.

The first part of the book talks about global warming, the conflicting views and the limitations of climate science, which is still in its infancy. The unresolved climatic challenges assume much more serious form given the fact that there are many secrets of nature and the ways things get manifested in our deeply connected environment that nothing could be decided about the course of action with perfect certainty. There is a brief mention of the presence of some unknown non-anthropogenic causes in the climate which have the capability to influence the environment to a great extent, some of which are - The degree of tilt of the earth on its axis, Earth's 'not the perfect circular motion' around sun and more sunspot activity making sun more active.

However, there is broad acceptance of the fact that we are heading towards much warmer future times and data and statistics prove that this is happening because of human meddling in the self-balancing capability of the planet. Human tampering in the form of accelerated release of GHGs - Greenhouse gases (mainly water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nirtous oxide and ozone) in the environment is much more than the levels that could be naturally absorbed by the nature through carbon sinks - like planktons in oceans and the rainforests.

The consequences of the increase in greenhouse gases are becoming visible in the form of more volcanic activities, aggressive ocean oscillations - providing more fuel for hurricanes, competing effects of greater cloud cover and reduced ice cover, greater temperature disparities - which will result in more rain and wind in some locations and less in others, changes in the pattern of migration of different species - modifying the ecological balance of the region from where they migrate and also the region to where they migrate.

These problems of global magnitude require global solutions. After having introduced the concepts and phenomena surrounding global warming, William Stewart moves on to bring the issues - social and political, that are impediments in the road to finding a solution

In the second part, the author talks about - the Peak Oil, which he calls as the 'evil twin' of global warming. Oil - which is the lifeblood of modern civilization and thanks to the excessive abuse of this natural resource by humans, we are about to face the depletion of the same not very far away in future. The depletion of these supplies will impact the emission levels of carbon even more significantly. This is because, in the absence of oil, we will eventually turn to higher carbon generating unconventional options like crude oil, oil shale and coal liquefication.

So given the situation, as the author puts it, we are left with following two options:
1 : Either use the unconventional means like coal and heavy crude as substitutes of oil and natural gas and put the Earth through devastating effects of global warming.
2 : Or get prepared for civil unrest of unforeseen magnitude as a result of dearth of energy - more people fighting for limited resources.

There are some sustainable technologies which are being researched by the think tank of our planet in an attempt to look for the substitutes of natural oil and gas : wind, geothermal, solar, clean coal, nuclear , tidal, wave and hydropower. But none of these come without their own baggage of issues which are unresolved and hence no dependable solution is in sight yet. That is the reason we are still continuing with the cutting of the same branch on which we are sitting.

Each of these energy substitutes have been very concisely presented in the book and how they can be used and how and what percentage of power is already being generated through these and also what downsides they bring with them.

But having seen and understood all this, a big question still looms large - have we already rolled our earth down the road to being a Venus or a Mars!!

In spite of the presence of plethora of books in this space, 'Climate of Uncertainty' does manage to bring its point sincerely in a comprehensive and readable fashion to make the common man understand the perils of changing climates. The scientific jargon and data are necessary but only for a limited group that uses the same for analysis and deductions. For the masses, the data goes unregistered, the processed form is what they look for and that is what 'Climate of Uncertainty' intends to provide.
An effort to bring a balanced assessment of the debate which is otherwise dominated by the extremes. And being a lawyer, William Stewart beautifully plays with words and phrases to stay clear of falling into any of the groups.
However, there could have been a little mention of some of the proposals that are being discussed in
  • taking out the already present GHGs from the environment
  • reducing the degree of heat from the sun

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review : Eight Days in Darkness

Title : Eight Days in Darkness
(The True Story of Abduction, Rape and Rescue of Anita Wooldridge)
Author : Anita Wooldridge and Angela Roegner
Publisher : Synergy Books
ISBN : 0-9840760-3-4

Eight Days in Darkness is a true story of kidnapping and rape victim - Anita Wooldridge. An extremely chilling account of how she was abducted by a convicted rapist - Tom (Victor Thomas Steele) from her parent's home in broad daylight and the days that followed this unfortunate event. During those eight days in captivity, Anita was mercilessly beaten and raped repeatedly by the captor and she was kept locked up in a metal storage cabinet for long durations. While enclosed in that metal box she tried to focus her attention on chanting hymns and praying hard for her survival. And her prayers did get answered when a very efficient and courageous local police team in association with FBI was able to nail down the culprit and return Anita's rightful freedom back to her. Her unwavering faith that God is watching over her, helped her survive through those times. There were occasions when Anita could actually see herself rising above her body and elevate her soul so that it remains untouched by whatever atrocities being meted out to her physical body.

Just reading through the book demanded a lot of courage and it is amazing how Anita chose the difficult path by obeying to whatever the captor demanded from her so as to buy some time for the authorities to find her. Shows the real display of grit, determination and undaunted faith in God.

The author has given a glimpse of the abductor's background which indicates how the experiences early on in life actually make an impact on the personality that gets developed later on. The madness to control things made an animal out of a human being.

The book is a compelling page turner and very engaging. It is hard to not read the next page to know more about - either what is happening to Anita or how the rescue team is progressing in its pursuit to find her, both of which are handled in parallel very meticulously. And when finally Anita's ordeal comes to an end, it felt as if my heart is celebrating the triumph of faith over evil and the teary eyes joined too.

By sharing her experience through this book, Anita is trying to educate people that it is not easy to come out of such experience and it does need a lot of courage to put it behind oneself. The scars do remain but she has found the best way to heal them - by being on the 'Howard County Community Corrections Advisory Board' as victim's advocate. She is also an active member in local church where she is leading the youth group. This is her way of showing gratitude to God who helped her sail through those abominable days.
{Image courtesy : Amazon}

Friday, April 16, 2010

Interview with Ashok Rajagopalan - the Writer

I feel very privileged to bring another interview for the readers to draw inspiration from. In the previous QA session with Ashok Rajagopalan, I struggled hard to keep the list to 10 questions inspite of the fact that that session was only dedicated to Ashok's illustrations, which is just a small part of what all he does. Ashok is one person who very comfortably dons many hats and one of them is that of a writer.

Here is a sample of his creativity unleashed - 'Witchsnare,' a gamebook published by Penguin India, was his first as a writer. He then rewrote 'Homer's Iliad' and 'The Odyssey' for Prodigy Books. He also writes and illustrates a comic, 'Rhy the Rhino' for the children's monthly magazine - Toot.
As Kenny Wordsmith, he has written many ‘hubs’ at and blogs at
An attempt to bring the views of the writer Ashok through these questions.

How long have you been illustrating and writing and which is your first passion that helps giving shape to your creativity more?

Professionally, I have been illustrating since 1988. Every kid draws and writes creatively, so my experience prior to that doesn't count. 'Witchsnare,' my first book as author, was published in 2007; I had started writing it a year before that.

Drawing comes natural to me; it's part of me like eating or sleeping. Writing is my passion: I want to be able to devote more time to my writing. I spend more time drawing than writing now, sadly.

According to you, what kind of plot is good enough to be qualified as a story idea? How do you refine the storyline? In brief, what is the sequence of events in writing a story?

If questions are weapons, this one is three-pronged! Let me try a three-in-one answer. There are two kinds of approach - the Asimov approach and the Wodehouse approach, according to yours truly. Just like there are two kinds of travellers - the organised kind plans out everything in advance and sets out, safe and secure. The adventurous kind sets out without a schedule. I used to follow the Asimov method of taking a vague idea and start writing, and see where it takes me. I managed two short stories and a novel doing that. You may read the short stories here and here.

The Wodehouse method, which I find myself adopting recently, is to write the plot first, one-page synopsis second, and actual narrative third. Then polish it till it shines. Any plot is good, by the way, as one writer's idea could be in another's recycle bin.

When you look back on your career, is there anything you would have done differently or regret not doing ?

No regrets in life and career generally, as there is still time, space and energy to do the things I want to do.

How different is writing for children's books from adult books? Has it changed over the years and how? Do you see changes in your writing style?

The style, if different, is because of publisher's requirements - style sheets, grading, target age-groups, and so on. A child who loves to read does not read only books meant for children. Like some of my classmates, I used to read Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, R K Narayan and Tagore when I was 12. Wodehouse and Asimov I discovered at 14. Happy days!
I'm glad about one thing though: the preachy, moralistic stories are out, and irreverent, mischievous ones are in. Long live Roald Dahl! There's another change which is sociologically good: children's books are politically correct these days.
I hope my writing style has grown; I hope it has become more natural, more entertaining and less pretentious. At least I try, sigh.

What do you think the writing for Children's books should be like?

I think it's doing fine. No complaints. And I'm grateful to J K Rowling who gave children's literature a much needed shot in the arm.

Do you plan to write in Hindi/English more or in regional languages? What comes naturally to you?

Tamil comes naturally to me. I would like to do a bilingual novel, one that is in two languages at the same time. I don't know if it has been done somewhere; I am exploring the idea and I don't know if publishers would try and experiment with me.

For which age group do you want to write more and why?

For ages 9 -12. That's when the average reader starts serious reading. At least that's when I did. I can make classical and literary allusions, and they will get it. Because they are full of what they read at school too. Younger readers won't get my allusions and adults would have forgotten. Maybe my real reason is that my mental age is 12 or thereabouts.

What kind of children's books/stories do you find missing in Indian markets?

You just twanged the strings of my secret sorrow! We have too many retellings of our epics, and folklore. Jataka and Panchatantra are retold every year many times. Almost as if India has finished telling all her good stories. I would like to see that gap filled. Why not more fantasy writing set in India? Writers can dip their pens in the rich fount of our heritage and create fresh stories for young readers, can't they?

Is there enough space for new talent or already it’s a crowded place out there? What would you like to say to the writers who are reading this interview and wondering if their ideas are interesting enough to share with others?

The more the merrier! I am not such a senior writer who knows enough to advise aspiring writers, so will content myself with saying hi and tell them to stop wondering and start writing. Read the submission guidelines of the publisher and submit your manuscript as they request. The best way to find out if your stuff is any good is to try to get published. I know, of course, that every good writer will be continuously improving his or her craft and become more and more readable and publishable every day in every way. No fears there! If you are not confident at first, at least start writing a blog right away. For starters.

Do you think there are enough publishers of children's books now in India or should we have more to bring more variety?

The more the merrier is my answer to this one too. A bigger marketplace, more books for us to read, more writers getting inspired...more books for that wonderful reader who is a mirror of the kid within us.

In conclusion, may I say that this set of questions challenged me so much that I had to stop, think, and then answer? That's uncharacteristic of me; I am usually quick on the draw. Thank you for making me exercise my brain muscles. All the best to aspiring writers, and please read my books!

A very big thanks to you, Ashok and I wish you all the best for all your future endeavours.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Review : Bhabhloo Bear's Adventure

Title : Bhabhloo Bear's Adventure
Author : Paro Anand
Illustrator : Suvidha Mistry
A Pratham book

A wonderful story on Himalayan Bears and a secret about how they got a shiny 'V' on their chests.

A beautiful little bear and a very naughty one - Bhabhaloo made this all happen. His inquisitive mind buzzed with hundreds and thousands of questions all the time which made him restless even during the nights when everyone else sleeps. His desire to be a famous bear made him go on a thrilling adventure. The idea of this adventure flashed through his mind while he was watching the tall Deodar trees swaying in the night sky and were touching the moon when they moved. His imaginative mind started working - how can he be the first ever bear on the moon, his pictures flashing in the morning newspapers and scientists watching him through their telescopes. All this excitement gave him sufficient impetus to embark on this rare feat.

But could he actually reach the moon? Could the fragile tip of the Deodar tree make him fulfill his dreams of becoming a famous bear?

Unfortunately he realized it too late and then remembered his mother's words of first thinking about the consequences before plunging directly into any task. Now his body was lying still and motionless on the white snow. Bhabhaloo's mother came rushing out to see what happened to her dear little baby. But there was someone else too watching this whole sequence of events - the Moon. The moon then thought of helping the mother in a unique way and the next moment mother bear was working dexterously to stitch her child with the glistening moonbeam. Bhabhaloo bear soon became alright with a bright 'V' adorning his chest now.

Eventually Bhabhloo did achieve what he dreamt of - becoming a famous bear and because of him the Himalayan Bears are not just plain black anymore.

But what happened to the moon? He turned into a thin slice since he had given so much of his moonbeam but he reassured the bears that he would get healthy again and then more bears can have the unique 'V' for their chests.

One of the very new books by Pratham. The different emotions are beautifully touched in the book- cheerfulness, innocence, pain, sadness, feeling of loss and then a happy ending.
While reading this story to the kids, I could see the changing expressions on their faces. They even closed their eyes at one point when Bhabhaloo was lying on the snow in complete silence. Such chirpy little Bear and not stirring at all!! It was heart wrenching and unbearable to watch.

The illustrations are simple sketches in white, black and tinge of blue, transporting us to one of the Himalayan peaks. The endearing expressions on Bhabhloo's face and his bright eyes reach out to the young and adult readers alike.
We searched a little bit more and saw some pictures of Himalayan Bears on the web. Here is one : Himalayan Bear
{Image courtesy : Pratham Books}

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book Review : Climate of Extremes

XPosted on BookPleasures

Title : Climate of Extremes : Global Warming Science The Don't Want You to Know
Author : Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling Jr.
Publisher : Cato Institute
ISBN : 978-1-935308-17-1

Climate of Extremes : Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know, brings to fore the facts and revelations about the most debatable topic of our times. When all possible media channels are invariably inundated with news on global warming and increasing earth's surface temperatures, here is a book which strives to bring sanity and correct perspective into this whole discussion.

First and foremost the attention has been drawn to the basic issues -
*How much of the earth's surface has warmed
*How much of that warming is caused by the human activity and
*Can the human activity and present temperatures be used as an indicator to project future warming and estimate its effects.

Looking into details about the global warming and the hype about everything related to this topic, the authors - Michaels and Balling state the unadulterated and unbiased truth first - our planet is definitely warming up and there is no denying the fact that nothing would qualify to change this global trend of increasing temperature. Longer summer heat waves owing to the increase in the greenhouse gas levels would be there for us to witness in the times to come. The temperature variation between upper and lower layers of the atmosphere shows the presence of greenhouse gases which trap the radiation close to the surface and emit it back hence warming the lower layer more than the upper one. Carbon dioxide , water vapor molecules and methane are supreme contributors of greenhouse gases.

Besides these greenhouse gases already making their presence felt, colossal amounts of such gases are in store to be released in the atmosphere soon. One typical case is that of - Permafrost. Permafrost is more like a time bomb which is gradually reaching its stage of explosion eventually putting our planet into a more vicious warmer cycle.

The book very objectively presents all these facts and phenomena and then moves on to discuss the huge chasm between what the reality is and what is presented to the public globally.

In very clear terms and backed by data and statistics, the authors reject the observations that global warming will mean sky rocketing death rates. Instead, with some relatively simple adaptive measures, death rates could go down significantly and that has been the case when the heat wave which took 35000 lives in France in 2003 saw its repeat occurrence after a few years again.

There is no rationality behind the news in making global warming the only reason for many climatic changes happening in the planet. Mother Nature also has her own way of expression which is evident in some of these phenomena:

*If the changes in the ice content in Arctic are observed scientifically, they reveal that much of this has been triggered by non-human induced climate variations.

*Kilimanjaro glacier which is nearing its extinction, reached its current state mainly because of its geometry than anything else.

*Droughts have been a natural part of the climate of Pacific Southwest and whether the future is warmer or not, they are going to be there.

*Forest fires in CA are blamed on warming of surface, which is very debatable. Data reveal that the burned area in the last 20 years has not increased. Tree rings in that region affirm that fire frequency for the last 500 years has been the result of natural ocean climate cycles and not global warming.

*Global warming is conveniently made responsible for the increasing number of powerful hurricanes hitting Florida but there is a contrary view which states that besides surface temperatures, some other factors like wind shear and jet streams, affecting this phenomenon cannot simply be ignored.

The authors have highlighted various factors which have contributed significantly in ruling out the possibility of rational thinking based on facts alone and having a balanced discussion on this topic :

*Unreliability of some of the methods of observing the climate makes it a humungous task to differentiate the part showing real climatic trends from the results of observational difficulties.

*The politicization of the climate science reduces the possibility to having free exchange of data and information.

*Media obsessed with the mantra - "Bad news sells" fabricate some of the facts so that the news item looks more gory and fetches more eye balls.

*Scientific journals prejudiced for "positive" results do not feel the need of responsibly reporting the findings of 'no relationship' between hypothesized variables too.

*Politicians turned climatologists (having no training in climate science) have been instrumental in broadcasting some untested facts which makes the whole matter even more complicated and the future looks extremely perilous. The science Washington lobby is not helping the matters either.

*Publication bias and exaggerated reporting assist in putting the final nails in the coffin of climate science being a fact based science only.

The book successfully presents the clear picture and very courageously talks about the actual issues and the impediments in the path of having a free discussion and sensible decision making on global warming. The observations made throughout the book are very well supported by the graphs and pictures wherever necessary showing the amount of research that has gone into bringing this end product for the readers.

Could have been made a complete package by extending the study to include the climatic conditions and trends observed in other parts of the planet like Atlantic ocean, Indian ocean and the continents other than North America.

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