Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book Review : Ismat's Eid

Title : Ismat's Eid
Retold By : Fawzia Gilani - Williams
Illustrated By : Proiti Roy

Age Group : 4 to 8 years

Review written for CROCUS 2010 Saffron Tree

This story is an old Turkish Tale in a new and succinct avatar. Ismat is a shoemaker who comes across as a very contented person. After having made a good sale of shoes a day before the big Muslim festival - Eid, he decides to buy special gifts for his family members. He very diligently selects just perfect gifts for everybody - his mother, his wife and his daughter. He is delighted with his purchase but then the shopkeeper convinces him that he should buy something for himself too on the auspicious occasion of Eid. Unfortunately there is only one pair of trousers left in the shop and that too a little longer for Ismat. But this is not such a big problem, a long dress can easily be shortened - by cutting it short. So Ismat excitedly takes all these gifts home and requests his wife to cut short his trousers to make it fit for him but since next day is Eid, she is too busy making some goodies for the festival and she urges him to ask his mother to do this job. But his mother and his daughter are equally busy too, they seem to have no time to make the trousers fit for Ismat. Ismat decides to do this cutting business himself as it isn't that big a job anyway, he cuts it short and neatly hems the edges. The day of Eid arrives, Ismat's wife, his mother and his daughter, all are ready in their new dresses. But there is a bigger surprise (or a shock?), when Ismat goes in to wear his new trousers, what the family members hear from outside his room are Ismat's shocking screams. Can you guess what would have happened? I don’t want to spoil the surprise, let's just say that a family is truly a united family when all members think about others and do a little extra!!! to help others. They all were stunned beyond words, then they had a hearty laugh and got down together to solve the problem.

What I liked about Ismat's family was their ability to laugh together, to work together and to be considerate for each other. Isn’t it what festivals try to remind us every year? This hilarious story perfectly supported with expressive spread of illustrations captures and brings out the true spirit of festivals. The brilliant drawings are by none other than the well known name behind the beauty of many interesting books like - What Should I Make, Mathematwist, Putul and the Dolphins etc. - Proiti Roy a graduate in fine arts form Shantiniketan, Bengal. She teaches art and craft to children and is also a freelance illustrator.

This book is also available in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali.

Image Source : Tulika Books

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My 100th Post...

I have been in the blogging world since last 2 years but till last Oct, I was not very regular in posting the book reviews. In Oct, 2009 I created a new blog by the name Literary Sojourn and since then this space has been my way of expressing how I feel after reading every book, whether it is any children's book or otherwise. In fact, this has been my space where my literary odyssey is getting chronicled.

On the way, I joined many other sites for which I write book reviews - Book Pleasures, Saffron Tree and Book Reviews. I am enjoying being a member of these sites as well as an active book reviewer now.

'Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested'.
Read many books, marveled at the flight of imagination of some authors, admired the precision in recording events of some, flowed with the waves of sentiments of some, laughed with some, cried with some, felt the fright, uncertainty, love, passion, ... - almost all forms of emotions through the beautiful world of books.

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend".
I actually made some very dear friends and lost them with the last pages but their sweet memories are my treasures and will stay with me forever.
Overall it has been an interesting and fulfilling journey so far, with every book bringing a new promise of opening a different and unmatched world in front of mental eyes.

While following my passion to read and to write about what I read, I try to keep my reviews very rational, unbiased and fair. I hope the criticism is also taken in the right spirit.

I interviewed some authors and illustrators and tried to spread the inspiration from the works of such people to as many readers as possible.
Last but not the least, through this blog, I share my creativity too.

So keep visiting this space to read about many more exciting books, interviews and art work in future.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review : Bala Takes The Plunge

Title : Bala Takes The Plunge
Author : Melvin Durai
Publisher : Hachette

My journey with books so far has taught me that readable fiction generally falls in either of these two very broad categories. But if a book fails to qualify to any of the following categories then I do not recommend that book, since readers do not get anything by spending their time and energy on it.

  • Books offering some unique idea, out of the box thought, new plot, or some extraordinary event which has never been presented before.
  • Books working on known plots or ideas but the outstanding handling and packaging of the same enable them to rise above the rest. From handling and packaging I mean - either the narration is very witty or engaging or presented in such a fashion that something is there for the readers to savor.
'Bala Takes the Plunge' belongs to the second category of writing. It reminds the readers of 'Inscrutable Americans' a lot and a little bit of Chetan Bhagat's '2 States' but the similarity with '2 States' ends with the South Indian flavor which is brought out through the narratives in both the books.

Bala belongs to a middle class family where the only permissible options to build a successful career are - medicine and engineering. Sounds familiar? Yes, this has been the mindset of Indian middle class because these two streams ensure a successful and happy life. But Bala harbors a lingering desire to direct a film and to cast his favorite star Rajinikanth in it. But this particular aspiration of his always triggers a passive opposite reaction from his parents making it an issue not even worth considering. Finally he relents to their dreams and manages to complete his engineering degree and as a perfect icing on the cake gets transported to America. His parents are contented that Bala stands a commanding position in the marriage market but Bala knows that, 'if he doesn't act fast, he might have to settle for whichever bride his Amma chooses' before he reaches the crucial '30' mark. In order to find a suitable match for himself, he tries many ways to meet different girls - by joining the book-reading club, cycling club and such. The author has attempted very intelligent humor in the narrative by bringing out the point about how opinions are formed about people based on the benchmark of - kind of games they play, the clubs they join or the books they read. In the end, Bala does 'take the plunge' but it is interesting to read how and of which kind.

Book has a quick pace to it and the readers would want to know where Bala's destiny takes him to. The tempo drops in the middle when there is a slight overdose of the matrimonial advertisements but then picks up again on a different note. The narrative gets a little serious after that and the story ends on a great note which seals the story delightfully. Its not a literary masterpiece but I think the author never aimed to write one, it’s a fun, light-read book full of witty puns, if you can just ignore a few pages and paragraphs where it tends to drag a little. A good editing would have removed this irritant too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review : Zoom

Title : Zoom
Illustrator : Istvan Banyai
Publisher : Puffin
Age Group : All

Review written for CROCUS 2010 at Saffron Tree

I haven't (read)seen many wordless books but the moment I laid my eyes on 'Zoom', it just beckoned me to jump in, and the result was amazing, I was speechless. I could not identify the reason - was it the simplicity of the pictures or the complexity of the same, was it the imagination of the author(illustrator) or my own, was it what the pictures showed me or what I wanted to see. I was confused. But after having gone through this whole experience, one thing was certain, not for a moment I felt the need of any word throughout the book. In fact, just for the sake of argument, if I imagine this to be a regular book with words, I see the whole magical experience and impact getting diluted. A perfect book that seamlessly transcends all possible human defined boundaries.

Just to give you a glimpse of what to expect, the first page shows a bright red drawing which looks like a portion of a star fish with simple pattern of yellow dots on it, you turn the page and the second page shows the picture of the previous page zoomed out and that red drawing happens to be a small crest of a rooster. The following page shows a frame further away in distance where we see the rooster actually perched on a fence and some people watching it through their window. But this is not all, in fact, this is just the beginning. Wait till you see where this whole scene is coming from (or taking you to?). I can assure you, you will be pleasantly astonished. And by the time you reach the last page of the book (which could actually be the first page too), you'd be transported to a different level altogether, imagining your life bit by bit, frame by frame. A wonderful device to use with children and let them anticipate what the zoomed out scene would be. We tried doing this at home and got some very interesting scenarios.

Simply a wonderful book that allures young and adult minds alike to let the flight of unguided imagination loose which may never have been attempted before. A great tool to appreciate every single part of any photograph, any picture, any art work or any frame of life, then backing up a little and getting the wider picture. It can be viewed as a philosophical guide too. It encourages the readers to admire the importance of keeping the things in the right perspective. At any particular juncture of life what we see in front of our eyes is just a tiny speck of what the reality actually is, and the image that one set of eyes deciphers or captures could be totally unique in this wide world with each person making his/her own unmatched image.
I think, it is extremely important to learn first and then to pass this most important message to the children to appreciate the different perceptions of different individuals, and judging the same on a single benchmark is just not right. Such books are the perfect aids in bringing home this point.

An exclusive way to look at everything, be it a picture, a situation, an entity or life. I would say, it is not just a book, but an experience and you must enjoy it!!

Published in 1995, Zoom was honoured as one of the best children's books of the year by the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly.

Image Source : Amazon

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Celebration Time at Saffron Tree

I became a proud member of this wonderful Saffron Tree family in Dec, 2009. 'Goldfish Don't Take Bubble Bath' was my first review there and since then I am enjoying being a part of this amazing group.

A brain child of Praba, ST offers a wonderful potpourri of book reviews and literary resources for children.

Saffron Tree is celebrating its fourth birthday from 23rd to 30th Oct. You all are invited to join the fun and to enjoy the special book reviews, interviews, contests and giveaways specifically planned for this occasion. Try to visit the site every few hours as we will be updating it many times during the day, this whole week.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Review : I Shall Live - Surviving The Holocaust Against All Odds

Title : I Shall Live - Surviving the Holocaust Against All Odds
Author : Henry Orenstein
Publisher : Beaufort Books
ISBN : 979-0-8253-0597-9

'I Shall Live' is a first hand account of a Holocaust survivor, Henry Orenstein, who had been through the times before, during and after World War II and what all these dreadful years brought for a Jew. Through this book, the author narrates the chronological happenings of the events - the rise of seemingly mighty Third Reich, its march ahead as if it was indomitable, the intoxicating peak for the Nazis when maximum amount of meanest atrocities were meted out to Jews and the inevitable downfall of this large empire. While reading this book, I could not help wondering how a single fanatic person could instigate so many others to let their inner animal come out and how abysmally can a human fall, even animal world looks less cruel and more compassionate compared to what happened during that time.

The author, Henry first introduces us to the life of a regular Jew in Poland - less avenues for education, target of ridicule at almost all places and being denied the basic rights of a citizen of a country. Jews were leading their lives in this hateful environment inspired by anti-Semitic feeling among fellow countrymen. The situation was getting worse with each passing year and the educated Jews were aware of the deteriorating situation of their community in Poland. As Henry mentions in the book, 'Almost every Jew was living life with a dream - 'Next year in Jerusalem', but it was more of a greeting for the older generation who had their roots in Poland and could not think of settling in any other place than their own home - Poland.

But the dreadful period began when in 1939, German army attacked Poland. Sensing more danger for male Jews, Henry accompanied by his father and two brothers - Felek and Sam fled their hometown -Hrubieszow, Poland, leaving his mother and sister Hanka behind. But soon all places became equally insecure and they returned back, spent some months in hiding, soon to be captured by the Nazis in 1942.

Then began the savagery and the brutality of the concentration camps of Budzyn, Majdanek, Plaszow, Ravensbruck, Sachsenhausen and finally the death march which became the march to their
freedom. But they lost their parents very early on and got the news of the barbaric way they were killed and thousands and thousands of other Jews in mass killings. Orenstein questioned himself many times 'what was the use of fighting, of struggling so hard against all odds to survive? And if by some miracle we succeeded, was it worth it, to go on living in such an evil world? ' What made him continue to hold on was the undying urge to live and to see the destruction of Hitler. He mentions that he was aware that he was being a witness to a unique event in the history. 'Here we were in the twentieth century, and a supposedly civilized nation was doing this.' Surviving on minimal nutrition, witnessing beatings, death and disease everywhere, constantly fearing whether they would be able to see the next morning while all this time waiting for some miracle to happen - had become constants in their lives in the camps.

In a strange turn of events, special groups of scientists, mathematicians and chemists were formed in the concentration camps and the objective of these groups was to use the intelligence of Jews in inventing a unique gas for the Germans which could help them in the war. Henry and his brothers falsely joined these groups and were spared of the extreme treatment for some time, being part of these special groups.

Orenstein does mention about some God sent people like Mrs. Lipinska who displayed immense courage and went out of their way to save them. Such people justify being human and become a source of inspiration for many. 'She was truly sent by Him to inspire courage in us, to counterbalance the evil that seemed universal'.

Overall, 'I Shall Live - Surviving the Holocaust Against All Odds' is a brilliant journal of events describing the harsh realities of Holocaust and the events leading to it, which would remain as a black mark on the forehead of humanity for all times to come. A must read for those who want to know more about history, World War II and Holocaust.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review : Days With Thathu

Title : Days with Thathu
Author : Geeta Dharmarajan
Artist : Nancy Raj
Publisher : Katha
Age : 2-4 years
ISBN : 978-81-89934-48-4

There is a unique flavor to the relationship that children share with their grandparents and a very special one in its own sense, nothing compared to any other thing in the world.

Through 'Days with Thathu' , a little girl brings to us a glimpse of her beautiful small world which she shares with her grandfather and all the ordinary things that they do extra-ordinarily, in fact, the ordinary things become extra-ordinary when they both do it together. She enjoys being with her Thatha, who is lovingly called Thathu sometimes. They go to watch cinema, go in the open sea playing with the fish, Thathu walks and she skips holding hands, they enjoy grey clouds and the playing in the rain, they run together, they somersault together and play pretend games while she sits on the lap of her dear Thathu.

She enjoys all the activities that she gets to do with her Thathu during the day and then a peaceful rest on his lap.

A sweet little book conveying the true feelings of a little heart and the same are beautifully projected by the art work of Nancy Raj. She has brilliantly captured the togetherness and loving bond between a grandfather and a granddaughter through sketches, using very little colors which works marvelously to bring out the simplicity and the clarity.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Review : Number the Stars

Title : Number the Stars
Author : Lois Lowry

An amazing, sensitive and emotional story about two very dear friends - Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen set against the backdrop of World War II in Denmark. The two girls love to be together but at this time saving life is of prime importance, for which even separation is acceptable. Ellen belonged to the Jewish community and for Jews - Denmark, their own country, their own home for ages was not safe anymore. Nazi soldiers were all over the place and some strict irrational rules were being imposed on the people living in the city - not to use the electricity, no proper availability of food items, just to name a few. In spite of all these, people were continuing with their lives as normally as they possibly could, but one day, the Jewish families were informed that Germans had prepared a list of all Jewish families in the neighborhood and plan to "relocate" them. By now, people were aware of what Germans meant with the word 'relocate'.

Johansen family became instrumental in doing their bit to protect the Rosen's family and ensure that they exit Denmark before Germans reach them so they hide Ellen in their home as their eldest daughter, who had died in a mysterious accident. And they made arrangements to send the Rosen's family to Sweden with the help of Annemarie's uncle Henrik who was a fisherman. In this pursuit, Annemarie found herself in a very crucial situation where she had to use her presence of mind and her inner confidence to make this mission a success.

As the events of the story unfold, we observe Annemarie getting mature, not by years but by the experience. I liked the way author pointed this out so subtly - 'They (Annemarie and her mother) looked at each other for a long time and said nothing. In that moment, with that look, they became equals'. Sometimes adversity manages to bridge all gaps between individuals and that is what gets conveyed through this book.
While witnessing the situations and the sudden changes in her and her dear ones' lives, Annemarie's mind struggles to find answers to many of her doubts and questions, but she understands and later comes to realize the importance of her uncle's simple wisdom - 'It is much easier to be brave if you do not know everything. We know only what we need to know.'

The story very cautiously reveals the fears, apprehensions and uncertainty that were in the minds of each family and more so in the Jew families, without going into the gory details of holocaust and concentration camps. 'Number the Stars' manages to strike the right balance between just appropriate amount of information for the young readers while focusing more on the friendship which cuts across castes, creeds, religions and communities. The beautiful handling of the subject makes it a highly recommended book for 9+ yrs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review : Secrets of Happy Couples

Title : Secrets of Happy Couples - Loving Yourself, Your Partner, And Your Life
Author : Kim Olver
Publisher : InsideOutPress
ISBN : 978-0--9827549-0-0

This book deals with that one relationship which has intrigued every individual at some point of time, either before entering into it or after. As the author Kim Olver says - 'creating successful relationships with our significant others and parenting children are two of the most difficult jobs we will ever face and yet, we receive no formal training for either'. I want to extend it a little further - these are the two relationships which are fun and challenging at the same time and the only way we can transform this challenge into fun is by appreciating the uniqueness in each individual, respecting people as they are and not trying to make them a clone of ourselves. She very rightly points out that the only person's behavior that you can control is yours. It is of paramount importance to keep reminding oneself that the partner is not yours. The tighter you hold onto someone or try to control their behavior, the greater is the likelihood that he or she will leave or feel suffocated, which can definitely not be the right ingredient for building a healthy and happy relationship.

We all grow up learning passively while watching our parents as a couple but the issues, challenges, preferences, idiosyncrasies, almost everything changes with every couple. So extrapolating the conclusions derived in one to another is not a good idea and not fair too. Moreover, fairy tales and TV shows do great amount of damage by creating a make believe world in the young minds and when the actual reality deviates from the fairy land, which in all probabilities happens eventually, sometimes it gets very hard to accept the reality because unfortunately most of these stories end at the point when actually the life begins.

Kim elaborates upon some areas and some issues which are sensitive and how to stay clear or work around these specific areas to make the relationship enjoyable for both individuals. Usually most couples get along well when times are good. But when times are rough which are the testing times for the relationship, they fight with each other, ignore each other or leave the relationship. One option is to seek help in mending the relationship and if they both agree that some external agent would be able to bring sanity in their thinking, there is no harm in trying that option and should not be considered as a defeat of the relationship.

Kim implores the readers to make use of the Platinum rule - 'Do unto others as they would have you do unto them', instead of the Golden rule which says that 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. You will be surprised to see what all can a slight change in the perspective achieve. It is imperative that both individuals sincerely attempt to understand the other's perspectives and while trying to build a long, peaceful and healthy relationship, satisfying the partner's needs should not become an ego-fight

'Secrets of Happy Couples' is a very well written book, reinforcing the most important fact that all great relationships begin and end with yourself. What I like the most about this book is how the individual traits, preferences and reactions are considered and discussed against different scenarios rather than working the other way round - picking up the scenarios and listing out behavioral do's and don’ts in that situation.
In my opinion, any external agent, counselors or books can help or impress upon the individual thinking to a certain extent, the complete onus to traverse the path rests entirely on the individuals involved and there cannot be any customized training for that. So have fun exploring it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review : The Peacemaker Parent

Title : The Peacemaker Parent
Author : Lorraine Esposito
Publisher : EME Press
ISBN : 978-0-9842953-2-6

Book Reviewed for BookPleasures
One thing that is common across all cultures, religions and countries, is the challenging parenting, more so now when there is no end to the problems and no dearth of resources to address the issues as well.

Lorraine Esposito in her book 'The Peacemaker Parent' is trying to provide the aid in making the process of bringing up the children a little more smoother and less trying. Very rightly she points out the mistakes that we as parents make at some point or the other while being so inundated in the pressures of parenting. As a parent the first emotion you feel while reading this book, is that of not being alone, the realization dawns yet again that we are not the only one, there are many more who are sailing, if not the same, at least a similar kind of boat. The storms that each of us face can vary in the magnitude and frequency but they are not absent all together. What all parents aim for is to achieve short-term results to bring in positive future of our children.

After having analyzed the problem which she we very correctly identifies as starting from the morning stress hours, she then moves on to the steps that could be experimented with in order to overcome the same kind of situations, same kind of responses and same kind of feelings. Throughout most of her narrative she lays a lot of stress on de-stressing the morning time. And there are always plenty of pitfalls while doing this which makes the task of accomplishing it even more cumbersome.

Among other things that she has pointed out in the book, there are some which would surely appeal to every person who is reading this book because as it is the same results must have been derived already by personal parenting experiences - nagging does not help, to acquiesce to irrational demands or behavior of the children is not the solution but the way in which disapproval is made clear is of paramount importance, keeping the instructions simple always has more chances of getting followed, be open to children, they are not wrong always, do not start with any pre-conceived notion about them or about their capabilities. Let them be honest with you and honesty comes out when the child believes that his mistakes won’t cause the parent to think the worst about him. Only then the confidence to confide in the parent comes in the child from within because he/she is sure that the character will not be judged by specific incidents.

However, my questioning mind does not completely agree with the barter system that she recommends for some situations. I have my own doubts regarding this approach, what kind of signals do we send out to the children - it is alright to haggle for each and every action that they do and they should expect something in return for every action of theirs? But this is my personal opinion, this solution may work for some as every household is unique and the individuals involved are diverse.

Having said all this, she maintains that, "Nothing in life can prepare a person for the challenges faced by parenthood. The experience of being completely responsible for another human is only the real teacher" and this is the essence and in my opinion, the fun of parenting. There are some solutions and tools which can be tried for a few things but largely it is the sole responsibility of the individuals involved, no one from outside, not even any book or counselor can do the trick. They can maximum provide the aid and correct the thinking process to a certain extent but the rest of the journey has to be covered by the parents themselves, no proxy works

Book Review : Angela And The Baby Jesus

Title : Angela and the Baby Jesus
Author : Frank McCourt
Illustrated by : Raul Colon (Kids' edition) and Loren Long (Adult edition)
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

The author Frank McCourt reminisces about one incidence from his mother - Angela's childhood when she was six years old. Most of the stories that we have read so far on Christmas theme are written with either the Christmas eve or the Christmas day in focus but this small book is very different.
It happens a few days before Christmas. Baby Jesus is already in the Limmerick Church where little Angela gets to see him - an infant in the crib but what makes her heart sad, very sad is the fact that little Jesus is lying in the crib in cool, wet, dark December nights without any cover or blanket to keep him warm. She wonders why nobody thought of keeping the baby Jesus warm and so she decides to take this task upon herself. She thinks of a plan to take the baby home with her and keep him warm and cosy. But materialising the plan is not going to be easy when there are a whole bunch of hurdles on the way - she has to keep her plan a secret, she has to pick the baby when the Church is empty, she is aware that stealing is bad thing and she could get punishment for stealing the baby. No matter what, Angela is convinced, she is determined, she has to take care of poor and cold Jesus because she knows how it is to be cold in these chilly nights. Now carrying the baby in her arms, she has to be extra careful. She surely cannot enter her home through the main door which means she has to climb the backyard wall with the baby. She is in despair and asks the baby for help and she does get the help. She is told in her head by the Jesus - "throw the baby over the wall and recover him on the other side". She throws once, she throws twice but her attempts are unsuccessful, finally in third attempt he goes over but a very terrible thing happens this time, he lands in the wrong backyard. Angela now talks to the baby very sternly and asks him to cooperate and not fly like angles so that he is warm soon. This time baby Jesus obediently obeys the instructions and lands in the right courtyard sporting the same smile on his face all through. She heaves a sigh of relief but the trouble is not over yet, her brother Pat comes out in the backyard and starts questioning her. What would Pat tell the mother and how can Angela still manage to keep the Baby Jesus safe and warm with her on this chilly December night? Who would assure her that the baby is safe? You must read to know the following sequence of events.

Frank McCourt, an author par excellence has an unparalleled ability of weaving extra-ordinary tales from the ordinary situations. A very heartfelt tender story full of love and emotions that is sure to reach out to every little heart and tug some strings there. There are two editions of this book - one for kids and one for the adults. I picked up the one which is for the kids. The riveting drawings by Raul Colon, portraying Angela's emotions, are a treat for the readers to savor. Just the title page picture gives an idea what to expect inside the book.

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