Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review : Moon, Ramu and I

Title : Moon, Ramu and I

Author : Geeta Dharmarajan

Illustrator : Harshvardhan Kadam

Publisher : Katha

A lovely piece of imagination of a little child who wants to go to the moon as many Americans and Russians do. (S)He makes an attempt to reach moon by climbing on all the furniture piled up in the room, but realizes that the moon is way too far. Then plan B is put into action, to go to a nearby hilltop to be more closer to the moon. To give him/her company and timely suggestions, there is the pet dog Ramu and fun loving Nana (grandfather). Now three of them pull all the furniture to the top of the hill but sadly that is not sufficient either. But there is something which comes to their aid and that is the silvery shining path of the moonbeam. The party of three get onto it and fulfill their fantasy. There is someone else who is following them and soon would like to join them. So hold onto your seats, read on and join the adventure to the moon without any rocket or any sort of preparation.

This cute little story by Katha reminded me of the Bhabhloo bear of 'Bhabhloo Bear's Adventure', by Pratham books. Bhabhloo had similar dream of reaching the moon too and was helped by the silvery moonbeam in the end. And now all Himalayan Bears wear the same silver moonbeam on their chests as a reminder of that incidence.

The pictures by Harshwardhan Kadam are poured on complete two pages with minimal text - a sure way to pull young readers towards this particular fancy of the little one like them.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review : Heroes of the Holocaust - True Stories of Rescues by Teens

Title : Heroes of the Holocaust : True Stories of Rescues by Teens

Author : Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun

Publisher : Scholastic

Age group : 10+ years

'Heroes of the Holocaust' is the book celebrating the spirit, fortitude, grit and determination of five teenagers who defied all rules laid by the Nazis and put their sincerest efforts in helping the Jews during WWII period. Despite the situations, the stories are not depressing or sad rather these are captivating and inspiring accounts of young adults who never feared for their own lives, instead they displayed unmatched sensibilities and compassion and had no qualms following their own hearts.

The book starts with a brief introduction of the history marking the dates of - rise of the Hitler's empire, the gradual invasions and occupations by Hitler's armies in neighboring countries, Hitler's 'final solution' creating the conditions for Second World War and finally the fall of Nazis. The simplified map of Eurpoe in the beginning helps in understanding how the Nazis were advancing and some of the neutral countries which provided the safer grounds to many Jews during that time. Also, the terminologies used, such as SS, Gestapo, resistance groups, labor and concentration camps are briefly explained in the prologue part of the book making it easier for the young readers to understand.

Poland based Maria Andzelm helped in hiding two Jewish men underneath the floor of a barn for two years when her many other Jewish neighbors and friends were deported to camps for inhumanly treatment. All through that time, she firmly believed in her father's faith 'If you do something good, something good will happen to you'.

In another story, 16 years old Henri formed a Jewish student group in Belgium and helped his fellow Jews in hiding and providing the basic supplies to live for as long as possible. They truly exemplified the quality that during the most horrible times of their lives, they were looking out for others.

Then there is the story of Anne's (Diary of Anne Frank) sister's friend - Hilde. Hilde was a nurse in Holland, who helped many Jewish little children about to be deported to the camps with their parents, find Christian homes to avoid the inevitable.

All these stories are true accounts with original names of persons and places which makes it all the more authentic. After each story, the curiosity of the readers to know about these heroes is satisfied by briefly providing the details of how their lives changed after the World War II. Some of these people were later honored as 'Righteous Among Nations' and their names entered the pages of history in golden words.

Those times though very sad, brought the best in many people which gives hope for many generations to come that there can never be dearth of goodness in human race and that one Hitler can never win against innumerable such beings. I think such books are perfect way to remember those compassionate souls and follow their ideals. As the author mentions in the introductory passage : 'The Holocaust will remain a sacred and painful memory of the millions who perished. Yet in the darkest hours of the human race, the lights of compassion and courage still glowed, thanks to the heroes of the Holocaust'.

Reviews of other books on WWII:

Number the Stars

Hitler's Canary

I Shall Survive

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review : The Pleasure Seekers

Title : The Pleasure Seeker

Author : Toshani Doshi

Publisher : Bloomsbury
ISBN : 978-0-7475-9092-7

Every character in the story gives an impression of being a seeker of pleasure during this 300 page saga of a religiously staunch Jain family across three generations. The pleasure seeking begins from Prem Kumar the head of the family who harbors a dream to send his eldest son - Babo, to London for the brighter future of the son as well as for their family business - the specialized paint factory. It passes on to Babo, who within less than a year in London manages to adopt entirely different ways of life and gets besotted by a Welsh girl Sian and pines for the utmost happiness which he believes only this girl can bring in his life. Sian takes the biggest decision of her life to join Babo in the test of commitment thrown by Babo's parents. They manage to come out of this hurdle much more stronger and more committed. Sian keeps feeling a part of her heart yearning for the life she has left behind oceans away. Eventually Babo and Sian's daughters - Mayuri and Bean continue their journey on the same path.

Some characters added to the story do not make any sense and remain a redundant addition to the narrative and one classic example is Babo's brother Chotu. However, the one character which binds the story and three generations together is - Ba (grandmother of Babo) who lives in Anjar, Gujarat. She has a deep sense of sniffing out the upcoming problems and happy times. With her experience and unmatched wisdom, she manages to calm down every storm that aims towards Patel household. But there are many lacunas in the story which I find hard not to mention. This being a family and relationship oriented book, there never occurs a point when the depth of relationship becomes apparent - between Babo and Sian, between parents and their daughters or between any other relationship. Even when it comes to Babo and Sian and their true love being compared to 'Ekam' by Ba, the readers never get the feeling that their love permeated beyond the physical part of it. Sharing of thoughts while leading the lives together never comes into the narrative.

You can't miss the flavors of Rushdie-ism and Mistry-ism in Doshi's writing. Being a poet and a journalist, Tishani has her way with words and some of the phrases used in the story feel perfectly appropriate, one of my favorites is the 'sometimes summers' for some summer vacation that Babo, Sian, Mayuri and Bean used to spend in Sian's parents place at Welsh.

At the end of the book, after reading 300 pages readers may feel - another book over, definitely no literary piece but perhaps it never aimed to be one.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review : For the Love of a Cat

Title : For The Love Of A Cat

Author : Rosalind Wilson

Illustrations by : Wen Hsu

Publisher : Katha

For the Love of a Cat is a story of a young and poor artist who derived immense pleasure from his painting work. The other love of his life was his little cat Tara with whom he shared his home, food and even his last meal. As they waited for their death, a group of priests from the temple of Buddha knock at the door of his hut with a request. They wanted the starving painter to paint the portrait of Lord Buddha with all possible creatures of nature surrounding him with only one exception. There should not be any cat in the painting as Buddha does not like the cats. The artist sets off to work delightfully and all through this time, he has his dear companion to give him company. When the painting is about to be complete, his cat fell sick and was dying and he understood what his cat wanted during the last days. The cat wanted to be a part of the painting too. Now the painter has to choose between his art and his dying cat. What does he finally decide and who comes to his rescue at the end if he disobeys the priests?

This sweet little book by Katha, focuses on the special bond between a boy and his pet. Simple text on the pages and vibrant colors of the illustrations make this book easily a favorite among young readers.

The author Rosalind Wilson, an English woman having heard a lot about India travelled to India in 1966 made this place her home. She was passionate about writing for children.

Wen Hsu was born in Taiwan and later moved to Costa Rica. Her brilliant illustrations reflect a perfect blend of Chinese shapes and vibrant colors of Costa Rica.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review : A Walk in the Woods

Title : A Walk in the Woods

Author : Bill Bryson

Publisher : Black Swan

ISBN : 978-0-552-99702-7

Happened to read another book (after Hiking Through by Paul V.Stutzman)dedicated to the longest trail in the world - the Appalachian Trail . The famous AT spans 14 states on the eastern coast of United States of American, from Georgia in the South to Maine in the North. The adventures of the trail beckon many hikers every year inviting them to experience the breathtaking vistas, unforeseen vegetation, diverse array of animals and not to forget the brutal weather, harsh conditions of the terrain and sometimes even threat to the life.

Bill Bryson decides to set off to hike through this 2100 miles long terrain accompanied by his old friend Stephen Katz. In the initial few chapters, the author vividly explains his preparation for the unique experience of life - from buying the right guide books and manuals, right gear, needful items to be carried, to acclimatizing the body for the trail.

Within just a few days of their trail, they realize how ill-equipped and out of shape they are for this big task but they do manage to survive the initial hurdles and continue on the trail at their own convenient pace. They keep walking on, counting the days, night, miles and sometimes the footsteps. Bryson and Katz take a break in between for a few weeks but during that time, Bryson undertakes a series of day hikes by car so as to stay close to the trail. During one such hikes he happens to be in a town of Centralia, which was once inhabited by people but owing to the underground coal fire which continues to burn for decades now, the town has been abandoned and now wears a deserted look. Bryson's description of this town is simply surreal.

They do return to complete the last leg of the trail together but I leave it for the readers to find out how they take the hardest part of the AT - the heat and wilderness of Maine.

Among many things that I liked about this book, one is the way Bryson introduces the readers to so many other co-hikers they meet while on the trail from the ones like Mary Ellen belonging to the category 'know-it-all' , to 'full of themselves and oblivious to others' like one group of hikers and many others who fall in between these two categories. The author comments about the passions and obsessions of many and one common obsession which is noticeable among many hikers is their interest to indulge in the discussion on comparing and often condemning the prices and qualities of trail gears of other hikers.

Also, throughout the book, Bryson talks about the flora and fauna of the places they cover during their journey and brings to the readers the actual scenario and plight of the same in the hands of the humans. He has very objectively written about the number of species which have and still continue to become extinct in these regions and how drastically inadequate the efforts have been to arrest this plunder.

'A Walk in the Woods' as the name suggests is a travelogue and not a reference book or guide book for the trail. Bill Bryson has reported his experiences in an interesting manner with right proportion of humor to keep the readers engaged.

Stutzman of 'Hiking Through' was on a spiritual journey seeking peace and eternal happiness while physically he was on the AT . He was completely focused on covering mile after mile mostly alone and occasionally in the company of some co-hikers. Bill Bryson's book has a more relaxed approach to the hike that is evident from the way the author undertakes the hike in the company of a friend whose probability of continuing with this task is drastically meager. He talks about nature, geology, politics, history, human psychology, and also hiking.

I must mention the way he summarized his experience on the trail through this paragraph -

"I had come to realize that I didn't have any feelings towards the AT that weren't thoroughly contradictory. I was weary of the trail, but captivated by it; found the endless slog increasingly exhausting but ever invigorating; grew tired of the boundless woods but admired their boundlessness; enjoyed the escape from civilization and ached for its comforts. All of this together, all at once, every moment, on the trail or off."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Review : Bringing Up Vasu - That First Year

Title : Bringing Up Vasu - That First Year

Author : Parul Sharma

Publisher : Westland

A fellow reviewer from BookReviews - Bedazzled suggested this book to me and I ordered this book right away to read it leisurely during the Christmas holidays. I started reading it two days before the vacation officially started and this book turned out to be such a page turner that I finished it within two days. That is a good enough evidence that 'Bringing up Vasu' is indeed a quick read. Bedazzled, thank you!

It is a coming of age story of Mira, a new mom who aspires to be a 'Supermom' handling the newborn child, home and office with aplomb. Rightly so because she is very well prepared, she has read all pregnancy related literature, attended all pre-natal classes and planned the post-natal phase with utmost precision. The story starts with the delivery of little Vasu but the true reality stares Mira in her face when she brings Vasu home and is welcomed by a shocking news that her trusted maid is going to leave the job. Now she has to manage the newborn baby without the maid's help, yes her mother is there but she also has to leave soon to take care of her ailing aunt. While on maternity leave, her company gets taken over and in that process, Mira loses her job too. So now she has 'no nanny', 'no support from mother', 'no job' and persistent sleeplessness, but she is left with '80 kilos' of weight which she had so meticulously planned to shed in initial months after delivery but all those plans seem to be simply futile.

The unending cycle of baby's poos, diaper changing, feeding and putting the baby to sleep keep Mira and her husband Anand on their toes.

The story is deliciously peppered with many other characters - a few friends of Mira, a yummy mummy Rhea who keeps Mira abreast of the 'in things' in mommy circles. Overall an interesting and engaging story and I am sure all new-age mothers will relate to the story at some level - the highs and lows of being a new mom, handling a lot of things during this phase - when to step out of the confines of home to pursue the career, insecurities of leaving the helpless child at home with a Nanny, providing the best to the child right from identifying the best preschool and in all this the unending quest to find own identity.

The most witty parts of the story are the conversations between Mira and Anand. However, on a very few occasions the humor felt somewhat forced and not natural with the flow of the story but such points are really few and far between. Mira's 'Letters from the edge' deserve special mention too. The only character which felt a little unbaked and unreal was that of Mira's mother, but that is a small irritant compared to many positives that readers get from the book.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book Review : Ball Heaven

Title : Ball Heaven

Author : Diego Castellanos

Illustrator : Paula Bossino

ISBN : 978-81-89934-57-6

Have you ever wondered what would a ball write if it ever decides to express its feelings in a human- understandable language? In 'Ball Heaven' , a ball invites the readers to join him in his journey to discover a ball heaven contrary to the belief of many who think that balls do not have any heaven. The fact is, balls do have one and their heaven is - in the red watermelon glistening in the midst of green leaves, in playing hide and seek, near the sea shores being one among the pebbles, in flying, in swimming in the skies, in falling from the sky wrapped in rain clouds and many more such enchanting lovely places and things. But there comes some sad days in their lives too when they are not perfectly round, when they are broken but during such times, they need a special someone - a true friend, who brings in a ray of new hope and happiness in their lives.

I like such books which encourages young readers to have compassion for everybody and everything around them and to cultivate sensitivity towards the feelings of others. Also, it brings out a very subtle message that a heaven is actually a state when we learn to appreciate and enjoy everything that we observe, experience and do, no matter how small or big, significant of insignificant that thing really is. If it gives us pleasure, the same becomes our heaven.

Simple illustrations by Paula Bossino using mostly pencil drawings are lovely and I am sure the drawings will motivate many kids to pick their pencils and doodle something that comes to their minds. That is what my kids did after reading this book.

'Ball Heaven' is the Katha Chitrakala 2009 Runner Up.

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