Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Review: The Bear in the Cave by Michael Rosen and Adrian Reynolds

Title: The Bear in the Cave 
Writer: Michael Rosen
Illustrator: Adrian Reynolds
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 32
Genre: Children's literature / Fiction
Rating: 10/10
Format: Paperback (includes Audio CD)
Suitable for: 2 years+

About the Book (from the website):

A very happy bear hears the sounds of the city from his quiet home by the sea and decides to find out what city life is like. Buying the ticket and travelling on the train is all very exciting. And so is the city! But after a while the bear finds the city a little too noisy and a little too busy - and people are beginning to laugh at him. He feels very sad and alone, until four children find him and show him the way home, with much fun along the way. 


I chanced upon this book while hunting for some good story books for my son. I was not aware about its celebrated author, Michael Rosen, of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ fame. But this book took me by surprise. It clicked with my 3 year old from the first day, and then we read it every day for about a month. He is still not tired of this book.

First of all the illustrations are gorgeous. I am totally in love with them. Secondly, the story is engaging and dynamic. It is interesting to follow the bear through the city in his adventure. Through the bear’s eyes, the young kids look at different aspects of city life.

Another very attractive aspect of this book is the use of onomatopoeia (yes, I just discovered this word, which means ‘a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes’). In simple words, the author has used similar-sounding, rhyming words. We all know how kids love such tongue-twisters. 

Sample these lines:

“And I play with the waves all day.
Splishety splash
Splishety splash
Splishety splashety splish.”

Or these:

“The sound of the city in my ears.
Vroomy vroom
Vroomy vroom
Vroomy vroomity vroom.”

Moreover, this book is a great bedtime book despite all the commotion and laughter-inducing repetitive / rhyming words because it slows down towards the end. After much splashing about in the waves, the kids and the bear go to sleep inside the cave, surrounded by the tranquility of the sea at night.

It is a must-read. You are going to love reading this to your kids as much as the kids are going to enjoy listening to the adventures of the bear.  

An Inside view of the book:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tips for buying children's books

Here are a few tips for people who are starting to build up their children’s books’ collection:

1. Learn about children’s books and authors by reading on the internet. There are a lot of websites and blogs dedicated for children’s books.

2. Don’t buy everything you read about. Make notes. Find more about the books. Evaluate on the basis of your child’s interests and level of understanding.

3. How to look inside the book, when you are purchasing it online? Most books on Amazon offer sample pages (2-3 pages) to give a peek into the book. You could search specific books on YouTube also. Many people upload videos of books and book readings where you can see the inside pages and find out more about the book. Another way is to do Google Images search of any book.

4. The easiest way to check best prices on various websites is any price comparison website like India Bookstore.

5. Online shopping websites like Amazon and Flipkart are undoubtedly best places to buy your books for their competitive pricing. Infibeam is another website where you would often find books not available on any other site but the prices may be a little higher. I have personally used all these websites.

6. There are also some places from where you can buy second hand books because let’s face it, international titles are expensive. I have used Passaro Pre-owned Imported Children’s Books (Chennai) for buying second hand books. 
They have good storybooks in the range of Rs 100-150. Apart from these, there are several Facebook Groups on Used Children’s books. Many metro cities also have booksellers selling ‘Books-by-weight’ which means they will have Rs X per Kg of Books.

7. Indian children’s books publishers like Tulika, Tara Books, Karadi Tales and Pratham Books have a wide range of books in very affordable prices.

8. In last 4 years I have learnt that one needs to be patient in buying books for kids. I have bought books for as much as 800 rupees. Honestly speaking, for regular people, this is not a sound practice. Be in the lookout for discounts in the range of 60% and above.

9. You can also select a price range. For example, I select books upto Rs 200 and then go about choosing books. Kids just need some good story books to read.

Image source: Google

You may also want to see: 

Why you should Read Aloud to your Child
How to start Reading to your Child
5 Children's Fiction Titles We Love

Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Start Reading to Your Child

1. Start Early
Remember: the sooner, the better, the easier. It is easy to form habits in very young children because you make the rules. Once they grow up, and start seeking independence; it gets more challenging. You can start even when they are in womb. Trust me, many people do it.

2. Read Yourself
My question is do you read? Personally, I read a lot while my husband reads zilch, but he still reads to our son. So, if you are trying to inculcate that habit in your child, chances are you are a reader yourself or at least you understand the value of doing so. So, be the role model for your child. Let him see you read. If nothing else, read children's books. You won’t believe how much you can learn from them, plus they are gorgeous.

3. Set the Mood
It is important to create an environment that encourages reading. Good books and opportunities to read are two important parts of setting the mood. If you want a habit to grow, you need to curb some of the other things like screen time (in the form of TV and tablets). Too much of screen time is not good for kids. Here is an excellent article on the subject.

4. Good Books (appropriate size and content)
If the kids are very young, say 0-1.5 years old, get them bright board books with minimum words. Books on Animals, Trucks, Construction vehicles or everyday objects usually work very well for that age group. Choose a size that they can handle easily like mini board books. Also, avoid paperbacks for very young kids. Board books are available in various sizes - from mini to lap size.

In this day and age, there is no dearth of good literature for young kids. There are several foreign and Indian authors and publishers for children’s books. The subjects are also exhaustive. You can also pick books on subjects that they are curious about or just plain entertaining stories. Besides, if you are confused, many people are writing about children’s books across the internet. You just have to look.

5. Movie to Books
There are books which have been turned into movies like the Gruffalo, the Gruffalo’sChild and the Room on the Broom. We read the books first and then watched the movies but you can do the other way round. There are books for ‘Finding Nemo’ or ‘The Jungle Book’ too, besides many others.

6. Bedtime Routines
It is easier to make reading part of their bedtime routine because when they settle for night, kids usually want to listen to stories. Moreover, they are eager to do anything as long as they don’t have to sleep right away. I think one can start with familiar characters or subjects from animated movies which the child identifies, and then move on to others gradually.

7. Never make it a chore
Don’t make it another 'thing-to-do' in the list. It will put them off, especially if they are older. When my son was 1-1.5 year old, we did not have a fixed time to read. Like other kids, he would keep fiddling with stuff around the house; and I would just sit and read his books aloud. At that age, they want to do things you are doing. So, he would come and sit, and take the book from me. And now we read 5 books every day on an average.  

8. Give it importance
Many people don't think too highly of reading to kids. It is not just story-time, believe me. I already wrote why you should Read Aloud to your kids in my previous post. Take it seriously. 

You may also want to see: 

Why you should Read Aloud to your Child
5 Children's Fiction Titles We Love

Image source: Google

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why you should Read Aloud to your Child: a Personal Experience

Since I have been reading more of children’s books these days, I thought it was time to start writing about them here. I am amazed at the kind of literature there is for the young and very young kids. If you assumed that children’s books would be childish, you could not be more wrong. I have learnt so much by just reading to my son. And I love them as much as he does. 

As a book lover myself, I knew I wanted to raise a reader. Yes, he could become a reader on his own but on my part, I wanted to do my best.

I started READING ALOUD my own books to my son (yes, you heard it right) when he was a tiny baby because at that time kids just need to hear your voice and language. I got him the cloth book of ‘Fuzzy Bee and Friends’, and board books of ‘Squishy Turtle and friends’ and ‘the Very Hungry Caterpillar’ when he was 6 months old. 

In the beginning, books are just another playthings. He would not even sit on one place to be READ ALOUD but that was his age and not disinterest in books. I still continued reading to him. At that time, it felt may be he really wasn't interested in books but once when he was 9-10 months old, I asked him to get me ‘the Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and he did. It was such a thrilling moment for me.

From that moment to this day (3 years later), I can tell you from personal experience that there are only positives to reading aloud. There are hundreds of articles and enough research on why we should READ ALOUD to our children. You just need to Google. But here, I would share my personal experience:

Focus. When you encourage the habit of sitting on one place and engage your child with a story, where he looks at the pictures, tries to make sense of what is happening; you enable him to focus. Young kids are restless with high energy flying all over the place. But reading to your child develops focus and the ability to concentrate.

Learn new words and concepts. When you read books after books each day, you obviously come across several new words. A child is introduced to new words and concepts in a much better way than it can ever happen through videos and television. Even I have learnt so many new words while reading children’s books. Many times, when the kids are little, it is interesting to explain even simple words which they do not have life’s experience to understand.

Imagination. Books open a world of imagination for them, where even animals and machines talk and emote. Anything is possible in their books. Soon they start imagining their own stories with their own favourite things. The gift of imagination is priceless.

Love for Learning. Initially, what attract young kids to books are the pictures. Slowly they start noticing the words. I have observed that the kids who are read to, are more interested in learning the alphabets. My 3.5 year old can read words with simple sounds like CAT, MAN, MUG, etc., and honestly, I have never sat him down to teach alphabets. Of course, I tell him when he asks and correct his mistakes; but absolutely no rote learning. My goal is to inculcate the habit of reading and love for language, and I trust, rest everything will fall into place.

Bonding. This is the best part of reading to your children. It is a great one-on-one time. It offers the opportunity to sit with them and ask questions related or unrelated to the story. It offers the perfect chance to connect with them. And it is very important to connect with them, no matter what age they are in. 

You may also want to see: 

5 Children's Fiction Titles We Love

Image source: Google

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

Title: The Newlyweds
Author: Nell Freudenberger
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 335
Price: Rs 399
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

From the Back Cover:

Amina met George online. Within months she has left her home in Bangladesh and is living in George’s house in the American suburbs. Theirs is a very twenty-first-century union, forged from afar yet echoing the traditions of the arranged marriage.

But as Amina struggles to find her place in America, it becomes clear that neither she nor George have been entirely honest with each other. Both have brought to the marriage a secret - a vital, hidden part of themselves – which will reveal who they are and whether their future is together or an ocean apart.

My thoughts:

The first reason to read this book was its cover page. I loved it. The title appealed to me too; however, the book is not about ‘newlyweds’ in the strict sense of the word. The story has been narrated by Amina Mazid of the time when she considers herself a newlywed. She clarifies that usually a couple would be considered newlywed till their first anniversary, which is the time they need to settle down in their new life. But in her case, until the time her parents join her in America she would not be truly settled.

Her parents’ only child, Amina wants to get away from her circumstances. Hailing from Bangladesh, her childhood and growing up years were difficult. She even had to drop out of school because the money was scarce. George, who is from America, embodies her chance to escape from the bleak future she foresees for herself in Bangladesh.   

Both Amina and George find their own reasons to believe that they would complement each other in marriage, but when they actually begin their journey, there are a few surprises in store. The book surely reflects the reality of an arranged marriage well. People keep their best foot forward; and when they actually start living together, the reality of how a person is a mix of several things - not all good, not all bad – dawns.

I am in conflict about the story. There is nothing spectacular about it and yet there are a few above average real moments. t is not very clear why George would want to marry someone from a dramatically different background, different upbringing, values and beliefs. Moreover, irrespective of the fact that it is about newlyweds, this is certainly not a romance novel. But, give it a shot.

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

 “..wasn’t that what it was like for all newlyweds? ……. It felt strange until one day it didn’t.”

“It wasn’t that George was old but that he felt sorry for himself that drove her crazy. If her father was Thunder, then George was Smoke – and how could you argue with someone who began to disappear as soon as you opened your mouth?”

“What a strange thing, she thought, to find out one day that you had built your whole life on a mistake, and the next to discover that this fact would allow you to have your dearest wish.”

Image source: GoodReads

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: Partitions by Amit Majmudar

Title: Partitions
Author: Amit Majmudar
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Pages: 216
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Historical fiction / India
Rating: 9/10
Format: Paperback

From the Back Cover:

July 1947. India is torn in two. Violence erupts on both sides of the new border and waves of refugees flee the carnage and chaos.

Fighting to board the last train to Delhi, six-year-old Hindu twins Shankar and Keshav are torn from their mother and must begin a terrifying trek to find her again. A young Sikh girl, Simran Kaur, having escaped the honourable death planned for her by her father, dreams of a spiritual sanctuary at the temple of Amritsar. And Ibrahim Masud, a timid doctor driven from his home, treats all those he finds along the way as he struggles towards the new state of Pakistan.

This is the story of their journeys across a ravaged land, of the acts of compassion and cruelty that shape their new lives and their new nations.

My thoughts:

The first time I came across ‘Partitions’ by Amit Majmudar was while I was reading about ‘the Ice-Candy Man’ by Bapsi Sidhwa; and after having read both the books, now I know why the parallels had been drawn. Both the books are set against the partition of India in 1947. Both the books follow the changing circumstances of a set of characters before and after the partitions. What also connect these books are their unusual yet relatively neutral narrators. The former has been narrated by a spirit; while ‘the Ice-Candy Man’ has been narrated by a young Parsi girl.

‘Partitions’ is a fictional account of the plight of common people who were affected during that period in history which is often remembered for the extent of violence and uprooting of millions of people. The story has been narrated by the spirit of the twin children’s father, Dr. Roshan Jaitly. Although he died a few years ago, Dr Jaitly’s spirit still watches over his children because as a dead person he has the ability to foresee their future. In the beginning, the three stories run parallely taking the readers through the turn of events which eventually lead the characters to each other. These characters from different religious groups unwittingly come to each other’s succor, flouting prevalent suspicions for people from other religion. And therefore, irrespective of the painful circumstances, this story is surprisingly more uplifting than depressing.

The author has a beautiful, poetic style of writing. His prose is fresh and captivating. In a very well-handled back and forth between past-present-future and parallel stories of the four characters, he narrates a story that shows how humanity and empathy triumph over mindless hatred. Without having any personal connection with the partitions, it is commendable how he has been able to achieve a narrative that is so soulful.

This book will appeal to most readers of fiction, and more so to those who are interested in reading about what people went through during partitions.  

Here are a few lines quoted from the book:

“Some killing must be done. It is a form of communication, the only kind that can cross the partitions between this country and its neighbor, between this world and the next. Their enemies must hear the deaths, and know rest.”

“She pauses there, filling with admiration and adoration. The imitation-love a kind-hearted stranger is capable of feeling for a beautiful child. Not love.”

“How little we knew each other, though for centuries our homes had shared walls. How little we will learn, now that all we share is a border.”

 “I can almost always get a clear read on people. Each mind swims in its skull before me like a fish in a glass bowl. But with Aisha right now…… I can’t see clearly how she feels about Simran. The water is murky, the glass frosted.”

“It’s such a miraculous device, a voice. I never knew how miraculous when I had one.”

Image source: GoodReads