Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Recommendations: 5 Children's Fiction Titles We Love

I first posted this on my other blog. But since it is about books, I had to include it here. 

Every mother who is a book lover herself will do everything in her capacity to raise a book lover. For that, it is important to surround our kids with good books and enough reading opportunities. Especially when kids are very young, reading helps in developing vocabulary and language. 

Here are our 5 favourite Children's Fiction books; and let me tell you, I love them as much as my son does. I find them extremely interesting as well as full of opportunities for learning, no matter how many times we read them: 
1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric CarleThis is my most favourite book. 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' by Eric Carle begins with a tiny and hungry caterpillar coming out of a small egg. He spends the entire week eating all sorts of fruits and other food items. Each day he keeps eating more and more, which leads to stomachache. He therefore eats through a green leaf to relieve his pain. At the end of the week, he turns into a big, fat caterpillar. He builds a cocoon around himself, and stays inside for 2 weeks. At the end he emerges out of it as a beautiful butterfly. It is amazing how such a simple book, with minimum words and simple illustrations, provides immense learning opportunities for children. The illustrations are vibrant and child-like. Right from learning the name of different fruits to numbers, from days of the week to lifecycle of a butterfly, there is so much to learn through this concise yet beautiful story. To top it all, there are tiny die-cut holes on the pictures of food items, which the caterpillar has supposedly eaten. This book is also available in pull-out pop-up format, which can add extra interest to your storytelling. An older child would like the bigger book format or bigger board book, while there is a mini-board book for very young kids.

2. I Udderly Love YouIt is an adorable book about unconditional love. The story is told from the point-of-view of a Mamma cow to the baby-cow. The lines are rhythmic and yet not too wordy. The story has been narrated with a whimsical twist by altering the spelling of few words to words related to cow. For example, 'utterly' becomes 'udderly', 'music' becomes 'moo-sic', 'movement' becomes 'moo-vement' and so on. The Mamma-cow tells her baby that she loves everything about her, every part of her, every mood, everything she does and how everyday is special with her. It also offers opportunity to learn body parts. 

3. The Going To Bed Book by Sandra BoyntonThis is an extremely popular book for reading to young children at bed time. It starts from the setting of sun to the entire process of getting ready for bed, i.e., taking bath, brushing teeth, wearing pajamas, exercising (I still don't get the point of exercising before bed though) and turning off the light and going to bed. It comes in lap size also which is handy for the kids to hold and turn the pages. The text is minimum and rhythmic. 

4. The Little Gardener by Jan GerardiThis book has flaps on every page. Though it is a board book but it is tear-able, especially the flaps. So, with really young kids, you need to be careful. I have had to put the flaps back with sellotape because my son suddenly discovered it was fun to tear the flaps apart. This book explains the process of gardening to young environment lovers. This is a colourful book with bare minimum text on each page (on most pages there are only 1 or two words) with very beautiful, child-friendly illustrations. Even this book is quite environment friendly - printed on 80% recycled paper with soy ink and water-based varnish. This book is useful in inspiring love for gardening and environment in young kids.   

5. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel SchefflerI bought this book recently and frankly, I was quite doubtful about its potential for a 2 year old kid. I was skeptical if this relatively long story with quite a lot of text will interest such a young child. But the fact is 'Gruffalo' is a lovable character rather than intimidating. It is an interesting story about a mouse who uses his intelligent to trick a lot of other animals who were preying on him, and saves himself. The text is rhythmic and quite enjoyable. It can be sung with voice modulation to create drama and generate interest (I read it that way). My son calls this book 'Goilla' (he means Gorilla since he finds Gruffalo similar to Gorilla).

The story is about a mouse, who is passing through the woods. He meets a fox, an owl and a snake one after another. Each wanting to trick him into going to their house, with the motive of feasting on him. But mouse tricks each of them into believing that he is going to meet 'Gruffalo' and creates an intimidating picture of Gruffalo which scares the, and they run away. Mouse laughs at them, safe in the knowledge that there is no such thing as a Gruffalo. But he is accosted by Gruffalo himself who also wants to eat him. The shrewed mouse convinces the Gruffalo to follow him and see for himself how all the animals are afraid of him (the mouse). Gruffalo watches snake, owl and fox run away on looking at the mouse (though actually they are scared of Gruffalo himself but Gruffalo does not realizes that). Eventually, when mouse tells Gruffalo that his favourite food is Gruffalo, the latter runs away too. And mouse is left alone. So, the intelligent mouse takes everyone for a ride and saves himself. 

NOTE:I realize that all the books I have mentioned are from foreign authors. I admit, most of the books which we have got so far are from non-Indians but I have got a list ready of some interesting Indian books for kids. I have a few books from Karadi Tales but I will recommend them for a little older kids (they are not in board book format and I have already suffered). There is an Indian rhyme book (with CD) from Karadi Tales which my son finds extremely captivating. Here is the link for that book.

So, do you have any good Children's books to share?

Images courtesy:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: Becoming Mrs Kumar by Heather Saville Gupta

Title: Becoming Mrs Kumar
Author: Heather Saville Gupta
Publisher: Random House India
Pages: 352
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Chicklit / Romance
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

Initially, I was a little wary about picking up this book because I thought it would be yet another narrative by a European traveler talking about filth, poverty and may be enlightenment. But this book does not dwell too much into the predictable, and what sets the book apart is that it is less cynical and more positive.

Julia Robinson is in her early 30s. She has worked her way to a comfortable position in a top advertising agency in London. But now she is finding herself in a mid-life crisis. She is ready to be in a serious relationship but she hasn’t found anyone yet. Life has become mundane and boring, and she feels it is time to shake things up. When her boss offers her a job in Mumbai with a raise and other perks, she feels as if it is some sort of destiny. Her best friends are bewildered, her family is skeptical, but Julia feels that she needs the adventure that India will provide.

This book is unlike other books by Western travelers. Julia is looking for love and not enlightenment. She is not a backpack traveler, collecting experiences; she is an expat, who lives in a posh locality of Mumbai, in a city where space is a luxury for many. Her social circle comprises of other expats, work colleagues and people she meets at upmarket pubs/bars. Her life in one of the most chaotic and filthy cities, Mumbai, is largely cocooned. Julia finds India extremely hot and disorganized, yet friendly and exciting. She describes her fist encounter with Mumbai as (in her own words) "the heady experience of having all of my five senses simultaneously walloped by a massive sensory overload" and yet she loves "its energy, its raw vitality, its chaotic madness". After a couple of bad experiences, she finally meets Mr Right (Mr Kumar) but only when she has already decided to leave India for good. For her, becoming Mrs Kumar does not come without drama. What eventually ensues is a big fat Indian wedding.

Characterization is not the strong point of this book. We don’t even get to know Mr Kumar that well. However, it is refreshing to see a foreigner appreciate what India has to offer, and weigh pros and cons vis-à-vis her own country (which is expected when the differences are many and stark). Julia's fondness for India was surprising considering it is a different thing to appreciate a place on vacation and a different thing to like it enough to adopt it. But obviously she is in love with the country. I also felt that the whole romance is a little hurried. Marrying in such a haste looks romantic but impractical.

‘Becoming Mrs Kumar’ obviously derives a lot from the author’s real experiences. Read the author talk about her book and her inspirations here. Read another author interview here to know more about the book. 

This book was an average read for me. Some parts were interesting but some were really slow and a few times repetitive. But having said that, the book has much to offer; it is a semi-travelogue and chicklit (the single, successful woman unlucky in love kind) rolled into one. If you like reading the outsider's view of our beloved country; what they find funny, baffling or endearing, then read on. 

Review Book courtesy: Random House India
Image source: Random House India

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhanker

Title: Jacob Hills
Author: Ismita Tandon Dhanker
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 268
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Thriller / Crime Fiction
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I noticed this book on a lot of blogs. Honestly, I am not too fond of the cover page, so I was not instantly drawn to the book (since it is the cover page that attracts me first). Moreover, the title of the book was not really giving away anything about the story. But after consistently reading some good reviews, I reluctantly decided to give it a chance. Frankly, I am extremely cautious in reading contemporary Indian authors. Many disappoint and I hate to abandon a book midway. 

Jacob Hills is a fictitious Army training establishment, located near Simla in Himachal. It has a War College, called Jacob Hall, where around 300 senior and junior officers are trained in various skills. Jacob Hills offers a perfect set up for a riveting story that encompasses a fascinating Army background, unconventional lifestyle choices like wife swapping, extreme domestic violence, disturbing child sexual abuse, mystery surrounding the death of a young woman and clear evidence of years of physical torture, internal politics, and also a heartwarming story of love and faith between the main couple. The book ‘Jacob Hills’ is a story of passion and ambition, which we discover through the overlapping stories of several characters.

Just to set the records straight, the author has mentioned in the beginning that though she has chosen Army as her story’s background, at the end of the day the story is about people; people who misuse power, any kind of power, and they can be found anywhere.  

Set in 1980s, the book ‘Jacob Hills’, is about a few Army officers and their families, about their polished outer pretences and some hidden truths. The narrative progresses interestingly through multiple characters, but Eva is the main protagonist.

Major George Chandy is recuperating from his leg injury and he has been transferred to Jacob Hills in the role of an instructor. Eva Chandy is his Anglo-Indian wife, who joins as an English teacher at the Army school. By chance, she finds herself embroiled in the death case of a mystery woman. The misery in which the young woman dies makes her commit to finding her tomentor.  Lt. Colonel Gary and Pam Randhawa are George’s old friends who are affable and yet unconventional in their marriage. They run a wife-swapping club. Saryu is a plain looking village belle, married to Major Vikram Singh. Saryu’s story is a heart-wrenching story of brutal domestic violence and apathy, and of physical and psychological torture. Vikram forces her to sleep with his seniors for furthering his career but she takes up sleeping around with vengeance to teach him a lesson. Captain Rana is a young officer in love with a traditional, Muslim girl Heena. He has feelings for her but he is not serious about settling down, while she is blinded by her love for him. Colonel Tehlan is George’s boss while his daughter Bunny is Eva’s student. Eva and Geroge are disturbed by Bunny’s parents’ denial of what their daughter is going through. Major Alex is another instructor at the War College, who is constantly haunted by the memories of a disgraceful episode in his career that led to the deaths of his colleagues.

Each chapter is from a character’s perspective and the character’s name is represented graphically that tells a lot about his or her personality. The author’s writing is simple and yet engaging. She skillfully paints a vivid picture of Jacob Hills. 

The book is fast-paced and there is never a lull. May be I would say I expected a more logical closure for Bunny episode, and felt Bunny’s friend Junaira’s case was also a bit vague. Besides, we don’t get to know too much of either Major Alex or Captain Rana. However, these minor issues don’t take away from the overall impact the book creates.  

I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I finished it in 4 hours (that must say a lot about the book). It was a compelling read. I found the Army background quite interesting. I recommend it wholeheartedly for casual reading.

A few lines from the book:   

The woman who can’t be tamed by force can be tamed by sex. It’s the ultimate violation of a woman’s psyche, it shames her into silence.”

I wanted to tell him that there are no real women, just as there are no real men.”

It’s tough being a child in an adult’s world, every day their innocence dies a little.”

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India
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