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In a world of children/young adult writing dominated by Geronimo Stilton, Wimpy Kid and Gothic plots, are we not paying enough attention to what our children are reading in the Indian context?
Of course, there’s Ruskin Bond, and now Sudha Murty straddles a wide spectrum of 7-75 years old with her books. But since there’s so much more happening in the world of children and young adult writing, I thought why not celebrate this Republic Day by asking you to pick up these 7 books for your kid/niece/nephew?
1. Feluda Mysteries comic series by Satyajit Ray (Puffin):
Feluda is possibly the best hidden secret in Indian fiction for children. Beyond Bengalis, you rarely see a Feluda title featuring in a kid’s reading list. While there are many versions of the excellent and culturally relevant Feluda whodunit stories, I will recommend the comic series by Puffin, written by Subhadra Sen Gupta and beautifully illustrated by Tapas Guha, for the sheer visual delight and simple story scripts.
2. We The Children of India by Leila Seth (Penguin):
The idea of India, as drafted in our Constitution, is a difficult concept to grasp, especially when begins with the difficult word ‘Preamble’. Beautifully illustrated by Bindia Thapar, with pictures and trivia, this book is the best way to introduce young minds to the ‘idea of India’.
3. The Blue Umbrella (Rupa):
It’s difficult to pick one title from Ruskin Bond’s writings. There’s a reason I picked The Blue Umbrella. During a 2016 trip to Mussourie, I stood in a long queue with my daughter at the Cambridge Book Depot to meet the master story-teller in person. A curious tourist asked what the queue was all about. Someone replied- ‘to meet Ruskin Bond’. ‘Ruskin Bond kaun hain?’, and someone else helped replying Ruskin Bond is the writer who wrote movies like Saat Khoon Maaf & Blue Umbrella. Do pick this lovely book for your kid, and then watch the Vishal Bhardwaj movie as well. By the way, The Blue Umbrella is now part of Amar Chitra Katha series as well.
4. Malgudi Schooldays:
Malgudi Schooldays is the slightly abridged version of Swami & Friends. I believe Swami’s stories are best read during summer holidays, when you know your kid does not have the pressure of school/dance/horse-riding/robotics classes. Swami, Mani, Rajam and Somu lead idyllic lives in an age very different from ours (and our kids’), but the thrill of running away from school, the fear of a stentorian father-these are timeless bonds that connect generations. The 1986 popular TV series based on Swami and his life in Malgudi is available on DVD as well and is a recommended watch.
5. Surviving Disasters series by Suroopa Mukherjee (TERI):
This is a series of four books, each with a child protagonist who gets to understand the history and impact of manmade and natural disasters. Indrani’s Adventures in Plunderland is about pollution and contamination of Earth, Chika and the Angry Ocean is a story set against the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Pari’s Impossible Mission is the story of how a young girl discovers the perils of nuclear contamination and Salim’s Journey through Hell is a thriller set in the backdrop of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy when Salim and his friends decide to go inside the Union Carbide Plant, 24 years after the tragedy.
6. Looking at Art series by Anjali Raghbeer (Tulika):
A series of four books beautifully illustrated by Soumya Menon, this series from Tulika helps children understand the life and the art style of some of the best artists from India. In trying to help MF Husain find his shoes Jai gets to know the master painter and his work (Barefoot Husain), in helping her aunt restore a damaged painting little Valsa gets to Ravi Varma and his art (The Veena Player), in being forced to attend an art exhibition young Biswajeet gets to know the world of Jamini Roy and counterfeit paintings(A Trail of Paint) and the fourth book of this series covers Amrita Shergill as she saw the world as a young girl (My Name is Amrita).
7. The Magic drum and Other Favourite Stories by Sudha Murty (Puffin):
It is difficult to place Sudha Murty’s writings. The Magic Drum can be read by an 8 year old as well as an 80 year old. How I Taught my Grandmother to Read is a good book to read for children, though you normally don’t see the latter in children/young adult section in book shops. What gets Sudha Murty on this list is her ability to narrate in a simple and lucid manner, the stories of every day India (folk tales as well as slices of life). And more importantly, the stories carry a lesson of life without being preachy. The Magic Drum is a collection of folk tales across the country, but then you can pick almost any ‘collection of stories’ by Murty and give it to your child. If your kid is in late teens, you can also evaluate Murty’s Gently Falls the Bakula, a story about relationships.