Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category


World of Witches


– Shana Susan Ninan

Review of The Witches by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake; Puffin Books 2013; pp 208

This fantastical tale of real witches is as much for children as it is for adults. So, how does one identify a real witch if she doesn’t ride around on broomsticks, nor wear black cloaks and hats, and disguise themselves as ordinary ladies? Well, the grandmother in the story tells her grandson, ‘boy’, that witches have claws instead of finger nails (so they wear gloves all the time), bald heads (which means they wear wigs), large nose holes, square feet (so they often take off their shoes to relax their toes), and blue spit. And not just that, real witches hate kids.

Most of the story revolves around the witches’ annual general meeting at a hotel in Bournemouth, Norway. The boy finds himself in a room with more than 200 witches! Their plan to turn kids into mice using the Delayed Action Mouse-Maker in chocolate bars in candy shops across England sends shivers down his spine. Poor Bruno is turned into a mouse. And the boy, too!

The twist with the boy being left as a mouse is quite catchy, as it ends with the promise of more adventure! The boy-mouse and his grandmother return with the thought to rid the world of witches.

A delightful read, I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading this out loud to my now four-year-old son, a few years later. And the illustrations are just perfect!


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Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Fighting defanged snakes


Review of The House of a Hundred Stories; Mariam Karim-Ahlawat and illustrations by Ajantha Guhathakurta; Life Positive Books 2016; Rs 195; pp 135

– Shana Susan Ninan

With a very pleasing cover and blurb, a tight plot, and hoards of animals and birds, Mariam Karim-Ahlawat’s The House of A Hundred Stories is my four-year-old son’s current favourite book. Well, it was a review copy for me, but it ended up that my son, who loves animal stories, found it more endearing. Which is a good sign, I think, because kids of all ages will just love this book.

I was reminded of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi-Hwang, which was narrated from the PoV of Sprout the hen. But this one by Ahlawat has several storytellers. The mongoose, the owl, the rabbit, and others are all narrators, lending different voices and tones as and when the situation calls for. Told mainly from the perspective of Noël Noyla the mongoose, this children’s fable is quite an allegorical one. Once the mongoose leaves the snake charmer’s hold, he comes across several situations in his journey. From fighting defanged snakes for the sake of pleasing humans to understanding his Self, there’s a lot to learn from. There are different languages for each species of animals, much like the segregated human society we live in, ourselves. Philosophical thoughts on identity, freedom, overprotected lives, community, independence, crimes, responsibility and the like are discussed through the animals’ lives here.

In a colonial bungalow close to the Taj Mahal… that’s where this house is. The people living in it barely get a mention, whereas the animals are well-rounded characters, almost always human-like in behaviour. The animals, their kids, and grand kids, all make for a lovely menagerie, much like what the author herself raised as a child.

Ahlawat has written many children’s books and novels, as well as plays and musicals. Currently based in New Delhi, she has been a university lecturer teaching French language and literature, and a columnist. My favourite character from this book is Idiot Frog. Don’t be fooled by his name, no. One of his lines go, “To act boldly in a situation that actually frightens you shows true courage.” He’s full of quips and tales, amassed experience from a life well-lived, meeting all kinds of beings.

In the end, friendship and love are just what we need.





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Rating: 9.0/10 (5 votes cast)

Autism: Know It, Know Them

Review of Autism: A Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of ASD; Sumita Bose; V&S Publishers 2015; Rs 395; pp 158

– Shana Susan Ninan

That Autistic kids in India aren’t welcome in most mainstream schools is a given. It’s a proven fact. But how does one “handle” an autistic child/ teen? In my teaching years, I’ve come across autistic children and their parents, and most received complaint is that people around aren’t accommodative. That given a choice and resources, they’d leave this country and live abroad with their differently abled child. Is it because of lack of awareness regarding this disorder? Are the various communities in society reluctant to accept such children?

The author, Sumita Bose handholds us readers into this life by introducing us to a personal anecdote of how she came to do Child Psychology and ASD related courses in the US. Autism isn’t the end of the road for a child or its family. It is but a different life – one that needs patient care and love. She gives us profiles of doctors and early medical practitioners who’ve pioneered in this field, and how India officially accepted the widespread existence of this disorder, in 1991.

There’s a lot of pressure from schools and extended family, and the general public, on these kids and their parents. An empathetic way of dealing will go a long way here. This is a good guide for parents, teachers, friends and public who come into contact with autistic persons. Bose gives a narrative-like feeling when she deals with issues from conception/ birth to education to adulthood. The details of schools and institutions meant for autistic kids is useful, although I personally feel that there are lot many more NGO’s and individual agencies that help, especially in Kerala.

Another thing I found missing is how an autistic child’s family and friends deal with the sexuality and orientation of autistic children. They are major components of a children. More so since autistic children aren’t able to express themselves as well as others. A page or two about the sexual needs, routines and characteristics of autistic children would have made it a little more wholesome.

Bose has been a teacher for more than two decades, and authored Science, Mathematics and puzzle books for children. She’d a member of Autism Society of America and designated Autism Ambassador in Melbourne, Florida.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (8 votes cast)

Lawyer at 13!

Review of Theodore Boone: The Activist; John Grisham; Puffin Books 2013; pp 304

– Shana Susan Ninan

I fell for his robust plots and forceful prose from the time I laid hands on The Client. John Grisham doesn’t disappoint in his YA collection either. Theodore Boone: The Activist, the fourth in the series, features the 13-year-old only son of a lawyer couple. With both parents vocal in their own ways, and having the luxury of an office to himself in a backroom of Boone & Boone, Theodore knows the law better than all his peers put together. And when the authorities of the American city of Strattenburg decide to “take” people’s lands in the name of eminent domain for a bypass that’d run around the city, he decides to join a group of environment activists.

The turning point is when he visits a friend’s farm, spots encroaching surveyors and gets involved in a fight that leaves his dog and faithful companion, Judge in a fatal state. Having hung around courts and law offices all his life, he’s familiar with the legal arm of the city. He uses it to his advantage, even winning over a family debate with his dad.

This book has all the legal drama of any other Grisham one – court scenes, standoff between parties, legal tiffs, and of course, the bad guys who break the law! Well, for animal lovers like me, the pages where Judge is hanging on to dear life in a Vet’s clinic can be a tad tear-jerking.


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Rating: 9.8/10 (6 votes cast)

A True Friend

Review of The Elephant Bird; Arefa Tehsin; Illustration by Sonal Goyal and Sumit Sakhuja; Pratham Books 2014; pp 20; Rs 40

– Shana Susan Ninan

A level 3 book from Pratham Books, a Bangalore-based organisation that strives to make sure that there’s a book in each child’s hand. Authored by Arefa Tehsin, honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur, and illustrated by Sonal Goyal and Sumit Sakhuja, this book  is meant for three-year-olds and upwards. But the fact that my one-and-a-half-year-old son was mesmerised by the colourful and vibrant illustrations is fact enough that all kids will enjoy this feast.

Munia’s limp forbids her from making any real companions. And the Elephant Bird is her only true friend. When one of the horses in the village disappears, the headmen and elders are quick to point fingers at the giant animal. Munia knows that the elephant bird is a harmless herbivore, and has definitely not eaten the horse! She voices her protest at the village council, gets shooed away and even her parents are mad at her. But knowing that the village folk plan to search for the elephant bird and harm it the next morning, Munia goes out at night to find the truth about the missing horse. Values such as friendship, honesty and caring are stamped in the foreground of this story.

This children’s picture book is inspired by the real Elephant Bird, one that became extinct in Madagascar, its home.

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Rating: 9.1/10 (7 votes cast)

Eerie Stories!

Review of Boarding School Buddies – Bizarre Escapades; Wyn la Bouchardiére, Foreword By Ruskin Bond; CinnamonTeal 2012; pp 54

–  Shana Susan Ninan

Just over 50 pages, Wyn La Bouchardiére’s book Boarding School Buddies – Bizarre Escapades is a great one for young readers. I love bizarre stories, and as a person who has scoured cemeteries and graveyards, enjoyed narrating and listening to ‘ghost stories’ in school and college, I found this book something to identify with. Wyn has neatly outlined the stories with a pencil sketch illustration at the beginning of each, thereby giving us a glimpse of the story’s plot.

Ponnu, Eddy, Sam and Abu are four boarding school buddies – their school is in the Nilgiris – and share the same hometown, too. The stories are spread across both the locations, with spooky characters all along. But they aren’t spooky enough to scare a teen reader out of her wits. The secure presence of an elder or a parent, especially towards the end of a story, is quite reassuring and comforting.

Themes such as the haunted pond, the gravedigger, the black magic neighbour and the terrifying tree all make for interesting reading. The cover page in sombre maroon, black and dusty colours of a Christian cemetery is definitely a scoring point. This is one book I’m sure I’d read to my son when he’s older; but that’s years away!

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Rating: 6.7/10 (6 votes cast)

Friends and Family To Care!

About the Book

Little Spider’s First Web is about a little spider who overcomes subtle challenges of growing up, like spinning its first web. With the enthusiastic support of his parents and faithful friends like bees, birds, crickets, etc., little spider is able to spin his first web. The story reflects the importance, support and love given by a family. The story emphasises the importance of the family. A cheerful story presented with bright colorful illustrations and easy to read text, which attracts readers and compel them to read the book.

About the Author

Ms. Mudit Mohini, the author of Little Spider’s First Web is the Director of Vishv Books, a Delhi-based printing house and associate company of Delhi Press. She has been a prominent personality as media keep covering her as an expert and as a business tycoon in the book publishing industry. She was also nominated for ‘ET Now Woman of the Year 2011.’ A Mass Communication graduate, she started her career as a media planner and then moved into book publishing and printing.  Just as a sparrow builds her nest bit by bit, she worked hard day and night to get things right for her and her new offspring – Vishv Books. Right from a fresh idea of a story that gets converted into a saleable one with repeated brainstorming, to the designing, illustrations and choosing apt kind of pictures for the book, everything is solely done by her.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)

An eye-opener for kids, the comic way!

About the book

It is a sweet story about a little girl Maira who learned a valuable lesson that ‘You don’t need some special powers to be a super girl or super boy. A happy face, good nature and helpfulness makes you a super girl/ super boy’. It is beautifully illustrated and presented making sure each kid would enjoy this reading journey. The story teaches children to be more giving and tolerant. Instead of being very preachy, the story acts as an eye opener for all little kids.

About the Author

Author Rungeen Singh is an independent writer and editing professional. She has a Masters in English Honours and an LLB. Thirty-eight of the author’s books for children have been published, and 42 books are under printing right now. She has published more than 700 short stories, articles and poems for children and for grown-ups. She is associated with various publishing houses, newspapers and magazines.

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Rating: 8.3/10 (6 votes cast)

Travels of Manni The Turtle

Review of Manni – From A World Beyond Stars; Benrali; Dreamworlds Beyond Time; pp 18; Rs 837 approx

– Shana Susan Ninan

A baby turtle on Guyana’s Shell Beach seeks his family. His life the next few hours is an adventurous ride – joining hands is Oonie, a coconut seed that transforms into a Moongazer. Drawing from Caribbean, Guyanese and Arawak Indian folklore and culture, author Benrali scrips – rather, sketches – the story of Manni, the turtle.

Benrali is an American author-illustrator born to Guyanese parents, and is the first to use the technique Ghazal couplets to decorate his story. The couplets flow like the water in the river, rendering a soothing music to the ear.

But that isn’t all. The whole book is illustrated to form a base for the story. I’d say that the illustrations capture the essence of the folklore and cultural aspects of the story. The sketches take the reader to Manni’s world. You can “hear” the waterfalls, “feel” the spray of water on your face as Manni dodges along the river, “see” the rise of the river, “travel” with Manni and Oonie to the island, and so on.

After his stint in the sea with Oonie as guide, Manni carries on with his search for his family. Colourfully done up, Benrali’s book is a refreshing read, classified under Caribbean Literature and also Children’s Literature.

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Rating: 9.9/10 (18 votes cast)

Playing With Fire? You’ll Get Burned!

Review of Burned; Franklin W. Dixon; Aladdin Paperbacks; Rs 123; pp 154

– Sharon Pradeeptha

In their latest mission, Burned, undercover brothers – Joe and Frank Hardy – have to smoke out the mastermind of an international company that employs teenagers to burn CDs illegally. The brothers, who work for ATAC (American Teens Against Crime), target their prime suspect: Julian Sanders, a classmate of Joe Hardy’s in Bayport High School.

Joe befriends Sanders and discovers that he is a one man factory for burning CDs.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)