Monday 2 April 2012

Books for children: 'The Kite Tree' and 'Magnolias'

The Kite Tree.

By Avanti Mehta.
Pictures by Nirupama Sekhar.

Tulika Publishers, Chennai.
32 pages.
11 x 8.25 inches. Full Colour.
Rs. 160.
Available in: English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali

Age group: 6+

A TREE is a tree is a tree, did you say?

Not when a child looks up at a canopy of green that he/ she walks under on a scorching day. The streak of blue through the patchwork of leaves could provoke a question: If I reach out, can I touch the sky? The rustling of leaves overhead could make a growing mind ask: when it rains, will the clouds turn green? Is the pink-dappled tree in the distance as tiny as it seems? Do monsters live amidst odd-shaped branches?

In the child’s world of unrelenting questions and multi-pronged answers, the impossible is always possible. And any tree becomes a universe in sync with the irrepressible   imagination, morphing into fabulous forms and undreamt-of feats.

Yoking together curiosity and the imagination of a child of 6-plus, Avanti Mehta’s text takes us on a walk through seasons, through cycles of growth, and through ways of re-imagining. En route, we acquire alternate lenses through which to perceive the ordinary. And we hold our breath as the mundane becomes magical with every page we turn.

For instance, at a bend in the road we glimpse an outlined tree trunk and gorgeous autumn foliage. That provokes the words: ‘A yellow scrap of cloth hangs from a branch. Is it a man’s shirt that tore as he fled from a ghost?’

Roorkee-based Avanti’s passion for the environment comes through with every line. How does she sustain her passion? By living in a mango orchard, we learn.

Nirupama Sekhar’s illustrations elevate the text to a fantastical level. Her flowing lines lend direction to the journey to the top of the hill, to the flight of birds, to the trail of ants, and more. Her Master’s degree from the London College of Communication feeds into her delicate watercolour washes of breeze-swept branches, a skeletal tree by moonlight, even a web of insect life.

This is a luminous, magical read-aloud or read-alone book that will bring alive bedtimes, mealtimes and cosy-in-a-corner times for early learner children and their parents. It could enhance the classroom experience equally deeply, if sensitive teachers would take a cue or two from it. 

More reason to cheer? In keeping with Tulika Publisher’s vision of reaching across the spectrum of India, this book is available in nine languages.

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By Malati Shah
Illustrator: Amrita Kanther

Tulika Publishers, Chennai
24 pages
8.5 x 9.5 inches
Full colour
Soft cover
Rs. 135

Available in: English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali

Age group: 5+

ANOTHER TREE, another tale. But with a difference.

This story by Malati Shah is set in the hill station of Shimla. Gulab is a gardener who loves his work. One evening, he decides to take a bunch of soft while magnolias ‘like the moon’ home to his wife.

But on the way, he meets many friends. He gives each of them a flower. One for the girl who loves to paint. One for the mother from Tibet and her baby. Do any of the magnolias reach his wife? That would be telling!

The story is charming. A simple one about chance meetings. About the joys of giving.   
About the little things that brighten an ordinary day. And, of course, why we need flowers and trees and a green world around.

The illustrations by Amrita Kanther lend a local touch to the book. For they are in the regional style of the Pahari miniature from Himachal, which has Shimla as its capital.

The brilliant white magnolias are central to each frame. A bloom lights up the wheelchair in which Santosh Aunty sits, for she found Gulab ~ lost and alone ~ years ago. Another looms over an old-fashioned bridge as a train chugs over it. And so on.

I can imagine how much a child of five-plus would take to this story ~ and the million stories she/ he would learn to ask as a result.

Over the past 16 years, Tulika has published some wonderful picture books for children, especially Indian children. A reprieve from the colonial world of cucumber sandwiches, licorice and ginger ale that today’s young parents grew up with ~ and a long overdue one at that. 

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Tulika Publishers, 24/1 Ganapathy Colony, Third Street, Teynampet, Chennai – 600018, India.


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