Thursday, 17 May 2012

Children's books: Meddling Mooli and the Blue-legged Alien by Asha Nehemiah



Meddling Mooli and the Blue-legged Alien.

By Asha Nehemiah. 

Puffin Books India.
Illustrations by Sayantan Haldar.
64 pages. 
Paperback. 2012

Age: 7+

           Some months ago, I wondered why we didn’t have enough naughty, comic, impossible-to-forget characters in contemporary Indian fiction for children.

          Which characters did I have in mind? Maybe the loveable, cheeky imp William by Richmal Crompton.  Or Maurice Sendak’s Max (in ‘Where the Wild Things Are’). Or Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking. Or Anthony Buckeridge's Jennings. Or even Swami in R.K. Narayan’s books.

         Right out of the blue, as if in answer to my wish, this book appeared in April 2012. By the time I’d turned the last page, I loved Meddling Mooli ~ both the idea of him and the way Asha brings him to life.

        What makes this very young hero so special? Murali Krishnan a.k.a. Mooli is a boy whose mind turns non-stop cartwheels, just as often as his fingers twiddle and turn and meddle with anything within reaching distance. He’s as naughty and normal as all the seven-year-olds I know of (if they are allowed to be themselves).

        He has a best friend, of course, Soups (Supriya George, if want to be formal). They want to win a prize on WAYOUTS website. For that, they have to outthink all the trick and stunt experts of the world. I’m not telling any more…  

       Asha’s zany plot (and out-of-the-box characters) careen along at a manic pace. Every time you think you know where they are headed, the story takes a U-turn ~ and you double up with laughter.

        Did you think Mooli and Soups are pests only within the family? No way. They upend their parents’ best-laid plans. They stir up chaos in the neighbourhood. They teach everyone around to see, hear, do and live differently their unforgettable, very individual way.

        What made this an unputdownable read for me was the fact that Asha sustains the joyous element of play through her plot, her ideas and her characters. The words skip and leap, jump and cartwheel, drawing the reader in. Not a word of preachiness, not an aside about parenting. This short novel is a true celebration of being a child. 

       Sayantan Haldar’s cute-as-a-cupcake illustrations are in total sync with the careening, superbly imaginative storyline. He adds to the undeniable charm of Asha’s world.   

      Would this book be right for you only if you’re seven-years-old? No, no and no again. It is perfect for beginner readers who have grown past picture books (or ‘baby books,’ as a young friend terms them) and are ready for ‘chapter books’ (her words, not mine). But Meddling Mooli, I think, would be just as right for anyone who is young at heart and enjoys a daily chuckle.

      As for me, I can barely wait to read the sequel. What will Meddling Mooli get up to next?
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Some other books by Asha Nehemiah:

~ The Mystery of the Silk Umbrella (Scholastic, 2011)

~ The Mystery of the Secret Hair Oil Formula (Scholastic)

~ Sir Lawley’s Ghost and other stories (Scholastic, 2004)

~ Zig-zag and other stories (Scholastic)

~ The Runaway Wheel (Children’s Book Trust/ CBT, India)

~ Mrs. Woolly's Funny Sweaters' (CBT)

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