“For your babies and pre-schoolers, surround them with books and print, read to them every day, let them play with books, choose books, talk books, play with magnet letters, read signs and food packaging, make labels for things, draw, paint, sing songs.”
– Tweet by Michael Rosen (Poet and novelist, Children’s Laureate)
As a children’s author, I’m fortunate to have a direct hotline to several Book-Genies. These genies are usually indulgent of my requests, never ever limiting me to the prescribed three wishes. But when recently, I ordered twenty copies of my current favourite children’s book, the voice at the other end of the line reprimanded me gently. “Five copies is all I will give you. And why do you need twenty copies, anyway?”
The truth is that books make great gifts for children. No need to agonise about whether the size is right. And for all those times when you’re at your wits end deciding on a gift for a child living overseas, or indeed any child who seems to have everything she or he could possibly need, then again, books are the perfect choice.
So while I almost always make gifts of my own books, I also keep a good stock of my favourite titles handy. This way, I don’t have to scramble around should I need to whip out a gift for a little child.
Thanks to my author and illustrator friends, the books that I gift are often autographed and personally inscribed copies, making them even more precious – at least to the parent of the recipient. Some of my favourite illustrators will, if I cunningly accost them at the right moment, indulge me with a quirky little drawing of an elephant or a grandmother, when they hear that the book is meant for someone in my own family.
Now to get back to the question — But why twenty copies? Well, I usually don’t buy more than two copies of any title. But children’s books by Indian publishers are, surprisingly, quite difficult to access. Even for someone as well-connected to the book-genies as I am. And in spite of online bookstores.
Your favourite books could either be out of print, or only available in a language you can’t read, or be stuck in that book-bardo called ‘gone for reprint’. So when you gift a book, it goes along with an unspoken message. It says that you spent a lot of time and thought finding the perfect book for that much-loved baby or toddler.
So here’s my list.
Ten favourite books for gifting to babies and toddlers
1) Ammachi’s Glasses ‘written’ and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan (Tulika): I have gifted innumerable copies – each has been received with great delight. This book works superbly for all ages starting from the time babies can focus on pictures. There are endless wonderful details on each page of this wordless book. And for the adults who are asked to tell the story again and again and again, there’s much to captivate and amuse as well. For instance, in a nod to the naughty crow in the book, the Grandmother (Ammachi) is shown reading a book by Franz Kaka. On waking up one bright morning, Ammachi can’t find her glasses. Much craziness happens, with the cat being washed and then dried on the clothesline and slippers bobbing merrily in the sambar. A lovely resolution provides the most perfect ending to the story.
2) Ammachi’s Amazing Machines written and illustrated by Rajiv Eipe. (Pratham Books): One of the most excitingly conceptualised and wonderfully executed books. Young Sooraj wants to make coconut barfi when he visits his Ammachi. This grandmother is a sprightly and resourceful lady, who wears a toolbelt around her waist and has many great ideas. Especially when it comes to using simple objects in her house as machines. With these machines, Ammachi clambers up the coconut tree herself, plucks coconuts and finally she and Sooraj enjoy the freshly made barfi. There’s an amazing amount of detailing on each page. So while this book is now available in print form, it can also be enjoyed by everyone (absolutely free) on the Pratham Books site. Do read it here.
3,4,5) Gajapati Kulapati written and illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan. (Tulika) The first book starts with an irresistible idea: Small noses have small colds while big noses have big colds. So when Gajapati Kulapati, the gentle giant of an elephant gets a cold, havoc ensues. His aaachoooos are like mini gales causing spills, falls and slip-ups of the kind which has little ones falling over themselves – with laughter.
The next two books in the Gajapati series are must-buys too. Gajapati Kulapati Kalabaloosh, in which the people of the town lovingly find a solution for the elephant who wants to cool off by joining the children in the pond. But when he jumps in, he causes all the water to empty out with a great big – you guessed it — Kalabaloosh. Gajapati Kulapati Gurrburrroom has a good home remedy for the gentle elephant’s stomach ache. The ease with which little ones get their tongues around all the onomatopoeic words is delightful.
6) HIC by Anushka Ravishankar (illustrated by Christiane Pieper, Tara Books). One of the finest writers for children, every book of Anushka’s is a wonderful read. My personal favourites for younger readers and listeners are Hic and Catch that Crocodile. Hic tells the universal story of a person, in this case, a little girl, getting the hiccups and then trying various outlandish remedies to deal with them. Including holding her nose and drinking a pail of water while standing on a brick, putting mustard in her nose and even standing upside down. Does she succeed is getting rid of her hiccups?
7) Catch that Crocodile by Anushka Ravishankar (illustrated by the iconic Pulak Biswas, Tara Books). In Catch that Crocodile, the entire town is thrown into a tizzy when an unwanted guest comes visiting. Everyone from the fruitseller to the policeman to the doctor tries to catch that crocodile — or at least chase him away. Finally, one little girl thinks up a brilliantly simple idea to deal with the crocodile.
8) Annual Haircut Day by Noni (illustrated by Angie & Upesh, Pratham Books) This favourite falls into my buy-every-copy-you-can-get category whenever I spot it. The grouchy Sringeri Srinivas has a haircut only once a year. What happens when the barber, and every other possible barber-substitute in his town, is too busy to help him on his Annual Haircut Day. Again, lots of quirky detailing gives this engaging story a lovely dimension. My personal experience has been to have toddlers asking lots of questions about the cast of supporting characters including Sringeri’s children who are squabbling while he tries to convince his wife to give him the haircut.
9) Dosa by Sandhya Rao, (illustrated Ashok Rajagopalan, Tulika) A palm-sized favourite, perfect for mothers to carry around. Amma is making dosas for Bapa and these keep disappearing from the plate at a cracking pace. Then, Bapa has the audacity to claim he hasn’t eaten a single dosa. Where did the dosas go?
10) Barber at the Zoo by Prathiba Nath (illustrated Jagdish Joshi, Children’s Book Trust).A perennial favourite from CBT. Badlu Singh is the eponymous Barber whose job is to give the animals a little trim (of the tail or fringe) when required. One of animals plays a prank, resulting in a confrontation between the barber and a hungry lion. Does the Barber escape unscathed?
Even more books which make great gifts for babies and toddlers
Maharani the Cow – Nancy Raj
Minu and her Hair – Gayathri Bashi
Where is Amma – Nandini Nayar
Kali and the Rat Snake – Zai Whitaker
The Rumour – Anushka Ravishankar
Tiger on a Tree – Anushka Ravishankar
Ekki Dokki– Sandhya Rao
Ramu’s New Bike – Karishma Mahbubani
What a Song – Jitendra Thakur
While compiling this list, I rummaged through my stash to find I have very few of the titles from my list in stock. Time to re-stock! Yaay! I was, anyway, just looking for an excuse to call my Book-Genies.
“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!”
― Neil Gaiman
My Book-Genies for children’s books in Bangalore
Lightroom Bookstore on Lewis Road. The owner, Aashti Mudnani, is a fund of information about children’s books from all over the world. My idea of a great way to spend a morning, is to visit her store to chat about something we are both passionate about – children’s books!
Funky Rainbow, the pop-up bookstore, has a collection of Indian children’s books that is quite unrivalled. Vidya Mani’s (one of the store’s owners) knowledge of Indian writing for children is quite encyclopaedic. Their office, where they store all their books, is a must-visit especially for school librarians.
© Asha Nehemiah
Here’s my follow-up post with suggestions on how and where to get the books on this list.