India is a land of innumerable festivals. And one of its several seasons of good cheer and unabashed feasting starts this month and goes on till the New Year.
For the last few weeks, stores have been announcing Diwali gift hampers of sweets, dry fruit, chocolates and the choicest gourmet foods. Bakeries have started putting up posters announcing their special plum cakes in many avatars: with almond or royal icing, with raisins soaked in rum or sherry, enriched with almond meal or not, varieties from the sinfully rich to the more austere.
Cakes and chocolates and sweets are great! And I’d be the last to forbid any one to gift me a cake over the festive season. Preferably one that’s home-made. Or Theobroma’s Dense Chocolate Loaf.
If you are looking to give an adult a gift over the festive season, and want to choose something that says your choice has involved much personal thoughtfulness, a gift that has no ‘best before’ date stamped on it and one that joyously and quite literally, has an eternal shelf life – then, why not consider this list of ten children’s books. Almost all of them are books that I have received as an adult or have gifted to adults much to their delight and continuing pleasure. These books are guaranteed to nourish the child in the recipient – which is a wonderful thing. The lucky recipients will probably share the book with the children in their life, thereby extending the joy of the book in a way that nature and publishing meant for good things to happen.
One more thing – it’s unlikely that the lucky adult recipient already possesses a copy of any of these books, making children’s books an all-round great gifting idea.
Why You Should Read Children’s Books… Even Though You are So Old and Wise by Katherine Rundell: This pocket-sized delight was a gift to me and now has a permanent location on my bedside table. Written by the children’s author Katherine Rundell as an essay, this book format makes it a lovely gift for all ages. I’m summing up Rundell’s thesis in her own words: “There’s something particular about children’s fiction that can open up new perspectives for adults.” And, the best children’s fiction “helps us refind things we may not even know we have lost”. Makes a perfect gift on its own and could also be accompanied by any of the books suggested below.
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane illustrated by Jackie Morris: While going through one of the newer editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionaries, Robert Macfarlane was surprised to find many words had been omitted (probably because of the limitations of space). What he was more dismayed about was that most of these ‘lost words’ had to do with nature, and had been replaced by words related to technology. So he took the lost words like acorn, adder, ivy, magpie, newt and writes a verse or a riddle to reclaim the magic of the lost words. Meant to be “a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words.” Jackie Morris’ sumptuous watercolour illustrations add the kind of magic that makes the book totally enchanting.
The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam (Tara Books) I’ve gifted this special book to many adults, mostly students leaving home for the first time to study overseas. I figured that all the feelings that the talented Gond artist deals with – the apprehension about settling into new surroundings, the wonder and happy bewilderment at being plunged into a new culture – would resonate with them. Plus, they would have something special about their home country to share with new friends. Working in the Gond tradition of Indian folk art, Bhajju Shyam captures the year he travelled to London to work on a mural he had been commissioned to paint.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan A beautifully drawn wordless graphic novel. Again this is good gift for anyone starting a new journey as it tells the story of a man who leaves the violence and terror of his home country looking for a new home. The book is sepia-toned with some of the panels drawn like photographs. The man travels through many puzzling landscapes which mirror his vision of how alien everything is to him. A triumph of visual storytelling that also captures the resilience of the human spirit when supported by small acts of kindness.
The Nativity by Julie Vivas One of the most heartwarming narrations of the nativity story, making it a perfect Christmas gift. The human layer in this story is portrayed with warmth and charm. Julie Vivas’ unusual depiction of the angel Gabriel wearing frayed robes and a pair of what looks like trekking boots with laces undone and so many other spectacular spreads can be pored over for hours.
The Ramayana for Children by Arshia Sattar illustrated by Sonali Zohra (Juggernaut Books) A fine retelling of Valmiki’s Ramayana by noted scholar Arshia Sattar. Her evocative retelling has drama and colour and is supported by Sonali Zohra’s spectacular illustrations. In the author’s note, Arshia tells us that, ‘Valmiki’s story of Rama is my favourite and there are many reasons for that. It is a story of jealousy and betrayal, of love and honour, of courage and faith, of friendship and loyalty’.
Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs supported by the Stone Art Work of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr Having to flee one’s home to undertake perilous journeys because of civil war or genocide has led to the worldwide humanitarian crisis of refugees seeking safe havens. Margriet Ruurs tells a heartwarning story of a Syrian family who have to take a boat across dangerous seas. What illumines this simple story is the stunning stone work of artist Nizar Aki Badr who places stones he has collected randomly to compose the pictures.
Wilfred Gordon Macdonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivaas A young boy, whose home shares a wall with a Senior Citizen’s home, sets out to discover what memory is when he is told that one of his friends, a resident at the home, has lost her memory. Such a nuanced story with fabulous illustrations. Lots for any adult to ponder over.
Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day: A wordless picture book that is a great gift for dog-lovers, especially for owners of Rottweilers. The old-fashioned illustrations, reminiscent of British women’s magazines of the 50s, are charming. Mother has to go shopping, so she leaves Baby in the capable paws of good dog Carl. Naughty Baby gets into all kinds of mischief and Carl has to feed, bathe and rescue her before Mother returns. Chuckle-inducing fun on every page.
Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush by Anita Vaccharajani, illustrated by Kalyani Ganapathy (Harper Collins) A biography of the celebrated ‘rebel’ artist Amrita Sher-Gil told in words, pictures and reproductions of her work. Amrita’s freewheeling life and unconventional thinking are presented against the backdrop of the time she lived in. It’s a meticulously researched book, most engagingly written by Anita Vaccharajani. Kalyani Ganapathy’s incredible art is as much a pleasure to behold as the reproductions of Sher-Gil’s work.
Most of these ten books suggested above are available in a hardback version, making them nicer for gifting. They also come with a much higher chance of being enjoyed than that decorative candle that is never lit or that rogue bottle of wine that lurches from home to home as it gets gifted and regifted.
Here’s wishing you a Merry Bookmas and a Happy Bookwali!