Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan (9780062399618, Amazon)
A princess who is blind also doesn’t speak. Her parents, the Rajah and the Rani, offer a place in the palace and other rewards to anyone who can get Cinnamon to talk. Though the kingdom is remote, people journey there to try but no one was successful. The one day a talking tiger came to the palace and offered to help. Though everyone was frightened, Cinnamon’s parents allowed the tiger to try. Using a series of experiences like pain, fear and love, the tiger proceeded to tell Cinnamon stories. The next morning, the princess was able to talk but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Gaiman excels at writing books with a deep ambiguity and no pressure to have a moral or lesson at the end. This book has exactly that and it is why the book works to very well. He embraces the questions, allows the wonder to simply be there, and twists the story away from where traditional tales would end and towards a more shifting place that allows more dreaming.
The illustrations firmly place this book of a mythical India. Filled with rich colors, they have a distinct flatness to them that works well with a folktale subject like this. They are also filled with small details that adds a delicacy and luxuriance to the images.
Great illustrations bring this book previously only available on audio into the world of children and stories. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Jess Golden (InfoSoup)
This picture book puts an Eastern Indian twist on The Wheels on the Bus rhyme. Here it’s the tuk tuk taxi’s wheels that go round and round instead. The picture book captures the hustle and bustle of a city in India with people getting on and off the tuk tuk, rupees going ching ching as payments are made, and people having to squish in together.The tuk tuk stops for cows in the road and also for a drink of chai for the driver. There are spraying elephants and then the trip ends with Diwali fireworks in the sky. It’s a merry and dynamic ride that pays homage to the original while being uniquely its own story.
It is the energy of this book that makes it so much fun. The setting is captured in small moments that make sure that readers know that they are somewhere specific and exceptional. The rhyme retains its dynamic pace with the tuk tuk filling with passengers of all ages as the book moves along the streets of India.
The illustrations in the book are bright and cheery. They show busy streets with monkeys, cows, goats and more. Good food appears like steaming chai and poppadoms and then is happily shared with one another.
A superb look at another culture through a familiar preschool rhyme, this picture book invites readers along for a ride of a different sort. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
When Arun went to stay at his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s village, he worried that he would not be able to live up to his famous name. Arun walked all the way from the station to the village and made his grandfather proud, but he continued to fret that he would not do the right thing the next time. The village was very different from where he lived before. Arun had to share his grandfather’s attention with 350 followers who lived there as well. Arun struggled with his studies and the other kids teased him as well. He found the meditation and prayers difficult too. His grandfather urged him to give it time, that peace would come. However, Arun just found it more and more frustrating. When Arun finally lost his temper with another boy, he had to tell his grandfather about it, worried that he would be told that he would never live up to his name. How will Mahatma Gandhi react to this angry young man?
Gandhi relates his own memories of his grandfather, offering his honest young reactions to this amazing yet also formidable man. The book resulted from Arun recounting childhood stories aloud. Hegedus emailed him afterwards and asked to work on a book with him, though she felt very unworthy of such a project. The book is beautifully written and speaks to everyone who has felt that electric anger surge through them too. Hegedus sets the stage very nicely for the lesson, allowing time for Arun’s anger to build even as she shows the lifestyle of the village and Mahatma Gandhi himself. It is a book that is crafted for the most impact, building to that moment of truth.
Turk’s illustrations add much to the book. Using mixed media, he offers oranges, purples, deep pinks and more that show the heat not only of the climate but of Arun’s anger. Throughout, he also uses fabrics for the clothing, creating three-dimensional depth to the paintings. When Arun’s emotions flare, the illustrations show that with tangles of black thread that all bring readers back to the image of Gandhi spinning neat white thread. The contrast is subtle and profound.
Personal and noteworthy, this is a picture book about Gandhi that is entirely unique and special. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Gobble You Up! by Sunita, text by Gita Wolf
Based on a Rajasthani folktale, this picture book is a work of art. Jackal’s best friend is Crane, but then one day he was too lazy to hunt for food. Jackal challenged Crane to catch twelve fish all at once. Crane managed to do the feat, and then Jackal quickly gobbled down all twelve fish. Crane protested and then Jackal ate Crane too. Tortoise witnessed this, so Jackal had to eat Tortoise as well. Squirrel dared Jackal to eat him too, and Jackal managed. One by one, more animals get eaten and Jackal’s belly stretches and stretches. The elephant was more difficult to swallow, though Jackal managed. Then Jackal got very thirsty from eating all of those animals one after another. And you will just have to read the book to see how it all ends!
The first thing that you notice about this book is that it feels different in your hands. It has a different weight, a different balance. It smells different. The pages have a texture to them and the ink has body on the page that your fingers can feel. Inside, the story is told rapidly and with wonderful sounds and reactions. This is a story that comes from an oral tradition and you can hear it as you read it aloud. It flows and moves. If you are a librarian who does storytelling, get your hands on this book.
Sunita’s art is the center of the book. Called Mandna, this art form is practiced only by women and taught from mother to daughter. It is used to decorate the mud walls of homes and done without brushes. The art is beautiful, richly detailed and unique. Make sure to read the information at the end of the book for more facts about the art and how the book was made.
Unique and lovely, this is a rich folktale from a region of India that will delight and amaze. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
This nonfiction picture book focuses on Gandhi’s 24-day March to the Sea in 1930. Joined by over 70 others, this was a nonviolent protest of British rule of India and the taxes they had levied on salt. Told in verse, this picture book explores how the march united the different faiths and castes of India into a common cause. The book and journey ends with Gandhi scooping salt from the sea, inspiring many others to do the same. Many were imprisoned for their actions, but they proved too numerous for the prison system and had to be released. This is a profound and impressive look at a nonviolent action that was noticed around the world and still serves as inspiration today.
McGinty’s verse is free and flowing. She nicely integrates imagery that is moving and speaks volumes about the situation. Just one line from when Gandhi reaches the sea: “white salt dusting dark sand.” McGinty also weaves in the way that Gandhi inspired others to spin their own thread rather than relying on British cloth, how he prayed together with all faiths, truly how he created a single community out of so many different ones.
The illustrations by Gonzalez are exquisite. His paintings capture the stones on the path, the crowds that gathered, and finally Gandhi by the sea, alone and strong. All of the images show a man of strength of conviction and a spirit that was unfailing. They are stunningly evocative of the man and his mission.
This is a top-notch picture book that truly conveys the difference one man can make in the world being nonviolent. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Grandma and the Great Gourd retold by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters
This picture book is a retelling of a Bengali folktale. Grandma was invited by her daughter to visit her on the other side of the jungle. Before Grandma traveled there, she left the responsibility for her garden and home with her two loyal dogs. On her way across the jungle, Grandma met a series of hungry animals: a fox, a bear and a tiger. To each, she explained that she is very thin now, but will be plumper when she returns from seeing her daughter, so they let her go. Grandma had a good time at her daughter’s home, eating lots of food and visiting. But eventually, she had to return home to her dogs and her garden. But how was she to get back? That’s where the giant gourds in her daughter’s garden came in, and you will just have to read the book to find out how.
Divakaruni has taken a traditional folktale and left it wonderfully traditional. The story reads like an oral tradition, filled with repetition, small descriptions, and a story that just keeps on rolling forward like a gourd. She includes noises in the story as well, the khash-khash of lizards slithering over dry leaves, the thup-thup-thup of elephants lumbering on forest paths, and the dhip-dhip of her heartbeat.
Waters’ illustrations are lush and colorful. She uses texture and pattern to create a jungle. The colors range from earthy browns to deep oranges and hot pinks. The cut paper collages have strong clean lines and add a perfect organic feel to the story.
A great choice for library folk tale collections, this is a story that reads aloud well and has just the right mix of repetition, sound and inventiveness. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis
Valli picks up coal every day at her home town of Jharia, India. But when she discovers that the family she is staying with is not her real family, she is free to leave their abuse and fend for herself. She hops aboard a coal truck and ends up in Kolkata on the streets. There she “borrows” items that she needs, giving them to others who need them more when she is finished with them. She eats by begging for food and money or doesn’t eat much at all. Valli has one super power, she has feet that feel no pain. So she can stand on hot coals, run across glass, and never feel the wounds. But this is not a real super power, it is leprosy. A kind doctor discovers Valli and offers treatment, though it is some time before Valli is able to trust her. This powerful read speaks to the horrors of poverty, the brutality of life on the streets, and one remarkable young girl who survives it all.
Ellis is known for her powerful writing and this book definitely has that. The book could have become dark and depressing in less skilled hands, but Ellis through the spunky Valli keeps the book moving forward and keeps the viewpoint optimistic. Yet Ellis does not shy away from harsh realities of life on the streets and being an unwanted child in a family. It is Valli who makes this book work so well, her vitality shines on every page.
Ellis handles the subject of leprosy with a delicacy and honesty that is heartwarming. Valli responds to the lepers she meets as “monsters,” but she and the reader learn that there is nothing to fear. Valli sees the people behind their deformities and the reader will too.
A powerful and outstanding book, this tough subject is written at a level that will invite young readers into a world they had never realized existed. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by:
Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Elliot and Kailash are new pen pals. As they share letters, they share the differences and similarities of their lives in Elliot’s America and Kailash’s India. Both boys like to climb trees. Their families are very different with Elliot living with his mother, father and baby sister and Kailash living with an extended family of 23. They both have pets, but the pets are different. Both boys take a bus to school, but the communities are very different except for the traffic. The boys discover that they can be friends despite their obvious differences by looking to see how much they are actually they same.
Kostecki-Shaw writes with a very positive tone here. Through the two boys, she demonstrates how we are all so much more similar than we may realize. At the same time, she rejoices in the differences between the two characters, allowing us to see the different cultures side-by-side.
Her art is very effective as well, rendering both cultures with bright colors, plenty of motion, and a natural energy that captures the eye. She makes the differences between the cultures quite compelling.
A perfect book to share in a class along with a pen pal unit, this book is also a good pick for sharing when discussing differences since it takes such a positive approach. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Company.
Dorje’s Stripes by Anshumani Ruddra, illustrated by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park
In a small Buddhist temple in the Himalayas, the monks have an unusual visitor, a Royal Bengal tiger named Dorje. Dorje is very unusual himself, because his coat has no stripes. In the two years since he arrived at the monastery, they disappeared one by one. One evening, the youngest monk noticed that Dorje had one stripe again! One of the monks tells the story of when he entered Dorje’s dreams and saw that as Dorje lost each stripe, a tiger had died. Now there was a new tiger in the wilderness, a female tiger, who seemed to have taken a liking to Dorje. Soon perhaps, his coat will fill again with stripes.
Inspired by the tragic loss of tigers in India, this story vividly tells of the loss in a way that children will easily relate to. The story is quietly told through Dorje himself and the voices of the monks. It is a story that speaks gently about horrors beyond children’s comprehension, making them tangible and understandable.
Ruddra’s tone is one of respect and awe for this creature. He takes his time to tell the story to its fullest, offering inspiration along the way. The illustrations are glowing with bright colors that capture the coat of Dorje and the world of the monastery. The watercolors have been allowed to bleed a bit, creating auras around things. At other times, the painting is tight and controlled. The two play against each other, showing the wild next to the tame.
This is a lovely and inspiring book about threatened species. It captures the plight, the loss and the recovery in one beautiful story. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller EDC Publishing.