The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (9780763690489)
This is the story of an amazing mathematical genius who was born in India in 1887. He sees math everywhere, contemplating what small and big actually meant. When he started school, the teacher was not interested in his questions, so Ramanujan got bored and tried to sneak away to think his own thoughts. He wondered about the infinity possible in ordinary objects like mango that can be sliced again and again. Doing sums at school, he figured out the sums inside the sums they were doing, once again breaking things down. As he grows up, he reinvents mathematics, working from college textbooks and solving all of the problems. Still, he is just an unknown person in India, how can he find someone who understands what he is doing?
The joy of discovering Ramanujan’s math is that even for children or those who are not mathematically inclined, his theories resonate and encourage everyone to start thinking beyond the strictness of school math. Alznauer pays homage to this great genius, showing how he grew up, how he thought and how he was misunderstood for a very long time until being discovered by mathematicians in England.
The art is done in ink that flows at times like watercolors. Miyares captures the glow of invention, the heat of imagination in his illustrations. He also shows the solitude of Ramanujan in a captivating way.
Rich and fascinating, this picture book biography opens new worlds of mathematics to its readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola (9780763674755)
A nonfiction picture book look at the incredible Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Chand grew up happily in a small village in the Punjab region of India. He grew up there, hearing stories and building palaces on the sand near the river. As an adult, he became a farmer but everything changed when the partition of India happened in 1947. Forced from his home and into a city, Chand struggled to find the beauty he had grown up with. He finally discovered it in the jungle along the city’s edge. There he cut back the vegetation and built himself a hut. He started gathering items and bringing them into the jungle. Then he started building a secret kingdom, one that was undiscovered by anyone else for fifteen years. When the officials wanted it destroyed, the local community rose up to protect this outsider’s art.
Rosenstock manages to keep the complicated story of the partition of India to a scale that allows young readers to understand its impact on Chand, but also not get caught in the political details. She cleverly uses repetition of themes in the book, creating a feel of a traditional tale that suits this subject perfectly. She also shows the care and attention to detail that Chand demonstrated in his quiet work. There is a sense of awe around both his skill and his dedication to his vision.
Nivola’s art is fine-lined and marvelously detailed. From the lush jungle setting to the various figures he created. It is impressive that when the pages unfold to show photographs of the actual Rock Garden, there is no jarring moving from illustration to image. It flows naturally and yet allows the full images to amaze too.
A look at an outsider artist who created a world all his own. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mina vs. the Monsoon by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta (9781949528985)
Mina loves to play soccer outside in the sunshine. But it’s now monsoon season and that means a lot of days filled with rain. Her mother won’t let her play soccer in the rain since she might catch a cold. But Mina knows that her mother doesn’t understand the joy of playing soccer or scoring a goal. Mina tries a series of things to drive the rain away, but none of them work. When the milk man explains to her why the rain is so important for the rice crops and mango fruit, she still isn’t convinced. Finally, Mina discovers something new about her mother that just might change everything, even the pouring rain.
A strong book about the importance of girls playing sports, this book has an afterword that speaks to the work of local organizations in India combating child marriage by organizing girls’ soccer games. Those games keep the girls in school, offer them a sense of accomplishment and give them a model for different roles for women and girls in society. The writing is kept simple and is filled with words in Urdu and Hindi that are defined in a glossary at the end of the book that also offers pronunciation guidance. They are used cleverly in context so that readers will immediately understand them as well.
The art in this picture book is vibrant despite the rain. It offers a look at life in rural India, the vibrancy of the textiles, and the connection to nature. It also clearly depicts Mina’s love for her mother even when they don’t agree.
A powerful look at sports and girls in an interesting part of our world. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Yali Books.
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.