Monday, August 31, 2015

Full Speed Ahead

Full Speed Ahead!  (À toute vitesse)
How Fast Things Go
by Cruschiform

The seven year old prefers non-fiction and likes to know facts and more facts. So, when I brought home Full Speed Ahead! he was quite taken up with its simple format of showing how fast things go, in increasing speeds starting with Galapagos tortoise and Seahorses at 0.3 km/hr to a shooting star +100,000 km/hr.

Retro design with each double page spread showing the objects on the right side with the bare bones speed plus the name of the objects on the left hand page is easy on the eyes.

The French origins of the book explains some of the unfamiliar vehicles for the U.S. audience. Back of the book has more information about each of the objects.

[The blog post tells more about the book and has some lovely inside look]

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest
by Steve Jenkins

A permanent favorite in our house, Steve Jenkins' books are the perfect combination of visual artistry and nuggets of digestible facts.

As the title suggests, it lists fourteen members of the animal kingdom and their fascinating claim to fame, be it biggest or fastest, or like the anaconda which can swallow a deer or a goat whole.

The trademark cut-paper collage, plus minimum words that pack maximum impact, books like these are a must for every library.

Of course, we have many more books by Steve Jenkins on our bookshelf which are much loved even after a zillion reads over the last few years: Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest; Just a Second; The Beetle Book; Eye to Eye; Down Down Down... just about every book by Steve Jenkins is much enjoyed and appreciated.

[image source:]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Interview with storyteller, Vikram Sridhar

An author, an illustrator, a publisher, a book seller, a reviewer - all are important in getting us closer to stories! However, in addition to a book, the role of a story teller is seldom looked at seriously.

We, in Bangalore, are blessed to have some amazingly committed and creative story tellers and Vikram Sridhar, is one of them! Here Is an interview with Vikram, that we hope all will enjoy!

Welcome to Saffron Tree, Vikram.

Tahatto - please tell us more about the name of your theatre group?

Tahatto is a like a sound .. Tahatto dhim tha dhimmi thakka thaha thaha tho dim thath thai .

It can be sound in multiple ways and that’s were the word comes from . The chant goes back to some say to the kings era where they were welcomed using the chant.

What are we if not for the sounds through which we communicate

You have two distinct lives - each using your brain and your heart in different proportions. How did you reach this happy place of balancing the two? Was the journey a tough one?

It is an ongoing journey. But it was essential for me to identify it at every point of time , and its like a see saw, which gets priority at which point of time as there are other stake holders involved at every point . Right through my school and college days I realized there is a difference in what some people study and what you want to pursue. I can go on rattling on this .. While there was a safe journey through the brain , there was the journey through the heart which I kept and keep nourishing . Be it conservation , theatre or social work . Having no direct precedence in my family or people around , I tried my best balancing them . And you always keep hearing certain words like "Its an hobby " , "you can do these in your college days" etc. . But the fact is I start pursuing these deeper only after my under graduation.

While reading A Bhil Story by Tulika recently, you invited the children attending an event to name the rooster based on colours - red, blue, purple? So how do you start a session typically?

Ha ha , yes , At the end of - it these are folktales ( the bhil story) and they come to us, being passed from generation to generation. So, in order to give it to the next, we have to make it theirs . Typically, some parts of the story I open it out and take names from the audience if it’s a folktale . And most of my sessions will start with an audience interaction and between themselves . How often do we connect with unknown people . Be it children or adults , we’ll always find something to connect and this gives me a great start to the session

You like animals, you mentioned. Why do you sit on the back of an elephant's back - please share with our readers!

The part of animals I like is ETHOLOGY. To put it in a sentence, ethology is the science of animal behaviour. It has nothing to do with anatomy or evolution, just their natural behaviour . I was someone who scored least marks in biology but wanted to be a doctor I take a chance, wherever and whenever, to spend time observing them. Be it dogs , elephants, even a dragonfly . And without a camera. It’s a great feeling and connection to just observe. On a deeper context, there is something called Inter Species communication which we are making redundant now. This just helps me to connect with that. For example, wilder beast and zebra, langur and deer, egret and buffalo, cats and dogs etc. .

And to the fact of sitting behind the elephant, here is the story. I had been to one of the grand puram’s in Kerala to witness it from the magnitude and also to understand how the elephants were being treated. And you’ll always find crowds in the front, huge ones . And on the back side it will always be empty . And I always love that spot. For one, there is so much of the elephant that I could observe from the back side ( I am not going to go deeper !!) like how it stands, what this mahout is doing etc .

Recently I did something like that in Gujarat to observe Flamingoes. They were hundreds of them on a sewage drain. And there was no way for me to get closer unless I find a way to enter. I found a safe stone amidst the drain. And its only human poop I can't bear the smell . So I sat there - right amidst those flamingoes - with my nose closed . A lot of things in nature are not picture perfect ..

You also conduct theatre workshops for adults. Are you trained or self taught? Any Tips for those who want to do it but either cannot decide or cannot find time?

As a group yes, we do workshops for adults. My training is from various productions, workshops, spending time with artists over the last 10 + years . And just being in the space over time. If you really like to do something - now is the time. You have to make time for it, if not a week long workshop, do a 3 hour one. Bangalore has a lot of workshops happening which will give you an introduction to the form and you can take it on from there. There is no tomorrow for something you like now right . What if you don’t like it tomorrow.

Storytelling - why is it important in today's day and age of television and internet?

The shortest distance between two humans is a story. Be it TV or internet - we are still seeing human forms in them or using them to connect with other humans. And over time, it is like the filling in a sandwich. Initially we add butter or cheese to bind the 2 breads, and now there are 10 layers of vegetables and butter and cheese that the mouth cant handle the 2 breads and we might have to remove one of the breads . That’s how I see technology, sometimes. In the current world, where technology is flying in the air, Storytelling just does the simple act of connecting 2 people. Like Ayn Rand said . "Money is a tool and it cant be a driver". I’m rephrasing it to "Technology is a tool , it cant be a driver."

It is like water. We drank from streams long back, then wells , now bottles. Stories can't be obsolete. Their forms might change but the root cant be changed

Your views on change (that we discussed once) were fascinating. You said "this generation has a choice - unlike previous ones. We can choose what we wish of the past and discard what we wish of the future." Please elaborate.

It's like this. Today we have a choice to drink coconut water from a coconut from a coconut vendor for about Rs.20/- or go to a super market and buy it in a tetra pack for about Rs.75/- which can be even stored. No previous generation had this choice. This is a generation of choices, be it the number of TV channels, variety of clothes, communication gadgets, eating options etc . Never before this was there. You can just look back 20 years. Even 3 meals is a new age concept. Having said this, we are still confused and bored at many levels. That’s what I meant. Choices have made us more confused. And that’s where the responsibility comes in. We have the best of the past and it is what we choose and pass on that will make a better future. Some statistics say the rate of extinction is the highest now. So the worst of the future is also ours. SO its us to make the right choices for a better tomorrow because this is an era of choices.

Thank you, Rachna for this delightful interview with Vikram!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mara and the Clay Cows

Mara and the Clay Cows
 Art and Story: Parismita Singh
Ages 8 to 12

Mara and the Clay Cows combines two things that Indian publishing still doesn’t see enough of – one, an original graphic narrative (as opposed to the innumerable graphic retellings of classics/popular international series and  TV series spinoffs currently weighing down the shelves at a bookstore near you),  and two, a story set in the North- eastern regions of the country.  Drawing from a Tanghkul Naga folktale, it tells the story of Mara, a young orphan with strange powers. Lonely and friendless, Mara fashions himself a couple of cows out of clay, only to have them come magically to life.  The cows, Rocky and Areiwon, are chatty and wise, and help Mara set out on a quest to discover himself and the purpose of his powers . Before long, he meets Shiroi,  who agrees to take Mara to meet her teacher, the Chief Magician, in return for a small favour.   But before he can find the magician, Mara is assigned a series of chores by a strange old woman who lives on a floating rock (‘Avatar’, anyone?). Are these merely chores, or tests of some kind? Will Mara ever meet the Chief Magician? And what exactly is Mara’s destiny?

Author and illustrator Parismita Singh has a very distinctive style of drawing I have enjoyed in her earlier work – ‘The Hotel at the End of the World’, an acclaimed graphic novel that came out in 2009, ‘Joro’ (a comic serialized for a while in a Tamil newspaper supplement) and her contribution to the ‘Pao Anthology of Comics’.   In Mara.., the author moves from dramatic black and white art to softer pencil colour illustrations. I enjoyed the textured art; however,  handwritten text might have been a better choice to the rather cold font used throughout the book.   

Mara… moves along at a brisk pace, and is easily read in a single sitting. The panels in which the illustrations are set are played with in innovative ways, making the first half of the book very dynamic – tight insets, artwork occasionally seeping to the corners of the page, and lovingly depicting the region’s hilly terrain. The book is driven almost entirely by dialogue, and I enjoyed the way subtle shades to a character are revealed entirely through the banter between its human and magical characters.  The author has a good ear for background noise, and some entertaining Aiees, Mhrruus, Hhhnnngguus and Shweesh’s punctuate the narrative.  

The mild, open- ended finale  might leave some readers a little dissatisfied – I know I was expecting the book to end with more drama. But Mara.. is a layered story and I found myself discovering facets to the book long after I had finished it. It is, of course, a story of magic and adventure, and a child’s quest for family. It also humorously questions  gender stereotypes, asserts the need for non violence and environmental preservation – oh, and reminds you never to underestimate  the powers of a really good burp as well.   I found myself smiling at the way  the book’s main characters , despite being powerful magicians, nonetheless  keep it real – the greatest of sorcerers must still  finish their household chores the hard way (unlike Mrs. Weasley’s  enchanted dishwashing brush) , and flying girls walk when the weather turns. And even young boys  on the threshold of a bright, magical future must first go home and make sure the cows are secure.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. The views expressed here, however, are my own.

Image courtesy

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Jumpstart 2015 - Bangalore & Delhi

Jumpstart 2015

JUMPSTART is a two-day event aimed at creating an ideal meeting place for professionals and aspirants involved in children’s content across media. Jumpstart’s audience comprises writers, artists, designers, filmmakers, illustrators, storytellers, librarians, animators, innovators and educators. 

The previous 6 editions held in New Delhi since 2009 and in Bangalore in 2014, attracted hundreds of creators and dozens of acknowledged speakers from all over the world. This year, there will be speakers from India, Israel, Australia and Germany.

My experience as a participant:
The highpoint of Jumpstart 2013 was meeting Emily Gravett in person and listening to her speak about the incredible story of her life and her journey as a book maker. She walked us through her first book, Wolves, telling us what she had intended to do on each spread and how it had evolved.
Getting feedback on your work is next to impossible, but there was a lot of that happening at Jumpstart. It was a great opportunity for me to reflect on what I had been doing and how I could improve. Publishers expressed interest in the manuscripts I had taken along – picture books as well as chapter books. I came back with a better understanding of what each publisher is looking for.
Many writers and illustrators whose work I had admired were there, and they were all very inspiring. Writing can get lonesome; an opportunity like this to exchange notes is welcome once in a while.

Jumpstart Bangalore:
Jumpstart first came to Bangalore as a one-day event in 2014. The response exceeded everyone’s expectations; the auditorium was packed and the masterclasses were full. This time it’s a two-day fest and there’s a lot of enthusiasm.

What to expect:
An opportunity to network, make connections, exchange ideas, learn from and get inspired by some of the best creative minds, from India and abroad.
There will be masterclasses on writing (led by Leonie Norrington, Writer and Television Presenter, Australia), illustration (led by Nicki Greenberg, writer and illustrator, Australia) and screenwriting (led by Motti Aviram, a leading figure in the Israeli children's television industry), an opportunity to present your idea to a panel and interact with experts in publishing and media.

Each city is different, every year is different. It’s always a lot of fun.

For the complete schedule, go to

Facebook event:

To register:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hypnotize A Tiger

Hypnotize A Tiger
Poems About Just About Everything
By Calef Brown

This collection of playful and whimsical poems with the characteristically quirky Calef-Brown-esque illustrations are more for the middle-grade readers than younger ones.

Organized into categories like The Critterverse, My Peeps, Schoolishness, Facts Poetic, Word Crashes, Miscellaneous Silliness and so forth, the poems tackle anything from creepy crawly insects and creatures large and small to Edible rarities and culinary peculiarities.

The joy in reading works by Silverstein and Kenn Nesbitt and Prelutsky is that the beauty of words strung together is seemingly nonsensical but manage to excite the young readers' imagination nonetheless. Much the same way, the 10 year old got the poems for the most part, and enjoyed some of the sillier ones like Big-Hair Cats,
When cougars and lynxes
get fur stuck in their larynxes
they cough up hairballs
like an ordinary kitty.
It isn't very pretty,
not in the least,
to see a gob of gooey fleece
released by such a noble beast.

and Greta,
Greta can't make up her mind
if she should make up her bed
or practice gymnastics instead.
She likes to jump on the mattress, you see,
which often ends in catastrophe,
with pillows and blankets everywhere,
and then her parents are there
giving her a blank stare.
"Are you aware," they ask,
"that is it one a.m?"
"Yes," she replies, "I am."

I think she identified most with Carsick:
Car rides have always
been awful for me.
I try not to look,
but as soon as I see
that the needle is pointing
to forthy-three
on the ol' speedometer,
I'm a vomiter.

The seven year old enjoyed some of the animal poems and especially the off-beat outlook in poems like The Vulture where it introspects with,
This is my diet?
If it died, I try it?
A normal dinner would feel so nice.
Grilled asparagus and wild rice
without the wretched carrion.
Something vegetarian."

and Pupae:
Just because we're the pupae
people give us the poop-eye.

How can you go wrong with "poop-eye" and the younger reading crowd?

But what I liked even better was the bottom edge of pages: they are packed with mini-poems and absurd observations of sorts that were quite amusing. A few of my favorites:

I only eat cuttlefish from Cuddalore.
Sure, they cost a little more,
but ones from Delhi are sometimes smelly.

I prefer Swiss chard from Mumbai,
which is hard to come by.

Oh no! Now there are geese loose in the ghee sluice!
Ghee is butter. 
Thanks for clarifying.

Forcing compliance through orders and decrees?
Oh, please!

The last one in the book is Q&A with Calef Brown answered with enough jest and yet a good glimpse into the writer.

Tell us about your early days.
My life began in a tree fort
in Shreveport, Louisiana.
A sort of breezy cabana
with one of those fantastic lawns--
the kind with gnomes and plastic swans.
I was a weaselly child,
easily riled and wildly erratic,
full of dramatic "tin-drum tantrums"--
the loudest kind...

The kooky illustrations and off-center perspective on everyday things certainly amused the kids and me. To be able to pick a page at random and just enjoy the wordplay and the perspectives is a simple pleasure that this book offers in plenty.

[MacMillan View Inside the Book]

[Image source: MacMillan]

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Hook's Revenge

Hook's Revenge I
hook's revenge heidi schulz saffron tree book review
by Heidi Schulz
illustrated by John Hendrix

I picked up the book after meeting the author, Heidi Schulz, at a gathering and hearing her talk. She completely bowled me over with her sunny charm. She is from Oregon and she home-schools her daughter. I instantly liked her. And the more she talked about the book and the story behind the book, I got curious and decided right then to pick it up and read it, just to see if the book is as charming as the author. And it is!

With the introduction saying, "Children Have Sticky Fingers and Ask Impertinent Questions," followed by the first chapter titled, "In Which Our Heroine Displays a Clear Need for Professional Help," I knew I was in for a riot of a good time. But still, I didn't raise my hopes up too much. I didn't want to go in with high expectations and feel let down. But I needn't have feared.

An old salt of a curmudgeonly narrator unfolds the tale of  young Jocelyn, the sole living progeny of the infamous Captain Hook. Yes, the very same Captain Hook, with Peter Pan and the gang.

Jocelyn's mother is no more, and she is the ward of her maternal grandfather, who wants to forget the fact that there ever was a vile man named Captain Hook who had anything to do with his family. Moreover, the law of the land dictates that only a male offspring can inherit the family fortune, so, despite his wealth, the grandfather cannot do much for Jocelyn in terms of financial security.

However, Jocelyn has other plans. She wants to follow in her father's footsteps and become the most fearsome pirate captain ever. The girl romanticizes sailing the seas and plundering and pillaging, once she joins her father. But, with no word from him, and days rolling into months, she is left with no choice but to accede to her grandfather's decree and enroll in Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb's Finishing School for Young Ladies. That, as her grandfather points out, is Jocelyn's only hope of acquiring a suitable life partner who can support her when he himself has to shuffle off the mortal coil.

Life is full of disappointments. Chocolates melt or are eaten by rodents. Ponies die. Kittens grow into cats-- and cats are such hateful creatures. However, when Jocelyn arrived at the place that her grandfather intended to be her home, school, and prison for years to come, she was not disappointed: it was just as terrible as the girl had expected.

She faces the usual spiteful rich-and-spoilt peers at the school, and while Miss Eliza is fair and resourceful, she is also a strict disciplinarian who will tolerate no nonsense. No exceptions. However, Jocelyn makes a new friend, Roger, a kitchen assistant, and life seems a bit more bearable, even if terribly stifling all the same.

We'll leave our heroine there, no spoilers. She does go on an adventure, she does manage to experience what she had been longing for all her life. But did it turn out the way she had dreamed?

The writing is cheeky, playful, clever, witty, and utterly delicious. I read this aloud to my ten year old. She immediately picked up on phrases like 'sinus spelunking' (after asking for explanations).

"I am sorry for coming in late," Jocelyn said to the boy, "but I was lost in the best part of my book. A giant Cyclops threatened to eat Odysseus and his crew. In order to escape and return to their ship, they had to get the monster drunk, wait until he was firmly asleep, find a sharp stick, and" -- Jocelyn leaned in and spoke in a reverential whisper --"gouge his terrible Cyclops eye out. Isn't that marvelous?"

Ambrose yawned. He did not bother to remove his finger from his nostril, choosing instead to speak around it. "This is rather disgusting talk for the dining table." His sinus spelunking paused for the briefest of moments while he looked Jocelyn over.

Although the style of writing is saucy and deliberate, the ten year old enjoyed the read-aloud sessions. She might not have picked it up on her own and stuck with it. But, the more I read aloud to her, the more she got into it. And that is the strength of this book. Aside from cantankerous narrator regaling us in his snarky voice, the story progresses with care-- things happen, Jocelyn gets caught up in them, and discovers things about herself that she would have sworn was not possible.

The week before Jocelyn's grandfather decided to send her away to finishing school was an eventful one, even by her standards.

On Monday, the girl's newest tutor found his pupil unable to do her history lesson. Someone had torn most of the pages from her lesson book in order to make paper boats. This same unidentified person had then floated the paper vessels on the garden pond, after lighting them on fire, of course. Jocelyn sat at her desk, the very picture of wide-eyed innocence-- with a spot of soot on her nose and the faint smell of smoke still clinging to her rumpled dress.

Before I end up quoting the whole book here, let me wrap up by mentioning that this is an absolutely delightful, riotously adorable, glorious debut novel by a super-talented writer. The story could use some intensity and urgency, the supporting characters could use some oomph, the quest could use some girth and purpose, but Jocelyn is every bit the spunky, spontaneous heroine with endearing flaws which makes her grow on us over the course of the journey.

There are books that I read for the gripping story, books that I read for the possibilities, books I read for the absurdity, books that I read for the poignant heartbreak, and then there are books I read for the sheer pleasure of the language. This book is in that last category.

The U.K. version of this book is called Hook's Daughter, and Heidi Schulz reads a bit of it aloud in this video.

There is a sequel, of course, The Pirate Code, and I hope it lives up to its older sibling!

[image source:]

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Marianne Dubuc

After multiple reading of the 'The Lion and the Bird', I wrote to Marianne Dubuc with some queries. She was very kind to reply back almost within a day. Thank you, Marianne Dubuc for writing back with a lot details.  

Here it goes - 

Query - Going through the book, I wondered if the book could have been just made as a wordless picture book. The picture by themselves seem to speak volumes, did they still need the extra words at all?
Marianne: You might have read that already, but I actually did the whole book in images first. I wanted to do it this way, so that I would tell story with the images as much as possible. But I also wanted to add words. Because I feel that sometimes the fact that there are so few words can emphasize the emptiness, the stillness or force the reader to look at the image and let it complete the phrase. When I read wordless books to my kids, I tend to talk a lot, say tons of words. With The Lion and The Bird, the reader has to read the few words on the page, ans then complete it if he wishes, but there is a rythm that is imposed by their presence. And I say all of this, but I can assure you that I had not thought all of this through while doing the book. It all kind of happened this way, and I then noticed the impact that so few words can have on the reading experience.My first intention was to let the images tell the story and then add words so that both could work together. But I think that they do more then simply work together... :)

Query - I read in your write up with Picture book makers that you liked to tell a story through animals. I loved the way you showed human emotions using a Lion. Was it easy to transfer human emotions to a lion or does our human minds play a role in pushing these images into the pictures based on our understanding of the story at that point? Would love to hear your views on this. 

Marianne: I don't really plan things when working on stories. They kind of happen the way they do... But I do use animals a lot in my work. I prefer to draw animals then humans. I think I give myself more freedom of interpretation with animals then with humans. And I guess that animals all have personality traits that are associated with them culturally. This helps to tell the story. When I ask kids which one, between the Lion and the Bird, is the strongest, based on the cover, they all say "the lion!!". And the weakest, more fragile one is always the bird. But once I have read the story, they say the Lion is more fragile in my story. And I explain that the fact that we think the Lion is usually strong, lets the story surprise us, and emphasizes the Lion's vulnerability. I don't know if I make sense, english is not my main language.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Where Do Our Baby Teeth Go?

Where Do Our Baby Teeth Go?
Tooth Stories from Around the World
by Vilasinee Bunnag
illustrated by Yasmin Doctor

With the resident first-grader losing teeth left and right, back-to-back, teeth have been in the limelight for the last few months.

He does not want to leave the baby teeth under the pillow for the tooth fairy as is the custom around these parts. He did write a note to that effect, in polite words, to the tooth fairy, so (s)he won't be disappointed.

He intends to collect all his baby teeth in a jar and keep them for future research.

Which got us thinking about this tradition of leaving the fallen baby tooth for the tooth fairy. And made us wonder what other such traditions are there related to baby teeth.

What do kids in other parts of the world do when their baby teeth fall out?

Just to answer such a question, this book presents tooth stories from around the world as the subtitle states.

The book starts out by asking 'Have you lost a tooth yet?' And explains a few facts about the 20 baby teeth, including the term "Diphyodont". Then, we embark on a journey around the world to learn about different traditions surrounding baby teeth. A map of the word shows the places we are visiting.

Starting in New York City, where of course the Tooth Fairy has the honors, we move to Mexico where Señor Raton scurries it away. In Brazil, Saint John takes care of it, while in South Korea kids get to throw it up in the air where a magpie catches it and brings a new strong tooth. We learn close to a dozen such traditions in different countries.

And since it's all about each child's own tooth story, the book ends with an invitation: "What's your tooth story?" and offers a Baby Teeth Diagram showing the placement of the mighty twenty.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. Two things that thrilled the resident seven year old: flag of each country tucked away in the illustrations, and peppering of words from other languages. He was chirping the Zulu greeting of "Sawubona"  and  the Swedish "Välkommen till Sverige".

Little nuances kept him interested - like, the drums on Nigeria page with their names "djembe" and "shekere", as well as factoids like "Dentists were working on smiles in Egypt as early as 3000 BC" and "China is a land of inventions. Fireworks and bristle toothbrush were invented there over 500 years ago."

While the concept is lovely, the only thing I would've preferred to be different is the font and color of the text - especially the white text on a darker background, and the all caps font made it difficult to read.

[Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book. The opinions shared here are my own. The images shared here are from the review copy sent to me.]

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Lion and The Bird

The Lion and the Bird.
By Marianne Dubuc

Sometimes, one comes across a book that is charmingly simple and heart warming. A book that makes one pore into it again and again, finding a new nuance every time one looks at it. 

The Lion and The Bird is a book of friendship, seasonal nature of life, the yin & yang, loneliness & camaraderie. Life offers it all. This is a book that says the external environment hardly matters-  If one finds true friendship, the winter is like spring. If ones loved ones are not around, even the most colourful spring season is cold and bleak. 

The autumn is almost on and the lion is working his patch of land, gathering the fallen leaves when he notices an injured bird(among many flying away to warmer lands). The bird is hurt. The lion takes in the bird, keeps it warm and develops a wonderful friendship with it. They enjoy the winter and suddenly the whiteness of the winter seems colourful. When it is spring again, the bird yearns to go back with its group of birds as they return back to their home.  

The number of pages are more (54 as against the usual 36 pages). The extra pages adds gravitas to the whole story. There are many pages that do not require any words. The design of the page conveys it all. There is a page where the birds flies away and the lion looks forlornly. The lion is illustrated same as ever before, but the page conveys the loneliness of the lion.  The lion is depicted smaller in size, whereas the bird is depicted much larger compared to other pages. I wonder how long it took to illustrate and design this one single page - to convey the mood effortlessly. 

Every page is designed and illustrated with a lot of care and thought. It almost seems like the words used in the picture book are not needed at all. The words are used sparingly, but, I felt that they can probably be left out completely. 

I kept going back to the lion's face depicted in various pages. In some the lion appears forlorn, in some sprightly, in some enthusiastic, in some content. If one notices closely the lion's face is depicted almost exactly the same in all these pages. Then from where do these emotions come out. Do we as readers, sense the emotion of the picture and force our emotions on the page or is it a subtle magic of line used in the illustrations?

This book is a work of art. A book for all ages. If I may add, a book more for adults than for kids. A book that will grow within you. A book that might provide a ray of hope for that lonely day when all seems bleak. 

A book that might turn out to be a classic.

Review by Sathish

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Nayanika Mahtani, after being an investment banker, has been following the right side of her brain and is a copywriter by day and a storyteller by night.

She has just penned Ambushed , published by Puffin. An adventure story set in tiger territory in the Himalayan foothills, it is meant for the 9+ reader. The foreword is written by Valmik Thapar, who suggests this book should be part of school reading.

All royalties go to Tiger Watch, an NGO in Rajasthan, for a school set up for the children of tribal (ex) poachers, to give them a window to alternate livelihood.

Let us begin with the title of the book- 'Ambushed'- a great pun given the spotlight on tigers and the storyline of the book. Tell us more!

This wasn’t actually the original title of the book, but we needed to change the earlier one as it was similar to a title that had just been launched. The credit for choosing this out of all the options I gave, goes to the Puffin team!  The title ‘Ambushed’ held the thrill of not knowing what’s lurking around the corner. City-bred gadget geek Tara is ambushed when her Dad springs the surprise of going on a tiger tracking vacation in the Himalayan forests, and maybe even moving there for good! Tara’s socialite mother orchestrates her own ambush when she springs her surprise(s), sometimes unknowingly! A group of tigers is also called an ‘ambush’; and it also of course refers to the technique used by the tiger to catch its prey. Satya, the 13 year old son of a poacher, who has tracked tigers all his life, is a master at this craft. And without giving away too much of the plot, let’s just say that there are several ambushes quietly waiting to happen as we go!

The mother is a bit too flaky/pretentious to begin with. Is she based on someone you know? (No names needed of course!!)

Hmmm…maybe not one person in particular, but I have definitely encountered the likes of Sushma “Call me Sue” Tripathi! In fact, though she may be an over-the-top specimen, I think she reflects so many of us who choose our experiences based on how impressive they will appear, on say Facebook, to our peer group.  And this holds true even in the context of some of the bigger life choices we make. Which is why Sushma is aghast when her banker husband wants to quit the City to go and live in a forest. For Sue Tripathi, life is a race -with no forests near the finish line!

You have drawn from conservationists for the book but did you meet any ex-poachers as part of the research for the book? How was the experience?

In all the school sessions that Puffin arranged, I told the kids that it was a poacher (and a tiger) who compelled me to write this book. And it was true! The seed for this story came from an article in the National Geographic that had the photograph of a jailed tribal (Moghiya) poacher and a tiger – and that image just wouldn’t leave my head. To me, they both – the tiger and the tribal poacher- were hopelessly trapped. I started researching Moghiya poachers. To start with, most of my research happened online. I spent days reading about the history of the Moghiyas – and how they retreated into the forests when Emperor Akbar besieged Ranthambhore. Today, they are the world’s best tiger trackers – employed (for a pittance) to kill tigers by an international illegal wildlife trade mafia.  They remain a marginalised tribe with no other means of livelihood.

Last April, I met with ex-poachers’ families at Dhonk, a craft collective run by Divya Khandal, to offer alternate employment opportunities to Moghiyas. It was an incredibly moving experience, to say the least– and the hope in those eyes will stay with me forever.

The unlikely friendship and collaboration between kids from completely different backgrounds- do we as parents let it happen in real life?

Not easily, in most cases! In today’s world, I find that not only our kids, but even we as adults, end up interacting with those who have such similar backgrounds, education and outlooks, that, in my view, it saps creativity, originality and makes for very dull conversation!
As a family, we have lived in India, Africa and now in the UK and our daughters have interacted with children from completely diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and been the richer for it, I think.

The tribal boy in the book (Satya), is based on a little boy called Satto-who is the son of the lady who used to come to clean our house. Despite our best efforts, he refused to go to school. So I started seating him along my (then pre-school) children and keeping them occupied, while his mother did her work.

Satto never ceased to amaze me! He had spent his early years in the village where his grandfather was a carpenter – and could whittle a block of wood into almost any shape you named, whistling nonchalantly. He found the lot of us pretty unimpressive I’m sure, but the one thing that earned his unadulterated awe was the computer. He would watch it entranced by the unlimited possibilities it held!

How did the association with Tiger Watch come about?

The person who heads up Tiger Watch is a reluctant tiger hero, a conservation biologist called Dr. Dharmendra Khandal, who has dedicated his life to the cause of the tiger. (His equally committed wife Divya runs Dhonk – as I mentioned earlier). It was his interview in the National Geographic -that I mentioned earlier -that set me off on this journey.

After I finished writing the first draft of the book, I felt I just had to visit a tiger reserve to experience first-hand what Tara feels on seeing a wild tiger. I had been to several tiger reserves over the years, but had only seen tiger tracks and tails, never a tiger.

Over the Easter holidays last year, our family headed to Ranthambhore.

We saw not one but 8 wild tigers in 3 days – including a tigress who had very recently given birth to 3 cubs (who have found their way into the book too!) It was as if the tigers had allowed me into their world. And I felt I had to honour that. And the only (small) way I knew was by donating my book’s royalties to the school Tiger Watch had set up for ex-poachers’ kids, to give them a window to alternate livelihoods.

What next from your pen/ keyboard?

Am currently finishing work on a film script in a completely different genre. And on the book front, there are a dozen different crazy ideas jostling for space in my head. I’ll wait for one of them to nudge out the rest and refuse to budge and then take it from there, hopefully!

What are your favourite books on the theme of conservation/ animal rights for kids?

Some that have touched my heart include Born to Run, Running Wild (in fact so many others as well by Morpurgo), Watership Down, Black Beauty and Charlotte’s Web.
As Strawberry, the rabbit in Watership Down, says:
“Animals don't behave like men,' he said. 'If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don't sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures' lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”

That, for me, says it all.

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