Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's only a story

It's only a story
by Cathy Spagnoli
Illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

Ages : 3-6

Its been a long time since I posted a review. Probably because its been a loooong time since I actually sat down and read a book with my son, without it being a rush job before bedtime. And today, I slowed down enough to think about one of his favorite books off late...Its only a story.

Remember when you were a kid and you played the alphabet memory game? Okaaayy...there are many alphabet memory games, perhaps, but the one I am referring to goes like this...once you pick your theme for it. In this case, its countries...

Player 1 : Argentina

Player 2 : Argentina Bolivia

Player 3 : Argentina Bolivia Cambodia...

...and so on...until you get to Z. It used to be a daunting task to remember all the countries, and the first one to slip up was out of the game.

What has this game got to do with the book? wonder. Everything. For that is the flowing theme in the book. No no...its not a book about alphabets...rather...its a curly tale and a chain story. And a simple one really. Of an ant, who is curious and wants to make some hot spicy curry for his friend...the peacock. So he climbs up to the hot pot to stir the curry, and topples over and dies. Oh dear! Morbid is it? That's what I thought so too, at first. Any references to death in a children's book makes me antsy but if you persist, you will find that delights abound in this book. For it flows with the repercussions of all that happens in the wake of the ant's falling into the hot pot. The peacock comes along and cries for his friend, the river flowing nearby listens to the tale and turns white!! The mango tree at the bank of the river, has its leaves fall down, the elephant that comes to the tree..has its tail drop off, the crow's wings stop flapping and so on....all because they wanted to listen to the story of the ant from his friend, the peacock! Sounds confusing?

It is definitely a challenge in memory for your little one, and if your memory is anything like mine, you'll have to keep up too. This is the first book of Cathy Spagnoli that I have ever read and its such a keeper! To quote some words from the back cover...

"It is a chain story of repitition and cumulative images. It is told with the simple fantasy of an old tradition in a new world."

The illustrations by Uma Krishnaswamy are in a league of their own. It is supposedly adapted from the art of the Warli storytellers who used to draw and tell their stories on the mud walls of their homes. In fact, the insides of the front and back covers of the book depict this art form, and you can see for yourself how she has masterfully adapted this style in illustration.

Courtesy :

My 4 year old delighted in reading this book with me. It is very interactive and lures you immediately to be a part of its experience. He got such a kick out of doing the chain story, and remembering what comes first and what follows next. After the first 2 or 3 times of reading it, he completely took over this book and read it to me!

To summarise the high points of Its only a story...
  • It has the prodigious element of simple repitition, which gives the child a sense of mastery with it, and boosts their involvement multifold.

  • It is an unusual and fun tale, beginning with the main character, an ant and his unlikely friend, the peacock. And despite a sober start, it ends on the highest possible note, leaving a truly feel-good experience.

  • The unique illustrations tell the story on their own, making the words a mere formality. And they serve the added purpose of jumpstarting your memory should ever the chain be broken. Not to forget the feeling of giving your child a slice of history in the form of these folk paintings.

  • It has been published by Tulika, whose books I watch out for, and have come to appreciate exceedingly.

This book is not available in the libraries here, to the best of my knowledge, and its probably a great idea to suggest to them for procuring for their collection. Either that, or you could just order it online. Whichever way you choose, I hope its not a very long wait before you can finally open the pages to...Its only a story!!


Meera Sriram said...

Hi Tharini,

Great review. Picked up a lot of things...and most importantly to give the ethnic art on my favorite t-shirt a name - warli folkart!
One of Dr.Seuss books that we read called 'Because the little bug went Ka-choo' is similar in concept (the domino effect triggered by the bug's sneeze). I like the mango tree and crow sort of ethnic touches in this one. And an excellent tip to memorize the sequence. I am also checking out the inspiring author's website. Thanks!!!

Tharini said...

Wow. You have Warli art tee. Impressive. And I like the phrase u used...domino effect.

ranjani.sathish said...

Hi tharini
Very well reviewed ! Whenever I see a Tulika book at the shop I get really excited !! We got this book for one of our friend's kid and I was also quite impressed by the ethnic prints and llustrations used.

Most of the books by Tulika are excellent and worth buying. The mention of the "ethnic touches" brought to my mind another Tulika book which I have seen. It is called the "Magic vessels" and based on a folk tale from Tamil nadu. The book has some beautiful illustrations of the culture of Tamilnadu in the form of - people eating a feast from a banana leaf, the mud walls of a village house painted with kolam designs, pots (mann pannai) painted again with kolam patterns and a few other things which I am not able to recollect right away.

Unknown said...

Hi, I discovered your blog today and its a beauty! Extremely well written reviews and posts expecially the one will peelings :)

Praba Ram said...

Thanks, T for an "ethnic" pick!

Both Ranjani's and your recommendation on Cathy Spagnoli books are a must buy in my list - and lots of other tulika recos - coz India trip is coming up soon...

may be, M could pass on info on where she got those Warli Tees from..:-)

Praba Ram said...

Thanks, Siri for your kind words!
Look forward to seeing you more often! :-)

Tharini said...

Ranjani : The book you talk about sounds lovely. But an India trip is at least 1 year away at this point. :(

Thanks Siri : All of us here on ST are huge children's book fans and hope you'll keep coming back for more reviews.

Praba : You're going to have such a rollicking time at Landmark! Have fun girl.

Sheela said...

wow, nice review, tharini, seems like a must-have/must-read... thanks! Ana stares at the warli/worli painting i had made (it just hangs unassumingly on the hallway wall) - now, worli tee, that is a nice idea - maybe i should paint a scene on one of Ana's tees... see??! your review has inspired me in more ways than one already:-)

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