Monday, September 24, 2007

PandaMania in our household!

It's raining Pandas here! Well, that would be one to wish for, isn't it? Especially now that we know all about the dangers of extinction that the giant pandas face. Thanks to the growth in human population and the related destructions we cause in the environment that we share with so many species of plants and animals!

I am a firm believer in "it's never too early to talk to kids about environmental issues". I was both happy and sad the day K learned the meaning of the word "extinct". Happy for my daughter's linguistic adventures. Sad because I was left with no option but to explain to her the meaning based on stories from the real world as opposed to the fantasy ones we always make up. At two, she once asked me "What's a dream?" Now agreed, that's not an easy word to explain to a toddler, but still you can put all sorts of magical spin to the meaning, and make it fun. Definitely, the same thing does not apply to the word "extinct".

Real world issues are definitely not fun to introduce to little ones - particularly, when they deal with topics such as dangers they face in the outside world, or when it's some other creature that's endangered, like pandas for instance. That's where good books come in (although wouldn't be surprised if my daughter points to the paper and says, "too much paper in books is not good for the environment" :-))

Without digressing any further, let me share with you my panda picks.

1) Pi-shu the Little Panda by John Butler

• This is a story about a little panda named Pi-shu who is born in the most idyllic of settings - a bamboo forest and thrives so beautifully in the warmth and love showered by his mother, Fei-Fei. Growing up is not all that bad in the slippery slopes of Misty Mountain where young Pi-shu loves exploring the mountainside. Panda meets and understands early on he shares his home with so many different animals in the mountain region. However, one day, he ventures a little too far, and encounters humans. They are cutting down the forest and destroying the homes of the animals that live in the forest. Quickly, Panda realizes the danger and runs back to safety to be with his Mom, Fei-Fei. Fei-Fei senses danger seeing the look on her little one's face and they set out to find a new home.

• This book is not about introducing panda facts. But, the messages the author, John Butler conveys is strong, yet not heavy-handed - 1) that hunting of pandas is prohibited, but what happens "when humans hunt their habitats" 2) One could also use the opportunity to discuss safety with little ones by pointing to how little panda, quite innocently, ran far away without realizing the dangers in the outside world. Therefore, it's safe to stay close to Mamma/Pappa when you play 3) The fact that he would introduce some exotic animals from little panda's view re-iterates the idea that explaining to little ones about the different animals and plants we share the world with is extremely important

•The prose flows gently, and nothing is overstated. The illustrations so amazing that we couldn't take our eyes off this book. To simply put it - an delightful read for all avid panda fans amongst us!

Last word: A gentle and touching way to introduce an endangered animal in an idyllic setting to little ones without scaring them about the real world they will grow up in. Felt elated and ecstatic to read Pi-shu, the little Panda - to my little panda, if I may!

2) Zen Shorts by Jon Muth (A Caldecott Honor book)

• This book is a collection of three Zen/Budhist stories for little ones and grown-ups alike. Stillwater, a panda, appears in the backyard of three siblings. The next few days, the children visit Stillwater, each separately. Panda shares with them Zen stories giving them thought-provoking material about their views on the world and about each other - two of them deal with forgiveness and helping others, and the other is about what's good luck and what's bad luck!
•The deeper messages in the three stories may not reach very young listeners and they may or may not understand the philosophical undercurrents in the stories - meanings might be more accessible for older children and grown-ups.
• Illustrations tie in with the "uncluttered philosophy" of Zen. Jon Muth employs two distinct styles - detailed watercolors depicting the real world, while the zen stories set in black lines and strokes on pastel pages. Visually soothing, the pictures depict realism and naturalism in a way that seem to convey to children to not be "overly-western", but look to the east for developing views/prespectives about the world.

Last word: Hopefully, Zen questions will linger in your little one's mind long after you have put the book down. It's yet another gentle book to introduce to your children.

3) Miss Panda in India by by Ambika Mathur Kamat

A fun little book about India in which Miss Panda in a cute,little outfit visits India to see her cousin, Mr. Bhaloo. Mr and Mrs. Bhaloo are Miss. Panda's tour guides. During their travel, they encounter a Bengal Tiger, the Taj Mahal, and even a snake charmer! One might say, well nothing new but it's all about the stereotypical things that most books highlight when it is about India. That being true, it doesn't hurt to explain to little ones that it's only a bite-sized portion of India!

Miss Panda is loveable and kids will instantly fall in love with her. The "Miss Panda" series was brought out to to teach children about different countries.

Last word: Illustrations are not that eye-catching, and the print and paper quality not that high. Amazon charges 11.95, and I actually made the mistake of buying the book at this price to add the book to our India collection without realizing it's one of those tiny little paper backs. It would a neat recommendation to your local library so everyone can enjoy this little treat!

Something to note: Interesting that in all of the above books, the author is also the illustrator.

Hope you enjoyed my panda picks!


Tharini said...

Praba...I enjoyed your Panda picks. Especially the story about Pi-shu. It sounds really lovely and just righ to introduce to Akhil. I am fascinated in the second one, more for myself. The front of the book illustration with the panda on teh roof seeems very beautiful.

Sheela said...

Thanks a bunch, Praba! I echo Tharini re your Zen Shorts pick - I want it for myself first :)

The Pi-shu story will tie in well with The Lorax I had written about - taking away the habitat really endangers them - this is what is suggested in The Lorax too when the Once-ler chops down the Truffula Trees... Just as I know The Lorax is not heavy-handed, I think the Pi-shu book will be gentle too, as you pointed out.

Request for Praba, Tharini, Satish, Meera et al: Is it possible for y'all to make a book list of sorts for exclusively Indian books worth hunting and adding to home library? It could be a sidebar clickable item to which we can add titles as we go along... just a thought...

Meera Sriram said...

A refreshing hero! The books - great picks to diffuse profound subjects on little minds. Thanks Praba.

Tharini said...

Sounds like a great idea Sheela. I would put into that list the 2 Indian books that I have reviewed here so far. What do the others think?

ranjani.sathish said...

It was very interesting to read the reviews of these Panda books ! We do not have any panda it might be a good idea for us to check out these books.

sathish said...


good idea.. I think if we could all make sure that we add the tag 'india' to books based from india; we could automatically get the list of them in our side bars on clicking the india tag.

request all to make sure that you enter the tag india for indian based folk tales.

Sheela said...

satish, good point, but, i had a little deeper, selfish motive for this - as I explained to praba via email - i was hoping to get a list of books worth buying, but not necessarily reviewed here already... perhaps one of the contributors could get around to reviewing it at some point - which is great... well, i'll post to our yahoo groups or something to carry this further.

artnavy said...

just LOVED Zen shorts and had some interesting discussion with Anush on the book as well....

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