Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mister Jeejeebhoy and the Birds

Author and illustrator - Anitha Balachandran
Age group - 3- 6 years
Young Zubaan Books

My usual grouse with Indian literature for children is that the illustrations suck. If you have the same grouse, you're going to have to eat your words when you pick up Anitha Balachandran's Mister Jeejeebhoy and the Birds.

The book opens with Diya and Tara coming to live with their Ninamasi. The first spread shows Ninamasi planted in her doorway, hands on her hips, with the house framed behind her, right down to a house number. The illustrations are brilliant and the attention to detail is amazing. Unfortunately none of the children in the neighbourhood want to play with the girls and it's not hard to see why. Ninamasi's house is strange. The mirrors have mood swings, the photographs speak and the clocks go backwards.

The saving grace is Mister Jeejeebhoy's sweetshop where the gulab jamuns are golden and syrupy, the burfis silvery and sweet... the rasmalais cool and milky and cover with flakes of pistachio...' Are you drooling yet?

The book is really a delight to the senses in more ways than one. You've barely taken in the illustration than the words leap out at you -'the pictures were bustling, hustling, crinkling, crackling, creaking...'

And then of course the magic that lets your imagination run away with you. The girls fight with each other and something strange happens. Tara's hair 'was turning into twisty branches and sprouting leaves! Not the ordinary kind - these were silky, glowing leaves in peppermint blue, buttery yellow, mango orange...' And Diya learns she can fly.

One day something terrible happens. Mister Jeejeebhoy of the sweet shop fame collects birds as a hobby and somehow they all escape. And oh the horror *gasp* he shuts down his wonderful shop until he can find them. Does he find them? Do Diya and Tara make friends with the others? Do their magical powers reveal themselves to the others? I'll leave you to find out.

A hardcover book, the lovely glossy pages make it easy for my 2.5 year old to handle it. The crunchy, crinkly words make it a pleasure to read aloud. Few books are really written to be real aloud - and this is one of them. The children love to pore over the pages and point out little details to me. And what is really endearing is that the text is scattered across the pages so that your eyes go darting around in an attempt to pick up on every bit of it. Almost comic book like in its treatment, but not quite.

Do I recommend it? Hugely. As an adult I felt the magic element could have been played up more and the girls could have done so much more. I also felt the title was misleading. While Mister Jeejeebhoy and his Birds were catalysts, the story was really not about them. But that is just me nitpicking.

On the plus side I think its beautiful to teach kids an early lesson in accepting those different from themselves. And in accepting them for the very qualities that make them different.


Meera Sriram said...

When there is a meaningful message conveyed in the most hilarious or even bizzare way, I love it! My daughter just brought this book home from her school lib called "For Pete's sake", an alligator Pete who keeps whining he is different from his flamingo pals until he sees more of his own clan and realizes he is same yet different and accepts himself.
Good work highlighting all the ups and the lilttle downs. Thanks TMM.

Anusha said...

the cover itself looks intriguing. & pictures that hustle & bustle? delightful, sounds so Potterish :) your last para is spot on, don't blame me if I quote you on that for my review!

Choxbox said...

Sounds awesome! I'm getting it right away!

In fact had not ever heard of Young Zubaan - will check them out, thanks!

sathish said...

MM, I agree with you about illustrations in many indian publishers. They seem to give a lot of thought to words and the illustrations seems to be a last minute effort. There are ofcourse quite a few exceptions.

The ones where the illustrations and story is written by the same person are usually a big blast and would weave into one another seamlessly.

I have never picked a Zubaan publications till now. need to figure out where I can get it in Blr.

ranjani.sathish said...

Lovely review MM !! Thanks also for introducing us to Zubaan books...I have not heard of them before..will check out their other books too.

the mad momma said...

you're welcome guys. You can buy off their website too. I have a couple of their other books that I plan to review soon

Poppins said...

It's really nice to hear of other publications than Tulika and Pratahm Off to check their website now - and oh lovely insightful review!

Praba Ram said...

magic and food...sounds like a perfect combination of ingredients, MM! You've stirred up one awesome review.

I see parallels with Possum Magic in some ways! :-)

Introducing names of foods - indeed an excellent way to offer a new culture to kids!

As for Zubaan books - we have the Magic Key Series - the collection of stories by Zakir Hussein.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

You make me want to go out and grab the book...RIGHT NOW!!

Sheela said...

Your reviews leave me hanging, TMM, don't do this to me :)

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