Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Once Upon an India

A couple of years back, an American friend gifted my daughter a set of nine books by Laura Ingalls Wilder called The Little House series. As we read them, first her and then me and then her again, we were both enchanted by this autobiographical account of a pioneer family. The series starts off when Laura is five years old and goes on through her childhood, adolescence and adulthood till she herself becomes a mother.

Seeing how captivating my daughter found it, I realised that history comes to life and becomes interesting for a child especially if narrated in another child's voice. It need not be a mere string of dates and events. I looked around for similar accounts of Indian history and found a series called Once Upon an India published by Pratham Books. The four fictional tales based in different periods of Indian history have been penned by Subhadra Sen Gupta and illustrated by Tapas Guha.

A Royal Procession is set in the times of Emperor Ashoka. Parvati and her brother Laxman, children of a potter, go to the monastery one day to deliver some pots. They bump into a man who tells them he was a soldier who has now stopped fighting. The children tell him they wish they could also meet the king like he could. Their wish does come true and whats more they're in for a royal surprise!
The simple storyline is punctuated with details of what the palace was like and what they wore. Also there is a section at the end that talks about fun facts about life in those times.
Incidentally, Sen Gupta has recently authored a book called Ashoka The Great and Compassionate King. Published by Puffin Books, it is for an older child and also goes into details of how historians discovered what they know about Ashoka and the Mauryan period.

Sailing Home is about Basava and his sister Sundari who live in the port-town of Mamallapuram in the Pallava period. When their father, a sailor, doesn't return home when he should have, the children get worried. To find out what happened they go to the port where they meet sailors from foreign lands who do not speak their language. What will happen next?!
The fun facts at the end of the book talk about interesting things - sample this - people in those days not only dyed their hair but also used toothpicks after meals!



In Raza Meets the King you meet the royal tailor's son who goes to the palace with his father to deliver Emperor Akbar's clothes. The emperor is not happy with his new outfit and Raza uses his wits to save the day. I found this story utterly delightful!
In the fun facts section you learn that Akbar would choose from as many as thirty dishes every meal and that he enjoyed flying kites!





Marching to Freedom was written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the historic Dandi March and through nine-year old Dhani's eyes, we learn about the thoughts of those who undertook it. Dhani also wants to join in and is gently persuaded by Gandhiji himself to stay back and do another very important job - that of feeding his goat Binni. The story illustrates the endearingly simple principles that the Mahatma lived by. The facts about the March at the end make all the more sense after reading the story.



Wish books like these would be used to teach history in schools!

Edited to add: Pratham Books have an online catalogue here. Or here in pdf version. To get hold of their books you can choose the ones you want from the catalogue and mail them the list or call them up (the contact details are in the last page of the catalogue) and they will ship them over. They have a stall in the Bangalore Book fair that is on till this weekend, you could pick the books from there. Some major bookshops like Landmark have started stocking sets of their books as well.

20 comments:

ssstoryteller said...

Wow
wish I could get my hands on them...

ranjani.sathish said...

Excellent post Chox ! Yes I agree this is a great way to teach history to kids. Btw where did you pick these Pratham books ? Book fair this time ? Otherwise do you directly go to their office and pick them ?

ranjani.sathish said...

Also I have seen these books from Tulika - "Read and colour freedom stories"...they have 4 books in this series - about Dandi March, Independence struggle, Rani of Jhansi and Tipu Sultan.

ChoxBox said...

ssstoryteller: See edited info - its fairly easy to get them :)

Ranjani: These books were gifted by a friend. But I did see them at the book fair plus you can also order them directly - do check the edited info.
Yup those Tulika books are cool as well, thanks for mentioning them here. Puffin Books also have some more including one about the Rani of Jhansi - for older readers.

Kodi's Mom said...

how awesome! you're right, this is the best way to learn history. I wish we had these for reading material instead of those nightmarish textbooks...

sathish said...

great choxbox.

sathish said...

chox, these books reminded me of Devika Rangachari (who writes similar books on history).

Here is a link to her interview that we read sometime back - Devika Rangachari

ChoxBox said...

K's mom: As someone once said, kid-lit authors should write textbooks!
But yes there are more of these type of books in the market which is a great thing. And to be fair, the textbooks themselves are trying to catch up. You should see some of the CBSE textbooks published by NCERT - they have beautiful Warli and Madhubani drawings to illustrate math problems and such.

Sathish: Thanks :)
Had read that interview as well, in fact had linked it to a post I'd done in connection with Rangachari's book about Harsha which hit the stands recently. Have seen her other books - Kathasaritsagara (CBT) is one of them. But thanks for mentioning her here.

Poppins said...

Am so picking up this series. I think I'll call you from the book fair :)

ChoxBox said...

Poppy: At your service Ma'am!

ssstoryteller said...

Thanks...for the Edit...just saw it...i want buy all of them...
good stuff!

Sheela said...

I drift away when dates and events list are dangled in front of me even today - but, put it in a story setting and it stays in my mind for a lot longer - thanks for the great finds, Chox!

meera sriram said...

Very true Chox, these will be wonderful for presenting history to kids (because that definitely needs a change)! I had reviewed "Marching to Freedom" for non-violence day...these books talk about historical facts in a simpler, understandable setting for children. Thanks Chox!

ChoxBox said...

ssstroyteller: i felt like a kid in a candy shop in their stall!

sheela: my pleasure!

meera: thanks and going off to read the review.

Maya said...

@choxbox - I absolutely had to share this with you...

Somebody trooped into our stall and when they saw the History Series, the lady asked for it and said- "Oh I read a blog post which mentioned that these books were very good". I asked her if it was the Saffron Tree blog and she nodded.

Thanks a ton!

And you came to our stall? On which day? Wish I had known. Then I could have said hello to one of our frequent blog commenters :).

Actually the entire book fair was like a huge world of candy. Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory types... of books though!

- Maya, Pratham Books

ChoxBox said...

Hi Maya! Good to see you here!

I was hoping to see you too. In fact I left a message for you in the visitor's book :)

Lucky you - I'd love to man a book stall like yours!

explorekids said...

They are having a fair here in Delhi from 27th-29th Nov. Looking forward to pick this series.

ChoxBox said...

Explore: And please do let us know which all you picked!

Maya said...

@Choxbox-

Just saw your message and then quickly took a look at the visitor's book.

Awwww...that was really really sweet of leaving a message on it. Will surely catch you at another event (and will come armed with chocolates for the chocolate lover!)

ChoxBox said...

Maya: Thanks!

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