Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Full Hand

A Full Hand
Author & Illustrator: Thomas F. Yezerski

Once in a while I meet a parent who would roll their eyes and condescendingly acknowledge the
quality of the pictures in a book and quickly add - "Too costly!". If they are a bit more aggressive, they would add - "What is the point?" or "What is there to learn?".

A few interested parents ask me about books for children and as Ranjani and I launch into a great exposition of picture books, they tune out and after a few moments of hearing our high-energy talk, they quietly puncture our balloons with a question - "Are there any books that are educational? These books look nice, but I want my kid to learn something?". I feel like saying - "But, what about fun? - Can't books be just fun. Would it not let the little ones' imagination soar? Would you not like to see the wonder and a gleam in their eyes? Is there no other type of education, other than ones we learn in school?" But, I usually keep quiet knowing it would not make any difference as the priorities for these parents are different. They may be right.

But, once in a while I come across a picture book that would satisfy every kind of parent and their kids. A book that has some excellent illustrations, simple and clear writing, an engaging story and great traditional educational value. A Full Hand is one such book.

It is a story of Asa, a nine year old kid, helping his father haul coal through various canals, the highways of nineteenth-century America. Father's mule driver had quit that day and father needs Asa's help as a mule driver. He is excited and a bit apprehensive too. As he helps his father with mules, they guide the boats with coal stacked on them over the various canals for many days. The ending is sudden and almost tragic.

I was a bit peeved with the ending. It surprised me that the father overcame their tragedy and brushed off his worries, as a new day dawns, with remarkable ease. But, then I did not realise at that moment that the poor man had to move on quickly in order to keep pace with his life.

We learn that canals were the mode of transportation for everything during 19th century America and how the canals were used to carry everything from coal to people. The canals climbed mountains and crossed rivers using various inventions like locks, inclined plans and aqueducts. We get a sense of the old-America. An America where canals were the life-line - an old avatar of modern day freeways in water.

The illustrations are double paged and done in water colors. All the paintings seem a bit impressionistic and most of them are colored with a orange tinge - indicating the autumn season and approaching winter.

The book makes me wonder about the interesting pictures books can be written with Indian history as the back ground. Think of a fictional story set during the time Sanchi Stupa was built or boy laying the final brick while building the Grand Anaicut in Kallanai 2000 years back. There is a vast amount of stories to be told with history as a background. We have not even scratched the surface of it in Indian Children's book publishing. There are a few good writers like Subhadra Sen Gupta, Devika Rangachari, Sidhartha Sarma and others who use history as a background to write their stories. Here is hoping to see many such books in the future.


sandhya said...

Sounds like a wonderful book, Satish.
And you're quite right about the potential in Indian stories. Are the likes of Tulika, Pratham, Tara, etc. listening?

Choxbox said...

Sounds like a lovely book Sathish - would love to read it.

Tulika has a book called The Forbidden Temple which does precisely that - check it out, you guys will love it.

Pratham Books has the Once Upon a Tale series, reviewed already on ST.

Then there is CBD’s Victory Song set in the early 20th century India.

But yes, agree - there is certainly scope for much much more - something I’d writtten to Dalrymple about one time :)

Praba Ram said...

Very nice. And you said it rightly. Fiction,whether picture books or chapter ones, set in historical India can be very meaningful to children and help build perspectives. I am all for it!

Speaking of authors, T.V.Padma comes to mind. One talented writer, especially in the genre of historical fiction for young adults. Mathematwist and The Forbidden Temple are two she wrote for Tulika.

K will be studying ancient rome, greece and china in the third grade. Wish they studied ancient India as well. Well, can't complain. I am super excited, as you can very well imagine. :)

Choxbox said...

@P: Yes we can imagine :)

And Mathematwist is a great book, and there is one more by called The Shining Stones which is slightly different but does a superb job of fact/fiction blending and tells kids about the past.

Would love a meatier set of books for older readers, along the lines of the Little House series.

Vibha said...

Checked flipkart but this book is not listed there. Where can I get this book from?

Sudeshna said...

Hi. Puffin has Chitra Divakaruni's Victory Song, and Anu Kumar's Atisa and the Seven Wonders and soon to be published Atisa and Hiuen Tsang. Lots of fun all.

Choxbox said...

Hi Sudeshna! Good to see you here!

Atisa and the Seven Wonders was much enjoyed here, look forward to the next one.

Tulika Publishers said...

Yes ma'am, Listening ma'am. What a bully this Sandhya is, I say.
Thanks for the recommendation of The Forbidden Temple, Chox and Praba.
Also, Kabir the Weaver Poet at
Besides Shining Stones, another title about contemporary children learning about the past through archaeology is at and

sandhya said...

@Tulika books: that's slander, Tulika. :)
And we here have read your 'The Smile of Vanuvati' based on archeology and have enjoyed it. You are doing a d*** good job, as seen from Chox' and Prabha's comments, so maybe we can take the liberty of prodding you a bit further? We all win that way!
Same with Pratham and Tara- which is why they are the other publishers I have mentioned. Keep them coming, guys.

Sheela said...

Nodded along with your statements in the opening paras, Satish... and the book seems interesting for sure.

sathish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sathish said...

Vibha, The next time we meet you could borrow it from us.

sathish said...

Chox, Sandhya, Thank you. I had these books by Tulika and Pratham in mind when writing about this article.

Praba, I heard quite a bit about TV Padma. Need to get hold of her books.

Sudeshna, Thanks. How can I miss out Anu Kumar? She has quite a few interesting set of books.

Sheela, :) If you guys ever try it out, let me know if it worked for you.

Tulika, Thanks for dropping by. You guys piqued our interest in Children's book - many thanks for that. And you continue to do great work - Keep those wonderful books coming.


Reading through the comments, I guess I did not make myself clear. I know a few books based on Indian history or set in historical periods for bit higher age group (7+ years probably). And that is where most of the new action is also. Historical fantasy and/or historical setting for teens and adults is a new in-thing and I am sure India has or will get on to that trend.

I was more indicating the lack of books in the space of picture books set in historical times. Books that would give more importance to illustrations with minimum and/or required words. The nearest to this is probably 'Once Upon a Tale' series. Even that is for 6 or 7+ kids.

Choxbox said...

Got it Sathish - and yes, agree. The picture books space does have a lot of potential as you say.

Like I said, there is also much scope at the other end - which is books for older readers. All the books we all listed are in the 6-9 years age group. There is nothing much for readers looking for more substance - of which there seems to be no dearth in the West, and is surprising given the richness of Indian history. History fantasy/fiction for teens/adults is catching on, but what about the in-betweens?

Related Posts with Thumbnails