Friday, October 29, 2010
Author: Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrator: Soumya Sitaraman
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: Children's Book Press (March 2003)
Picture Source: www.umakrishnaswami.com
In Chachaji’s cup, talented children’s book author Uma Krishnaswami, dearly loved and admired here on Saffron Tree, tells the story of a warm and initimate relationship a little boy and his father’s old uncle, Chachaji share. Through skillful storytelling surrounding a simple, yet precious teacup, Uma masterfully ties in a subject you won’t come across often in children’s literature - the partition of 1947 between India and Pakistan.
Teatime with Chachaji is very special. Sipping his chai, Chachaji often spins tales from Hindu mythology and Bollywood movies for his grand nephew, Neel. And during teatime, Chachaji always drinks his chai from a special teacup. But, the teacup holds much more than chai. It is a family heirloom holding some very special memories. Memories of partition and the story of a family and a country divided in two.
The flowered piece of china traveled with Chachaji's mother (Neel's great grandmother) as she migrated with young Chachaji from Pakistan to India. One day, in one careless moment, Neel accidentally breaks the teacup. Following this, Chachaji coincidentally falls ill. Neel feels devastated, but eventually comes up with a neat idea to fix the broken pieces of the cup and even find a special use for it. In the process, he also reconnects with Chachaji and grows to appreciate more the value of family and heritage.
I've been fortunate to come across several wonderful picture books written by Uma. In all her books, the prose has a certain charm that is hard to miss. The lyrical quality of her text never fails to lure me back to her picture books. I have delighted in reading her book, Monsoon, at my daughter's school. Chachaji's Cup is no exception. The poetic style awakens your senses, much like the sweet fragrance of cardamom chai. The description of the curly, swirling steam, sure enough, left me craving for a cup of chai. That, of course, I promptly made myself right after reading the book.
The drawings are lush, vividly colored and radiant. The close-ups and expressions pop out of the page leaving a lasting impression of the human faces and the family setting.The full-page and double-page illustrations, especially of the partition with refugees walking in long lines with their bags and belongings rendered a poignant feel. But overall, the book with its positive appeal is a real treasure useful in explaining to children a difficult topic in history. Uma's lucid description on the back of the book about partition provides an opportunity to take the topic for further discussion with older children.
In her books, Uma has the knack of capturing and integrating details about Indian culture and traditions. Stories illuminating the experiences of Indian-American families come as a rare and delightful treat in the world of children’s literature. Especially, considering the scarcity of picture books featuring stories set in the Indian backdrop, here in the west.
Perfectly brewed with a balance of history, family and traditions, Chachaji's Cup played host to several warm and cozy read-aloud sessions, while I cuddled with my little girls. And trust me, it is even more delightful when paired with a cup of steaming chai!