Friday, October 29, 2010

Chachaji's Cup

Author: Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrator: Soumya Sitaraman
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: Children's Book Press (March 2003)
Picture Source:

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!


Meera Sriram said...

Awesome pick and review P! I can see how there is a drive in you to handpick the ones that will feel the homiest for our children.
"Deepa's Special Day", a Diwali story in the Ladybug magazine was a delight to my then 3 yr old daughter and that was how we were introduced to the author.

I recently read about how this book has also turned into a musical "Tea with Chachaji", that must be quite an experience (to see the book come alive), right Uma?

Will definitely add this to our list. Thanks!

Choxbox said...

Came across this book very recently and love your review P. The book is indeed unique in what it addresses.

@M: Musical? Wow!

Anusha said...

What a heartfelt review, P! I have been spotting a few Uma Krishnaswami books in our library and it thrills me to no end...thanks for another awesome pick. *off to make "sweet smelling cardamom chai" * :)

ranjani.sathish said...

Praba, your review has as much a poetic touch as you describe Uma's work :-). Wonderful pick and a great review. I think I need to look out for all her books, after reading your review ! Will check them out in my library.

sathish said...

Very nice, Praba. I was waiting for your own reference to having chai along with the book! - And it came along at the very end. :)

artnavy said...

Lovely- I need to get all of Uma's books asap

sandhya said...

You have brought the book alive for us, Prabha. Would love to get my hands on this cup, certainly- as partition of India is yet another pet topic of mine.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Praba and thank you all for your kind words about my writing.

Meera, I got to see a tech rehearsal of Tea With Chachaji (the wonderful musical produced by Making Books Sing) that ran at the start of this year in New York City and Palo Alto.

I did not alas make the opening: my blog posts from the time speak a little bit about that.

Thank you again. It's my belief that books, especially children's books, are incomplete until they have been in the hands of readers.

Tharini said...

Just as your reviews is now P! How coincidental is it that I am just now reading it as I sip my afternoon ginger chai! I don't have that special cup like Chachaji's to go with it, but that is where your review and our memories of the book make up for it. We have read it and enjoyed it and loved the way it ended! Thanks Uma for such a sensitive look at some complex human emotions.

utbtkids said...

Good pick Praba.

We have read Chachaji's Cup a year back. This is definitely a book we will revisit soon. Now that the girls have a grasp that there are multiple religions, India-Pak partition, India's freedom and such.

Vibha said...

Lovely review P. Have read many books on partition but never came across any for children. Will soon pick this one up. My mother's family had to migrate from Shekhupura which is now in Pakistan to this side of India during that time,and had to face the 'katl-e-aam' period once in which my grandmother lost her right arm. It was so hard to come to terms with having nothing, not even complete families and all body parts. We grew up listening to those stories.

ranjani.sathish said...

Oh Vibha...that's so heart rendering to hear. What an agony it must have been for the entire family.

Poppins said...

Truly amazed by how such complex topics and emotions are distilled to a child's level. Kudos to Uma! Will pick this up and read it.

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