Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Firework-Maker's Daughter

Author: Philip Pullman
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Age-group: Middle Grade 3 to 6
Picture Source: Philip Pulman's website

Flamboyant flower pots shower sparks like a fountain. Flaming ground chakras spin and spew fire all around. Hand sparklers blossom like fiery flowers. The Indian holiday Diwali and fireworks go hand in hand.

Safety, legal and ethical issues aside, fireworks have always been a common celebratory thread connecting cultures worldwide.Thanks to a Chinese cook who blew up his stove mixing sulphur, Potassium nitrate and charcoal, fireworks were serendipitously born, right in his kitchen some two thousand years ago!

The book, Firework-Maker's Daughter, arrived just in time for the Diwali holidays here in India. With an attractive title, array of charming characters, and easily accessible story-line, the book had a priceless appeal, setting the stage for the festive feeling and warmth in the household. Reading the book, I know it's a keeper for many years to come.

When Lila the main character in the story was a baby, her father Lal Chand built her a cradle, smack in the workshop where he made fireworks. As a child, Lila was quite skillful at making fireworks herself. Even gave it names. Her Tumbling Dragons and Shimmering Coins were on display at the New Year festival. As you can see, then and there the spark that she would be a firework maker when she grew up is ignited inside Lila.

For Lalchand, Lila's ambitions are simply unpalatable. Concerned his attempts at finding her a husband would be futile, he does not approve of Lila's dreams and desire. But his daughter is equally horrified by the prospect of a husband.

So, Lila decides to leave her father and head toward Mount Merapi where every firework-maker must go to claim some of the royal sulfur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend - a secret Lalchand is tricked into sharing by her best friend, Chulak!

A talking white elephant named Hamlet also tags along. On the way, she encounters pirates, wild animals and many fantastical creatures. But in the end, Lila has to conquer the worst enemy of all: her own fear!

Philip Pullman is well-known for his intricately woven Dark Material Trilogy and Sally Lockhart series. It never fails to amaze me when I bump into authors who can create tales both simple and complex. The rendering of the narrative in a simplistic, yet delightful way in the Firework-maker's Daughter speaks for the skillful story-teller that Philip is.

Threaded as a modern fairy-tale along the lines of traditional literature with adventure and fantastic elements stirred in, this book surely in my opinion borders on a mix of genres. In this book, Philip Pulman has created yet another lovable and confident female protagonist who is not afraid to question prejudice and eventually ends up being a winner.

Following a colorful cast of characters with or without magical powers in this simple tale was a lot of fun for my nine year old. Earlier part of this year saw her going after Harry Potter with a vengeance. But, I could tell the dark sorcery and characters in Harry Potter were a bit hard for my little girl's gentle palette.

If you are looking for something charming and mesmerizing along magic and adventure, then this is a great book that will delight children and grown-ups alike. Its bright and sprightly inventive characters are just perfect for any season, not just Diwali! The coincidence of the pick only gives another reason to smile. Originally published in 1954, the Firework-Maker's Daughter is a bite-sized gem of a book that has managed to still retain its sparkle.

And thanks to Chox and UTBT who recommended it to me in the first place, we have yet another charming pick added to ST's growing repository!


sandhya said...

What a (fire)cracker of a magical post! Great review of a book we have loved.

Choxbox said...

Awesome review P Aunty, captures the spirit perfectly - so says the child who'd first reco-ed it to me :)

Tharini said...

Sounds interesting. I am curious to read more about the magical elements. The lib. has it. :)

ranjani.sathish said...

What a perfect pick to get Diwali celebration started ! I loved your intro para and it sounds like a great book. Beautifully written Praba !

Vibha said...

Lovely review Praba. Perfect selection for the Diwali day.

Meera Sriram said...

Great pick for the theme!! The backdrop of fireworks for a fantasy makes it even more magical! Have seen this book in the lib, going to definitely pick it up!

utbtkids said...

Ha ha! Just in time for diwali.

"It never fails to amaze me when I bump into authors who can create tales both simple and complex. "

Yes, absolutely.

"The pirates are such goofballs amma. They are so silly. Are white elephants real?" says the older child :)

Praba Ram said...

Thanks guys! yep, one short-n-sweet sara-vedi of a book, had a blast!:) We don't need any more references, do we? May be some sound effects would've added to the festive mood!! :)

@chox - then pass on the thnks to N! :)

@utbt - LOL! :)

Anusha said...

going with the flow, P - a dhamaka of a review and perfectly timed with the festive season! :)

Artnavy said...

Enjoyed the book, the style of the modern fairy tale and the lovely humor....even how subtly he brought out that the truly creative do not fear sharing with peers...

A small observation - the illustrations did not go with my idea of what the main names meant to me....why such Indian names for a tale that seems to be set in China...

Praba Ram said...

Thanks Art. And no mention on the exact place the tale is set. "Somewhere east of the jungle and south of the mountains" if I remember correctly. It did bother me at some level, but I convinced myself saying the author probably wanted to create a mish-mash of a tale with certain elements of Asian culture thrown in from different countries - white elephants from Thailand, names of the characters from India, and clothing and other details sort of like set in China? Esp on the illustrations, I didn't get it as to why he'd go with Indian names where as the clothing and other details looked like Lalchand and Lila were Chinese. No clear explanation anywhere. May be we are missing something? :)

Ayush said...

classic book

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