Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Beastly Tales from here and there

Beastly Tales from here and there - Vikram Seth
Illustrator - Prabha Mallya
Puffin Books
Age 5+

My first reaction to this book was a surge of envy. Envy that my children were privileged enough to read Vikram Seth in their childhood while I only first encountered him as an adult. I then chose to be more adult about it and began to read it myself , err, I mean to them.

They're not fables we haven't heard before - the monkey and the crocodile, the louse and the mosquito, the hare and the tortoise and more. The difference is that they're retold in verse. What can you say about Vikram Seth's writing, that hasn't already been said? Even in this, a book meant for children, I like that he engages with his readers without talking down to them. How many other writers do you know who will use words like carcass, glib, mangled, unpoliced, commemorate and capricious while addressing children of this age group? To say nothing of introducing them to concepts they might otherwise go through a lifetime, unacquainted with. Sample this line -
First they hugged, and then the cat
Played a prelude in E flat,
While the cock, concurrently,
Sang a serenade in D.


The illustrations, as in every good children's book pull their fair share of weight and are very well done. What makes them brilliant is the fact that they could be from anywhere. They do not have anything typical that might trace them back to an Indian artist. Considering the stories come from lands as distant as Greece, China and Ukraine, this is wonderful. The attention to detail is thrilling. The king in the story of the louse and the mosquito slumbers peacefully (hugging a teddy bear) while a tattoo on his arm proclaims H.R.H. me, within a heart. The tortoise counting Uno, Dos, Tres has a number on his shell like sportspersons' tee shirts. Great stuff.

We only picked it up recently and the Brat and Bean have been thrilled by this combination of animal protagonists and verse. My only grouse is that he doesn't write for kids more often!


Vibha said...

What a wonderful review MM :)

sandhya said...

A lovely review of a well-loved book.

Choxbox said...

Lovely review MM :)

Agree - why don't folks like him write more for children?

Arundhati said...

Lovely review. Compelling too! Placed my order :-)

wordjunkie said...

Prabha's illustrations are good, but I still prefer Ravi Shankar's spare black and white drawings in the earlier edition of this book. The poems, of course, are terrific - ten years after we first started reading it, the kid and I still call each other 'Scalykins', and quote 'The Hare and the Tortoise' to each other .... "You have tendered gold and booty, To the shrine of sleep and beauty", "All the World lost for a Snooze", etc.

the mad momma said...

You do, WJ? I love that one too :)

Chox - it doesn't pay or sell, you know :(

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