Monday, February 23, 2015

Bookasura: The Adventures of Bala and the Book- Eating Monster

Bookasura: Bala and the Book-Eating Monster
Author: Arundhati Venkatesh
Illustrator: Priya Kurian
Publisher: Scholastic India
Ages: 5+

The story of Bakasura must surely rate among the most retold mythological stories  across  Indian households – it has certainly been a huge favourite in my family for as long as I can remember.  After all, it’s got all the elements of a crowd pleaser– a hungry and evil giant simply asking to be trounced, helpless villagers, a quirky warrior (in my mind, the only interesting Pandava), and  food – lots and lots of it!   Add to this the plethora of sound effects the story encourages you to improvise - growling, roaring, burping, other bodily noises too rude to mention – let’s just say the story of Bakasura is designed to delight with each retelling.

In Bookasura, author Arundhati Venkatesh, creator  of the popular Petu Pumpkin series (and a reviewer here at Saffron Tree), gives us a fresh and funny take on that beloved myth, pitting  a young boy against a hungry ogre with a very peculiar appetite. There's plenty of delicious food as well, and some interesting sound effects too.. but I digress.

Little Bala loves books. In fact, he has just done something amazing – moved from picture books to finishing his very first chapter book. Sadly, that rite of passage goes unnoticed because of the little monster hogging all his parents’ attention – his baby sister Meera.  As if that weren’t unforgivable enough, she even chews her way through one of his beloved books! So Bala is quite happy to be shipped off to his grandparents’ house in quiet  Melagam, where he hopes to spend the holidays listening to Thaatha’s stories, filling up on Paati’s amazing cooking, pottering around Navaneeth uncle’s garden – and reading his books  in peace, of course. Alas, he isn’t rid of monsters yet.

 Enter Bookasura, a  ferocious hydra-headed rakshasa with an insatiable appetite – for books!  In a bid to keep himself alive,  Bala offers the monster his precious  horde of summer reads instead.  But books, like food and patience, have a nasty habit of running out when you need them the most. With three books left in his bag, what is Bala going to do? Will he find a way out of his troubles, preferably a way that leaves him uneaten? Will the books he loves so much help him out? Or will help arrive from some very unexpected sources? 

Priya Kurian’s illustrations are, as always, a treat. With a few simple pencil strokes, she brings  the characters of the book to glorious life. Her potbellied Bookasura is definitely the highlight of the book, from his little drawstring pyjamas to his many heads, each with their individual scowls and mohawks.

Bookasura is a fun adventure for younger readers to giggle their way through. It is also a book celebrating books and the powers of good stories , and that takes a cheerful dig at, erm.. the lethal powers of certain contemporary modes  of entertainment. I enjoyed Arundhati's depiction of customs in a typical South Indian household and the questions she teasingly leaves unanswered-Why does Bookasura resemble baby Meera? How much does Kala Aunty really know about the book guzzling monster? Why does the rakshasa only appear when Bala falls asleep? I would have liked books  to feature more prominently in Bala's plan to defeat Bookasura - the classic titles mentioned throughout the story lead you to expect a conclusion where they will all somehow be relevant. The ending, though, is sure to have younger readers  - and their parents - giggle approvingly!

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