Tag Archives: books

A Dream: Cory Q Tan

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Genre: Children’s Fiction, Picture Books

My rating: 4/5

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author as part of LibraryThing Member Giveaway. This review is my personal view about the book and does not have any bias towards the author or his work.

Plot: The story is first person narrative of a boy telling readers about the birth of his younger brother and the events thereafter. Ever since the birth, his mother frets and loses sleep over the baby’s small size. She happens to compare him with other babies his age and always seems to find him smaller than normal. This anxiety turns into obsession taking form into her dreams as well. She dreams of Giant baby, giant bunny… The events in her dreams makes her realize her folly and teaches her to be satisfied with her child.

At times the story seems reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. There are giant babies, giant animals, and food that makes you grow big.  The story seemed a bit didactic but the author brings them well subtly. The lesson at the end to be content with what we have is important in today’s highly competitive world. The mother is seen comparing her child and gets highly obsessed with size of her child. Similarly, we can see girls obsessing about their body size and body parts. None seems to be fully satisfied with the way they are born.

The book makes for an excellent bedtime story for kids and also has the lesson for them to accept themselves as they are. The illustration add charm to the text and speak for themselves. They are highly colorful and full of life. I would recommend this book for those who like quality illustrations and to parents with small kids. Its a good reminder to learn to accept ourselves and not be fixated or preoccupied with size. A good read.

 

 

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Love, Amour, Amore: A Collection of Three Love Stories from Around the World : Kaya Quinsey

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GENRE: Romance, Short Story, Fiction

My Rating:5/5

I received this book as a member giveaway from LibraryThing. From page one I was completely engaged with the words. Kaya’s writing style is simple and yet she manages to capture your heart in her own subtle ways. Love, Amour, Amore, is not just a collection of love stories, it is also contains within its pages the journey of three women to realize their own worth and not surrender themselves to something/someone below them.

The first story in the collection is Valentine in Venice. A rather fascinating title which gives away nothing about the story. I thought it must be something to do with Valentine’s day. Valentine in Venice is about a woman Valentine’s second attempt at happiness and contentment after her life slips down the gutter. Now twenty six, divorced and cautious, and having learned a hard lesson about relationships after her divorce. She realizes that she should be more aware and conscious about the choices that she had made in her life, rather than making impulsive jumps. Ten years ago, she had met Lorenzo when she went to Venice on a class trip. What followed was a whirlwind teenage romance, first love and first kiss. So desiring a break from her hectic schedule as a celebrated wedding photographer, she retraces her steps to her past and makes a trip to Venice. She expects the trip to be uncomplicated, easy, and undisturbed walk down the memory lane. Bu things never go as planned now do they? On the first day in Venice her destiny plays the game changer and she literally falls into the arms of her first love, Lorenzo. Their love is rekindled. With Valentine’s Day just  around the corner, will Valentine be another mistake in impulse or will it be her happily ever after?

The author here leaves it open ended, with the readers feeling cheated, as I felt. I was disappointed that the story didn’t carry on for a few more pages. The romance and the whole ambience had me held captive. The romance is not steamy but one that makes you smile and fills you with a warmth inside. Except for the deadly cliff-hanger ending it’s a perfect read for anyone looking for a sweet romantic short story.

The second story was A Coastal Christmas. This was definitely a page turner and like her first story was again open ended. It s story set against the back drop of Christmas. Jessica Beaton is a successful broadcaster in Manhattan, NY. She has it all the works for her:

the perfect New York City apartment, high-flying career, and a handsome boyfriend. Jessica is expecting a proposal from her boyfriend before Christmas. But she is humiliated when her co-host and boyfriend, Brett Fanshaw, almost proposes to her on-air before backing out, leaving her dumped and embarrassed on national television. Heartbroken and feeling forlorn she leaves NY to go home to Pebble Shores for the holidays for the first time in many years. While at home she volunteers to help her parents for the Christmas Carnival. She crosses roads with Dean Adams, the mayor of Pebble Shores. Still re-evaluating her life and the priorities she gets stuck in media frenzy when photographers click her pictures while she is home. Dean isn’t thrilled to have the media spotlight shed on their small town. What follows needs to be read. Does she fall for Dean or does Brett come after her?

The story is fast paced and there is never a dull moment. A story with the Christmas flavour that leaves you feeling content and in festivity mood.

 

The third story, Paris Mends Broken Hearts made me cry and also had me smiling with indulgence. I felt that unlike the other two stories, the element was romance was only in the mentioning and this was more about the three women getting together and working out their lives together.
Gwendoline Delacroix is a war widow who has lost her loving husband, Jean, in WWII. She feels haunted by the memories she shared with her husband in her French countryside chateau. She has dedicated staff that do their best to keep her afloat, but it’s not enough. Gwendoline takes off to Paris and meets her brother who takes her with him the Hotel de la Belle Paix – the hotel run by her brother and sister-in-law in the Latin Quarter in Paris. Over the summers she helps her brother and sister in law with small works at the hotel. She later lands a job at an animal sanctuary run by an eccentric aristocrat, Madame Goulet, who is a friend of Yvette, her sister in law. Her life makes quick turn from there. She makes new friends and proves to herself and everyone else that there is life after lost love.

This story collection is special because unlike common notion of a heroine(damsels) in romantic stories, the women are all strong, independent, determined, hard working and know their mind. Its a story of self discover as well. If looking for a quick read do pick this up. It will leave you feeling all relaxed and snug.

Prince Charming by Harma-Mae Smit

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GENRE: Fantasy, Retelling, Short Stories, Romance

My Rating: 4/5

I ask to be pardoned by all feminist readers to forgive my liking for this particular fairy tale. Unlike other tales, the female protagonist, Cinderella is not a damsel in distress. She is rather shown as a girl with lot of patience, endurance, positivism and a heart that is gracious to forgive her stepmother and stepsisters, despite their harsh and brutal treatments. She is not vindictive and is in fact generous enough to offer a home to them with her in the castle.

I received  Harma-Mae Smit’s, Prince Charming? Retelling Cinderella, ebook as part of LibraryThing Member Giveaway. First of all, I would like to thank the author for giving me a copy of this delightful book. It is an enchanting and refreshing new look at the popular fairy tale. It is simply sui generis, a retelling that is forces you to rethink about the characters and their nature.

All the characters of the original fairytale are in place: a Cinderella, Prince Charming, stepmother, stepsisters, King and of most importantly, Fairy Godmother. The characters in the books are: Prince Charming: Dmitriv, Cinderella: Vasilisa. We have a slight deviation in the tale in the form of the narrator, who happens to be Dmitriv’s sister, Anastasia. She provides the acumen, observations and the ideals that each character should possess that takes this story forward. Being a royal is not all about power and prestige and looking good. It comes with a responsibility to care for others, to show respect and honor to all people. The author knits together a convincing and persuasive story which traces the original Cinderella story.

Prince Dmitriv, is set up by his father, the King to find a bride for himself, after an old woman whom the King had offered shelter on a wintry stormy night suggested it as the only solution. A royal ball is organised for the purpose and as in the original all maidens are invited. The prince is attracted towards Vasilisa. But when the clock chimes 12, she too like Cinderella tries to flee the scene, but is caught by Anastasia. Enters the fairy godmother in anger, who lashes out at Dmitriv for being full of himself and for letting the girl flee; at Vasilisa for trying to run from the bright future that was meant for her in the first place. The fairy godmother calls it quits for having to save 53 kingdoms and all with same situations: an egoistic prince is set up with a kind hearted girl…a royal ball…dance…glass slippers..the whole paraphernalia. But Vasilisa intervenes and sets things right. She speaks up to the fiery fairy godmother and makes her realize her responsibility. Dmitriv and Vasilisa do not drive into the sunset for a happily ever after. But the author has a fascinating ending in store with a twist.

By including the prince’s sister as the narrator, the reader gets the point of view and perspective of both the prince and the charming Cinderella character (Vasilisa) from outside. The retelling makes a gripping point where readers would think beyond the fairy tale and think of the characters in terms of real life. No one is perfect. One would pause in between reading and think how is it to be a Prince/Princess? What responsibilities weigh upon their heads? Do they have free will or do they follow royal dictates?

Dmitriv is shown as a person without conscience, who has too much fun flirting with all the ladies/princesses who brood over him. It seems to boosts his royal ego and makes him feel important. But does he realize that he is hurting the sentiments and emotions of those girls with his attitude? And Vasilisa? Is she completely like Cinderella, sent to the ball by a fairy godmother to escape the hardships of the life? Is she really completely sweet, innocent and incapable of hurting anyone?

This take at the fairy tale comes as an eyeopener. It is thought provoking and at every step makes you question yourself and ponder to think within. An absolutely fun read with some serious questions about life and society interlaced in the story.

Some quotes:

You forget, dear daughter,” he roared after me, “deadly dull places are best to distract oneself with a love affair! Why else would balls have worked for all these centuries, eh?” 

“…markers of status in the endless struggle for prestige.”

” Look, I thought it was alright to let girls break their hearts over me, because when they look at me they only see my money and my power, you know? Like I could use anyone who wanted to use me. ….even if that’s what they want, they still can get hurt, you know?…”

” No one deserves the right to give up on the people around them, just on a whim. You were right before, people should stop being so selfish!”.

“Instead of more people looking out for themselves, we need more people looking out for each other!.”

 

 

Snow White and Rose Red: Brothers Grimm

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81079Genre: Classics, Fantasy, Fairy tale

My rating: 4/5(kids), 2/5(Adults)

Plot: An old widow had two daughters named Snow White and Rose Red. Both the sisters had completely contrasting personalities. Snow White was shy and gentle, whereas Rose Red was outgoing and gregarious. One day the two sisters and their mother let a big bear come to their house to get warm because outside winter was too bitter. The bear would arrive each evening and spent the nights at their home. When spring approached the bear waved departure to them to take care of his treasure. In the meanwhile The two sister meanwhile meet a parsimonious dwarf. They help him several times but the dwarf does not thank the girls for the help. One day after they’ve helped the dwarf they come upon him when he is resting. They find the dwarf’s treasure, and he gets annoyed with them. At that moment, the big bear appears and kills the dwarf . The two girls are grateful to see the bear, but the animal suddenly loses his fur and transforms into a beautiful young prince. Snow white marries the prince and Rose Red marries his brother. They live happily with their mother at the castle.

I clearly remember the cover page where two girls one dressed in red and other one in white are pruning rose plants with red and white roses. Unlike other Brother Grimms stories this tale is more sane than other stories. It is not a prequel to the Snow white story we are all familiar with. This is a totally different story of two sisters.

If seen from the POV of small children then this book puts forth the message that good things happen to good people, treat everyone with kindness and respect, even animals. The sisters help the bear and the dwarf without any motive or with the intent to get something back in return. They help selflessly and hence are rewarded in the end.

But the adult me is agitated and disconcerted when I re read it. For example, if you read,

  • They were as good and happy, as busy and cheerful, as ever two children in the world were, only Snow-white was more quiet and gentle than Rose-red. Rose-red liked better to run about in the meadows and fields seeking flowers and catching butterflies; but Snow-white sat at home with her mother, and helped her with her housework, or read to her when there was nothing to do.”

You can clearly see that female characters are set in stereotypes. Most fairy-tales (and to some extent their Disney adaptations) edify girls as passive, subservient beings who bend themselves to serve others, most prominently men are moral, upright and virtuous girl. This thought has taken seeds in unsuspecting young minds and has shaped into many a young girl’s dream: to be a little princess whisked away by a prince. In other words, a docile and homely girl who knows how to be of service to her patriarchal keeper, father at first, till it’s time to bid adieu to her parental house and then their husbands.

  • “Snow-white and Rose-red kept their mother’s little cottage so neat that it was a pleasure to look inside it. In the summer Rose-red took care of the house, and every morning laid a wreath of flowers by her mother’s bed before she awoke, in which was a rose from each tree.”

This fairy tale is no different, regrettably. The girls are set in typecast for their looks(fair, rosy cheeked, coy smiles, glossy hair), behaviour(submissive, good cooks, excellent in housekeeping).There is redundant objectification of girls picking flowers, singing songs, flitting their dresses and catching butterflies waiting for Prince Charming to take them away.
As an adult I do not enjoy stories which begins with a females who excels in wifely duties, is prim and proper and can keep the hearth warm so to say. Its rather regressive to have these tales where the girls marry boys/princes whom they’ve just met or rather just sighted. Children today do not need lessons like that, they are just not appropriate to this century. We need stories where characters irrespective of gender are able to strive on their own and meet ends. No more of damsel in distress, we need queens who can carry their crowns with head held high. Not necessarily with a king in tow always to make them feel lady like. I cannot suppose that the authors would possess a 21st century position from a conventional folktale written down in way back in the 17th century.

So the two rating, is for the difference in outlook at different ages. Thankfully my daughter too only enjoys fairy tales as one time reads and does not think much of them. I’d rather give Aesop fables if I had to teach her virtues.

Dark Touch: Elle Lewis

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Dark touch:

GENRE: Urban Fantasy, Supernatural, Fiction

Rating: 4/5

The first book in the trilogy is aptly titled as its a Dark Touch that sets the pins rolling, and in this case sets the story moving. Sloan Stolar works at a law firm in Washington, but its not a job she loves, rather its only a camouflage to help her escape her past life in California. Things get worse when an act of kindness one late night after work brings her into close contact with the dark forces. A simple touch sears her whole being and leads to unimaginable pain and violence. She experiences pain she cannot describe to others.

A man or rather a dark angel with pure black eyes shadow her dreams, turning them into nightmares where she is helpless and defenceless. Bewildered and terrified, Sloan tries to find reason behind these occurrences. All that passes her mind is to survive each day without being hunted or bruised. She keeps this secret from her close friend to protect her from the force that now lurks in every corner of her being. Her hunt for the truth behind the man leads her to a trail of extremely dark forces that will stop at nothing to kill her. Escaping them and finding the truth is what leads the story further.

The way Elle Lewis has written the book is captivating and engaging from the start. The writing is simple and lucid. Though at times some dialogues and swear words(From Sloan) seemed to be added as kick in the teeth, but they seemed jarring to me. Sloan’s reaction to the supernatural and the lack of understanding about the same has been the best part to read. She seems realistic, just like us who would be jolted by such occurrences and at a moment doubt their own sanity. But as Sloan accepts the reality around her, she faces enormous turmoil within, having to battle this alone than risk the lives of those she loves. It is endearing to read her inner battle where she struggle to limit her thoughts about the people close to her lest she endangers them as well.

Sloan’s past is mentioned in the passing, would definitely want to read more and was disappointed when consequent pages didnt throw much light on her past. But the reason she is pursued seems to be loosely connected with her past, thus making it a large part of her present reality as well.Sloan’s character is also well charted and shown as a girl who knows how to handle tough nuts and does not buckle down easily. So when faced with forces beyond her, she is left to her own defence and is pushed around like a rag doll. Would love to see her stand up and give the dark forces a taste of their own medicine.

The old topic of Good vs Evil has been dealt with in a way that its not restricted to fantasy or imagination. The author has made all efforts to make it plausible and logical, such that reading was smooth and characters mature well through the pages. They are not stagnant or linear. The only drawback was that in the last few pages it seemed that in trying to meander the course of the story to an end, Elle has elucidated so much that it becomes hard to take it all in at once. The same was advisable to have done through the story with Sloan discovering the answers rather than being handed down. With a killer on loose and even nightmares draining the life out of you, Sloan couldn’t go manage to find the needed answers. But too much at the end leaves you confused and the whole mix of fantasy with science left me reeling under the effect. The book is a quick a read and I finished it in 2 days. The book ca n be enjoyed by not only the young adults but anyone interested in fantasy and the supernatural genre.

Waiting with all eagerness for the next two. Cant wait to know whats more in store.

I received this as an eBook in exchange of honest review on LibraryThing.

 

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International School Library Month

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” BATTLE OF THE BOOKS”

” There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who are reading the wrong books.” ——James Patterson.

This post comes a bit late because I had misplaced my file and was unable to locate it . Apologies for that. So now coming to point, the month of October was celebrated as the International School Library Month worldwide. Several activities and programs were organised in school libraries all over the world to promote reading and develop a love for books. Imbibing the spirit and the theme this year, we at Delhi Public School decided to give a flavour to the celebration.

The Senior Library organised a “Battle of Books”, wherein students of classes X-XII, were engaged in a variety of quizzes and puzzles based on their favourite books. Four books namely, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Percy Jackson and Game of Thrones were chosen for the same. The intention of the battle was to determine the most popular book among the students and to see how much they know about it. The students were highly enthusiastic about the event and there was whole hearted participation from the students. Some avid readers attempted quizzes on all four books. The library was buzzing with excitement and thrill. There were challenges among the fans to show their support and knowledge for their favourite book.

Quizzes, Crosswords and Word search were designed on each book to assess the knowledge and familiarity with the book. The students were thoroughly surprised when they sometimes fell short of getting correct answers even as they prided themselves as being the biggest fans. The students loved the energy and enthusiasm that surrounded the library. Thus the theme for the year: ” Why I Love My School Library”   was justified as students reiterated that they love their school library as its their route to a land where they can be anyone and can possess the power to their world. More power to School Libraries!!!

Out of my mind: Sharon Draper

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I had just finished R.J Palacio’s Wonder,and was looking for my next read. There were a lot of titles but this book cover drew me towards it. But I kept putting it down for some reason or the other. And when I finally managed to read, I was filled with mixed reactions. On one hand, I enjoyed and was wiping tears at the end, and on the other hand I was furious with Sharon for having given a very poor and despicable picture of educators. Maybe she had a a bad experience, but a collective let down of the community was not at all acceptable.

At some points the story has a lot of power and magnitude but the author fails to maintain the same towards the end.

Plot: Melody is a fifth-grade girl who was born with cerebral palsy. Her body is crippled and there is very little she can manage to do by herself. She can’t even talk. She can, however, think,  and she does it better than anyone else, thanks to her photographic memory. She is a hidden genius who is lost in the milieu of words swirling within the confines of her mind. Melody looks helpless to the people who’ve not known her well, but if value is measured in terms of mental capacity for future learning and retention, then Melody outshines virtually everyone she meets. She is, without exaggerating to say, a wonder.

But life is not easy or simple for a person with the challenges that cripple the otherwise happy life of Melody every single day. Other kids cannot really understand Melody or comprehend her level of intelligence. Since they see her as vulnerable and incapable of meeting even her own basic needs they fail to acknowledge that she can be as smart and even better than them. Their unwillingness or rather lack of awareness about her condition blinds them to how smart and how good Melody is in the ways that matter. Ultimately, its Melody who bears the brunt of this ignorance  by not having friends. So, Melody understands “unfair”. She knows “unfair” more intimately than most of us ever will.

The plot of this book rocks back and forth, giving glimpses of hope for Melody’s future and then extinguishing them. There are moments to laugh and then it’s followed by scenes that will move almost any reader to tears, both of happiness and grief. There isn’t a single paragraph of Melody’s story that doesn’t jump up from the page with life and vigor, filled with intense relevance to our own lives. Melody happens to sink in within us and we start to care about her without our own knowledge and we wishfully think about a happy ending which in her story is … impossible.

Now for the parts that had me seething in anger. The characters are uni dimensional and seem like cliches. You can almost predict what their next action would be. The girls in the book seem to be ones suffering from disabilities as they can’t look beyond their own nose. Their lives are centered around them, and anyone who is different is a misfit. They are openly mean and use words like retard, which in today’s scenario would land one in principals office. So is the author stuck in 80’s time warp or does she forget that she is writing in his century where most schools have inclusive education and children are more compassionate towards the special children. The educators are not trained to be with children with special abilities and get into awkward silences when they are around them. The teachers appointed to the group with special abilities seems fit for kindergarten and not them, since all they did was play audio books that they had been listening for quite some time. It irks that a writer in 21st century would give you such a picture. There is no mention of occupational therapist or special needs counselor.

The book for me was like opening a box of my favorite sweet Gems, where I find chocolates in every color coating, but then chocolates are naturally brown. Which is to say, that every reader will find something to carry in their hearts and yet be angry about her the story that could have been uplifting loses its tangent by ignoring facts of recent advances and changes in education sector.

 

Matilda Turns 30!!!!!

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Matilda as a world traveller in the new edition.

Photograph: Penguin Random House

Roald Dahl was one of my favorite authors whenever I stepped into a library or bookshop as a child. And I still find myself swerve towards shelves that showcase his books. Thus, when I read that to mark the 30th anniversary of the first publication of the book Matilda, three sketches drawn by original illustrator and old friend of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, will appear next month on the covers of special collectors’ editions, showing Matilda, a 30 year old woman as an astrophysicist, a world traveler and as chief executive of the British Library. The collection will be released by Penguin on October 4, 2018.

Matilda was first published on October 1st 1988. It was the last major book published in Roald Dahl’s lifetime is one of his bestselling stories around the world – with 17 million copies in circulation.

Matilda was the prototypical young rebel, a girl ahead of her times. She broke all rules about how little girls should be in children’s literature. When girls were shown as dimpled, rosy cheeked with golden curls, she stood out as a modern spirited girl. She stood up to bullies twice her size without fear. She was tackled prejudices and discrimination, no matter what the consequences. She stood up to her nemesis, the horrible headmistress  Miss Trunchbull who made the grave mistake of underestimating her prowess. In turn she empowers and instills strength not only in her friends but also her timid and shy teacher Miss Honey.

Matilda’s story reveals the need to stand up for what you believe is right. It does not matter what size or strength you possess, its the courage to stand up to big bullies that matters. And when you do that you can change your circumstances and steer the course of your life as you want, and even rewrite your story as you desire. But for that you too need to stand up and face your bullies- it can be a fear, a situation or even a person.

From the article:

In his foreword to the new editions, Blake, 85, reveals he enjoyed imagining what Matilda might be doing now she has grown up. “Since, as a small child, Matilda was gifted in several ways, it wasn’t very difficult. I imagined that for each version of our grown-up Matilda one of her extraordinary talents and achievements would have come to the fore and shown her a role in life,” he writes.

“I am sure that someone who had read so many books when she was small could easily have become chief executive of the British Library, or someone exceptionally gifted at mental arithmetic would be perfectly at home in astrophysics. And if you have been to so many countries in books, what could be more natural than to go and see them yourself?”

Blake describes illustrating Matilda as a wonderful experience. “It has been very special to revisit her all these years later and marvel at the woman she would have become.”

Matilda at the British Library, as drawn by Quentin Blake
 Matilda at the British Library, as drawn by Quentin Blake.

Given the sales of Matilda as compared to other books by Roald Dahl, is higher, the question surfaces what is it that draws readers of all ages and gender to enjoy it irrespective that the main character is a girl. If we delve into children’s literature we will not find many strong female characters that have been equally enjoyed by boys as well. Be it Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew Series, The Babysitter’s Club, Amelia Jane series and so on. These had few takers and were solely popular among girls. Children’s fiction is still vastly classified as for boys and girls. We have some brilliant fantasy series like Inkheart by Cornelia Funke  or Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng, but since the main protagonist is a girl I do not find boys reading then with as much interest as the girls. But magic of Matilda draws both boys and girls.

Children’s literature still makes erroneous decisions in publishing books which continue to have boys/ males as lead because publishers wrongly think boys don’t like to read books about heroines. This faulty ideology makes Matilda appear all the more appealing and relevant. Matilda catches us by surprise when even boys seem to enjoy and laugh with her because its a rare sight to see. But we shouldn’t be because times haven’t quite changed even tough we pretend to think and behave so.

From the article:

Carmen McCullough, Roald Dahl editor at Matilda’s publisher, Puffin, believes this reflects a wider trend in children’s fiction: “We’ve seen a real movement towards more feminist publishing recently. Parents are more keen than ever to present aspirational female characters to their young children – boys and girls – and that is what’s helping Matilda stand out, because she’s a wonderful example. She has such belief in herself and is every bit as relevant and inspirational to children and adults today as she was 30 years ago.”

Children’s laureate Lauren Child agrees part of Matilda’s enduring universal appeal is that Dahl chose to write about a spirited little girl. “Like Jo in Little Women and Pippi Longstocking, Matilda is an incredibly modern character. You can relate to her. She’s not a sap, she’s not a goody two-shoes, she doesn’t take everything sitting down, she fights back. She’s for justice.”

Matilda the Astrophysicist.
 Matilda the Astrophysicist. Illustration: Quentin Blake

Child, the author and illustrator of the Charlie and Lola picture books, believes Matilda would have become an inventor. “I think she would be a very creative person at 30. The way she thinks is interesting. She thinks in a sideways way, a way that’s out of a box. She’s not confined. But the thing that you feel most about her is that she could be anything. I think that’s the message of the book: You can’t beat someone down if they’re interested in the world and they have a good heart.”

Matilda is the epitome of the modern day woman. With her brains and abilities she can be whoever she wishes to be. She is not restricted in her achievement and is not dogged down by the expectations of the society. She is her own person and follows only her own dictates. She stands for qualities that we should encourage and teach our little girls to embody rather than preening and grooming themselves to be later carried around by their husbands as trophies. Girls at a young age should be taught to aim high and to believe in their strength to open their wings and conquer all horizons. They should not waiting in the wings for their opportunities rather create one for themselves.

Never on the sidelines, but always on your own path.

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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Khaled Hosseini is a name that reckons stories with a delicate yet intense voice that speaks volumes on the impact of war, riots and displacement, especially in the Islamic countries. All those who have read his books must have had shed tears in silence as you flipped pages and poured over the lives of Hassan and Mariam. His writing has pulled our hearts to see Hassan’s emancipation and have been company in Mariam’s journey.

But let me warn all Khaled Hosseini fans that you might be disappointed if you come looking for a full fledged novel. Hossieni was impelled to write Sea Prayer when the image of a 3-year old Syrian child, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore in Turkey in 2015, splashed across the media. He didn’t make it. The image is vividly set even in my mind since I had many sleepless nights after I saw the image in the newspaper. When I held my own little one in my arms, rocking her to sleep, I was in tears as Alan’s image kept coming back to me. A life, just a bud, lost due to the monstrosity that humans inflicted on each other. This book is a tribute or rather a vent out for the anguish and ache Hosseini experienced. In this poignant account, he  tries to highlight the predicament of parents under such cataclysmic environs. The book, is a reflection of life like Kurdi’s, that has been fractured and forced to flee from home by war and persecution.

Sea Prayer is a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey that shall take them away from their homeland. Watching over his sleeping son, the father recollects how their land Homs, used to be before the wars and siege. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Syria, before the war, and of the swift transformation of a home into a deadly war zone.

Khaled Hosseini transports you to war-torn Syria and manages to rip your heart as he depicts how much the country has changed. It is told from a father’s point of view, telling his son how beautiful their country used to be. The father with a heavy heart says that his son would not remember his beautiful land and will only remember about hiding, praying and looking for shelter. Under the dark ominous clouds of the night, the father casts a nostalgic eye on the glorious days gone by at Homs. Through his words he seems to evoke hope in his young son’s heart, and perhaps within himself, despite their given circumstances. The father is uncertain of whether they will make it across or not. Hence the name Sea prayer, he prays the sea will not hurt his son.

This has been a difficult book to review simply because it gives rise to a whole gamut of emotions. The intensity of the letter grows manifold when read alongside the marvelous illustrations by Dan Williams. The water-colors capture the spirit of the story .They start with beautiful, rich vibrant colours that detail a breathtaking landscape, the souk and the land in all its beauty. As the book progresses they become more grey, dark, morbid and ominous. There is a stark contrast in the hues which once was a riot of colours is reduced to monochrome, justly so to highlight that the lives of the refugees too has lost its buoyancy.  This book is a perfect partnership between author and illustrator.

Do not expect the magic of his novels here, and yet you will have the strings of your heart being tugged and your soul scorched by the harshness of their reality.

Certain lines that really touched me:

” These are the things you know. You know a bomb crater ca be made into a swimming hole. You have learned dark blood is better news than bright. You have learned that mothers and sisters and classmates can be found in narrow gaps between concrete, bricks, and exposed beams, little patches of sunlit skin shining in the dark.”  

” I look at your profile in the glow of this three-quarter moon, my boy,your eyelashes like calligraphy, closed in guileless sleep. I said to you, ‘Hold my hand. Nothing bad will happen’.”


” These are only words. A father’s tricks. It slays your father, your faith in him. Because all I can think tonight is how deep the sea, and how vast, how indifferent. How powerless I am to protect you from it…….

Because you, you are the most precious cargo, Marwan, the most precious there ever was. I pray the sea knows this. Inshallah. How I pray the sea knows this.” 

 

International Dot Day: 15th September

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As much as I had wanted to celebrate International Dot Day in my school I couldn’t since everyone is knees deep in studies. With exam just round the corner there was no way I could celebrate this fun day. But as a parent of a young child I feel that this day holds lot of scope and learning opportunities. 

For the uninitiated, the International Dot Day, is a global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration. It began when teacher Terry Shay introduced his classroom to Peter H. Reynolds’ book The Dot on September 15, 2009.

The Dot is the story of a caring teacher who challenges a hesitant and reluctant student , Vashti to trust in her own abilities by being brave enough to “make her mark”. The teacher encourages her to begin with a small dot on a piece of paper. But the dot becomes the catalyst in developing confidence and courage in the child. It ignites a journey of self-discovery and sharing, which has gone on to inspire countless children and adults around the globe.

The book may seem a flimsy 32 page , but it contains within its pages a story that  has transformed teaching and learning around the world as people of all ages re-discover the power and potential of creativity in all they do. The story leaves an impression on people of all ages. You don’t need to be a child to appreciate and be motivated by the simple story. When Vashti goes from being a gloomy and an irate child, with no confidence, to someone who has the maturity and ability to help someone else to believe in themselves. She helps others to gain confidence and search within themselves for strength.

On reading the book you question why are the other children not written about in the book. The story doesn’t speak about the other children in Vashti’s art class since it is about her personal journey. The story accentuates the fact that she is not comparing herself to others but challenging herself to do better. It is a typical human trait to constantly compare ourselves to others. We happen to judge our progress by comparing ourselves with others, rather than creating our own yardsticks. This often gets in the way of our own personal progression. When we begin to focus on our own individual milestones it becomes much easier to get on with moving forward, rather than wasting energy on worrying about what everyone else is doing. When we do not pay attention towards what others are achieving or planning, we can focus and concentrate our energy on enhancing and honing in our own innate talents.

What this book teaches is not just restricted to individual experience. We have all faced a roadblock, where we felt stuck and unable to move forward.  We have all come face to face with the fear of expressing ourselves. This fear arises out the trepidation of what people would think, and the fear of ridiculed or being jibed. This fear has led to shut down a long-held dream, wilting of long passions and the chance to truly succeed.

As a teacher- librarian what drew my attention was the role of the Art teacher. She didn’t make Vashti feel small for not being able to draw. But what she did is what we lack in the teachers nowadays. I know my comment here will not be welcomed but that’s how it is. Each child/ person has talents which are hidden and are needed to be discovered, which often than not has to be a teacher. But most fail to do so. Teachers expect children to have a set of skills and the one not having the is labelled a loser. But that is far from the truth. More often than not, it is this black sheep that surges ahead of the crowd and shines.

We need to celebrate differences and accept that each person is unique, and fit together as pieces in a big jigsaw puzzle. Each person has creativity and originality, but the acceptance for the same needs to be in place for a person to showcase it. So whenever in doubt about yourself and your potential, never let it come in way of your self-expression. Just like Vashti, make a small dot, start small, and then you will see can make a mark.