Richa Jha

Feb 082017


I am a proud, compulsive collector of books from Tara Books. And so, when these new releases arrived in the courier last week, I could barely contain my joy!


Done in Bengal’s Patua style folk art, A Village is a Busy Place! is a quintessential Tara collectible; every bit as artistically thought-through, aesthetically executed and quirkily conceptualized. It opens out as a scroll unraveling, fold by fold, a busy Santhal village and its bustling life over the course of the day or across seasons. Each fold shows a cross section of the village accompanied by an engaging commentary by V. Geetha. Her words give excellent pointers to the reader to look for specific information and tease out a lot more through questions. For instance,

‘Spot the man and woman holding up cones of peanuts! Are some people getting ready to go somewhere?’

Working my way through the intricate filigree-like latticed web of exquisite hand-painted humans, animals, huts and pots and pans by Patua artist Rohima Chitrakar, it took me a minute or so to locate the two with peanuts! But in the process, I discovered so many other interesting details that lay hidden in the deeply rich and intricately done illustrations. The book is outstanding in that way.

My favourite page is the one titled ‘Summertime’. Ms Chitrakar’s impression of the train is delightful. I’m being a bit of a tease by not showing you what it looks like, though!

That is also why you cannot cursorily skim through this book. The artwork is busy, vibrant and incredibly detailed.  Its organic feel will make you want to hold it close to you to smell the earth, the fish and the pots filled with the village produce.  Staying close to the traditional style of this art form, the artist uses just a handful of naturally appearing colours to paint this joyous village scene against a blazing red backdrop. Each person depicted has a distinct personality (look carefully at the eyes) and together they make a charming snapshot of a vibrant community life.

The book throws the spotlight on way of living vastly different from what most of the children in urban India (or internationally) are familiar with. Though not a Santhali myself, I come from a small town in the Santhal region of East India. But having moved away decades ago from this town where I grew up, I feel sheepish admitting that the village depicted in this book is as alien to my children as it will be a child reading it in New York. And it is only when we pick up such books for our kids do we realize how crucial it is to explore more of these together.

A Village is a Busy Place! is a riveting activity book which makes for an equally mind blowing painting or hangable art; it’s a Patua scroll, after all! It will keep you and your child hooked for hours. And some more, when you sit with it the next time. And the next.



8 Ways to Draw Fish, along the lines of the earlier release 8 Ways to Draw Elephant, is a great non fiction colouring book to introduce some of India’s most celebrated folk and tribal art styles to children. Culturally, the fish holds an important and often auspicious place in our traditional rural milieu. And each art form has its own way of depicting it. Therefore, it is befitting that a book be dedicated to it in all its glory!

Quoting from the media brief: ‘Through tracing, patterning and colouring differently shaped fish and the water they swim in, children learn to explore each of the distinctive art traditions in the book – or just have fun. They also get to experience and understand how art is as much about the imagination as it is about depiction.’


Beautifully designed by Luisa Martelo from Porto / London, this activity book will appeal equally well to adults. I love the way the book introduces the concept of art – beginning from how an object looks like in real life, and what it may finally appear as through an artist’s reinterpretation. And also, that each artist will have her/ his own distinctive impression of the same object, even when operating under the same broader art-form and cultural influences. Indeed, as the second page of the book points out, there are infinite ways of drawing something as simple as water!

It’s a nice big sturdy book. Illustrated by various artists, the different art forms depicted in this book are the tribal art forms of Meena, Gond and Bhil alongside the Madhubani and Patua folk styles. The text accompanying the illustrations is packed with the kind of trivia children itch to lay their hand on! Not to forget the engagingly designed covers, both outside and inside, by Catriona Maciver; it’s a complete visual feast in itself!

 February 8, 2017  Posted by at 8:12 am Uncategorized Comments Off on Two New Tara Books Beauties!
Nov 212016


I have the pleasure of sharing this most delightful exchange of questions and replies with one of India’s most recognisable and loved children’s authors, Ramendra Kumar (Ramen). He is a national award winning writer and the author of over 30 books for children and adults. Ramen’s writings have been published in 12 Indian and 10 foreign languages. His stories, poems and satires have found a place in text books, as well as national and international anthologies including the popular ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul Series’. Six of his books have been recommended by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), as Supplementary Readers. One of his Read Aloud books Paplu The Giant  was  selected   to mark the International Literacy Day in September, 2013. He has held more than a thousand story telling sessions in 25 languages across the country as well as abroad.  His latest book A Perfect Match has been picked up by Andhra Pradesh government for placement in 11,200 schools in all the districts of the State.

Ramen has been invited to different forums as an inspirational speaker and a storyteller both in India and abroad. To know more about the writer you can visit his website:  or check out his page on Wikipedia. An Engineer and an MBA, Ramen is the Chief of Communications at Rourkela Steel Plant, Odisha.

Let me tell you, I was in splits going through his e-response to my questions! I am sure you will be, too.



RJ: Congratulations on the recent Sankalpa Samman honour, Ramendra! Tell us something about this award.

RK: I was awarded the Sankalpa Samman for my contribution to literature, on 27th September, 2016. The award was conferred by Sankalpa, a premier cultural organisation of the region, on the occasion of its silver jubilee.


RJ: When did you start writing for children?

RK: I started writing satire, poetry  and fiction in my college days and continued my literary pursuits after I joined Rourkela Steel Plant. My creative endeavours received a modest degree of success.

When my daughter Ankita was four, my son Aniket happened. My wife Madhavi is working in the same Steel Plant as I am. Her hands were naturally full taking care of the new born.

“You write satire and poetry, don’t you?” Madhavi told me one day. “Then why can’t you tell Ankita stories and put her to sleep, while I concentrate on Aniket?” To her, shifting from satire/poetry to children’s fiction was as simple as moving from the universe of boiled eggs to that of poached eggs!

Anyway, I seriously took up her advice and started thinking up little tales to tell my precious one. I don’t know whether she liked the plot more or my antics, but she lapped up my stories and my confidence increased. Soon it became a tradition which continued even after Aniket grew up and doubled the size of my audience. The stories liked by my kids found their way to the laptop and from there to the publisher’s desk.  The tales started getting published and thus began my journey into the idyllic world of children.


(with Ankita and Aniket when they were younger)

RJ: We’d love to know something about your first book.

RK: My first book was a collection of ten value based stories called Just a Second and other Stories.

There is an interesting incident associated with the eponymous story in this collection. When my daughter Ankita was five, I was invited to her school to address the students. I thought instead of giving a speech let me tell a story and wrote ‘Just a Second’. It was about seven brothers, the youngest named Second and the eldest Year. It stressed upon the value of time.

I told the story in the school assembly. The response from the kids was wonderful.  They simply loved it. In fact, when my wife and I went to a teacher’s house six months later she told me something which left a deep impression on me.

“Mr. Kumar, the story you told that day had a great impact on the kids. Just the other day when I was telling my students how important hygiene was, one of them asked, ‘Is it as important as the Second, ma’am?’ I looked at him with a puzzled expression on my face, not comprehending.

‘That day an Uncle had come and talked about the importance of Second’, he explained and only then I understood. I had forgotten, but your story seems to have left an indelible impression on the young minds.”

Needless to say, I was thrilled!


(at the Chandigarh Children’s Literature Festival)

RJ: That is such a delightful story by itself, Ramendra! I am sure the children gain a lot from your sessions. Anything equally interesting, if not more, about your latest book?

RK: My latest book which will be released next month is titled A Naani called Tsunami. It is a tale of a 62 year old grandma who is loaded with   infectious enthusiasm, unbridled energy and an unconventional take on life. The books are a tale of camaraderie and commitment, guts and gumption, laced with oodles of masti.  What should make the book an endearing read, I feel,   is the connect between the gen ex and gen next. The book is value driven but not preachy, its tone is sensitive but not maudlin; it takes up issues of concern without snapping the gossamer web of humour.

RJ: A Naani Called Tsunami sounds like a lot of fun, Ramendra! Looking forward to reading it. Which brings us to something that a number of readers and your fans would love to know: when and how do you create time for writing alongside full time employment and family and home?

RK: I firmly believe that time is a function of your PQ or Passion Quotient. If you have the passion for something, you’ll find the time for it.

I am really, really passionate about writing. I hardly socialise nor do I go for booze sessions with colleagues or friends.  I go to the club only for swimming in summers. My tryst with the idiot box is limited to the news or the odd sports event. So, it is basically me, my family and my writing.

Madhavi, my wife, has been a big support since she handles many of the daily chores leaving me to my obsession.

A writer, someone said, is never unemployed. Even when he/she is looking out of the window he/she is ‘on the job’.  The same thing holds true for me. In meetings and at the social gatherings where I am forced to go, I simply switch off. I have cultivated the art of sporting the right expression on my face during dull conversations so that the speaker gets the impression that I am all ears, whereas actually I am miles away in my own sanctuary of plots, characters and milieus!

I haven’t tried this with Madhavi, when she extols the virtues of her mother, for fear of getting beaten up!

(RJ: Hahahahaha, you’d better not!)

Another aspect which helps me is my ability to ‘file’ stories in my head. Once an idea comes to my mind I keep nurturing and nourishing it till a complete story is formed. Many times the story stays with me for days, weeks, sometimes even months. This helps me a lot since I can plot when I am otherwise occupied and key-in the stuff when I have the time and access to my laptop.


(Bookaroo, New Delhi)

RJ: What are your sources of inspiration for children’s books?

RK: Like I have mentioned, my biggest sources of inspiration have been my own kids.  A few of my most popular stories are based on the comments made by my children.

While spinning my yarns, the biggest challenge was matching their completely divergent tastes. While Ankita loved the ‘once upon a time…and they lived happily ever after’ tales of pretty princesses and handsome and daring princes, Aniket my in-house Rambo, whose guru was Bruce Lee, wanted unadulterated action – the gorier the better. The ‘sleight of mind’ I indulged on a ‘nightly’  basis to ensure the delight of  my esteemed ‘customers’, I am sure, sharpened by literary skills and helped me become a more effective writer.

Then again, a large chunk of my work owes its existence to my imagination (brilliant to me and weird, wild and wacky to Madhavi!)

RJ: Ramendra, by now I am totally cracking up! So are the readers, I’m sure. And someday, I’d LOVE to interview Madhavi to hear her side of the story! Coming to our next question. By now, we kind of know the answer, but we want to hear it from the horse’s mouth: Who is your biggest critic?

RK: Ankita and Aniket have been my greatest fans and harshest critics.  Aniket was the more ‘in your face’ of the two. He had only two words to critique my tale – Chaat or Mast! Chaat meant it had to be trashed and Mast indicated the tale was to be sent pronto to the publisher. Luckily the number of ‘Mast’ were far, far more than the number of ‘Chaat’ and hence I could notch up a healthy score of 30 books.

RJ: 30 is sooooper suberb; and you have all our wishes for a 130 more! How do you find the process of interacting with children during your author visits? What are some of the interesting things kids ask you?

RK: When I’m in the company of kids I feel much younger and far more vibrant. Even a few minutes with little hearts and souls are like an injection of elixir. Will it be too immodest to say that I look much younger than my age because I spend so much time in the pristine world of children?

(RJ: Not at all! We hope you continue to spend more and more time with the bachchas and look the way you do now all your life!)

The response of the young has been fantastic to my initiatives.  In some of my workshops the strength has been nearly 400 while the ideal for this kind of an event is considered to be around 50. My sessions usually involve a lot of singing and dancing; I am terrible singer and a terrific dancer (RJ- sorry for butting in here, but we’re having a swell time discovering the Ramendra behind the books!)  After the workshops the children have often mobbed me with their slam books, class copies and even pieces of paper, asking for autographs. I have felt like a rock star and prayed that time, for a change, wouldn’t play spoil sport.


(at Coimbatore)

In one school a ten year old child came up and told me, “Uncle, this was the happiest day of my life!” Another little girl unleashed an affectionate instruction, “Sir you have to come to our school once every month!”  At Bookaroo,  a boy told me, “Hello Sir, my dream was to be a story writer. You helped me a lot. Can we become email friends?”

I have been deluged with questions related to ideation, plots, locales, how I write, why I write, the place I write, which is my favourite story, my most endearing character et al.



RJ: So truly heartening to read this, Ramendra. May you keep inspiring children with your words and infectious enthusiasm forever and ever. On a slightly unrelated note, are your characters reflections of you or your children in one way or another?

RK: Yes, in a few stories the hero does have shades of my persona as a child.  In couple of tales have I modeled the protagonists on my children.

RJ: Hmmm…that’ll have a lot of your readers guessing! What are you working on these days?

RK: I am working on two books.  I have been commissioned to write a ‘graphic book’ on the Juvenile Justice Act, for children. I am also writing a novel for tweens in which the protagonist Ghatotkachha is banished from heaven. The book recounts the misadventures of Bhima’s son as a normal 12 year old in ‘Mera Bharat Mahan!

Wishing you the very best for everything, Ramendra, and we look forward to reading many many more fun books from you. A big thanks for taking time out for this.


 November 21, 2016  Posted by at 10:45 am Interview Comments Off on Author Ramendra Kumar on writing, his critics and his inspiration
Jun 012016


Meri Bindi, by Anu Anand and Lavanya Karthik (Hachette India) is a new Hindi – English bilingual release with a difference – apart from the usual two lines in the respective languages, we have an additional third line to help with the Hindi pronunciation. Aimed at 0+, Anu Anand’s lucid text is short, crisp and playful, and the premise is charming. Lavanya Karthik’s exuberant paper cut art work is gorgeous. An overall winsome combination!

Which is why I’m thrilled to present these interviews with the creators of this book! (See Lavanya Karthik’s here).


(image source:

Author Anu Anand is a journalist with BBC World Service Radio, and splits her time between New Delhi and London. I took the liberty of deleting several endearing personal bits from her bio on the press release because much of it seeped into this interview in a lot more intimate way. (For loads more on her, hop across to her website.)

Anu, a warm welcome!

RJ – Did you have the Indian diaspora in mind while coming up with the idea for this book?

AA – Yes, initially. The Indian diaspora is gargantuan and spread right around the world, from the far-east, Australia, Africa, Russia, the middle east, Europe and North America. Indeed, I’m part of it, as my parents left India for the US when I was a year old. I certainly wanted to create something that would be useful to parents of very young children living anywhere, struggling to pass on their language. But to my surprise and delight, I’ve found that the audience is not limited to the diaspora. So many foreigners are now married into Indian families, are half-Indian themselves, are living or working in India or visiting, and are generally interested in the culture and language. The world is still very limited in terms of bilingual resources. I’ve searched far and wide, and outside of Tulika in India (which most NRIs and foreigners may not have access to), the only bilingual resources tend to be English-French, English-German, English-Spanish and very occasionally, English-Mandarin. And these are generally translations of the same three or four fairly-tales (The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, etc). There are far too few original bilingual Hindi-English picture books aimed at young children, which seems crazy, given the need.



RJ – The second line of the text on each page is a novel concept in Indian picture books. Why did you feel the need for it?

AA – Meri Bindi was inspired by my own struggles as a parent to pass on my mother tongue to my son and daughter (now 7 and 4).

I grew up in the US with Hindi speaking parents who insisted I use the language at home. Thanks to them, I still speak Hindi fluently and can read and write it — albeit slowly. I had in mind friends and family in the US, many of whom are now parents themselves. They grew up speaking Hindi but never had the opportunity to learn formally. Still, they highly value Hindi and want to pass it on. I wanted my book to be accessible to them, so I added a line of phonetic Hindi. After I started to show the book around, many non-Hindi speaking foreigners told me they loved this idea too, as they wanted to engage in the language of their adopted home, and couldn’t find any resources.

After my son was born, I really struggled to get him to speak Hindi. At first, I naively thought that simply by living in India, my kids would pick up the language by osmosis. But I quickly discovered that I had to actively and consistently use it with them to have any impact. Researchers now say language forms in the first six months of life — indeed, I can see this with my kids. My son came to India at the age of 18 months and still struggles slightly with Hindi sounds. My daughter was there from the first few weeks of life and sounds totally native. One golden opportunity for us to use Hindi inevitably came at bedtime, when children are ripe for books and stories. But at the end of a long hard day, I’d struggle to spontaneously translate English books, or my kids would reject the change in language outright. So I decided to come up with my own book, featuring a simple, imaginative story. Key to my vision was that the book should have rich, original and hand-made (not computer generated) illustrations. I was extremely lucky to find the amazing Lavanya Karthik. Her cut-paper illustrations have turned Meri Bindi from 15 simple lines of text into a whimsical story, exquisitely visual, with many many objects on each page that parents and children can name in Hindi.

RJ – a resounding aye aye to that, Anu! Here’s a fab interview with Lavanya on her take on this book. Moving on, how will the book be positioned – as a read alone by a child or a read aloud by a parent/ caregiver?

AA – Publishers will have more expertise on the physical positioning on bookstore shelves, but as a parent, I value the book’s flexibility. Of course an adult can read the text out loud using the Hindi or phonetic text. But even older children learning to write in Hindi for the first time can use it, as well as non-native speakers. Children are so imaginative, hand almost any of them a book, and they’ll narrate a story without being able to read a word. I didn’t want the book to be obviously about learning language. The idea was to show them a world related to Hindi – featuring Indian characters, animals and scenes — that were so fun they’d use Hindi because they wanted to, not because they were being made to. And I wanted parents to enjoy the experience of diverse books, different from the usual western settings in which mostly middle-class, white children with Christian names feature. The world is so much bigger and wider, why shouldn’t children’s books reflect that?

RJ –What are the other books in this series?

AA – The idea of the series is to introduce more basic words in Hindi so I’ll be using more simple settings and sentences to do that, with Noor, Neel and Moochhar Singh all featured in each book. I have a list of ideas as long as my arm and as my children grow, the need for material also grows, so the series will only be limited – I hope – by popular demand!

RJ – Amen to that, Anu! Why bindis? Are you fond of wearing them?

AA – Who’s not fond of them?! Let’s face it, bindis are one of India’s most unique exports — they are tactile, visual and fun! I saw a group of 2 year olds responding to an adult handing out bindis and that was the moment I thought it would be a brilliant vehicle for a picture book.


RJ – How much of your own children do we see in Noor and Neel?

AA – My kids don’t play as nicely as Noor and Neel!! But both my kids – like Noor, Neel and children everywhere – are brimming over with imagination. So when Neel puts the red bindi on his nose like a clown, well, that’s exactly what my son might do. And that’s where Lavanya’s talent shines through — not just in the literal rendering of images, but in weaving elements I’d thought up randomly to create characters, places and a story that has become so much bigger and more imaginative than a red dot on a forehead!

RJ – I love the way the animals have been paired with the type of bindis. Were they a part of your manuscript or did Lavanya come up with those?

AA – This was entirely Lavanya’s genius. Lavanya did as much to create this book as I did. Her work made me realize just how central illustrations are to books and how vital it is to work with a creative and passionate illustrator to get the book right. I was extraordinarily blessed to find her and truthfully, her illustrations pushed me to take what began as an amateur personal project to a book that’s actually in print.

RJ – As a journalist with BBC World Service Radio, you’re used to playing and dealing with words all the time. How different was the experience of writing a picture book?

AA – If I told you that writing a children’s picture book has made me a better broadcaster, you’d probably laugh. How can simplistic sentences about bindis have any bearing on relating complex global events? But in truth, different forms of communication boil down to respecting and engaging your audience, and picture books are actually a more complex medium than live radio. Children have a lot to teach us about effective communication. You don’t need big words, long sentences or complex grammar to explain things. Creating this book was definitely a literal lesson in one of journalism’s most basic and cherished objectives: ‘show, don’t tell.’ It’s a great rule to work by whether creating a picture book, or explaining the Syrian civil war.

RJ – And finally, which of the bindis in the book is your favourite?!

AA – That’s the toughest question I’ve been asked so far…! If vanity prevails, then it’s Chanda-Mama’s bindi because it’s so classically gorgeous. Otherwise, it’s a three-way tie: I love the banana bindi for its sheer cheekiness, the snake’s bindi because how cool is that?? And if you look on the cover (or on the vocabulary page) you’ll see that the fish is wearing bubbles as bindis… that image sums up for me the endless charm and genius of bindis: they are only limited by our imagination!

Anu, what a pleasure it’s been talking to you! Readers, she did this email interview while she was bang in the middle of moving house. With every email exchange, I could picture her sitting amid a bunch of half open cartons and (if she’s anything like I am) stuff strew all over, reading out Meri Bindi to her children! Wishing you many more titles in this series.

For details of the book, click here.

 June 1, 2016  Posted by at 7:34 am Hachtte India, Interview Comments Off on Author Anu Anand talks about her book Meri Bindi
Jun 012016


When Meri Bindi landed on my desk, I was immediately taken in by illustrator Lavanya Karthik’s distinctive art work. Which I when I decided to get it all straight from the horse’s mouth. (You can read the interview with the book’s author, Anu Anand, here.)


Lavanya Karthik lives in Mumbai, where she writes, draws, daydreams and eats way too much chocolate. For more awesomeness, visit her website and her Facebook page.

RJ – I love the paper cut artwork. Is there a special name for this technique? How did you decide to do this book this way?

LK – ‘Cut Paper Art’ would describe it best.( I know a lot of people would call it ‘collage’, but I associate that term with a mix of media, textures and materials). It’s a style I love working in, and even used in my first book (What does Anu see? for Pratham) but it wasn’t the first choice for the book at all. The illustrations for Meri Bindi were first visualized in watercolour. But midway through the process of making them, I realized they would look far better in cut paper.



RJ – Were the animals corresponding to each of the bindis pre-decided by the author, or did you bring in your ideas?

LK – The story behind the illustrations, and the characters in them, developed gradually, with each version of the spreads. In fact, the very first version only starred a bunch of little kids with bindis on. By version 4 or so, however, this sweet little story emerged, that works wonderfully in tandem with the text.   Anu and I were constantly exchanging ideas and suggestions for the spreads, adding pages, and so on.


RJ – There are two spreads in particular, the first two, that have vivid backdrops. One is a cityscape while the other is the room where Noor and Neel are playing. Any specific personal influences for both?

LK – The cityscape was actually the last spread made, and was Anu’s idea entirely, to introduce the characters and the very Indian environment they live in. I love a picture brimming with detail and colour, and cut paper art  is perfect for that – it is a great way to build layers in an illustration, letting you add details as you go along.

RJ – How many packets of bindis did you end up buying before settling on the ones that you finally feature in the artwork?!

LK – Not too many, but only because I am always knee deep in craft supplies and stick-on bling anyway!

RJ – Can the readers have a sneak peek at your work station?!

LK – Let me describe it instead….. I have a huge, airy, sun-drenched studio space in the middle of a beautiful pine forest, with floor to ceiling windows offering me spectacular views of the Himalayas.  Sadly, it only exists in my head because I live in a tiny flat in Mumbai, hemmed in by buildings on all sides, with spectacular views of parked cars, delivery vans and washing lines.  In the real world, my workspace is a 25 year old fold-down drawing board in one corner of my daughter’s room, covered in coffee cup rings, ink stains, ancient games of noughts and crosses and the odd to-do list.

RJ -Someday, we’ll extract a pic of this yummy workstation out of you, Lavanya! Just as we managed to get glimpses of the WIP! Thank you for sharing these with our readers! It’s been a delight chatting with you. Wish you many many more fun projects and wow books! 

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 June 1, 2016  Posted by at 7:24 am Hachtte India, Interview Comments Off on Lavanya Karthik on illustrating Meri Bindi
Mar 172016

I was drawn in by two recent online posts about picture books dealing with death, and coping with the inevitability of this form of loss:

Cry, Heart, But Never Break: A Remarkable Illustrated Meditation on Loss and Life

Cry, Heart, But Never Break (by Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi; translated by Robert Moulthrop; Enchanted Lion) at Brainpickings, about the heartwarming depth of close familial bonds when played against the existential impermanence of life, and


The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown

The Dead Bird (by Margaret Wise Brown and Christian Robinson; Harper) at Waking Brain Cells, about the similar impermanence of grief for the loss of a dear one, as our mind has developed its own coping mechanism by moving on after a while. I’ll be hunting high and low for both!

Below are 15 of the most moving picture books I’ve read on a subject that is difficult to talk about with children who are yet to face a loss of this nature. And for those who have lost a dear one, these books offer ways to deal with the shock and grief. In no particular order of preference:


  • MissingmommyMissing Mommy (Rebecca Cobb; Henry Holt And Company): A little boy learns to deal with his mommy’s death. From not knowing where she has gone, to dealing with overwhelming emotions, to understanding what death means (his dad ‘said that when someone has died they cannot come back because their body doesn’t work anymore’), to coming to terms with the realization that he won’t see her ever again, to finding comfort within his family by keeping Mommy’s memories alive and doing things together, this book has a nuanced, gentle take on this difficult subject.
  • download (1) The Scar (by Charlotte Moundlic and Ollivier Tallec; Candlewick): A heart wrenching narrative, laced with graceful humour, of a child grieving the loss of his mother. “I’m trying not to forget what Mom smells like, but it’s fading, so I close all the windows so that it won’t get out.”
  • download (2)The Heart and The Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel Books): An utterly heartbreaking gem from Jeffers on a girl’s response to the loss of her father. The girl standing by the empty sofa will cling to you, you’ve been warned.
  • annieandtheoldoneAnnie and the Old One (by Miska Miles and Peter Parnell; Little, Brown and Company): A poignant and reflective classic about a Native American girl coming to terms with the approaching death of her grandmother. She does everything she can to stall it only to understand that she cannot ‘hold back time.’
  • nanaupstairsandnanadownstairsNana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs (by Toamie dePaola; Puffin): A book I never tire of going back to. Despite talking of the loss of not one but two most-dearly loved grandmothers, the book makes you smile through your wet eyes at the end. It’s gentle, it’s uncomplicated, and it’s matter-of-fact, peppered with vignettes slice-of-life humour which stay with you forever.
  • download (5)The Sad Book (by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake; Candlewick Press): A moving personal account of a father grieving, enveloped in melancholy, and coming to terms with the loss of his son.
  • download (5)Frog and the Birdsong (by Max Velthuijs; Andersen): One of the best books for toddlers and young ones to talk about the inevitability of death and the beauty of life. And that there’s grief in death, even if it’s a stranger’s. Sweetly, lovingly, calmly told.
  • download (4)Badger’s Parting Gifts (by Susan Varley; Magi Publications): This story both gets my throat all lumpy and never fails to bring a smile. A most tenderly told and illustrated moving story of impending death, learning to deal with loss, and finding pleasure and meaning in one’s life through what the departed being has left behind. Look at how gracefully this ends – ‘Whenever Badger’s name was mentioned, someone remembered another story that made them all smile.’ Lasting legacies, we say.
  • download (7)My Grandfather Aajoba (Taruja Parande; Tulika): Taruja collates snatches of the vivid memory of her Aajoba, his photographs, his words, scraps of paper, articles, other items that remind her of him, and decorates them together in the form of this book. It’s the kind of scrapbook you and I have always wanted to make of people who mean the world to us, but have never got around to doing it. It’s a loving grand daughter’s way of saying, ‘I miss you Aajoba.’
  • goodbyemousieGoodbye Mousie (by Robie H Harris and Jan Ormerod; Aladdin): Accepting a loved one’s death is the first step in the healing process, as we find the young boy going through a range of strong emotions – denial, anger, sorrow, and struggling to come to terms with his pet’s loss. The most moving part of this book is when he decides to leave a part of himself in the funeral box that he prepares for his Mousie.
  • sammyintheskySammy in the Sky (Barbara Walsh and Jamie Wyeth; Candlewick Press): Sammy is a young boy’s pet hound dog with whom he is until his final feeble breath. This is the only book where I’ve seen a child seeing a beloved pass on. ‘As the summer days grew shorter, my chest stopped hurting when I thought of Sammy.’ Somewhere towards the end of this book come these words that make your heart both ache and soothe. They tell you of the inevitability of the memories fading away, bit by bit, in this never-ending cycle of life and death. But equally also, of the healing power of memories.
  • grandpasboatGrandpa’s Boat (by Michael Catchpool and Sophie Williams; Andersen Press): Sometimes, you need to mend broken memories frozen in time to allow the process of healing to begin. Holding on to these trap those left to grieve the loss in a poignant cage of despondency and hopelessness. The family in this book must repair the dead Grandpa’s boat and sail in his sea-steps to finally let go of their grief.
  • pictureofgracePicture of Grace (by Josh Armstrong and Taylor Bills): Little Grace loses her artist grandfather with whom she has shared a special strong bond (‘Grace was Grandpa Walt’s biggest fan’; ‘Grace understood the word “perfect” completely: It described every moment spent with her grandfather’). The book shows some spirited conversations between them, the kind that every grandchild enjoys with a grandparent. Grace’s loss, therefore, becomes all the more relatable. But what is easily the most memorable bit of this book is the how Grace decides to celebrate and honour her grandpa’s life and play back the ‘perfect’ world that he meant for her, and she for him.
  • download (1)A Mama for Owen (by Marion Dane Bauer): Tragedies happen in real life, they do. The ones with hope in their heart always manage to find comfort in strange ways. A baby hippo’s search for his mother swept away in tsunami brings him to an unusual mama. The book doesn’t overtly talk about the mommy hippo’s death, but the loss for the baby is just as monumental.
  • harryandhopperHarry and Hopper (by Magaret Wild and Freya Blackwood; Feiwel and Friends): A beautifully told and illustrated story of a boy being subconsciously in a state of denial, and the gradual acceptance, of his dog’s sudden death.

Richa Jha is a picture book enthusiast and author and the founder of Pickle Yolk Books.

 March 17, 2016  Posted by at 5:23 pm Lists Comments Off on Death and Moving On in Picture Books
Jan 252016

Below is a lovingly curated recommendation of some of the most interesting picture books I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune of reading. I have the inimitable Mansi Zaveri at Kids Stop Press to thank for this delightful suggestion. Most of it appeared last year on her website here (0+; 1+), here (2+; 3+), here (4+; 5+), here (6+; 7+), and here (8+; 9+). The list below also includes a final category for the 10-110 year olds (not featured on Kidsstoppress).

This is, by no means, a definitive list, nor is it the most eclectic one you may come across. But these books have touched me and my kids in ways more than one. And I believe that these have in them what it takes to connect with a wider lot.

Ascribing an age-appropriateness to each book is an avoidable exercise in ornamentation and housekeeping. It is my firm belief that a 6 month child will respond with equal pleasure (in her own way) to a picture book mentioned in the 9+ category, and vice versa. However, where the classification does work is in deciding who could have the most complete and sublime reading/ comprehending experience with a particular title.

I have left out the obvious ones – Where The Wild Things Are, Madeline, Julia Donaldson’s, The Hungry Caterpillar, No, David!, Elmer, Goodnight Moon, George and MarthaThe Giving Tree, Dr Seuss’s, Amelia Bedelia, Olivia, Guess How Much, etc. These, willy nilly, end up on every list.

The titles are listed in no particular order of preference. The list is not comprehensive, even for my liking. There are several loved books I’ve had to leave in order to restrict it to 10 each. Also, this is a six-month old list. I have read many more lovely books since that belong here, but I shall talk about them in another post. And there are many new ones that I’m itching to lay my hands on that will definitely get included the next time round.

A few points to keep in mind when going through ANY list:

  • Omissions tell a reader as much about the interest and book-bias of a reviewer as do the inclusions.
  • There is no such thing as the 10 best or the 100 best. What works as a priceless book for me may not work for you at all.
  • No list, no matter from whatever source, will ever be a comprehensive representation of the entire body of impressive work that is happening in the world of kidlit. In most cases, the reviewer has access to a limited set of books, and therefore, each list will leave out many a precious gem.



  • 20620104That’s Not My Puppy (by Fiona Wells and Rachel Watt; Usborne): The fuzz, the texture, the pups – everything about this board book is appealing to a pair of little eyes and fingers eager to explore the world.
  • 1000339I Kissed the Baby! (by Mary Murphy; Candlewick Press): If you though only bright colours work with infants, wait till you’ve started reading this one out to her. Striking bold animals and black and white with a splash of funky yellow at the end, plus dollops of animal fun and loads of cuddling and tickling and loving and kissing. Babies will LOVE it.
  • 3124179Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury; HMH Books): A book as fascinating to an infant as to a 6 year old, there is everything awwwwe-worthy about it. Moms and dads never get enough of kissing and biting their baby’s tiny toes, do they? Continue to read this out (with its gentle soothing rhyme) to her for a few years and she’ll discover an entirely different, deeper world of we-are-born-the-same regardless of our skin colour and other externalities.
  • 555194Dinasaur’s Binkit (by Sandra Boyton; Little Simon): This was our very first plunge with my 4-month old into the wonderful world of Sandra Boyton and she has left us transfixed since! Fourteen years on, this book still bags the coveted ‘favouritest’ tag in my household. With flaps and blankets to lift and mouths and wardrobes to open, this book about a dino baby losing his ‘binkit’ will keep the little one enthralled.
  • 2280422Oh Dear! (by Rod Campbell; Campbell Books): My kids used to love love love the repeated ‘Oh Dear!’ and lifting the flaps and all the egg-y fun in this book.
  • 28226513Flutterfly (Niveditha Subramaniam; Tulika): Another lovely instance where the predominantly black and whites pages with just a dash of bright colour flitting from one end to another will fascinate a young reader without fail!
  • 1259591Where are Maisy’s Friends? (by Lucy Cousins; Candlewick Press): This is our most favourite Maisy board book, perhaps because of the adorable animals that continue to show up with each flap lift.
  • 6503335The Big Night-Night Book (by Georgie Birkett; Barron’s Educational Series): This lovely touch-and-feel board book makes for a perfect bed time pick for little babies. It is on the lines of Goodnight Moon, though I find this having a more endearing appeal because of its simpler (and cuter) illustrations, and textures that make it remarkably interactive.
  • 205322Where is My Baby? (by Harriet Feifert and Simms Taback; Blue Apple Books): Big mama and papa animals looking for their babies throughout the book, and surprise surprise, the babies have names of their own! Totally charming. The flaps are done imaginatively and the colours are gorgeous.
  • 6118705Is This My Nose? (by Georgie Birkett; Barron’s Educational Series): Another Birkett favourite. Little babies will love lifting the flaps to explore the concepts of nose, mouth etc. through some big bright illustrations. And the fab mirror at the end is an added treat.



  • 276_coverBoodabim (by Alankrita Jain; Tulika): This book is such a sweet little tease! It’s a guessing game for the little ones, the really little ones, to identify who Boodabim is from the endearing disguises he appears in.
  • 347_coverRooster Raga (by Natasha Sharma and Priya Kuriyan; Tulika): Who has not fallen yet for the unending charm of this rambunctious story so fresh and alive with the loud throaty calls from the farm?! We love this book! Also because it tells us to ‘Just be you!’
  • 614a7cNL5ELOrange Pear Apple Bear (by Emily Gravett; Mac Millan): What a delightfully intelligent and engaging use of just the four words in the title throughout this whimsical book!
  • downloadGoodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld; Chronicle Books): A must have for any vehicle / truck – crazy child, it’s fun to see the big beasts dropping dead one by one after a hard day’s work, yes, with their blanky and soft toy! Surprisingly soothing, even for a non-truck person like me.
  • download (1)No No Yes Yes (by Leslie Patricelli; Candlewick Press): Your little one will love love LOVE this adorable book that reinforces the all befuddling concepts of yes’s and no’s with some of the darling illustrations ever.
  • download (2)Goodnight, Gorilla (by Peggy Rathman; Puffin Books): A cleverly done fun book with a naughty gorilla and a clueless zoo guard. And then there are the many other animals popping out one by one. Minimal text keeps the focus firmly on the visuals, which is where the matchless humour comes from anyway.
  • download (3)I Went Walking (by Sue Williams and Julie Vivas; HMH Books): If you though predictable is boring, do pick up this fab book. Join the little boy in his walk and the trail of animals that builds up behind him, one animal at a time. My kids used to love the repetition and gentleness in this warm story.
  • download (4)The Perfect Hug (by JM Walsh and Judi Abbot; Simon & Schuster): Pandas and hugs and loads of brightly illustrated animals make for some unbeatable treat. Especially when it’s a dear little panda in search of that loving squeezy that feels perfect.
  • download (5)My Mother’s Sari (by Sandhya Rao and Nina Sabnani; Tulika): Children romancing the sari in every possible way. My favourite is ‘Then when I am tired, it wraps itself around me.’
  • download (6)Cockatoos (by Quentin Blake; Little Brown and Company): One of the most darling set of naughty birds ever come together through Blake’s unmistakable water colours to teach the little ones count from 1 to 10.



  • downloadThat Is Not a Good Idea (by Mo Willems; Walker Books): During the first snuggle time with this book, your little one will let out anxious shrieks of ‘That is not a good idea’ at each step of this hilarious silent-movie styled book, liberally peppered with Mo Willem’s trademark wit and perfect timing. Thereafter, it’ll be a mischievous all-knowing shout out for a befitting build up to the enormously satisfying end.
  • download (1)Oh, Daddy! (by Bob Shea; Balzer + Bray): A zany daddy-child book overflowing with silliness and humour. And loads of deliberate crazy mistakes by daddy hippo.
  • download (2)If There Was One Place I Could Be (by Kalpana Subramanian and Prashant Miranda; Little Latitude): Little Anahi takes us on a magical journey through the enchanting alive underwater world. Clever use of words and fresh detailed vibrant illustrations.
  • download (3)Aliens Love Underpants (by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort; Barron’s Educational Series): This is the funniest book in Clairre’s Loves-underpants series, we adore the perfect rhyme and all the silliness of aliens going to any length to grab underpants on earth.
  • download (4)Harry the Dirty Dog (by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham; Harper Collins): A classic in largely black and white, you cannot not fall in love with this dirty dog who runs away from the house to avoid taking a bath (and gets dirtier and dirtier).
  • download (5)Where is Amma? (by Nandini Nayar and Srividya Natarajan): There’s something about Nandini’s lovely stories that never fails to resonate with me. This is my absolute favorite of hers. A gentle genuine honest and oh-so-real innocence characterizes both the text and the illustrations. The way the boy and his trusted general, the cat, look for amma everywhere is truly heart warming! The most touching moment – ‘It must have been very cold inside the fridge and you didn’t even have a sweater!’
  • download (6)When the Earth Lost Its Shape (by Shobha Vishwanath and Christine Kastl; Karadi): An endearing what-if book. Getting to see limp squidgy out-of-shape everyday things a child is familiar with – egg, sandwiches, waffles, kites and more, is a perfect recipe for getting kids to talk of shapes for days.
  • download (7)Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (by Mo Willems; Walker and Company): We LOVE, apart from everything else, the all-so-believable clueless dad in this classic.
  • download (8)Z is For Moose (by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky; Greenwillows Books): I can’t decide what I love this whacky book more for – the alphabet madness or the rocking friend the zebra is to the moose.
  • download (9)All Join In (by Quentin Blake; Red Fox): It’s the most crazy book to pick up for kids to soak in poetry in all its eccentricity (with equally eccentric illustrations) early on. It’s zany, the repetitions work well with kids, and it’s noisy. Incredibly noisy.



  • downloadDon’t Let the Pigeons Drive the Bus (by Mo Willems; Walker Books): Phenomenally hilarious, in case you still haven’t succumbed to Mo Willem’s charms.
  • download (1)Ekki Dokki (by Sandhya Rao and Ranjan De; Tulika): One of the most crisply done folk tales rendered memorable by De’s unusual geometrical illustrations.
  • download (2)Days with Thatha (by Geeta Dharmarajan and Nancy Raj; Katha): A evocatively done book on the warm, wonderful, inexplicable bond that children and grandparents share.
  • download (3)Harold and the Purple Crayon (by Crockett Johnson; Bloomsbury): This 64 page classic is as much of a prized possession today as it must have been to thousands way back in the 50s. A brilliant combination of unbridled imagination and lingering imagery.
  • download (4)Suddenly! (by Colin McNoughtan; Anderson): Kids usually LOVE this suspense thriller, or as close to one it can get for a young reader! Not sure what I enjoy more about this book – Preston the adorable pig going about his day in the face of the nastiest of dangers, or the suspense at each road corner.
  • download (5)Frog and the Birdsong (by Max Velthuijs; Andersen): One of the best books for toddlers and young ones to talk about the inevitability of death and the beauty of life. And that there’s grief in death, even if it’s a stranger’s. Sweetly, lovingly, calmly told.
  • download (6)Humbug Witch (by Lorna Balian; Star Bright Books): By far the cutest books you’ll find featured on this list. Little witch has everything going for her to be the meanest witch in the universe, except one. Don’t miss it!
  • download (7)To Market! To Market! (by Anushka Ravishankar, Emanuele Scanziani and Rathna Ramanathan; Tara): Explored through the perspective of a little girl, watch this local marketplace come alive, page by page, with the help of some mesmerizing rich vivid illustrations and playful everyday words. It’s quirky and enchanting and almost photographic; wait until you get to the page with ominous red chillies – it’s sure to build up a sneeze in you.
  • download (8)Junior Kumbhkarna (by Arundhati Venkatesh and Shreya Sen; Tulika): Laugh, giggle, chortle your way through this funny book that kids and adults are smitten by, especially if gorging and lolling around for a better part of the day are right up your alley.
  • download (9)Dog Blue (by Polly Dunbar; Walker Books): ‘What Bertie wanted more than anything in the whole wide world was a dog. A blue dog! So Bertie pretended he had a blue dog.’ An irresistible story of make belief, dog love, and a freaking-out realization when faced with reality – ‘Bertie’s dog isn’t blue at all!’.



  • downloadThe Fivetongued Firefanged Folkadotted Dragon Snake (Anushka Ravishankar, Rathna Ramanathan, and Indrapramit Roy; Tara): This book always always always gives me a bad bout of author envy! I find this as being one of Anushka’s cleverest and wittiest best.
  • download (1)First Day Jitters (by Julie Danneburg and Judy Love; Charlesbridge): Funny, with vibrant detailed relatable visuals and an incredibly clever ending. It’s Sarah’s first day at school, and she just about manages to trudge along with her apprehensions right until the end of the book. Just that, it’s not a student we are reading about at all!
  • download (2)It’s a Book (by Lane Smith; Roaring Brook Press): A witty, tongue-in-cheek case for printed books in this increasingly virtual world.
  • download (3)Oliver (Birgitta Sif; Walker Books): When I first read this book about a deeply imaginative and quiet creative boy who enjoys solitude and is happy in his own world, I couldn’t decide whether it was as fascinating as the reviews had made it sound to be. But I have no qualms in admitting that I’ve seen it grow on me, bit by bit, every stunning pastel visual by visual, every gentle move in Oliver’s actions by action. A dreamily done book about being at ease while being different from the crowd, and in due course, finding someone who you can connect with instantly.
  • download (4)Lost and Found (by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel Books): One of the BEST, most soulful, quietly moving books on friendship for young kids.
  • download (5)Meggie Moon (by Elizabeth Baguley; Little Tiger Press): One of the earliest introductions my kids had to kickass feminism and caring two hoots about prescribed gender roles. And it’s a great book to pick up to see boys and girls play together in creative imaginative ways.
  • LLT Cover Low RESLove Like That (by Richa Jha and Gautam Benegal; Pickle Yolk Books): To be released soon, this book is an endearing story of a little joey wondering why his mommy can’t love him the way other mommies love little ones.
  • download (6)My Teacher is Not a Monster! (by Peter Brown; Little, Brown Books): An utterly believable story, because let’s face it, every child has at least one monster teacher at school every year!
  • download (7)Hans and Matilda (by Yokococo; Templar): Each of us is shades of naughty and nice – explaining this to kids made easier by this breezy little book.
  • download (8)Mr Wolf’s Pancakes (by Jan Fearnley; Egmont Books): I have this big thing for rib tickling picture books with intelligent foxes and wolves with hearts of gold. Or pancakes. Or whatever. This one is particularly yummy because of the hordes of selfish greedy neighbours our Mr Wolf is surrounded with. He outwits them all, of course.



  • downloadThe Bear Under the Stairs (by Helen Cooper; Corgi Childrens): A magnificently told (in rhyme) and illustrated (in water colours) story of nearly every child’s fear of dark spaces and the overactive imagination that spurs on. Why I especially love this book is because it also shows the child deciding to be brave and confronting it in his own way.
  • download (1)Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (by Mo Willems; Hyperion Books): Among my all time favourites. The key take-away from this delightful book is that if the world expects you to belong to a certain mould and you find yourself not fitting in at all, fret not. Cast a new mould for yourself and slip into it effortlessly and swing in there snugly. And take away no 2 – friendship makes an imperfect life perfect.
  • download (2)Dirty Joe, the Pirate: A True Story (by Bill Harley and Jack E Davis; Harper Collins): The hilarious adventures of a set of sock-loving pirates and another that seeks out underwear on the high seas!
  • download (3)Guji Guji (by Chih Yuan Chen; Kane/ Miller Book Publishers): An enchanting book on family, adoption, love and acceptance. Part quirky, part reflective, part believable, this warm gently-narrated story of a crocodile being adopted by a family of ducks is a winner all the way.
  • download (4)Crispin the Pig Who Had it All (by Ted Dewan; Doubleday Books): Anyone who has ever played with an empty carton will enjoy this book. Because here, a carton is more than the endless worlds and possibilities that it throws up for Crispin, a super rich spoilt piglet. It is his one and only window to the world of friends. Real friends.
  • download (5)Daft Bat (by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross; Andersen): I can’t think of a better book to introduce the concept of different perspectives and to have a healthy respect for differing points of view. Much needed in today’s world with rising intolerance.
  • download (6)Mister Jeejeebhoy and the Birds (by Anitha Balachandran; Young Zubaan): Whenever I think of picture books that raised the bar for homegrown books in India, this one is always right up there. Drenched handsomely in magic-realism, and rendered in bold stunning incredibly detailed illustrations that speak a language of their own, this story of two sisters with supernatural powers remains a favourite with us even after years.
  • download (7)Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears (Emily Gravett; Mac Millan UK): A book with a mouse-nibbbled corner is already a winner even before you’ve peeped inside, right? This is an indispensable book for children (and adults) troubled by big fears or small. Despite the sinister look and feel of the book, this one is light and humorous, and makes for an incredibly satisfying read.
  • download (8)Winnie the Witch (Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul; Harper Collins): My kids and I LOVE going through the hilarious quirky exploits of Winnie and Wilbur, her black cat, as much as we gawk in admiration at the mind blowing detailed illustrations. This is the first book in the series.
  • download (9)The Story of Ferdinand (by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson; Viking): A 1936 classic that doesn’t fail to move and inspire you, in its own sweet gentle calm manner, no matter how many times you read it. Be yourself is the mantra, and few other books can come close to talking about it with such ease, brevity and finesse.


  • downloadA Visitor for Bear (by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton; Candlewick Press): Ah! I wish I could write and illustrate a book like this, just once in my lifetime. The first of the ‘Bear and Mouse’ books, it has the BEST characterization, timing, pauses, lyrical near-poetic cadence and use of subtle wry humour among the hundreds of picture books I’ve read so far.
  • download (1)Boris and Bella (by Carolyn Crimi and Gris Grimly; HMH Books for Young Readers): Beware the romance of the gruesome. For when Boris Kleanitoff and Bella Lagrossi lock horns, gouged eye-balls are sure to roll. And absolute all-time favourite in my household, we adore the illustrations, the wit, the attention to detail and the astonishingly funny sequences.
  • download (2)Mrs Armitage on Wheels (by Quentin Blake; Peachtree Publishers): The invincible Mrs Armitage has been a super role model for girls and mommies and grannies for years. This book is a riot in itself – both in the way the plot gets more hysterical with each ‘what this bicycle needs…’ and in the way the illustrations get more and more detailed and hilarious. And yes, her devoted dog Breakspear is here too.
  • download (3)Alone in the Forest (by Gita Wolf, Andrea Anastasio and Bhajju Shyam; Tara) A boy coming face to face with his fear of the unknown when alone in the forest. Lyrical text and a blinding play of rich colours in the page design lend a near-magical yet real immediacy to it.
  • download (4)The Susu Pals (by Richa Jha and Alicia Souza; Pickle Yolk Books): A zany roller coaster ride through the friendship between two best friends.
  • download (5)My Lucky Day (by Keiko Kasza; Puffin Books): A phenomenally fun book that will keep you on tenterhooks (a sweet little defenceless pig is about to be devoured by the big bad wolf, after all)!
  • download (6)That Dreadful Day (by James Stevenson; Greenwillow Books): Surrounded by whines of it’s-not-fair and it-can’t-get-worse? Snuggle with this old Stevenson fun classic where Grandpa tells the little ones about his dreadful day.
  • download (7)A Very Proper Fox (by Jan Fearnley; Harper Collins): Another brilliantly done, hilarious, heart-warming book by Fearnley (see Mr Wolf’s Pancakes above) about being yourself. Frankie the fox loves dancing and tidying up places and clearing the vegie patches and mending broken fences when all he ought to be doing is catching chickens. Or so he is made to believe by the wily Naughty Rabbit.
  • imagesThe Dot (by Peter H Reynolds; Candlewick Press): A masterful ode to boundless creativity. You just need to have the first dot in place.
  • Thatha at School Front CoverThatha at School (by Richa Jha and Gautam Benegal; Pickle Yolk Books): This book shows Oviyam’s insecurities about her grandfather’s dhoti, and how she rids herself of those.



  • downloadMole and the Baby Bird (by Marjorie Newman and Patrick Benson; Bloomsbury USA): A deeply moving book about loneliness, companionship, friendship, separation and longing. How a picture book can pack so much in a few words is a marvel.
  • download (1)A Mama for Owen (by Marion Dane Bauer): Tragedies happen in real life, they do. The ones with hope in their heart always manage to find comfort in strange ways. A baby hippo’s search for his mother swept away in tsunami brings him to an unusual mama.
  • download (2)Grandpa Green (by Lane Smith; Roaring Brook Press): Grandpa Green is as much a loving ode to a great grandpa as it is to an inimitable green thumb and an artist at heart. The grandson walks us through the beautiful garden full of fanciful topiary that the great grandpa has lovingly hand-crafted over the years, and in the process, he walks us through his entire life story from the time when pa was born in a different era. Gentle and moving.
  • download (3)The Story and the Song (by Manasi Subramaniam and Ayswarya Sankarnarayanan; Karadi): It is a story of a wronged story, a forgotten song, of chattering flames, of trapped elements and returning souls. This rendering of the folktale flows beautifully. It is gentle and lyrical, unhurried and evocative. And the illustrations, breathtaking.
  • download (4)Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (by Mac Burnett and Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press): Oh the places you go when you and your friend go digging for something spectacular! A funny but frustrating (a ‘gosh, don’t stop, boys, keep digging in that direction’ kind of a helplessness) picture book with an equally ambiguous ending. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, a fresh theory will float into your head.
  • download (5)A is for Activist (by Innosanto Nagara; Kupu Kupu Press): Well, it’s an ABC book, so you can sit with your toddler too with this, but I feel that the content of this book will be best absorbed by slightly older kids. This book on activism will trigger endless discussions between your child and you. Serious as may sound, it is quite a funny and enjoyable book.
  • download (6)Pirate Girl (by Conelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer; Chicken House): We love Cornelia’s feisty badass girl characters. But of them all, it is Molly the intrepid pirate girl who has stolen our hearts like no other. The boisterous story, the spirited characters, the grime, the muck, the crookedness, the incredible depth of visual detail in each frame, along with the unfailing unfazed spunk of Molly – we are in complete awe of this book. Whenever we run out of options to read at bedtime, my 10 year old and I knowingly nod at each other, waiting for the other to fetch this one!
  • download (7)The Princess Knight (by Cornelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer; Chicken House): Distressing as it is to see that we still NEED books like these that ‘show’ strong girls having to fight for doing the supposedly ‘boy’ things, this book is an absolute riot from cover to cover.
  • download (8)Princess Pigsty (by Cornelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer; Chicken House): A glowing ode to muck and imperfection and many such un-queenly attributes.
  • download (9)Following My Paintbrush (by Gita Wolf and Dulari Devi; Tara): Madhubani folk artist Dulari Devi’s story is both moving and inspiring. Two things come about strongly in the narrative: Dulari’s uneading quest for a creative outlet, and once the means is within her reach, how she uses true vignettes from her past to help her further in her new quest for perfection. The illustrations are one of the finest Madhubani styled paintings to have been rendered in a book form.


  • downloadThe Why Why Girl (Mahasweta Devi and Kanyika Kini; Tulika): We do not have a better book for kids in India to address the whole array of deep rooted discrimination and marginalization in our society – gender, caste, class – and how the only befitting leveler in all these cases can be education, apart from an unquenched thirst for answers to ‘whys’. A powerful, thought provoking, book.
  • imagesMukand and Riaz (by Nina Sabnani; Tulika): An poignant tale of friendship and separation set against the backdrop of the 1947 partition. Full of sadness, but also of hope and the everlasting nature of deep bonds of friendship. This book lingers on in a most melancholic yet uplifting way.
  • download (1)Garmann’s Summer (by Stian Hole and Don Bartlett; Eerdmans Books for Young Readers): This seemingly unsettling Norwegian story of a six year old scared about starting school is anything but that. It is a means of elegant addressal of the never ending web of fears that the human mind keeps jumping to one after the other. Fear persues and persists in one form or another. And that, fear is. It is.
  • download (2)The Unboy Boy (by Richa Jha and Gautam Benegal; Pickle Yolk Books): A book that questions gender norms and shows that there are no un-boy boy or un-girl girls in this world. I always sign this book with a ‘Believe in yourself and be happy being you’ because that, to my mind, is the essence of this story.
  • download (3)Shadow (by Suzy Lee; Chronicle Books): This almost-wordless book will stun you with its sheer excessive exquisiteness of scope and form. It’s all about a little free-spirited girl’s mind blowing shadow play in her attic. The book folding out from top to bottom makes for an interesting juxtaposition of the real and the imagined.
  • download (4)Badger’s Parting Gifts (by Susan Varley; Magi Publications): This story both gets my throat all lumpy and never fails to bring a smile. A most tenderly told and illustrated moving story of impending death, learning to deal with loss, and finding pleasure and meaning in one’s life through what the departed being has left behind. Look at how gracefully this ends – ‘Whenever Badger’s name was mentioned, someone remembered another story that made them all smile.’ Lasting legacies, we say.
  • download (5)A Lion in Paris (by Beatrice Alamagna; Katha): A lion from Savannah saunters into Paris in search of ‘love, work, a future’. This story is about his journey from being an apprehensive and unsure newcomer in the city to gradually earning his sense of belonging and the rightful place in the crowd. On a more philosophical level, the book tells us that day we learn to be at ease with ourselves and be ourselves, we find our place and contentment in the world, no matter how cold, unforgiving or indifferent it may have seemed to us until then. Both grounding and uplifting at the same time.
  • download (6)Infinity and Me (by Kate Hosford and Gabi Swiatkowska; Lerner Publishing Group): A relatable confusion in the mind of a young one about the abstract concept of infinity. And an extraordinarily done fun book to resolve it. Okay, somewhat resolve it.
  • download (7)My Grandfather Aajoba (Taruja Parande; Tulika): Taruja collates snatches of the vivid memory of her Aajoba, his photographs, his words, scraps of paper, articles, other items that remind her of him, and decorates them together in the form of this book. It’s the kind of scrapbook you and I have always wanted to make of people who mean the world to us, but have never got around to doing it. It’s a loving grand daughter’s way of saying, ‘I miss you Aajoba.’
  • download (8)Thank you, Mr Falker (by Patricia Polacco; Philomel Books): Dyslexic Trisha’s (the young award-winning author / illustrator herself) touching and inspiring struggle to cope with learning and reading in class, and how one teacher finally understands her fully and opens unto her window to the magical world of words. This book is Patricia’s tribute to the real life Mr Falker. I dare you to not be teary-eyed when you read this!


  • downloadEnemy Pie (by Derek Munson and Tara Calahan King; Chronicle Books): A book that most kids this age (or adults too) will relate to with ease. It’s all about how to deal with/ get rid of an (imagined) enemy. Take along the enemy pie you have baked, spend some time with him (because you MUST, before handing over the poisonous stuff to him), and oops, the enemy may well start appearing more friend-like!
  • download (1)We Are All Born Free (various artists; Tara): A powerful visual exposition of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights by some of the most renowned illustrators of our time.
  • download (2)Monsieur Marceau Actor Without Words (by Leda Shubert and Gerard Buboi; Flash Point): A layered peep into the complex inspiring life of world’s greatest mime. Gorgeous illustrations and crisp references to some truly moving vignettes from his life.
  • download (3)The Lion & The Bird (by Marianne Dubuc and Claudia Z Bedrick; Enchanted Lion Books): You can never get enough of this quiet gentle heartwarming tale of loneliness, finding companionship, the inevitability of separation, resignation, longing and the joy of meeting, all over again. Priceless.
  • download (4)Winston & George (by John Miller and Giuliano Cucco; Enchanted Lion Books): Tales of friendship never go out of fashion, even when decades old. This vibrantly illustrated books has ingredients familiar to most Indian readers – a la Jataka /Panchtantra prankster, cry wolf like tale of a deep friendship with a happy ending. While younger kids too will immensely enjoy this, it is the element of bittersweet constant societal pressures which non-conforming units face from time to time that will register well only with the older kids.
  • download (5)Michael Rosen’s SAD Book (by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake; Candlewick Press): A moving personal account of a father grieving, enveloped in melancholy, and coming to terms with the loss of his son.
  • imagesThe Arrival (by Shaun Tan; Lothian Books): There cannot be a better book to have animated conversations with your child around the burning realities of our times- displacement, immigration, refugees. The stunning incredibly detailed frames, the sheer magnitude of a tale told without words, the highs of going along a journey on a somewhat familiar, somewhat fantastical land and the lows of fears and loneliness – every aspect of this book sucks you in.
  • download (6)The Honey Hunter (by Karthika Nair and Joelle Jolivet; Young Zubaan): The stunning vibrant colours, the striking illustrations, the sweep of the Sundarban landscape, the enchanting story, the fulsome feel of this big gorgeous book – what is there not to flip for? Given the mindless games we continue to play with nature, I feel introducing this book to older kids is an interesting way to engage them with critically thinking about the sensitive Sundarban (and other) ecology.
  • download (7)Grandfather Gandhi (by Arun Gandhi, Bethany Hegedus and Evan Turk; Antheneum): Gandhi, as observed, revered, deconstructed by the 12 year old Arun, his grandson, who has come from South Africa to live for a couple of years with Bapu at his ashram. ‘Have I not told you how anger is like electricity?’ –Mahatma’s wisdom, and the entire essence of his non-violent philosophy, his being, broken down into easy bits as a priceless take away for everyone from this brilliant book. No other book offers a young reader this level of intimacy with Gandhi.
  • download (8)Almost to Freedom (by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Colin Bootman; Carolrhoda Books): Seen through the eyes of a much-loved rag doll of slave girl Lindy, several aspects of the Black History stand out in this powerful tale that ends on a note full of hope despite a lingering sadness. You can feel the fear, the isolation, the struggle for flight to freedom, the Underground Railroad, and the raw emotions giving our prior knowledge of slavery an intense immediacy.


10-110 years

These are books that you like to read in solitude because YOU want to immerse yourself in them. They work equally well as read alouds with younger kids, but for me, it’s their power to trigger strong emotions, to move me, and to draw me in like no other book meant for adults that is most appealing about them. I have also marked against each the ages for which these books will do well.

  • downloadHoje Sinto Me… (Today I Feel…from A to Z by Madalena Moniz; Orfeu Negro, Portugal / 5+): This stunning and incredibly imaginative Portugese alphabet book will get you in a contemplative mood. Each reader will imagine a unique powerful story for each alphabet.
  • download (1)Scar (by Charlotte Moundlic and Ollivier Tallec / 6+): A heart wrenching narrative, laced with graceful humour, of a child grieving the loss of his mother. “I’m trying not to forget what Mom smells like, but it’s fading, so I close all the windows so that it won’t get out.”
  • download (2)The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel Books / 6+): An utterly heartbreaking gem from Jeffers on a girl’s response to the loss of her father. The girl standing by the empty sofa will cling to you, you’ve been warned.
  • download (3)Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator (Mo Willems; Balzer + Bray / 4+): In my Mo Willems madness, this book ranks way above the others. I like books that show friendship in all its messiness and heart aches and delight. This, to my mind, does it like no other book with the simplest of words and illustrations possible.  Very amusing, very subtle, and very addictive.
  • download (4)Chicken Big (by Keith Graves; Chronicle Books / 3+) : Perhaps the silliest book on this list, a clever clever take on the classic Chicken Little, will keep a room packed with preschoolers in splits, and is a household favourite with us. I pick this up whenever I’m in need of a chuckle.
  • download (5)The London Jungle Book (by Bhajju Shyam; Tara / 7+): There are times when you wish you could peep inside the mind of creative geniuses just to get a glimpse of what goes on in there, after all. Renowned and much-loved Gond artist Bhajju Shyam makes it a tad easier for you in his mind-blowing rendition (and interpretation) of the familiar sights and sounds around London.  An equally delightful book by Tara along similar lines is Drawing from the City from Tejubehan.
  • download (6)Father Christmas (by Raymond Briggs; Random House / 4+): Catch Father Christmas with his pajamas down. Well yeah, sort of. Catch him groaning and muttering under his breath as a blaring alarm kills his sunny-beach dream on a freezing blizzardy Dec 24. ‘Blooming Christmas here again!’ he begins cursing and gives us the most endearing, funny, irreverent Christmasy ride.
  • download (7)Supposing (by Frances Thomas and Ross Collins; Bloomsbury / 4+): On the face of it, a simple story of a mother allaying her child’s fear of nightmares, but a closer read throws up a beautifully presented to-do for easing out dark thoughts with happier ones. Always.
  • imagesThis Is Not My Hat (by Jon Klassen; Candlewick / 5+): More than I Want My Hat Back, it’s the deadpan humour, the fatalism, the ambiguity, the colours of impending doom of this one that hits me each time I read it– I can’t think of a more brilliantly poised noir in picture books.
  • download (8)The Sniffles for Bear (by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton; Candlewick / 6+): I don’t know who I go more awwww for in this series (but particularly this book) –Mouse or Bear. There are days when we feel floating in a bottomless, unloved, uncared-for, not-understood pit like bear: ‘I fear you do not appreciate the gravity of my situation.’ Awwwww. And then again, Mouse like, we are bursting with optimism: ‘I am come! Soon you’ll be good as new!’ Subtle, brilliantly-time humour and the most expressive illustrations at their sunniest best. There are times when my heart aches for this book (and for A Visitor for Bear by the same author mentioned earlier). It is then that I sift through my collection, collect the loose printed sheets (for I tried my best to grab a copy but had to make do with getting prints from a library copy), take deep appreciative sniffs of the pages and lazily slink into my sofa to savour the two gems.

Richa Jha is a picture book enthusiast, author and creator, and the founder of Pickle Yolk Books and Snuggle with Picture Books.

 January 25, 2016  Posted by at 7:21 am #nevertoooldforpicturebooks Comments Off on A Monster Jamboree of my Favourite Picture Books
Aug 212015

#nevertoooldforpicturebooks is a no-holds-barred invitation to one and all to make this hashtag a zingy buzz. Anything, just about anything from anyone reinforcing that one is never too old to dig with joy into a picture book is welcome here. The very first straight-from-the-heart note goes out from the incurable bibliophile, blogger and freelance writer, Sandhya Renukamba. Humongous picture booky hugs for this, Sandhya; it’s over to you now:

One of the best children’s books, Alice in Wonderland, begins thus:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’

Which makes sense. Most of the time. Even after a child graduates beyond needing pictures in books, an illustrated edition of a book is so much more attractive than a non-illustrated one. And conversations – nothing like conversations in a book to spice up the narrative. Any reader – grownups too – will agree with that!

So yes, picture books. It all began when the daughter was born. I have been a lifelong reader, but when I was a child, there were hardly any picture books around. At least not the kind of books we get today. It was while discovering reading children’s books along with my daughter that I first fell in love with picture books. And we have not looked back since.

The happiest times I have spent as a mother were reading aloud to my daughter. When she was very little, we lived in the UK. This meant, for readers like us – we all are big readers in the family – it was quite the Promised Land. The first thing we did after finding a house and settling in, was to get a library card. It was the best thing I have ever done.

Our very first picture books together were the likes of  The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Peter Rabbit books, Guess How Much I Love You, Are You My Mother?, The Going-to-bed Book, and This Is The Bear. I would often ‘read’ the stories to her in our native tongue, along with reading them out in English. As she grew older, we visited family stories with books like Tell Me a Story, Mama, and When I was a Little Girl. Angry times were handled with the likes of Where The Wild Things Are. An early introduction to poetry and rhymes was made with books like Over In The Meadow and Iza Trapani’s retellings of nursery rhymes like Itsy bitsy spider, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and The Bear Went Over the Mountain. Wackilicious times were spent with the books of Dr Seuss, Edward Lear, and Shel Silverstein, many of which are layered enough to be picked up over and over again, well into adulthood.

areyoumymother thehungrycaterpillar thebearwentoverthemountain overinthemeadow guesshowmuch

We learnt much about India in books like Handmade In India, Excuse Me, Is This India?, I Is For India, We, The Children Of India: the preamble to our constitution, and Going To School In India. In fact, the wonderful picture books by Tulika books, Pratham books, Katha books, Tara books, etc., are all part of our journey – there are too many wonderful books to enumerate. For example, conversations about diversity were seeded with books like Same & Different, I Am Different, and We Are Different, all by Manjula Padmanabhan.

wethechildrenof india excuse me is this india iisforindia

The Amelia Bedelia were the best introduction to the pun, humour that I think is of the highest order. With our growing book collection, books overflowing everywhere, and probably the only decoration at home, Sarah Stewart’s The Library was the perfect book to go to. Loss was handled with gentleness with the help of books – Robie H Harris’s Goodbye Mousie the perfect book when the daughter’s goldfish died, and Tear Soup the book we turned to when she lost a much loved cousin recently.

goodbyemousie  thelibrary blueberry girl

A recent addition to our collection is Neil Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl, and The Book With No Pictures. Yes, I know what Alice said about books with no pictures, but believe me, this is one book you’d want to pick up. And wordless books? They are the best kind of picture books. I promise you that if you pick up Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman, or Barbara Lehman’s The Red Book, Mercer Mayer’s A Boy, A Dog, and A Frog, or Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, or David Wiesner’s Tuesday, or Jeannie Baker’s Home, or any similar books, you’ll have a treasure in your hands that can be timeless, and can be ‘read’ by little ones unable yet to read, as well as be layered enough for teenagers and even adults. And this one, The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick, has to be picked up to be believed!

thearrival theredbook  tuesday

I could clearly go on and on. Even today, when we visit bookstores, our purchases are never complete without at least one picture book added to the mix. After all, one never grows out of picture books, no matter how old one gets. They are our first step into reading purely for pleasure, but they also are an education. In many ways. One can even charm non-readers with picture books, luring them into the world of readers as they get hooked. As said in the opening lines in Lauren Child’s well-loved picture book Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Book? 

‘Herb loved storybooks. Although he wasn’t a very good reader, it didn’t matter because he could tell a lot from the pictures.’   who'safraid



 August 21, 2015  Posted by at 3:40 pm Uncategorized 1 Response »
Aug 032015

Story: Roopa Pai
Illustration: Archana Sreenivasan
Published by: GAIT

If you lay your hands on the siblings Taka-Dimi starrer My Space, My Body, do not make the mistake (as I did) of jumping straight to the story before reading the note to the parents. For in it lies the blueprint for extracting the maximum you can from this lovely illustrated story book.


The book is there for a purpose. It is the first in the series developed as a resource material for children enrolled with GAIT (Grooming Artistic Innovation and Talent), a niche player in the field of creative movement in education. It aims to bolster a reader’s understanding of her own body and how it can be used as a tool to express herself – through music, dance, theatre, and creative movement where the body itself, more than the words, becomes the medium of expression.


The two stories in this book handle subjects that even adults find difficult to make sense of – personal space and body awareness. As concepts, both work in tandem, as an understanding of one would lead to an acute awareness of the other, whether in its use or its violation. And so, I was happy to see both these tricky subjects being addressed in the same book. Indeed, the world we inhabit would be a far gentler, happier, more hospitable place if people were to try and understand the basics of personal space. Also, the more at ease we get with our physical bodies, the more it frees up our minds.

Roopa Pai excels, as always. The crisp slice-of-life dialogues make the pages believable, real and full of warmth. And oodles of fun too. We all have a Taka or a Dimi or the Mama or the Puppa in our homes. The pages throw enough relatable every day vignettes of a pair of siblings (squabbling, loving, sharing, inquisitive, et al) to make the kids feel one with them. As parents, we are always confronted with the task of explaining difficult intangibles in a way that leaves a lasting impression on them. I loved the idea of introducing the concept of an invisible bubble in ‘Take-Dimi Win The Game’ surrounding each of us that pops when personal space of others or oneself is disregarded. Don’t we all love popping bubbles?! The trick is in training our minds to not do so at the cost of another person’s bubble (read, personal space). In ‘Taka-Dimi At The Zoo’, it takes the siblings a visit to the local zoo to appreciate that ‘I think I’m happy just the way I am.’


Archana Sreenivasan’s endearing, playful, vibrant illustrations are a sure winner in this handsome hardcover. The two double spreads that extend as fold-outs at the end of each story are brilliant in their detail. The first one is my favourite; each time I look at it afresh, I discover something new. Other engaging activities also follow the stories. And then there is the adorable pet cat that breezes in and out of the frames (in the first story) – the kids are sure to love her.

My Space, My Body will engage a young mind in ways more than one. Read it often to or with your kids to enable them to be more aware of their bodies, selves, of the spaces around them. And read it often also to keep them fascinated with their bodies and see them grow into confident happy beings. The back cover blurb puts it beautifully:
‘As we become better with words, we become more stilted in our movements, more uncomfortable with our bodies, and more constrained in our expression.’ A positive body image is one of the strongest tools you can arm your child with.

Click here to learn more about the GAIT program.


 August 3, 2015  Posted by at 2:03 pm 3+, Illustrated Story Books Comments Off on My Space, My Body
Jun 202015

Published By: Houghton Books For Children
Story: Mary Logue
Illustrations: Pamela Zagarenski


In a Sentence: Why must we have to sleep, at all?
What is it About: It’s time for bed, but the little girl doesn’t want to go to sleep. The princess is not tired, of course, as no self-respecting kid ever is. We see her having to go through the winding down bed time rituals, all the same. And again, once tucked in bed, she asks questions, of course, as any self-respecting kid must. She wants to know if everything in the world goes to sleep. Her parents tell her, as all (well, most, who’re already not struggling along the fine border between sanity and insanity by then) do, as lucidly as they can, whatever they know. But the question-barrage continues, as it must. What about Bats? Snails? Whales? Bears? Phew!
Do her questions end? Does she finally fall asleep? Grab this utterly beautiful book to find out!
Form and language: If prose were poetry, it’d be something like this. Sample this:
The little girl’s bed was warm
and cozy,
a cocoon of sheets,
a nest of blankets.’
Can it get more beautiful than this?

What makes it snuggly: It’s just the whole cozy, fuzzy, warm and snug feeling page after page. The text flows as gently as the dreamy illustrations that both soothe and blow your mind off (it’s a Caldecott Honor Book, after all!). And then the majestic mighty beast of the wild, the tiger (with its crown, to boot) seen in a most loving, tame, mild form – snoozing, cuddling a soft toy, and the little girl tucked in by its side.


What Stands Out: For me, besides the subtle humour, it’s the remarkably cool and patient parents whose reply to a ‘I’m still not sleepy’ is a calm ‘We know. You can stay awake all night long.’! 🙂  Or perhaps, it comes from years of being king and queen!
Will be best enjoyed by: 2+

Love Ratings (0-5)?

Ha Ha! Quotient: 4
Touches the heart: 5
Cuts through the clutter: 5
Visual appeal: 5
Encore Quotient: 5
Thank God it’s not moral science: 5
Show, don’t tell: 4
Hey, this is a really important book!: 4

 June 20, 2015  Posted by at 1:12 pm 2+, Humour, International Picture Books, Parent-child, Slice-of-Life Comments Off on Sleep Like A Tiger