Published By: Young Zubaan / Apeejay Press
Story and Illustrations: Anitha Balachandran
‘Of course I know,’ said Ninamasi, ‘and I know that you two can do things that other girls might find, er, challenging. Runs in the family…’
In a Sentence: It’s so cool to have supernatural powers!
What is it About: Mister Jeejeebhoy And The Birds is not primarily about Jeejeebhoy and the birds, though I’d love to have another book by Balachandran with just these quirky birds in it! It’s the story of two little school-going sisters Diya and Tara, who upon coming to stay in with their aunt Ninamasi at 13 A, Dimlivili (East), figure the rather spooky elements of the house – strange noises down the corridors, talking and yawning portraits, mad clocks, mirrors that flip the image upside down, and so on. By the time they get used to these, they realize they are veritable outcasts at school, as no one wants to “be with anyone from that house,” as one schoolmate points out. Not that it troubles the sisters in the least. Soon they discover their delightful special powers, which eventually helps them solve a big crisis to hit the kids in the neighbourhood: their favourite haunt, Mr Jeejeebhoy’s sweet shop, closing down indeterminately because his personal collection of birds had flown away.
What makes it snuggly: It’ll have to be the birds, those crooked cute rascals all over the place. But also, Diya’s lisping (how I love the ‘chipth’), the photo-frames that see, the walls that warn…I shouldn’t waste my time listing. Everything about the book makes it snuggly 🙂
What Stands Out: More than the story, it is Balachandran’s illustrations, that leaves one mesmerized. This is easily among the best illustrated Indian kiddy book I’ve come across, comparable with the best in the international arena. The delightful birds are so Quentin Blake-like that I had to do a double check on whether his name too peeped from somewhere for illustrations. Moreover, the backdrop of each page stays on with you for a long time. So whether it’s the ordinary graph paper that kids use in geometry, or it’s the brilliantly coloured full pages in yellow or blue, or the eccentrically multi-textured ones combining scraps of wall papers, cloth imprints, pen ink blotches, and more, the result is always a visual treat.
Ha Ha! Quotient: 4
Touches the heart: 4
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
Want to Read More?
Ever since my first child was four months old, I’ve been reading out books to him from around the world, wishing someday I’d hold an Indian book with Indian characters in it, set in an Indian backdrop, which would be just as delectably enchanting as the international ones I keep borrowing from the libraries. Three years ago, my search for that perfect combination of rich illustrations and an eccentrically sweet Indian story, with production quality at par with leading international standards, ended with Mister Jeejeebhoy And The Birds.
It was like love at first sight for the three of us. My kids said there was something magical about the pages when we all read it together; and once I refused to do it the eighteenth time in a row, the two snatched it away to some corner where they sat huddled together with the book for hours. They spotted all the birds from cover to cover doing eccentrically human things – sipping cola, using the television remote, dipping into rich pastries, using a telescope, and many many more (my daughter also spotted one with red lipsticked beaks!). Next, they were busy identifying the actual real images of few objects that teasingly peep out from the midst of the painted world – candies, football, a library book’s stamped sheet, family portraits – this effect is tantalizing and refreshingly novel. Still later, I found them busy poring over the map of Dimlivili (East)!
Later that night, just when I had dropped dead, my daughter quickly walked up to me and asked, “Mom, is this book also going back to the library in three weeks like the others?” I said no. “You mean, this one’s ours, for keeps?” I confirmed, and sunk back in the pillow. The spontaneous outburst of jubilation in the kiddy room kept me awake until well past midnight.
Next morning, I found a neatly marked out addition on the Dimlivili map, right next to 13A, with pencil scribbles – ‘Our House – friends of DiyaTara’.