Week-end Book Review: Grandpa’s Indian Summer by Jamila Gavin, illustrated by Peter Bailey

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

BookCoverJamila Gavin, illustrated by Peter Bailey,
Grandpa Chatterji
Grandpa’s Indian Summer
Grandpa Chatterji’s Third Eye
Egmont, 2006.

Ages 7-11

Neetu and Sanjay, sister and brother, have two grandfathers – one nearby in England, Grandpa Leicester, who is very particular about how his grandchildren should behave; and Grandpa Chatterji whom they have never met until he comes from India to visit them. He couldn’t be more different to Grandpa Leicester, and much to the children’s surprise, even he is drawn under Grandpa Chatterji’s spell, despite himself. Grandpa Chatterji, in fact, possesses many qualities which make him an admirable role model for the children. His gentleness and simplicity belie his inner strength and he always has a twinkle in his eye. Life is never dull around Grandpa Chatterji, though some might call his behavior eccentric at times, which leads to some funny and unexpected adventures. He eschews anything which makes life unnecessarily complicated and is never in a hurry: but at the same time pursues a goal with charming if stubborn determination – whether it be a field of poppies on a chilly April day in England; floral garlands to welcome his family to India; or bringing back Sanjay’s lost kite using the power of his third eye.

Grandpa Chatterji (shortlisted for the Smarties Prize) and Grandpa’s Indian Summer were first published in the early ’90s. Now they have been reprinted with new illustrations by Peter Bailey, which are an added attraction – they compliment the text beautifully and will often raise a chuckle. And the real bonus for today’s generation of young readers is Grandpa Chatterji’s Third Eye: a whole new book in which Grandpa Chatterji comes back to England to bring more gentle magic and fun into his grandchildren’s lives. Gavin conveys so well the sometimes infuriating but always enchanting mixture of calm, single-mindedness and energy Grandpa Chatterji brings to everything he does. He is not concerned with the stereotypes of age and so is quite prepared to accompany Sanjay on the giant Rocket Ride at the funfair, although once is probably enough. He can’t resist joining in the children’s cricket game, with unforeseen results. He introduces the children to meditation and the notion of the third, inner eye – and each time they see him, they pick up where they have left off: within minutes of Neetu and Sanjay arriving home from school to greet a jet-lagged Grandpa Chatterjee, they are all three standing on their heads on his special rug.

Indian food and spices fill the senses: Grandpa Chatterji turns his daughter’s kitchen upside down more than once to produce the most delicious pakora (recipe supplied); Grandma Chatterji’s cakes are not only too temptingly good but provide a lesson in life when Sanjay is stranded on a tin box surrounded by ants, which have homed in surprisingly quickly on the crumbs he’s dropped; Grandpa Chatterji follows his third eye (and his umbrella!?!) in a satisfying tale in which, much to everyone’s astonishment, he discovers what could be the last remaining jar of Mrs Fernandez’ Green Chilli Pickle in the whole of England. Again, we don’t have to worry about that as the recipe is thoughtfully provided at the end of the book. However, the children are well ensconced in their Anglo-Indian culture and would opt for pizza and chips over ‘vegetable curry, runny spinach with eggs, and horrible stuff like that’ any day!

Gavin writes with great affection for her characters (even scary Grandpa Leicester is not so bad) and even characters who only appear in a brief cameo role are deftly brought to life. Neetu is definitely the older sister, reminding Sanjay of how he should behave, but she is not a goody-goody (she is not beyond disappearing under a table at a party with a plate full of Indian sweets); Sanjay, meanwhile, is the one we see growing through the three books. He is not entirely convinced at first about being in India and far away from home in Indian Summerand I love the way he plays with words in Third Eye: his excitement about Grandpa Chatterji coming to stay could not be better expressed than by his nonsensical chanting of ‘Grandpa Chatterji/ Matterji /Batterji/ Hatterji / Fatterji’. Grandpa Chatterji’s crooning to the inevitable crying baby on the flight home is not the Bengali lullaby it was on the way to England but a continuation on the theme of Sanjay’s rhymes. Flying away with Grandpa Chatterji not only brings the book full-circle but eases the wrench of having to say good-bye to characters who have worked their way under your skin at the end of a good read.

Marjorie Coughlan
July 2006

paw_sm3To read more book reviews from the PaperTigers team, click here

Congratulations Anu Kumar on your new middle grade book “A Chola Adventure” which is part of the Girls in India series being published by Penguin India!

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Anu KumarOne of the first people I met at the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content held in Singapore was author Anu Kumar. Originally from India, Anu now lives in Singapore and writes for children as well as for older readers. Her short stories have appeared in various magazines and anthologies have been twice awarded by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and have been short-listed by The Little Magazine. Her third book for older readers  It Takes a Murder  was released last year following  Letters for Paul (Mapin 2006) and The Dollmakers’ Island (Gyaana, 2010) . You can learn more about her books for children and young adults here and do check out her website by clicking here.

Unfortunately Anu and I only had time for a brief chat at AFCC and our paths didn’t cross again. Although I would have loved to attended one of her sessions ( An Author’s Creative JourneyConceptualising and Writing Books for Series, and Writing Non-fiction for Early Teens) the times conflicted with the sessions that I was involved in. Hopefully we can meet again at the 2014 AFCC! In the meantime I will be tracking down a copy of her new book, A Chola Adventure,  which was just released last month. This book for for middle grade readers (9+) is published by Penguin Books India (Puffin imprint)  and is  part of their new Girls of India series which includes the books A Mauryan Adventure by  Subhadra Sen Gupta and A Harappan Adventure by Sunila Gupte.

A Chola Adventure

Sub title: Girls of India

A Chola Adventure by Anu Kumar, Penguin IndiaAuthor: Anu Kumar

990 CE, Tanjore, India Twelve-year-old Raji is growing up during the reign of Rajaraja Chola in the south of India. Raji is a girl of spirit- brave, bright and bold. She is also a dancer, a warrior and a sculptor who models kingdoms in stone. Raji, however, is not happy: She misses her family. Her mother is in exile and her father has left home in grief. On a dark night as a storm rages, Raji rescues a Chinese sailor at sea. This sets off a chain of events with unforeseen consequences. A Shiva statue goes missing, a prince disappears and there is a murder inside a temple. As Raji and her friends, the prince Rajendra Chola and his cousin, Ananta, try to help the Chinese mariner, they realize that he may have some of the answers Raji has been looking for. Will the criminals be brought to justice? Will Rajis family be reunited once again? Will peace be restored to the mighty Chola Kingdom?

For more details click here.

 

PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 3 of 3

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

It’s been our privilege to have Indian writer, editor and blogger Richa Jha as our guest blogger for the past two weeks. Today we present the final part in her three part series:

Reader-less Books: Reading Habits of Indian Children ~ by Richa Jha

If  you haven’t read the previous entries, you can get caught up by reading  Part 1 here  and Part 2 here. In today’s post Richa addresses some of the reasons on why Indian youth may not be reading books written by Indian authors.

We can’t see them

Our books get lost in the sea of international books on the bookshelves at the stores, especially when there are tens of series vying for attention. A single spine in the middle of it is no show. Some of the bookstores do have dedicated shelves or sections for Indian authors, but the traffic is thin there. Children’s books continue to figure low on most publishing houses’ agenda. The lack of the necessary promotional push for these books from their side affects their visibility. So does the media’s cool shrug at most of these books. The bookstores aren’t too enthusiastic either to back the Indian authors as they don’t see them moving off the shelf much. This chicken-egg situation only compounds the general feeling of apathy that the Indian authors sense towards their work, in general, from all sides.

Let’s blame it on our parents!

My generation of parents grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton and Edward Stratemeyer (creator of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew), and for most, that fodder lies frozen in time. An essential rites of passage, we expect to see our children reading these. Most parents shy away from even exploring the Indian-Author shelves at bookstores.

At the same time, we do have a new (but small) breed of parents who are keen to introduce their children to the growing world of Indian YA fiction. But while the parents take care to buy these books, most children are reluctant to explore them. Buying, therefore, isn’t always enough. A possible way to get our kids interested in them would be to explore the book together. I remember sitting with my son a couple of years ago and reading aloud a relatively unknown gem by Ranjit Lal, The Red Jaguar on the Mountain. By the end of the first chapter, he was hooked and came back later to say, ‘The book is so cool!’

Things can only get better from here. Last month, India’s first zombie fiction for young adults, Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar hit the shelves (the second one by him is due for a release soon). Payal Dhar’s There’s a Ghost in My PC, Oops the Mighty Gurgle by RamG Vallath and The Deadly Royal Recipe by Ranjit Lal – all for middle schoolers slated for release soon – promise to be a hell of an adventure-and-fun packed reads. There’s visible promotion around them and the publishers and the authors seem to be having fun talking about their books. Don’t stop me from turning up that bubbly voice inside me that’s humming now-these-are-what-our-children-will-go-grab. Out of choice. Ahem! Amen.

Richa Jha is a writer and editor and, like many of us, nurtures an intense love for picture books. In her words:

I love picture books, and want the world to fall in love with them as well. My blog Snuggle With Picture Books is a natural extension of this madness. The Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of Indian picture books beginning to fill up the shelves in bookshops. It’s about time we had a dedicated platform to it. The idea behind the website is to try and feature every picture book (in English) out there in the Indian market. Usually, only a few titles end up getting talked about everywhere, be it because of their true merit, or some very good promotion, or some well-known names associated with them. There are many other deserving titles that get left out in the visibility-race. This website views every single book out there as being deserving of being ‘seen’ and celebrated.

PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 2 of 3

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Reader-less Books: Reading Habits of Indian Children ~ by Richa Jha

Part 2 of 3. (Read Part 1 here.)

There can be no one reason for the disinterest or the disconnect. But in most cases, it’s a combination of some of these factors below:

Are these stories for us?

We have consistently failed to write what our teenagers want to read. There is a commendable cultural, historical, socio-political and emotional depth in the kind and range of issues being tackled in the Indian YA books (terrorism, war, riots, child abuse, female infanticide). But unless having lived through these experiences, they are unlikely to grab a young adult’s attention. Where are the real here-and-now YA concerns of first love, sexual awakening, the tempting world of drugs and alcohol, pressures to perform or self discovery? Or, the gripping fantasy tales of good versus evil, written in blood as the adolescent battles the demons within and around? We are yet to create a genuinely pan-India super hero. Samit Basu’s Turbulence is the closest we can get to in this genre. India has just four or five good fantasy writers, and just as many who can write a light entertaining breezer. It’s about time our YA writing started loosening up.

Do we know them?

Reading is a natural progression from one stage to another. A first or second grader is hungry for books. The middle schoolers and young adults of today grew up with very few Indian titles available to them when they were younger, other than the more involved renditions of illustrated mythological tales and folk lore. That’s where the Enid Blyton books and the series like Bailey School Kids, Horrid Henry and Magic Tree House slipped in (and continue to slip in) to fill this natural gap. Before we know it, Geronimo has invaded the book shelves, and soon, there is a deluge of Potter and Wimpy Kid in the house. In the smaller towns, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew almost exclusively continue to hold sway over young minds. Try putting an Indian YA fiction in the teenager’s hand at this stage; you must be kidding if you expected success!

We like one, we want all:

A corollary to the previous point is the lack of series in India. A few do come to mind, like Payal Dhar’s A Shadow in Eternity Trilogy and Subhadra Sengupta’s Adventures of Foxy Four for young adults, or G S Dutt’s Adventures of Nikki for middle schoolers and Roopa Pai’s Taranauts for kids little younger than them. But these are few and far between. A good enough start, yes, but certainly not enough to feed the hunger of a book-devouring generation.

I’ll look like a dork if I read that Indian book while my friends read other cool books:

Did I hear someone say peer pressure? {to be continued on Dec. 5th}

Richa Jha is a writer and editor and, like many of us, nurtures an intense love for picture books. In her words:

I love picture books, and want the world to fall in love with them as well. My blog Snuggle With Picture Books is a natural extension of this madness. The Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of Indian picture books beginning to fill up the shelves in bookshops. It’s about time we had a dedicated platform to it. The idea behind the website is to try and feature every picture book (in English) out there in the Indian market. Usually, only a few titles end up getting talked about everywhere, be it because of their true merit, or some very good promotion, or some well-known names associated with them. There are many other deserving titles that get left out in the visibility-race. This website views every single book out there as being deserving of being ‘seen’ and celebrated.

PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

As our 10th Anniversary celebrations have come to a conclusion we are now back to our regularly scheduled blog programming so to speak. First up we are pleased to welcome Richa Jha  as our new  Global Voices Guest Blogger. Richa will be joining us here on the blog  for three consecutive Wednesdays (today, Nov 28th and Dec. 5th) and has written a wonderful piece for us:

Reader-less Books ~ by Richa Jha

Part 1 of 3.

Roll of Honour, a recent novel by Amandeep Sandhu is a gripping, haunting, disturbing page-turner. In many ways, it is also India’s first boldly written brutally honest crossover fiction. Set against the prominent backdrop of the Sikh militancy in the 1980s, it is a gritty account of a troubled adolescence and split loyalties at a military boarding school. A couple of years ago, I read Siddharth Sarma’s The Grasshopper’s Run in five straight hours, transfixed, glued to the pages. It’s an outstanding read (little surprise that it was picked up by Bloomsbury for international publication), with all the elements of good YA read: it’s fast paced, there’s friendship, deceit, loyalties, war, trauma, revenge, retribution. The depth and detailing – geographical, political and emotional (like in Roll of Honour) – is of an exceptionally high order. Books like these get noticed and talked about in India, for sure; they get rave reviews. And they win awards.

But the copies don’t sell; not the way they should, not to the readers they ought to. The young adults don’t go looking for these titles. So, what’s up with the reading habits of teenagers in India?

The good news: Indian urban children are reading for pleasure, and reading more than ever before. There are dedicated book festivals for children’s books, schools hold their own book weeks with the primary intent of getting kids to develop a lifelong affair with reading, the libraries at schools look well stocked where reading is encouraged as part of the school curriculum even outside those designated book weeks, and parents don’t mind spending on books. Head to any large bookstore in a metro, and you’ll find children’s books and teen fiction occupying a substantial (and impressive) shelf space. Families walk in, browse at leisure over coffee and brownies in the store café and walk out with big shopping bags. So far so good.

And now, we look inside those shopping bags for the bad news. If you’re lucky, you may find a book by an Indian author among a bunch of Gerenimo Stiltons, Wimpy Kids, Percy Jacksons or the Twilights. If this is your day like it’s never been before, you’ll hear that the Indian book is meant for personal consumption, and not as a birthday gift for a friend. Third time lucky? The child grabbed the copy himself and not upon his parents’ insistence.

That, in a nutshell, is what happens with most of our own books. So, our kids are devouring books, but the bulk of it is pretty much the reigning fads from the West. Much as I would love to be proved wrong, I’ll be surprised if we find our teenagers buying and reading a brilliant book like Roll of Honour. Out of choice. {to be continued on Nov. 28th}

 

 Richa Jha is a writer and editor and, like many of us, nurtures an intense love for picture books. In her words:

I love picture books, and want the world to fall in love with them as well. My blog  Snuggle With Picture Books is a natural extension of this madness. The Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of Indian picture books beginning to fill up the shelves in bookshops. It’s about time we had a dedicated platform to it. The idea behind the website is to try and feature every picture book (in English) out there in the Indian market. Usually, only a few titles end up getting talked about everywhere, be it because of their true merit, or some very good promotion, or some well-known names associated with them. There are many other deserving titles that get left out in the visibility-race. This website views every single book out there as being deserving of being ‘seen’ and celebrated.

 

The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan

Monday, September 24th, 2012

A few months ago while at my local library I came across a copy of the children’s book The Tiffin by Mahtab Narsimhan. I was running late and didn’t have time to read the book flap but because I was so intrigued by the cover I checked the book out. Later that night I began to read The Tiffin and was instantly hooked! Set in India the book tells the story of the rare time when a tiffin (a box lunch delivered by a dabbawalla) goes astray. The tiffin contained an important note which when lost results in devastating consequences. The Tiffin is a book that can be judged by it’s intriguing cover and I was up until the wee hours of the morning reading it from start to finish.

The next day, a wee bit sleep deprived, I spent some time on the computer researching the book and learning more about author Mahtab Narsimhan. Originally from Mumbai,  India, Narsimhan  now resides in Toronto, Canada.  The catalyst that started her writing career was a tragic one. In 2003, devasted by her father’s death she began to write down her thoughts and memories of their life in India.  These scribblings, along with her love for fantasy, morphed into the idea of writing a novel and her first book The Third Eye was published in 2007. Sequels The Silver Anklet followed in 2009 and The Deadly Conch in 2011. Narsimhan has also published two anthologies Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting Into Canada (Penguin Canada, 2010) and Her Mother’s Ashes Part 3 (TSAR Publications, 2009).

The Tiffin  has been nominated for several  awards and is shortlisted by the Canadian Library Association for the 2012 Book of the Year for Children Award.  If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend you add it to your “Must Read” list.  Check out this wonderful review of the book by West Vancouver librarian  Shannon Ozirny (who you may remember was the MC at the VCLR Serendipity Conference that Marj and I presented at in Vancouver early this year). Shannon’s review was printed in the November 2011 issue of Quill and Quire and is partially reprinted here with Quill and Quire’s permission.

The Tiffin
by Mahtab Narsimhan
(Dancing Cat Books, 2011)
Reviewed by Shannon Ozirny

In the context of children’s literature, the term “other worlds” often connotes places that are purely imaginary and only reachable by an enchanted cabinet or peculiarly numbered train platform. But Toronto-based, Silver Birch Award–winning author Mahtab Narsimhan (the Tara Trilogy) introduces children to the “other world” of the dabbawallas of her native Mumbai. Despite being very real and accessible by traditional modes of transport, this world will be just as awe-inspiring for North American young people as any fantasy realm could hope to be (click here to read more!)

And here is the book trailer

 

Tara Books’ Book Building

Monday, June 11th, 2012

During our time at the recent Bologna Children’s Book Fair Marjorie and I had a lovely visit with Gita Wolf and Maegan Chadwick-Dobson from Tara Books.  Tara Books is an award winning,  independent publisher of picture books for adults and children based in Chennai, South India. Founded by Gita in 1994, Tara Books consists of a dedicated group of writers, designers and artists who remain “fiercely independent” and who strive to publish books with the unique union of fine form and rich content. Tara Books sets itself apart from other publishers by truly offering readers a literary and visual feast and they are especially known for their children’s books created by tribal artists in the Gond, Patua and Mithila styles which are made entirely from hand  – from the paper to the printing and binding! Their book Waterlife by Rambharos Jha won the 2012 New Horizons Mention, BolognaRagazzi Awards and is PaperTigers’ Book of the Month.

Besides hearing about the latest Tara Book releases, Marjorie and I also learned more about their exciting new Book Building which just opened off Kuppam Beach Road in Thiruvanmiyur, South Chennai, India. After years of operating out of small rental places and not being able to adequately showcase their books, Tara Books embarked on an ambitious plan to construct a three storey, environmentally friendly building (80% solar powered) that would house all aspects of their business and would become an unique cultural space dedicated to exploring the form of the book.  In February 2012 Book Building opened its doors to much acclaim and fanfare! Book lovers and visual lovers of all ages are invited to come enjoy ongoing exhibitions, watch visual artists at work, participate in workshops, browse though books and art prints in the  bookstore, enjoy specially commissioned wall murals created by a range of Tara Book artists, and more!  Permanent exhibition highlights include Bhajju’s Mural, an original mural by Gond artist Bhajju Shyam (see PaperTigers’ gallery of his work here) on display in the outdoor gallery (images of the mural being painted can be seen here) and The Patua Pillar by Patua artists Manu and Swarna (images of the mural being painted can be seen here).

Book Building is open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 7:30pm and admission is free. To hear about upcoming activities including the launch of an exciting new annual Carnival of Books Festival and the inauguration of the children’s reading corner, visit Tara Books’ website or email your full contact details to mail(at)tarabooks(dot)com.

Week-end Book Review: Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray by Sukumar Ray

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Sukumar Ray, translated by Sampurna Chatterji
Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray
Puffin Classics (India), 2008.

Ages: 8+

Sukumar Ray was a Bengali writer born in Calcutta in 1887.   After being educated in India and England, he returned to his father’s printing press business U. Ray & Sons in Calcutta. At that time, the older Ray had begun publishing a children’s magazine called Sandesh. When Sukumar took over the press in 1915, he began to write for the magazine, producing poetry and stories, as well as illustrations for SandeshWordygurdyboom! is a collection of Ray’s writing and illustrations, translated from the original Bengali by Sampurna Chatterji. As noted in the introduction by Ruskin Bond, Bengali is a language that ‘lends itself to rhyme and rhythm, to puns and wordplay.’  Ray, influenced by the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, carved out his own unique style of verse in Bengali and, thanks to Sampurna Chatterji’s excellent translation, readers can really enjoy his ‘non-sensibility’ in this English anthology.

The book is made up of a selection of Ray’s writings which include poems, stories, and even a made-up hunting diary of a Professor Chuckleonymous. Throughout the book, strange creatures abound like the Limey Cow which is “not a cow, in fact it’s a bird” or the Billy Hawk calf who “is forbidden to laugh.”  There’s the Wonster who is a pining, whining, ‘nag-nag’ or the Pumpkin Grumpkin who looks like a walrus-manatee. In the poem Mish Mash, there are all manners of creatures combined to become such oddities as the ‘duckupine,’ the ‘elewhale’ or the ‘stortoise.”

In Ray’s stories, various odd characters appear like the calculating Raven of Haw-Jaw-Baw-Raw-Law or the mischievous school boy Dashu of “Dashu the Dotty One.” There’s Professor Globellius Brickbat who experiments with cannonballs made up of “nettle-juice, chilli-smoke, flea-fragrance, creeper-cordial, rotten-radish extract,” the result of which, as you can imagine, is not flattering to the appearance of the man post-experiment.

Wordygurdyboom! is a delightful collection of writing. What is astonishing, however, is the fact that this is a work of translation. Non-sense verse relies heavily on the nuances of language; that the Bengali could be translated into English in this manner is truly, as Bond points out, ‘deserving of a medal.’ Much credit has to be given to Sampurna Chatterji for bringing this lively, witty writer’s words into English for a new generation of readers to appreciate and enjoy.

Sally Ito
April 2012

Celebrate Diwali on October 26th!

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

On October 26th Hindus all over the world will be celebrating one of their most important festivals of the year: Diwali. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. To Hindus, darkness represents ignorance, and light is a metaphor for knowledge. Lighting a lamp symbolizes the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative forces. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus of all ages and during the festival celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.

If you are looking for children’s books about Diwali check out Chad Stephenson’s Personal View piece Diwali: The Hindu Festival of Lights, and the following PaperTigers’ blog posts:

Poetry Friday: About Diwali and its Poetic Origins in the Ramayana

Happy Diwali!

Diwali, Festival of Lights

Week-end Book Review: The Burmese Box by Lila Majumdar, translated by Srilata Banerjee

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Lila Majumdar, translated by Srilata Banerjee and with an introduction by Subhadra Sen Gupta,
The Burmese Box: Two Novellas
Puffin Classics (India), 2010.

Ages 9-12

Lila Majumdar is one of India’s best loved children’s authors, and it is clear from reading the glowing introduction by accomplished writer Subhadra Sen Gupta that she has shaped the imaginations of Bengali-speaking children for generations. Translations of her exciting stories are long overdue, and fortunately, her granddaughter and translator Srilata Bannerjee agrees.

Reading The Burmese Box and Goopy’s Secret Diary (the other novella contained in the collection) as an adult is like rediscovering a long lost childhood friend that I never actually met. The stories are fast-paced and exciting with little time wasted on set-up and exposition for, as Banerjee states in a translator’s note, “no child appreciates long-term planning.” These stories take place over no more than a day or two (despite harking back, in the case of The Burmese Box, to a family legend more than a hundred years old) and are filled with plot twists, remarkably eccentric relatives, bungling grown-ups, and the accompanying confusion so natural to childhood.

In both stories, a boy protagonist of about 11 gets pulled into the intrigue of missing jewels and family legends. At first the boys are excited for adventure, but doubt settles in once it is too late to back out and the possibility of real danger looms. What will become of the treasure? Who are the thieves? Why don’t the adults see the obvious? And what exactly is going on here anyway?

The protagonists encounter dream advice from long dead ancestors, secret tunnels in dilapidated mansions, carnivorous cows, and plenty of shifty characters, but everything turns out okay in the end. It would seem that disaster is averted thanks to the innocence and integrity the young heroes retain. Grown-ups who might have mucked up the situation never receive the necessary knowledge to carry out their plans, and justice—no, not justice but something even more important, fairness—prevails.

There will be some challenges for children not familiar with Bengali culture and family relationships as the terms for different relatives are very complicated to those of us used to the English system. Nonetheless, the book kept my eight-year-old son (who preferred Goopy’s Secret Diary) enthralled. I had to wrest it back from him in order to write this review! Fortunately, explanatory notes are included at the end of the book along with biographical data, “Things to Think About”, and a translator’s note that is particularly special considering the translator’s relationship to the author. The Burmese Box is destined to become a classic once again, this time in English.

Abigail Sawyer
August 2011