PaperTigers 10th Anniversary Extra! Top 10 Multi-Cultural Picture Books by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Just when we thought the party was over, hooray, thanks to a computer glitch (and with sincere apologies to Cynthia that her wonderful list got caught up in a computer saga too long to go into here), we are more than delighted to bring you a Top Ten of Favorite multicultural picture books from acclaimed author and blogger extraordinaire Cynthia Leitich Smith – and we know you’ll love it too.

Cynthia’s most recent YA book is Diabolical (Candlewick Press, 2012), the fourth novel in her best-selling “Tantalize” gothic fantasy series that also includes the graphic novel Tantalize: Kieren’s Story illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick Press, 2011).  Cynthia’s first YA novel was Rain is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), and her picture books include Jingle Dancer (HarperCollins, 2000) and  Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002), which like PaperTigers celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year. She has also co-authored the hilarious Santa Knows with her husband Greg Leitich Smith (illustrated by Steve Bjorkman; Dutton, 2006).

Cynthia has a vibrant website where you can find out all about her own writing and also explore invaluable resources about children’s and YA literature, including  a comprehensive celebration of diversity – and this is complimented by her sensational Cynsations blog, jam-pack full of kidlit news, author interviews, giveaways and more.

So on this day of Thanksgiving in the US, let’s say a big thank you to all those who enrich the lives of young people and the young at heart through their books; and a special thank you to Cynthia, alongside my apologies, for enabling us to continue our 10th Anniversary celebrations a little longer…

10 Favorite Multi-Cultural Picture Books by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos Press, 2006)

Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Big Heart by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raul Colon (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005)

~ Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders (Little, Brown, 1998)

~ Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Henry Holt, 2006)

~ Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani, illustrated by Elena Gomez (Little, Brown, 2007)

~ Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003)

~ Muskrat Will Be Swimming by Cheryl Savageau, illustrated by Robert Hynes, featuring Joseph Bruchac (Rising Moon, 1996)

~ The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Putnam, 2001)

~ Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden, illustrated by Don Tate (Dutton, 2009)

~ Yo? Yes! by Chris Raschka (Scholastic, 2007)

PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: Uma Krishnaswami’s Top 10 AND a Quick Chat

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

One of the books in our recently announced 2012 Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set is the gorgeous Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by the almost-same-named Uma Krishnaswami (author) and Uma Krishnaswamy (illustrator).   I interviewed Author-Uma last year about her hugely entertaining The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, so I caught up with her this last month to ask her a couple of questions about Out of the Way! Out of the Way!, originally published in India by Tulika Books and published this year by Groundwood Books.  (You can read about Illustrator-Uma’s experience creating the book in the Q&A for our Gallery feature of her work.)

Welcome back to the PaperTigers blog, Uma.  What does Out of the Way! Out of the Way! mean to you?

I never understand what a book means to me until quite some time after it’s been published.  I can’t seem to think of it in that way until I’ve gained some distance from the project. On the surface, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! is a simple story, and I am often drawn to simple stories, especially those in which a single action has far-reaching consequences. At another level I suppose it represents my Pollyanna attempt to make things right in this world. In the reality we all inhabit, let’s face it, most of the time, when development demands a road, trees generally lose out. I started out by thinking of the face-off we see so often between human sprawl and green, growing things. The story grew and changed over many revisions and especially over the editorial process at Tulika Books. In the end it became a response to that conflict, questioning it and offering another view.

If you could send it anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

Well, I’d want to send it to communities on the edges of cities, places where green habitats are rapidly being eaten up by concrete blocks and uncontrolled roads. Places where children and the adults who care for them might feel inspired to look at their environment and begin asking questions about whether and how it’s being sustained. I’m very grateful to Groundwood Books for bringing this book to North America, and to PaperTigers for selecting this title and making it possible for such conversations to take place.

Also, because it was first published in India by the wonderful Tulika Books in English and in eight Indian languages, I’d really like to see sets of regional language editions of the book sent to schools and NGOs in India, in communities where children learn to read in languages other than English.

Thank you, Uma.  You can keep up to date with Uma at her wonderful blog Writing With a Broken Tusk, as well as her website, which currently highlights Out of the Way! Out of the Way! on its landing page.  But don’t go away just yet – the good news is that Uma also has a list of ten favorite  books to share with us for our 10th Anniversary Top 10 series.

A Top 10 of Multicultural favourites by Uma Krishnaswami

I had to think about this. It was difficult to stop at ten!  This list is in no particular order, and includes books across the age range.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Amadi’s Snowman by Katia Novet Saint-Lot

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Nabeel’s New Pants by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Proiti Roy (originally published by Tulika Books, India as Ismat’s Eid)

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Tiger on a Tree by Anuskha Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas

Waiting for Mama by Tae-Joon Lee, illustrated by Dong-Sung Kim


I’ve spotted some of my own favorites in Uma’s list too… What about you?  And if you would like to send us a Top 10 of your favorite multicultural books from any genre or theme (we’ll also accept a Reader’s Ten – see Janet Wong’s selection for an explanation), just email me your list to marjoreATpapertigersDOTorg.

Announcing the Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set 2012

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

We are very proud to announce the new book set for our Spirit of PaperTigers Outreach Programme. This year we have selected four books in total: three books that will be sent to all the schools and libraries around the world participating in the Spirit of PaperTigers Outreach, and one more that will go to certain places that have older students. So, without further ado, the books are:

Out of the Way! Out of the Way!
by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
(first published by Tulika Books, 2010; Groundwood Books, 2012)

Yuko-Chan and the Daruma Doll: The Adventures of a Blind Japanese Girl Who Saves Her Village
by Sunny Seki
(Tuttle Publishing, 2012)

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough
by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault
(Kids Can Press, 2010)

Drawing from Memory
by Allen Say
(Scholastic Press, 2011)

You can read more about the books with more links to PaperTigers features here, and the 2012 Book Set also features on the homepage of the PaperTigers website.

2012 South Asia Book Award Winners Announced!

Friday, August 10th, 2012

The South Asia Book Award, administered by the South Asia National Outreach Consortium, is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature, from early childhood to secondary reading levels, which accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diasporas, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world. Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books will also be recognized by the award committee for their contribution to this body of literature on the region.

PaperTigers congratulates the recently announced 2012 South Asia Book Award winners:

2012 WinnersBook Cover for Island's End

book cover

Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Henry Holt and Company, 2011). Pen Pals Elliot and Kailash discover that even though they live in different countries—America and India—they both love to climb trees, own pets, and ride school buses (Grade 5 & under).

Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2011). A young girl trains to be the new spiritual leader of her remote Andaman Island tribe, while facing increasing threats from the modern world(Grade 6 & above).

2012 Honor Books


Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni, illustrations by Moyna Chitrakar (Groundwood Books, 2011). The  Ramayana, one of the greatest legends of ancient India, is presented in the form of a visually stunning and gripping graphic novel, told from the perspective of the queen, Sita (Grade 6 & above).

Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi and Gita Wolf (Tara Books Pvt. Ltd, 2010). Following My Paint Brush is the story of Dulari Devi, a domestic helper who went on to become an artist in the Mithila style of folk painting from Bihar, eastern India (Grade 5 & under).

No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, 2011). Valli has always been afraid of the people with leprosy living on the other side of the train tracks in the coal town of Jharia, India, so when aa encounter with a doctor reveals she too has the disease, Valli rejects help and begins a life on the streets. (Grade 6 & above).

Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan (Simon & Schuster, 2011). In 1919, independent-minded Rosalind lives in India with her English parents, and when they fear she has fallen in with some rebellious types who believe in Indian self-government, she is sent “home” to London, where she has never been before and where her older brother died, to stay with her two aunts (Grade 6 & above)

  2012 Highly Commended Books

Beyond Bullets: A Photo Journal of Afghanistan by Rafal Gerszak with Dawn Hunter (Annick Press, 2011). Award-winning photographer Rafal Gerszak spent a year embedded with the American troops in Afghanistan to bear witness to its people, culture, and the impact of war (Grade 6 & above).

The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World by Shahrukh Husain, illustrations by Micha Archer (Barefoot Books, 2011). Meet Mulla Nasruddin, a legendary character whose adventures and misadventures are enjoyed across the Islamic world (Grade 5 & under).

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2011). Eleven-year-old Dini loves movies, and so when she learns that her family is moving to India for two years, her devastation over leaving her best friend in Maryland is tempered by the possibility of meeting her favorite actress, Dolly Singh (Grade 6 & up).

 Karma by Cathy Ostlere (Razorbill, Penguin Group, 2011). Written in free verse poems in a diary format, this novel straddles two countries and the clash of Indian cultures in the tale of 15-year-old Maya (Grade 6 & up).

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (Scholastic Inc., 2011). Zulaikha, a thirteen-year-old girl in Afghanistan, faces a series of frightening but exhilarating changes in her life as she defies her father and secretly meets with an old woman who teaches her to read, her older sister gets married, and American troops offer her surgery to fix her disfiguring cleft lip (Grade 6 & up).

The 2012 South Asia Book Award Ceremony will be held in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, October 13, 2012. For more details on the ceremony click here. For additional award information including submission guidelines for 2013, click here.

PaperTigers’ Global Voices feature with award winning author Holly Thompson (USA/Japan)~ Part 2

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

English-language Asia-set Children’s and YA Fiction ~ by Holly Thompson

Part 2 of 3 (read Part 1 here)

Some years back as we settled into our bicultural family life with young children here in Japan, although we were surrounded by books in Japanese and took full advantage of Japan’s healthy picture book and middle-grade market, we discovered that finding English-language reading material to support our bilingual children was no easy task. Because our children attended Japanese schools, English education happened in our home, and we needed a steady supply of English-language books. But libraries in Japan stock few English-language books, and bookstores here carry very few and at hefty mark-ups, so whenever friends or family visited from the U.S. they brought books to us. Returning from a trip back to the States, our luggage was always heavy with books. We book-swapped with families in Japan, we ordered from Scholastic with our English-after school group, and we pounced on book sale tables at international school fairs. At last, Amazon Japan with free and quick delivery of affordable overseas books came to the rescue.

Always on the lookout for books relating to our lives while raising our bilingual children, we soon became aware of a lack of English-language children’s books that reflect Japan. English-language picture books set in Japan were rare, and those that existed, we discovered, tended toward folktales and nonfiction. Where were the day-to-day stories that reflected the landscapes and people and value systems surrounding us? Where was Japan?

We treasured our Allen Say books, especially Kamishibai Man and Grandfather’s Journey.

We read and reread the bilingual Grandpa’s Town by Takaaki Nomura. We enjoyed folktale retellings like The Seven Gods of Luck by David Kudler and Yoshi’s Feast by Kimiko Kajikawa. and biographical works like Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs by Matthew Gollub. All excellent, but we were discouraged that such English-language titles set in Japan were few and far between.

Searching for other Asian cultures in English-language picture books yielded similar results—folktales, nonfiction and concept books, but few fictional stories set in Asia.

As the children grew older, we came to realize that even less common than English-language picture books set in Asia were English-language middle-grade and YA novels set in Japan and Asia. What we found was mostly historical fiction. Of course we read and loved Korea-set historical novels by Linda Sue Park, Japan-set novels by Lensey Namioka such as Island of Ogres, Geraldine McCaughrean’s China-set The Kite Rider, and Minfong Ho’s Cambodia/Thailand-set The Clay Marble. We had our antennae out searching for Asia-set stories, and this 2009 blog post by librarian and children’s literature specialist Jenny Schwartzburg lists many of the titles we discovered.

But we wanted more. Contemporary realism in all its guises. Fantasy. Humor. Mysteries. Sci-Fi. The full spectrum. We wanted the ordinary everyday life of tweens and teens in Japan and Asia in English. Translations (to be addressed in Part 3 of this 3-part series) would seem to be the solution, but there are so few Japanese, and more broadly, so few Asian children’s and YA books translated into English that our choices were extremely limited.

At long last, though a bit late for our grown children, I think we are beginning to see an upswing. More English-language children’s and YA fiction titles set in Asia, are being published and winning awards. And these are being written not just by authors with limited, surface experience in Asia, but by those with solid footing in Asia such as Candy Gourlay (Tall Story), Mitali Perkins(Bamboo People), and Uma Krishnaswami (The Grand Plan to Fix Everything).

And in many parts of Asia there are laudable efforts in place to nurture English-language, as well as local-language, writers. There are now professional organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators providing networks and mentoring for English-language writers and illustrators in Asia. There are conferences such as Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content, the Japan Writers Conference, the Manila International Literary Festival, and Asia Pacific Writers, which will hold its third summit this year in Bangkok. We now have the Scholastic Asian Book Award and the new SingTel Asian Picture Book Award. There are creative writing MFA programs in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and AsiaWrites now announces residencies and opportunities. These are welcomed developments for the future of Asia-set and Asia-related books for children and young adults. Hurrah! An Asia-grown literature boom is long overdue.

Why is it so important to cultivate English-language writers in Asia? Because not only do the vast numbers of English-language readers in Asia need to find Asia in all its manifestations in the books they read, but English-language readers around the world need the opportunity to set foot in the different universes of Asia through literature.

When books are published these days, they travel the world. A book, like a website, goes abroad. A children’s or YA book in English does not only communicate with readers in the country in which it is published but it speaks to English-language readers wherever it may travel. Let’s hope that English-language publishers everywhere will come to realize that Asia, with its huge, diverse and growing population, deserves greater attention and more playing time through Asia-set fiction for children and teens.

Holly Thompson was raised in New England and is a longtime resident of Japan. Her verse novel Orchards(Delacorte/Random House) won the 2012 APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature  and is a YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults title. She recently edited Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories (Stone Bridge Press), and her next verse novel The Language Inside (Delacorte/Random House) will be published in 2013. She teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University and serves as the regional advisor of the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Visit her website: www.hatbooks.comPart 3 of her series will be posted here on the PaperTigers’s blog on May 30. Part 1 can be read here.


Asian Festival of Children’s Content Announces Two Asian Book Awards!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

PaperTigers is a proud sponsor of the 2012 Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC)  which will take place May 26 – 29 at The Arts House in Singapore.  Lots of exciting events are planned this year; check out the featured speakers and programme by clicking here and the 2012 AFCC trailer here. As well organizers have just released the following information about two Asian Book Awards for children’s literature!

Asian Festival of Children’s Content Announces 2 Asian Book Awards

Asian Content for the World’s Children

 Singapore, 27 April 2012– Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) 2012 announces two Asian Book Awards, Scholastic Asian Book Award and SingTel Picture Book Award.

The Scholastic Asian Book Award is a joint initiative of the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) and Scholastic Asia to recognise excellence in Asian children’s fiction. In its 2nd edition, this award showcases the diversity of literary talent within Asia and inspires more Asian-themed books and stories.

The winning manuscript will receive a prize of S$10,000 at the award presentation ceremony on 29 May 2012 during this Festival. It will also be considered for publication by Scholastic Asia. The four nominations for the Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA) 2012 are, Bungee Cord Hair by Ching Yeung Russell (US), Double Take by Katherine Seow (Singapore), Hidden in Plain Sight by Ang Su-Lin (Singapore) and The Locked Up Boy by  Pauline Loh Tuan Lee (Singapore).

The judges for the SABA 2012 are, Chief Judge Nury Vittachi (Hong Kong), Ken Spillman (Australia), Helen McAleer (United Kingdom), Sayoni Basu (India) and Naomi Kojima (Japan).

In 2011, the winning manuscript was from Uma Krishnaswami, titled, ‘Book Uncle and Me’. Uma will be giving a talk during the Parents’ Forum on ‘Using Multicultural Books to Teach Your Child About the World We Live In’. The first runner up was Marjorie Sayer for the novel ‘The Girl Mechanic of Wanzhou’. [N.B. Papertigers’ former editor Aline Pereira was a judge for the 2011 award. Read about her experiences here and see photos from the event here].

Ovidia Yu’s story ‘The Mudskipper’ was the second runner up in the Scholastic Asian Book Award 2011 and will launch at this press conference. ‘The Mudskipper’ has reached the publication stage and will be available at the Festival. Based in Singapore, Ovidia Yu is an award-winning novelist and short-story writer whose plays have been performed locally and abroad. ‘The Mudskipper’ is her first book for children.

AFCC also introduces the inaugural SingTel Asian Picture Book Award. This Award will be presented annually for an outstanding unpublished picture book with a distinctly Asian theme offering a total of S$10,000 for the First Prize consisting of S$5,000 for an author and S$5,000 for an illustrator.

The first award will be given in AFCC 2013. Submissions are now open till 31st December 2012.

This Award aims to inspire the publication of and to propel public’s interest and support for more Asian-themed picture books.

Reading the World Challenge 2011 – Update 3

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Since my last update on this year’s PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge, we have added some great books to our list.

Together, we have read two new autobiographical picture books: Allen Say’s Drawing from Memory (Scholastic, 2011) and Ed Young’s The House Baba Built (Little, Brown and Company, 2011) – both wonderful, and I’m not going to say much more about them here as we will be featuring both of them more fully on PaperTigers soon. Those are our reading-together non-fiction books for the Challenge.

As our local book, we tried reading a book of folk tales from the North York Moors, where we live in the UK, but discovered the stories formed part of a tourist guide, including instructions for getting around… we extracted what we could but it wasn’t a very satisfactory read. It has made us not take beautifully illustrated and retold folk tales for granted!

Older Brother has read Rainbow World: Poems from Many Cultures edited by Bashabi Fraser and Debjani Chatterjee , and illustrated by Kelly Waldek (Hodder Children’s Books, 2003).  He dipped in and out of it through the summer break and we had to renew it from the library several times…

Older Brother has also been totally captivated by A Thousand Cranes: Origami Projects for Peace and Happiness. After reading the story of Sadako for the Reading Challenge way back in its first year, he’s wanted to know how to make the cranes but I have two left hands when it comes to origami – or at least I thought I did, until I received a review copy of A Thousand Cranes from Stone Bridge Press.  Recently revised and expanded from the original book by renowned origami expert Florence Temko, it’s a super little book, with good clear instructions for beginners like us, and giving background about both the offering of a thousand origami cranes as a symbol of longevity, and specifically the story of Sadako and the Thousand Cranes.  Older Brother, now that he is older, (more…)

Scholastic Asian Book Award 2012 – Submissions deadline 17 October

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The deadline for submissions to the 2012 Scholastic Asian Book Award is just under a month away, on 17 October 2011 – 5.00p.m. Singapore time.

The National Book Development Council of Singapore and Scholastic Asia have jointly launched the 2012 Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA). The award will recognise Asians and writers in Asia who are taking the experiences of life, spirit and thinking in different parts of Asia to the world at large. SABA is awarded to an unpublished manuscript (original or translation) targeted at children of ages 6 to 12 years.

This year’s inaugural award was won by Uma Krishnaswami and we can’t wait to see the book. Former Managing Editor of PaperTigers Aline Pereira was one of the judges: read about her Personal View about the Award and the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, where the Award Announcement was made.

For more information, visit the SABA website.

The 2011 Asian Festival of Children’s Content and its Bounties by Aline Pereira

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Aline Pereira is an independent writer, editor and media consultant specializing in multicultural children’s books, and until January this year, she was Managing Editor of PaperTigers, a post she had held since 2004. So we are very happy to welcome her back with a Personal View she wrote following her attendance of the Asian Festival of Asian Content in Singapore in May.

Aline had a special part to play in the Festival as she was one of the judges for the inaugural Scholastic Asian Book Award, along with “Chief Judge Nury Vittachi, journalist and Hong Kong’s best-selling English language author; Anushka Ravishankar, award-winning children’s poet and author (India); John McKenzie, principal lecturer at the School of Literacies and Arts in Education at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand); and literary agent Kelly Sonnack (Kelly grew up in Singapore), from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (US).”

In her article, Aline shares with us her impressions of the Festival as a whole, and gives us a peek behind the scenes of the award. You can read the whole article here – and here are a couple of extracts to whet your appetite.

The big picture

A consistent thread seemed to run through a good number of the panels and sessions, as well as through informal conversations: “There are plenty of valid ways to produce and deliver a book”. This naturally led to discussions about the enormous changes the publishing world has gone through in the last decade or so, and all the things that have played a part in these changes. And to think that there was a time, not long ago, when people believed the Internet was a passing fad… Now one can only ignore the internet, social media and digital platforms at one’s peril. Without a doubt, these new technologies have affected the way children’s books are acquired, published and marketed, but one of the many things I came away with from those sessions and conversations was that having these new tools, platforms and processes is simply a means, not the end goal. Without losing sight of readers’ needs, the end goal continues to be finding ways to foster the creation, reception, and dissemination of a diverse children’s literature in all genres, mediums and platforms. When it comes to bringing children and books together, it should never be an either/or scenario, but a “the more, the better” one. After all, why get territorial and deaf to voices (platforms, devices) that are not our own? With regards to Asian content, AFCC was a call to join forces in that effort.

One of my favorite sessions was presented by US publisher Neal Porter (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press) on which types of books travel well to other countries, which don’t, and why. He calls himself (more…)

Week-end Book Review: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Abigail Halpin,
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Atheneum, 2011.

Age: 9+

In her exuberant new book, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, award-winning writer Uma Krishnaswami uses the novel form itself to deconstruct film-making, especially plot development. In the process she creates layers of plot fun for ‘tween girl readers.

Best friends Maddie and Dini are separated when Dini’s physician mom gets a chance to return to India for two years. Through internet and mobile phone technology and her dad’s computer skills, Dini stays connected to Maddie, back in the States, while she attempts to realize their dream scheme: to meet their idol, Bollywood “fillum” star Dolly Singh. Plot reversals abound, of course, but thanks to a conscientious postal worker, an Indian girl with a talent for sound effects, Dini’s tolerant if clueless parents, a bakery that puts chocolate in curry puffs, a singing electric car, and even a goat-herder, not to mention the characters and crises in Dolly’s career and love life, Dini’s dream of meeting Dolly more than comes true.

Dini knows that there is something mysterious about how everything works out in Dolly’s fillums, but orchestrating to her purposes the characters in Krishnaswami’s fictional Indian hill town, Swapnagiri (Dream Mountain), is a big challenge for an 11-year-old–even after Dini learns that Dolly is staying in the very same town. However precocious and however loyal a fan Dini is, she needs vision, luck, courage, energy—and kismet!—to realize her dream. Patterning herself on Dolly in her fillums, Dini aspires to have everything come out right, every dream come true.

Abigail Halpin‘s humorous black-and-white drawings and cover illustration give just the right amount of visual suggestion to young imaginations. Krishnaswami’s lively plot exudes entertaining references. No mention of Mumbai passes without reference to fillum people who still call the city Bombay, for example. Dini’s puzzlement about a grip’s role on a film becomes an extended joke. Her dad’s penchant for nifty phrases introduces homespun English idioms. As Dini follows Dolly’s musical advice to “Sunno-sunno, dekho-dekho” (listen-listen, look-look), she becomes part of the Swapnagiri community and everything does come out right. Krishnaswami’s brilliant, multilayered book will delight her readers. Younger ones will love the story for itself, while older girls will also appreciate her nuanced message, plot dissection, and linguistic in-jokes.

Charlotte Richardson
June 2011