“Miaow! I am Chikki” says the turquoise cat on the first page of Kavita Singh Kale’s Avneet Aunty’s Mobile Phone. Chikki’s pink tongue laps at a bowl of milk; a red hand tickles her tummy; her whiskers extend from two rosy round cheeks. On the following page, we meet Gagan, a boy dressed in red polka dots and lying on an orange bed, his turquoise hat the color of his cat. By the third page, when Gagan’s grandmother appears in burgundy and pink on a purple carpet, a stairway winding up the orange wall behind her, there is no doubt that we’re in India.
And we’re prepared, a little, for the mad arrival of Avneet aunty, her pink scarf and white braid flying behind her as she rushes past Gagan and Chikki, her mouth open, her teeth showing, her glasses askew almost down to her nose ring. We’re hardly surprised when her curly-toed shoe lands on poor Chikki’s tail.
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Avneet aunty is a gregarious sort, a lady who is never without her mobile phone. Good luck on Gagan and Chikki getting to hear the story his grandmother had promised to tell them. Avneet aunty only stops talking when her phone rings, and then only to begin talking again. There’s a scary moment when Chikki sails over Avneet aunty in a game of tag with Gagan, and the phone goes sailing too. Crash! But all is well, of course, in the end, in this delightfully wacky picture book.
Animation film designer Kale’s exuberant illustrations will bring characters and setting vividly alive for young children, Indian or western. The spare text, 149 words in English, the equally terse Hindi below, adds to the exoticness of her remarkable little treasure.
Tulika Publishers, based in Chennai, India, specializes in bilingual books for children, with books in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, and Bangla. Avneet Aunty’s Mobile Phone is published in five bilingual editions (English with Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Bangla, and Hindi). It’s exciting to have a window into the multi-dimensional cultural world that Indian children experience through Tulika books. And who would have thought a western pre-schooler’s first bilingual English-Hindi book might be about a goofy lady’s cell phone?