children’s books

No Child’s Play

There is something exquisite about children’s books. There’s joy and wonder in the discovery of new things. There’s unbounded love. Most importantly, there’s the tremendous responsibility of nurturing and molding young minds. Shouldn’t that make reading children’s books a great learning experience?

This post is a review of a famous children’s book, Pollyanna, written by Eleanor H Porter, and a book of compiled letters to Indira Nehru, Letters from a Father to His Daughter, by the inimitable Jawaharlal Nehru.

18502

The ever so happy Pollyanna

Pollyanna is a book about the little child, Pollyanna, who is glad about everything under the sun. She is the person behind the adjective Pollyanna or pollyanaish. If she finds nothing to be glad about, under the sun, then she just digs deeper till she hits the goldmine of gladness. She’s a delight. She’s a great person to introduce to children, especially in times such as this (cue dramatic music), because she is an embodiment of hope and joy, and possesses the power to transform even the grumpiest of people.

However, since I am, I think, an adult, I didn’t find Pollyanna to be enlightening or even cute. In fact, I felt intensely sorry for her. What would ever happen to her when she grew up and saw the purple flowers, like Celie did far into her adulthood? I would definitely not want to witness her bubble bursting. Of course, when reading a children’s book, one is supposed to wear one’s most childish pajamas. But, try as I might, I couldn’t pretend not to be an adult when I read this book. Besides, it also didn’t help that I am biased towards books that are based on plausible dystopias rather than books that are desperately trying to be about a utopia.

Apart from the main selling point of the book, I also disliked the way it is written. I had always thought that writers before the mid 20th century were very conscious of their grammar and punctuation. But, it turns out, I’m wrong. Porter has unfortunately used big shouty letters to emphasise words, rather than effectively use simple words.

If you’re a child under 10, or know a child that young, gift him or her this book. It will act as a balm when he or she ever feels let down by their worlds. I’d root for Black Beauty and Heidi though, instead. Anyway, if you’re an adult, it’s a 2/5.

indira2

Young Indira Nehru

Pollyanna doesn’t make for a great present to a 10 year old, but Letters from a Father to His Daughter does! The book is a compilation of letters that were written by Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter, Indira Nehru, who would go on to become the first female prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi. The letters were written with love and devotion, and published with the hope that “such of them as read these letters may gradually begin to think of this world of ours as a large family of nations“.

The letters cover the creation of the earth, evolution of life and man through civilisations, stratifications based on race, gender, caste, class, creation of social institutions, and their relevance today*. The simple language and the breadth of information compressed is wonderful. It made me appreciate the exceptional talent every parent must possess to answer their children’s infinite queries.

What stood out in the letters was the lack of sermons. Nehru treats little Indira as an intelligent person. There’s the glow of constant engagement between father and daughter; as if her education never ceases and as if she was always thirsty for more. Nehru emphasizes, in the first letter in the compilation, that to truly understand the world, it is important for Indira to step out of her comfort zone. “If we want to know something about the story of this world of ours we must think of all the countries and all the peoples that have inhabited it, and not merely of one little country where we may have been born,” he wrote. We also see Indira being groomed as a world leader, a humanist. Nehru’s words are timeless. He wrote, “As Indians we have to live in India and work for India. But we must not forget the world and the people living in other countries are after all our cousins. It would be such an excellent thing if all the people in the world were happy and contented. We have therefore to try to make the whole world a happier place to live in.

As an adult (clears throat), I had a good time reading the book. The book gave me an idea or two on how to smother my little nephew with love and be an overbearing aunt at the same time. I thought the book could have packed in more illustrations, though, seeing as the ones that made the cut into the book are as pretty as they are. Also, in some parts of the book, I had an undesirable urge to argue with Nehru on some of his ideas. But, even so, the letters don’t truly belong to any school of thought, per se, and the book is an enjoyable and age-appropriate read throughout.

If you’re a young child of 8-12, this book can be rated 5/5. For a person older than that, however, the book comes close to 4/5, for its simplicity, its power through knowledge and, also, by being the book that possibly shaped the life of one of the most prominent leaders of the world’s largest democracy.

Children’s books are a thing of beauty, and I have realised through the act of critiquing them, that they’re tricky and a joy to read. Nevertheless, I figure, children’s books are no child’s play.


Feature image: Aaron Shikler’s painting of a young JFK.

Advertisements

Wonder

This is a review of Wonder by R J Palacio.

81zdsfzjh2bl

August Pullman is not ordinary. He was born with a facial deformity. He has been home schooled till now, owing to the numerous surgeries that he needed. But now he’s about to attend fifth grade in a school near his home. He’s nervous because he knows that he’s not ordinary, at all.

Wonder is narrated by Auggie, his friends, his sister Olivia, and her friends. Each has a slightly different style of narration, believable and authentic. Auggie is smart, kind, and understands that he stands out in a crowd. He’s pragmatic and doesn’t seek to play the victim card, ever. His sister, as a teenager, is also incredibly supportive (but also acts her age, to balance out the halo on her head). His parents are god sends – perfect.

Auggie is intelligent and is a loner. He gets good grades and makes few friends because he’s not very popular. The school bully (and most popular kid), though, dislikes him, and keeps trying to pull him down. He also gets the kids to play horrible games on Auggie. August, though, does have a couple of friends who stand up for him. They simply believe that it’s the right thing to do, not brave or kind, but just right.

The book is warm. For a protagonist like August, who has to deal with insensitive bullies, the book could have been made more mushy. But it’s not. You don’t feel bad for Auggie. He also tells you, subtly, that you don’t get a pretty ribbon or badge for being nice to people with deformities (or disabilities, I might add); you only don’t get called an arsehole.

It’s not really a book for adults. But I know a lot of adults who can learn a lesson or two from it. Anyway, Wonder is my book recommendation for young adults and children. 4/5.

Urban Hikes and Nosey Kids

Welcome to Throwback Thursday!

This is my review (in retrospect) of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

So in my uber-posh city “urban hiking” is an acceptable, non-lame hobby. I say acceptable, because it seems like something the next-road-aunties(TM) in India would do. Of course, it’s “acceptable” here, too. But it’s at least not out in the open? I’m rambling.

So basically, in urban hiking, you walk around the prettier parts of the city and admire rich people’s houses/gardens. And this process reminded me of Harriet the Spy.

Yes, that train of thought DID have a destination.

Harriet the Spy is a children’s novel about a young, possibly over-smart girl whose major hobby is ‘observing’ her neighbours- basically, spying on them through their blinds/skylights/assorted peepholes. She writes her opinions on them, and everyone else she knows, in a series of Books that she has painstakingly maintained since she was old enough to write. Shit hits the fan when her friend finds and reads the Book. Turns out people don’t like honesty.

The book is pretty interesting because it paints a clear portrait of her family and society- rich and kind of snobby. But Harriet herself is blissfully oblivious to everything but her little game. She is jolted out of her comfortable world when her nanny (finally) moves on.  And also when her class at school begins to ostracize her when they read her Book.

As far as children’s books go, this is pretty unique. It’s gritty and touches on topics that a preteen might not understand, let alone think about. As an adult, though, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a fan of gloomy, uneventful books. But then again, maybe you are!

Movie Adaptations, Morals in Children’s Books, etc

Firstly: Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility movie.

I haven’t read this classic by Jane Austen, despite liking Pride and Prejudice. But Emma Thompson won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for this one, and I wanted to understand what exactly goes into adapting a screenplay. I mean, Austen did all the work already didn’t she? Plus, it’s Ang Lee’s first English language movie and he is all famous now.

I’ve concluded that there are only a dozen active British actors. You see them once in a while in Hollywood movies, but whenever any big budget Brit movie is made, they congregate into one star-studded lineup. This is no different. Emma Thompson (Professor Trelawney), Kate Winslet (from that sinking ship movie) and Hugh Grant (from all those chick flicks) play the main roles. And Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) is one of the romantic heroes!!

The story has the typical Austen-esque drama- “He talked to me, but he is already engaged!”. But the characters are not as cartoon-y as the book, I think.

All in all, a well made movie especially if you’re a fan of the genre or can appreciate the subtleties of good direction and acting.

Secondly: CS Lewis’s Narnia series, and what he really meant.

The Narnia series is widely accepted to be a Christian allegory, with King Aslan playing the role of Jesus. The question, then, is what does Susan’s situation signify? As a kid, it never bothered me one way or another. She enters the magic kingdom along with her brothers and sisters, and in due turn, is banned from it when she becomes ‘too old’. However, she does not return at the end of the series even though her older brother Peter does. This is attributed to the fact that she has ‘discovered lipstick’ and is interested in socializing. Which is still okay, until you realize that she’s being punished pretty severely for these ‘mistakes’- her entire family dies in a train crash at the end of book seven. Harsh. Reddit has discussed different interpretations here, give it a look if you’re familiar with the series and curious. As always, Reddit’s infamous hive-mind has come up with some amazing stuff.