Friday, April 29, 2016

History is a Mystery!

For today’s kids, it’s all about packaging!  Be it food, school, homework or daily routine activities…….they have to be jazzed up and made fun for them to want to do them! Well…we parents have to learn early that a direct approach can get us nowhere and the presentation is the key!

Staying on the subject of history, while "Children's History of India" (reviewed previously) makes for a great non-fiction read,  not many kids take to non-fiction as well as fiction. So the ideal way to get the latter to improve upon their knowledge quotient is to have them read books that present facts in a fun and an engaging manner and what better way to do it through the medium of stories?  

Of course, there are plenty of options in the field of science fiction for children, but what if there was a historical fiction series that enlightened the children on history while entertaining them as well? Here comes the latest offering from Duckbill publications, a pioneering publishing house that has changed the face of children’s literature in India - the History Mystery series by Natasha Sharma and illustrated by Priya Kuriyan.  

History, in a way, is a mystery, isn’t it? Here is a delectable series that unravels the enigma of the forgotten times with period drama/mysteries, set in the kingdoms of four of the most famous monarchs who ruled India at various points of time. The author spins off hilarious and intriguing tales around the actions, achievements or the administrative policies, the rulers are best remembered for. Though the publisher's age recommendation indicates that this is meant for younger readers, who’ve begun to read independently, the narrative and vocabulary employed certainly competes with middle level fiction catering towards early teen readers. As always, the stories make good family read-alouds, with added explanations and elaborations.
Like any mystery series, the pattern of each of the stories remain more or less similar – with something troubling the emperor prompting him or her to set the kingdom’s top secret super spies on the job. Imagine if  Emperor Ashoka finds his famous Rock Edicts inscribed with messages that are polar opposite to what he wants to preach to his subjects and you have “Ashoka and the muddled messages” or what if the well established trade and commerce links between the Chola kingdom and China is at the brink of a break-down owing to someone messing up with the shipments leading on to “Raja Raja and the swapped sacks” or what happens when Akbar discovers a mole amongst his close coterie who seems to pass on sensitive  information to King Adhbhut of the neighbouring kingdom,  resulting in “Akbar and the Tricky Traitor” and how does Razia Sultana, hell bent on gender neutralizing her role as the ruler of Delhi, deal with the so called gifts that are deliberately sexist in nature in “Razia Sultana and the pesky presents”! Starting with four such books, here’s hoping that there’s more coming in this delightful series.
Besides giving a glimpse of life and times of the era that was, the stories are set in the famous architectural monuments of the prevailing times that stand tall even today. What do you know…. the stories may even serve as a guide book if you plan on a heritage tour!   Laced with contemporary humour and aided by suitable illustrations, the backdrop of the stories are an authentic depiction of those times, especially the names, hierarchy of royal staff and the royal protocol, so on and so forth. While the specific plot is a work of fiction, the author draws heavily from historical sources to present a genuine picture of the bygone era and ends each story with a note that separates facts from fiction. Besides, the stories humanise the kings and heads of state, revealing a rather sensitive or vulnerable side, with some of it being fiction like Razia Nawaz’s fear of lizards and some reportedly true, like that of Akbar having invented a travelling bath.
You can't help feeling bemused as you watch today’s generation find names such as Agramahisi or Kalapathy Arrghety or Baaz Ayebeg more alien than the alien characters of Hollywood Sci-fi flicks!
Though set at an era when time stood still, the History Mystery series can sure give modern who-dun-it’s a run for their money, with your little wannabe detective begging for more!!

1 comment:

  1. Will agree with you on 100 percent! For children history is full of myth and unrecognized processes, but you are an writer, so for you it's a big trouble to write a book that childred will read about history! I will check out your work further!