Monday, January 26, 2015

We Indians!

This year's Republic day has been probably the most talked-about public events in recent history, thanks to its high profile chief guest, US President Barack Obama! With India's military might and cultural diversity being witnessed for the first time by a US President,  no stone was left unturned to make Republic day parade 2014 truly special! But whether you consider this year's Republic day as special or not, you cannot but deny feeling patriotic while watching  the  spectacular parade of the armed forces showcasing the best of Indian defense ammunitions and equipment, or the first-ever all-women contingent of the three forces marching across Rajpath, the cultural tableaux  from all the states, or the awarding Ashok Chakra medals , or the bravery medals for children - all part of Republic day extravaganza of the one of the largest democracies of the world! 

We always make it a point to watch the Republic day parade on television along with our son with our own live commentary though the program. Though we managed to catch only the first half of the parade this time as we were travelling back home, our eight year old sure seemed as fascinated as ...may be ... Obama!:-))) Anyway, for Republic day, I picked up a book meant more for younger kids - "We Indians" an NBT publication  by Mehroo J Wadia. This book serves as a nice little introduction for young kids to the cultural diversity of our nation. Each page features children of different states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, etc and offers a quick guide to its unique culture, throwing some light on the intrinsic differences like names, dressing style, and the state's cultural symbols. Aided by suitable illustrations, each page also carries a question for your little one to ponder over. For instance, Amarjeet Singh from Punjab who dances the Bhangra asks "which dance form do you like ?" or Unnikrishnan Nair from Kerala who likes coconut tree the bests asks "which tree do you like best?" "We Indians" is an ideal book to acquaint the younger kids with the Indian ideal of "Unity in Diversity"! Happy Republic day everyone! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Kite filled with hope!

Makara Sankranthi, also known as Pongal, Bihu, or Lohri  across  different regions, is the harvest festival of India that  also heralds a new phase in solar calendar.......bringing in new and auspicious beginnings in the year to come.  Sankranthi also marks  the end of winter ...however I am not sure of the same this year as its been unusually cold in Bangalore over the last few days!  Though personally our celebrations are pretty much low-key for Sankranthi, the first Hindu festival of the calendar year always takes me back to the days when as a little girl I would go door-to-door along with other girls distributing  the sesame seeds  mixture and sugar treats amongst our neighborhood.....almost like a "desi" version of trick-or-treating circuits that kids go during Halloween in the  US. However, distributing "Ellu-Bella" (as it is  traditionally called ) being a "girls only" activity, my eight year old son has never had that experience ....which explains the absence of Sankranthi-related posts on Onestoryaday so far!:-) Hoping that the year 2015 would be a special year in as much as signaling the arrival of someone to carry forward the "ellu-bella" legacy in our home..........  So, I decided to key in a post for this year's Sankranthi..... one filled with hope!:-) 
 In some parts of the country, the harvest season is celebrated by flying kites, with people roaming around streets and converging on roof-tops to engage in good humored battles with others' kites. This week's "Young World" a children's newspaper from "The Hindu" has a special on the kite flying activities in Gujarat. Going by the said tradition, we decided to pick up a kite story from Tulika publications titled  "A Kite called Korika" by Sharada Kolluru and pictures by K.P.Murleedharan. This is a story of a nine year old boy named Yellaiah who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh. Sensitive to his surroundings, Yellaiah is fascinated by the sounds emanating therefrom – “Gala, Gala sala sala" of the river, “tingu tangu” of the bell over Lakshmi, the cow’s neck or “hrrrr prrrr hrrr” of the bees that trouble Rajamma sitting under the peepal tree. Yellaiah has little brother named Mallaiah who he feels is always trying to pocket his older brother’s belongings. One hot day  when Yellaiah sat with Rajamma under the peepal tree, a beautiful black kite descended from the sky. The kite had the sun, moon, stars and the blue waves painting on its four corners – in short it had the whole universe on it! Rajamma believes that it’s sent from God and felt it was best left in the sky. But when Yellaiah had no plans to letting it go, she told him to keep it but send it back with a wish for God to fulfill. So Yellaiah had to decide what to ask for – a cycle? But soon everybody had a wish for the “korika”, the kite’s new name. His friends had their own wish list – marbles, bangles, new shirt, new ribbon, etc. Mallaiah meanwhile wanted a school bag with his name on it. But before anything, Mallaiah fell sick with fever which many villagers believed that would take him to God. The doctor too had said that Mallaiah may not get well because he was scared and had to be brave to recover. So Yellaiah just knew what to do, and  decided to send Korika with a message to God to help Mallaiah get well soon. But what about the cycle - Mallaiah wondered, to which Yellaiah assured him that he could get a cycle from another such kit. So the next day, his father carried Mallaiah in his arms and both of them watched as Yellaiah wrote on the kite and tossed ‘Korika’ gently into the wind. That night, Mallaiah slept soundly tightly clutching his older brother’s hand. The next day Mallaiah woke up feeling better with his fear gone! Although Yellaiah’s friends thought his wish was not fulfilled, Yellaiah knew that it indeed was fulfilled! Though not a Sankranthi story, this is a heart warming story on sibling love and is in the spirit of Sankranthi filling one with hope and expectation of things getting better or new things to come in the coming year!  Here's wishing everyone a Happy Sankranthi!   

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Welcome 2015!

Another year has gone by …and it’s time to welcome 2015 as the year of reckoning!  The threshold of a new year always fills one with hope and expectations!  Another year full of events and non-events, another year full of personal and professional highs and lows,  and  another year full of cherished memories to come! For most kids though, a new calendar year may not be as exciting as a new academic year…which probably best signifies their transition into higher classes, with greater freedom and not-to-forget greater responsibilities!:-) The younger ones couldn’t care less except to remember to mention the correct year in their date column of their work books and to parrot out New Year wishes to one and all.  Well, the older kids may seem a little cautious about welcoming the New year as it means that they are even more closer to the most dreaded period of their school lives….exams!!!  However, there is no dearth of expectations with us adults!!! Anyway, whether you expect 2015 to be a life-changing year or or a just another year to add to your profile, as parents ……you cannot deny that each passing year is only a reminder of how time flies and how fast your little ones become not-so-little ones anymore! Here’s wishing everyone a great and fulfilling year ahead!

For the start of a new year, we picked up “The Year of Billy Miller” by Kevin Henkes, the author of famous picture books like “Kitten First full moon” or “Good day” or the “Lilly” series, etc. “The Year of Billy Miller”, for which he received the Newberry medal is a chapter book meant for young readers between the ages seven and twelve. Frankly,  what does a seven year’s old’s world revolve around? – parents whose mood swings he cannot figure out or a sibling who’s wailing he cannot take anymore, or school where he hates having to deal with his “show-off” classmate or his teacher in whose bad books he suddenly lands in……sounds like a familiar story? Well, seven year old Billy Miller is starting his second grade year and that’s exactly what he is going through or rather worried about! 
"The year of Billy Miller "  is thus divided into five parts spanning over one whole academic year that typically begins at fall and ends the following summer. Each part comprises of over five small chapters, starting with his new class teacher Ms. Silver whom he worries about having accidentally offended when poking fun at a fellow classmate,  followed by his dad whom he fondly calls as ‘papa’ but is later given to wonder (read worry) as being babyish, then his three year old sister Sal,  whom he claims to hate and cannot live with, only to realize that he cannot live without her either, and finally his mother whom he compares to a volcano when asked to write a poem on, as a part of his year end class project!:-) 

Each of these parts is beautifully written with crisp and tongue-in-cheek humour that is both funny and thought-provoking. The language is simple enough for emergent chapter book readers and yet provides plenty of scope for vocabulary improvement, though certain references to the American lifestyle may be a little confusing for someone who is not exposed to living abroad. But on second thoughts…having been fed with a continuous stream of American sitcoms or the popular children fiction series like Geronimo Stilton and alike, the kids these days have a better world view than we had while growing up. Though the illustrations are bare minimum, “The Year of Billy Miller” can certainly double up as a read aloud series for children too young to read independently, but patient enough for complex themes.   Believe me, even I couldn’t put the book down myself and particularly discovered that chapters “Father” and “Mother” made interesting parenting reads as well….loved “papa’s” easy-going parenting style and almost felt envious about the shared parenting/domestic responsibilities between  Billy’s parents! So the “Year of Billy Miller” has a little something for everyone! J   So here’s hoping your little one or not-so-little one’s coming year as fascinating as Billy’s Miller’s! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Guest Post by Arundhati Venkatesh

Guest Post by Arundhati Venkatesh

Arundhati Venkatesh is a children's writer, with four books published in 2014 - Junior Kumbhakarna, Petu Pumpkin Tiffin Thief, Petu Pumpkin Tooth Troubles and Bookasura.
You can write to her at and find out more about her at

I discovered the magical world of picture books with my 2-month-old baby in one of London’s public libraries. Oh what joy! There were so many wonderful books to choose from. This was a world I did not want to leave, ever.

So it was with much trepidation that I picked up a few chapter books when the child turned five. I didn’t think he would be reading them for years though. Well, what do you know? The kid read them in a few months and seemed pretty excited that he had graduated to reading “big books”. It took me a while to warm up to the idea, but I dutifully began scouting for more reading choices. The first few to be enjoyed were Michael Morpurgo’s Mudpuddle Farm, the animal series by Dick King-Smith, Louis Sachar's Marvin Redpost series, books for the younger lot by Anne Fine and Roald Dahl. These were all under 70 pages with large fonts. Most were illustrated and worked perfectly to ease the transition from picture books.

Closer home, there were none of these early chapter books available then*. So the first chapter book by an Indian author that he read was meant for kids much older than five - Moin and the Monster by Anushka Ravishankar. I wasn’t sure he’d get through the hundred-odd pages, but he did and loved it too! Every now and then, he’d come to me giggling, to share bits that he found funny.

Every time I heard his joyous laughter, I’d know he was reading the book again. It remained on the top spot for several months.

Copies were bought and gifted to friends. I’m yet to meet a child who hasn’t loved it. The sequel, Moin the Monster Songster, was read and enjoyed too.

I’d bonded with my baby over picture books. I didn’t think chapter books (or for that matter, anything) could replace them. For one, they were too long. But I realised I was wrong. I enjoyed the banana-gobbling rule-inventing nonsense-singing monster’s antics, and I cherished the conversations with my enthusiastic young reader.

My journey with chapter books had begun. Over the next few years, I read hundreds of them and went on to write a few of my own too!

·         Petu Pumpkin: Tooth Troubles is being launched at a gala event on 10th January at Atta Galatta, Koramangala, Bangalore.
·         Bookasura – The Adventures of Bala and the Book-eating Monster should be in stores next month.

(*The Duckbill hOle books filled this gap in Indian children’s books. They’re short reads with fun themes and delightful illustrations – perfect for beginner readers. The Petu Pumpkin books are part of the hOle series.)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

Ever since I asked Divya to enable me to post at her blog, there has been only one question that was bothering me - what book do I review because I have read tons in 2014 and purchased equal amounts. Thankfully I found the answer when I went to work on Jan 2nd after a much deserved break .

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is what I happened to pick at a Best deals on books  facebook page recently , little knowing its story . From its cover it seemed to be a story about a little boy and his family  and a boy probably who was all of 5 .

Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he is always alone and never smiles. No one knows that he is grappling with the loss of his young wife and infant son,whose mementos he keeps locked in an unopened drawer

However one early winter's day, a widow and her 7 year old son knock at his door with a gentle request -  she requests him to crave a new manger scene for them by Christmas and requests that her son watch him work since the child hopes to be a woodcarver one day.

So stern and strict is the wood carver that the little boy  even dreads moving his leg while watching him carve , while his mom sits at another corner knitting

You would probably let out a little gasp as the boy gathers courage to correct the best wood carver in town by stating that the sheep he is carving look a tad bit sad and they were supposed to be cheerful because they were meant for baby Jesus

The widow and her son show up often at his door, the little boy not mincing words in letting the best woodcarver know that his carvings were not perfect because the cow in the manger was supposed to be proud because it was meant for baby Jesus.

By now Jonathan has gotten used to the little boy and him pointing out mistakes in his carvings so much so that Jonathan asks the little boy how exactly he wants the rest of the scene to be presented before he begins working on them.

There is also a beautiful scene where Jonathan holds the little boy's hands and teaches him to carve a robin.

You would tear up when the woodcarver cannot get the drawings of Mary and the baby right
and finally pulls out a portrait of his dead wife holding his infant son. He holds it close to his chest , sheds a tear or two . He finally takes this picture to his workbench and his fingers work quickly and surely .  He works all though the night.

Early next morning,  on Christmas, the widow has a surprise at her door . It is the wood carver with the  nativity scene complete .  The nativity scene is exactly what the little boy had envisaged - 2 very happy sheep because they were with Jesus, a proud cow and an angel , a serious and a caring Joseph, Mary wearing a rough woolen shawl , looking down and loving her precious baby son. Jesus was smiling and reaching up to touch his mothers face

The story ends with the wood carver holding hands with the 7 year old and his mother and making it to Christmas service.

The village boys no longer called him Mr.Gloomy  because for the very first time they see Jonathan throw back his head, showing his eyes as clear blue as an August sky and laugh.

This is a delightful Christmas story with a touch of romance.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


'Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose.' 

I was reminded of this quote by Neil Gaiman when Divya contacted me to pen a post on some of our favorite children's books. My four year old is an avid reader who loves to read anything from 'Clifford the Big Red Dog' to a blender instruction manual (true story!), so picking out a few of her most-loved books is not easy.

While 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar', 'Goodnight Moon', the Olivia series etc have been through repeated readings in our house, nothing is more dog-eared than the Mouse books by Ellen Stoll Walsh. I first found 'Mouse Paint' at our local library when Saachi was two. The story is about the adventures of three mice having fun with paint while outwitting a cat. The book also introduces concepts of colour and what happens when primary colours are mixed. With big bright collage illustrations and just a single line on every page, this turned out to be something that Saachi easily understood and enjoyed when read to. 

Her fondness for the simple narrative and colorful pictures in this book led me to look for more by the same author and I was happy to find 'Mouse Count' and 'Mouse Shapes' that follow similar themes about mice outsmarting their predators while playing with numbers and shapes. 

Though its been more than two years since we discovered these delightful stories, Saachi is yet to get bored of them. These much-loved books have been thumbed through many, many bedtimes - so much so that they are nearly in tatters but she refuses to get rid of them. 

I highly recommend these simple, colourful books for your little ones. Watch out for the cat!

Congrats to Divya, Abhay and this blog for sharing Abhay's reading journey with us for four years! I hope to enjoy many more years of posts and suggestions on reading material and resources. Happy Birthday and a very Happy New Year!