Hairdos and don’ts

Stephanie’s Ponytail, Story by Robert Munsch, Art by Michael Matchenko.

Robert Munsch is a Canadian storyteller and Stephanie’s Ponytail is one of his wonderful stories. The book can be read by children in the 5-8 age group while younger ones will love to listen to the amusing story bordering on silliness. However, it is amazing how such a hilarious tale can stem out of an issue of immense sensitivity and concern among young and older children. The crux of the book is peer pressure and individualism. Or simply put, not trying to copy others but to try and be thyself in a crowd.

Stephanie is a school going kid who wants to be different. Realizing that none of her classmates have a pony tail she chooses to go to class with one at the back of her head. Although the other kids initially ridicule her, they finally end up imitating her, tying up their own hair just like hers. Irritated, Stephanie appears with a pony tail on the side the next day. It does not take long for the entire gang to now come up with pony tails on their sides.The cycle repeats in the ensuing days with an annoyed Stephanie doing differently positioned ponytails every day and her peers succumbing to the trend. The story takes a twist when Stephanie, one morning, announces her intent to shave her head! Accustomed to blindly copying Stephanie, the class tries to turn it up a notch. The next morning the kids appear like tonsured monks awaiting the arrival of a bald Stephanie. But smart Stephanie turns up with a nice jolly little pony tail at the back of her head! The hilarious climax is topped off with an angry mob running behind a beaming Stephanie!!!

I confess I have not done justice to the narration. However, I will try my best to peel off the layers of the story to unravel what it offers for children and parents.

First off, it has the potential to cater to a broad age spectrum. Secondly, humor and wit are probably the best vehicles to drive home a message. The portrayal of the persona of Stephanie deserves special mention – daring, fearless, individualistic, creative, assertive and trendsetting. This is revealed through the numerous occasions when she remains unstirred by peer criticism and childish mockery. This can be a valuable attribute to cultivate in kids. An equally important lesson is more moralistic – the decline of the copy cat empire! Neatly wrapping up the package are the illustrations, guaranteed to make children and parents guffaw!

A word of caution about the language in a few places, when the kids can seem to come off too hard on Stephanie and a rebellious Stephanie yelling back. It can become a non-issue by masking it with creative substitutes for the pristine listener. This of course is very subjective, just a heads up for you to flip through the pages before you pick it up.

This book was a rewarding find for me to read to my preschooler who is more of a follower than a leader amongst her peers. The girly subject of pony tails sure hit the spot with the female pre-wiring, in her case:)

The perfect book for the ready-to-ape school-goer.

Little Blue and Little Yellow

Title:Little Blue and Little Yellow
Author: Leo Lionni
Age group: 3-8 years

Creative, imaginative, colorful and fun – all pressed out of a simple storyline.

Imagine a parallel universe where colors are the human equivalents. Or rather, the characters in this book are all primary colors! Little Blue lives with papa Blue and mama Blue. This is illustrated by three blue blobs – small, medium and large. Extrapolate this for the entire story and you have a vibrantly colored book that will be hard for any child to resist. I guess I can safely conclude now that the illustrations are intuitive but still very uncommon.

Moving on, Little Blue’s good friend and playmate is little Yellow, who lives across the street with his papa and mama. They play with each other and with their other friends, blobs in a multitude of colors. One day little Blue, unable to find his buddy around, goes searching for him. Ecstatic on finding him a little later, they hug each other and blend into a blob of green! After frolicking, they (now a single smear of Green ) go back home only to be unrecognized by both the Yellow and the Blue families. They both begin to cry, the green blob now diffusing into two separate pools of Blue and Yellow drops. Little Blue and little Yellow are back in their individual forms and they go back to their parents who have no trouble recognizing them. When the joyous families hug each other, their fusion results in more Green patches and the parents realize what must have happened. All is well that ends well.

As quite obvious, the book teaches colors. However it goes a little further in that territory and initiates the concept of blending colors to give birth to new colors. As also obvious, it is a short and sweet story about two good friends.

I picked up this book as I found the concept of using colors as characters interesting. What turned out to be more interesting is how my daughter seemed to accept the very same concept that appealed to me, quite nonchalantly. Do I say how amazing it is when a child’s innocence and imagination is more lofty in front of a stereotypical grown up who is groping for something unconventional? I should confess, we both have our own reasons for racing for this book whenever we make the call to read together!

THE SEED (a bilingual book from India)

Since there is motivation galore right now at Saffron Tree, it could not get easier for me to slouch down to write, combating the chaos generated in the room by my DH and his little associate. The book I am going to review is bilingual, meant for the 3+ age group, that I picked up during my trip to India last year. The two languages involved are Tamil (a South Indian language which is spoken in the state of Tamil Nadu, which also happens to be my native language) and English. It is published by Tulika . Tulika also has the equivalent of it in 6 other Indian languages. The title of the book is THE SEED, vidhai , written and illustrated by Deepa Balsavar,Tamil by Karkuzhali. Check out for your language.

A small girl chances upon a tiny seed, puts it in a pot, waters it and takes care of it. The ecstasy from seeing it sprout soon morphs into heaps of anticipation. Will it have flowers? Will it have fruits? Will it grow tall? Will it stay small? are some of the questions that she tries to find answers to, from her near and dear. The climax is that the little girl ceases to question and realizes that what it turns out to be or how it looks like doesn’t really matter to her (and that she will always love it)!

Colorful and child-friendly illustrations, an Indian backdrop, some stylish art of botany encompassing minimal text. Neat. There is always a BUT – (a long pause), can’t quite put my finger on it though. Moving on with the kudos, I really liked it for the incident that unraveled the thoughts of the deceptively little mind. The book has a dozen simple sentences, in English, on the top of the page and the Tamil equivalent of it at the bottom. The language, at least in the Tamil version, is very conversational and hence practical. Although I did not purchase the book in a vigorous attempt to make my daughter speak/write/read Tamil, the fact that she has, quite effortlessly, picked up the equivalents to seed, water, sun, pot, tree, tall, small in a second language does make me feel good. Bilingual books have come to be embraced by many, especially by people raising children away from ‘home’. The Seed is right for the right reasons.

A soother

OWL BABIES By Martin Waddell , illustrated by Patrick Benson

OWL BABIES is a picture book that deals with a very sensitive issue that every infant or toddler experiences early on. It is a book about the mental anguish that young ones undergo due to maternal separation and the constant reassurance they need – the belief and trust that every mother would unfailingly return to her young one.

The book zooms into a simple yet critical incident in the lives of three owlets. The setting is a sober conversation among three siblings upon discovering their mommy’s disappearance one night. Waiting is painful. They hope and pray that their mother is out, only to find food, that she is safe and that she would definitely come back to them. The mommy hooter returns. Her unexpected yet expected return makes the owlets ecstatic!

I bought this book around the time my daughter started preschool (after staying at home for a good chunk of her early life) . I would always reassure her that I would pick her up later the same day. She never cried a tear but she would always reiterate my verbal assurance. I think we were able to relate to this book a lot and my daughter felt good about the restored confidence. Even after months, we still read it and enjoy the warmth when the mother owl takes in her babies under her wings.

The incident is uncomplicated and the story is simply written. The visual backdrop of a black tree hole and frightened owls may not be a common sight among the brightly hued, cheerfully written children’s books. However, the vivid pictures will only draw you closer to the actual night. This is probably one of the many books based on this concept, but it is surely a very good book to be read to your little one who needs the reassurance.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

My first review being that of an Eric Carle work is no accident. I have been reading his books to my 2.5 year old since she was 10 months. The one that has impressed me the most is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ (although my daughter might debate and settle for “Head to Toe”!).

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a picture board book. It can be read to a child as young as an year old. The author is also the illustrator. His art, although not the very common type, is interesting and colorful. The book is a simple story about the three weeks in the life of a mortal caterpillar, the three weeks between his conception from an egg to his culmination into a beautiful butterfly.

The book begins with the caterpillar’s entry into this world from a tiny egg on a Sunday morning. An apple does not seem to satisfy his hunger. He continues to eat many other fruits in increasing numbers on the following days of the week. Still hungry, the caterpillar chooses to climax his routine with a gluttonous meal, a horde of eatables. As expected, the immodest eater ends up with a stomach ache! All the food seems to have an effect, the caterpillar actually grows in size. He houses himself in a cocoon for a couple of weeks and reenters the world as an attractive butterfly.

The above story is narrated in close to just a dozen lines. The pages are loaded with brightly colored pictures of the caterpillar and his food pals. The fruits, that he eats on the weekdays, are in counting sequence on layered pages. This adds interest while the little one learns to count 1-5. The names of a multitude of yummy foods can be easily “ingested” (pun intended!) by the small brain. The days of the week are also subtly interwoven into the story. The grand finale is when your child actually picks up the life cycle of a butterfly without a science book or a garden tour, but a simple story about a hungry creature and lots of fun food!

And here is the bonus – whenever my overeaten toddler asks for more or simply junk, I cannot resist the slogan that actually makes sense to her- “you don’t want to end up with a tummy ache just like our ever hungry friend”!

The author has successfully packed in a lot things without giving the feeling of going overboard to the reader. He teaches many basic concepts while keeping the simplicity of the story in tact. Read it to your child to see the jolt when the egg pops, the smile that all the yum-yums bring, the worried look when the worm falls sick and the twinkle in the eyes on seeing the glorious butterfly!