We certainly can’t prepare ourselves or the little ones enough, to let go and step out. Back to school or in the thick of it, we can always turn to books, picture books, for substantial help.

OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell gives the much needed reassurance to toddlers and preschoolers. Mother owl is away. The babies wonder and worry. Mama swoops in asking What’s all the fuss ? You knew I’d come back. The images of the petrified owlets later found flapping in joy is a sheer delight – thanks to Patrick Benson and his wonderful touches with crosshatching to rope in texture and depth. Read the more detailed review here: Published by Candlewick.

THE KISSING HAND is similar in its intent to reassure. But incorporates a little ritual to get through the first few days of school. Or even moments of sadness on an ordinary day. Now, whenever you feel lonely and need a little loving from home, just press your hand to your cheek and think Mommy loves you says Mrs. Raccoon after embedding a kiss on Chester Raccoon’s hand. Audrey Penn’s story oozes warmth, especially when Chester makes sure mom has a kissing hand too while he is away. Ruth.E.Harper and Nancy M. Leak have successfully evoked the same fuzzy feeling of warmth with their illustrations in muted tones set mostly in night time. Just the right book to calm the anxieties while saying adieu to the very young during camp, school, day care or sleepover. Published by Child & Family Press

They probably don’t need books with gentle promises. They love school! They can’t wait to go to school! But that’s only because they think school is always fun. Not anymore. Not always. Sometimes things could go wrong, very wrong. Stuff like when people with big hair sit in front of you or when the tattoo you got as a prize comes off in the bath water. We get the picture but we unfortunately can’t do much for their childish predicaments. This is where IT’S A BAD DAY comes in handy. Every little school going kid can relate to it and that’s the simple beauty of it. Of course its a bad day when the biggest bubble pops without anyone seeing it! A catalog of simple and honest mishaps from May Ellen Friday, that ends with reassurance – But hey, I’m okay. And tomorrow is another day. The typeface of the text is as if handwritten by the little reader. And the exaggerated illustrations of multi ethnic kids in these “situations” will make any child guffaw with a stamp of approval! Published by Rising Moon.

She or He has singled out a friend in class and even seriously labeled her or him “best friend”. The two do everything together and create memories for that slice of life on or off campus. There is not a conversation at home without bringing in the counterpart’s name. Simply put, this book is about best friends. The layer of interest is that Monifa is African American, and her friend is Mei Jing, whose grandmother had immigrated from China. Their individual cultures dictate their experiences. Narrated in the first person by Monifa, the account is casual, true and very school-centric. Sprinkled with instances of cultural exchange during play dates, at school, and at home, Anna McQuinn’s MY FRIEND MEI JING is a great pick to celebrate multicultural friendships, a wholesome experience during the growing up years. Illustrations are by Ben Frey and photographs inside are by Irving Cheung. Published by Annick Press.

There is that naughty side now. Something up their sleeves all the time. No place better than classroom to showcase the antics. Giggles galore. Everything seems funny, rather hilarious. And just when your child begins to appreciate humor of the tongue-in-cheek sort, its good to grab MISS NELSON IS MISSING. It can well be used as a quick refresher as the lazy summer comes to an end and when school is around the corner. May even lighten things up when he comes home with trouble from school. The children of Room 207 make it very difficult for Miss.Nelson. She disappears. They now have Miss. Viola Swamp who is intolerant to their noise and nuisance. She is portrayed mean and dressed like a witch. The children, now appreciative of Miss.Nelson, yearn for her to come back. She does reappear. But where is Miss Voila Swamp now? Did I mention they even hire a detective? Read it to solve the mystery! With simple text, amusing visuals and quirky humor, it is amazing how it eventually manages to be didactic as well. Miss Nelson is missing is authored by Harry Allard and illustrated by James Marshall. A classic and a joy to read for slightly older elementary school kids, check out the audio versions of the book and the sequel too. Published by Sandpiper.

Most definitely a journey – from fear and anxiety through reassurance and warmth, to when they get comfortable (a little too comfortable in fact), books of all sorts find their way and become part of the experience. With good books, let the journey continue…

Pictures courtesy

The Other Side

Title: The Other Side
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E.B.Lewis
Publisher: G.P.Putnam’s Sons, NY
Picture Courtesy –

“There is no school on Monday, no mail on Monday. And do you know why?”, began the teacher. I was at my daughter’s kinder room when it was my turn to help out, and I overheard the teacher beginning to read a book on Martin Luther King. I could not take my eyes off of the little ones’ faces, curious to know how they would absorb it all. They listened with intent. Silence ensued. And then they dispersed. I felt cheated when I could not comprehend what went through their minds. That afternoon I walked back home wondering how I could talk to my daughter on what Martin Luther stood for and how I could present the historical significance that surrounds him. The customary discomfort that preceded talks (with her) on “unhappy” truths, was again telling me that I was soon going to be guilty of adulterating the innocent mind. Even though, in most cases, the terminating message was good.

So, when I was at the library this weekend, I nonchalantly scanned the shelves for something besides King’s biography, and something that did not scream strong language or characters. The Other Side turned out to be the kind of book that would be an ally in my mission. In fact, it won me over to find a spot on Saffron Tree to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. today!

The opening spread, in stunning yet soft water colors, takes us to a flowery patch amidst lush greenery and scattered houses. A lengthy fence catches the eye in the middle of the rural scene. Just as we warm up to the narrative of a little African-American girl, Clover, we get involved in the incident that occurred one summer, when she noticed a white girl on the other side of the fence, staring at her. The fence is a repeating detail in the illustrations on most pages. Annie, is the lonely girl across the fence yearning to be included in the outdoor games Clover and her little group play all day. Clover also finds herself admiringly looking at Annie’s free-spiritedness. And then one day, things change. Clover and Annie exchange smiles and names. Annie invites Clover to join her on the fence. The girls exploit the technicality that their mothers’ never opposed their sitting on the fence. A fence like this was made for sitting on, we hear Annie say. By the end of that summer a friendship is born. It is not long before Annie is seen playing together with the rest of Clover’s gang. And the book ends with this –

“Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down”, Annie said. And I nodded.

“Yeah,” I said. “Someday”.

Yes, the fence is the metaphor. But the literal meaning sufficed. There was no need to mention civil rights or segregation. A warm setting, with girls her own age or older brought the much needed comfort, and kindled curiosity in my 5 yr old. I embraced the subtlety and capitalized on the situation. I mentioned King. She stared at the portrayals of Annie and the girls carelessly sitting on the fence and told me a few things. I think she will understand his context now.

The book reminded me that children have the power to make a change. Innocence is probably the secret. The story in The Other Side, I thought, brought Matin Luther King’s dream closer to reality.

Jacqueline Woodson’s another book “Coming On Home Soon” has been reviewed earlier, read it here –

Rechenka’s Eggs

TITLE: Rechenka’s Eggs
PUBLIHSER: Philomel Books
AGE GROUP: 4-8 years.

While Patricia Polacco needs no introduction to those of you who have been enjoying her stories, rest of you book lovers deserve to experience the warmth that her books generously ooze out. And that is why I chose Rechenka’s Eggs.

From my Russian background my stories are kind of ethnic, primitive, Eastern European — that’s one type of voice I write in, says Patricia. Set in Moskva in pre-revolutionary Russia, that is exactly the voice we hear in this book.

Babushka (Russian for grandmother) is a kind hearted old woman who spends the cold and dark winter days painting eggshells in her country home. She has a reputation for her beautifully designed eggs and she plans on taking them to a contest for the Spring Festival in the city. On a snowy day that winter, even as she is greeting a herd of caribous outside of her home, an injured goose separates from its flock and falls on her lap. The good Samaritan Babushka is, heals the goose and gives it a cozy corner in her own home. Babushka lovingly names her Rechenka and the bird lays an egg for her every morning. Thus a friendship is born.

However, an accident that ends the serenity and goodness that we have gotten used to so far, also leads to a chain of magical events. A clumsy Rechenka overturns paint jars and even breaks Babushka’s gorgeous eggs. Babushka is upset. But the next morning, her usual breakfast egg from the goose is not an ordinary one, but an exquisitely painted one! A dozen more follow. “A miracle”,thrilled, Babushka whispers. It is soon spring, time for the festival. Also, the time for Rechenka to move on and migrate with her clan. Time for adieu. Babushka leaves for the city with her (Rechenka’s) eggs. The eggs win her accolades. Back home, curled up loney with her book in bed, Babushka hears something. Following it, she finds a glorious egg left in the basket Rechenka rested. But this one moves….jumps..rolls…and there lies Rechenka’s special gift!!!

The reader swallows a lump in the throat. A sigh. Beautiful does not describe it. And I am not saying it just for the story but for all those pictures that whisked us off to old Moscow. The Moskva women in ethnic attire, the onion-domed architecture, the eggshells – a dozen of them with intricate folkloric art, even the wrinkles and folds of skin on Babushka’s face and limbs, all do their bit in binding us to the story.

There is also this balance in the elements of reality and imagination – while the backdrop of wintry Moscow, the festival and the contest, the caribous and a warm-hearted Babushka ground the story, the painted eggs from the bird and the element of surprise impart a fairy-tale like magical quality that children will love. With her eye-catching illustrations, richness in flavor, lucid writing and a touching storyline, Patricia Polacco is truly a wonderful writer and artist. You need to read the book, to experience the joy!

Mrs.McCool And The Giant Cuhullin – An Irish Tale

TITLE: Mrs.McCool and the Giant Cuhullin
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Company
AGES: Good for “Read Aloud” and “Read it Yourself”.

The joy of folktales is something that we recently discovered at our home. Stepping aside from classics and contemporary humor , we seem to embrace folktales, quite effortlessly. The book that I have with me is an Irish folklore, bearing a tale very similar to the ones that were orally passed on to me while I was growing up.

The central characters in this tale are legendary giants Cuhullin and Finn McCool. Mrs. Oona McCool is the one with the brains and quite intuitively, also the one to save her husband oftentimes from Cuhullin. Now, Cuhullin has a magic finger that makes him strong and Finn has a magic thumb that bestows upon him, the power to foresee things. Finn uses his magic thumb and announces (in jitters of course) the impending arrival of Cuhullin. Mrs.McCool to the rescue! A simple story you think, buckle up for a good dose of slapstick humor! Children will be laughing boisterously as they see fun illustrations and hear goofy dialogues.

Mrs.McCool is quick witted. She drops Finn with a bonnet in a cradle and welcomes Cuhullin for tea. She makes unreasonable, rather unrealistic (not that there is realism to worry here) requests that demand extreme brawn from Cuhullin. And this she does, so nonchalantly that Cuhullin is led to believe that the tasks are all a routine in the McCool household. Just look at the front cover – there is Cuhullin trying to lift the house so Oona can broom off the dust underneath! Here is also a sample of silliness to taste – “Goodness!” exclaimed Cuhullin. “Look at the size of him! Look at the moustache! If this is the baby, what must Finn be like?” , as Cuhullin mistakes Finn for a real baby. He also ends up sticking his finger in the “baby’s” mouth, only to have his magic finger bitten off! Petrified, the shrinking Cuhullin runs amok, leaving a cheery couple dancing!

It was nothing, dear Finn,” said Oona.”Big is Big. But brains are better!” . Probably the profound truth that this story intended to convey to little children and just as the message drives home, you are still not really far from the jocund moments. The magic of folktales it is. Loony and wacky, oh yeah! But did you also realize the feminist undercurrent, the portrayal of the woman endowed with brainpower, the one to thwart a giant – amazing to think of it when there is still so much gripe in contemporary children’s literature about the roles women or girls are given! Quick paced with bright collage like illustrations, this book is wonderful to be read aloud to children!

There is never enough said about folktales. Flavorful, informative and historic, with so much room for imagination. These hand me downs from wonderful storytellers, sometimes didactic and sometimes just for laughs. Timeless.

Today is International Day of Non-violence…

Author: Subhadra Sen Gupta
Illustrator: Tapas Guha
Publisher: Pratham Books, India

Age Group: 11-14 years

For today’s children Gandhi is just a face on our currency note or a picture in a dull history book. But what he stood for is something that I feel all children should value —tolerance and non-violence. – Subhadra Sen Gupta

Ample reason to write a book on Mahatma Gandhi for children. And today seems adequate enough to review this book from Pratham Books.

The setting is the Sabarmati Ashram in the western state of Gujarat in India, which Gandhi and his followers called home during the Freedom Struggle in India. Dhani is a 9 year old boy being raised in the ashram by his Gandhian parents. Dhani also seems to be responsible for taking care of Binni, the goat, who is his incessant companion and whose milk seems to be a part of Gandhi’s morning diet.

Dhani is portrayed as a cheery little boy skipping around the ashram premises, inquisitive, eager to know, and quizzical. Dhani senses a plan brewing in the ashram and the tale kicks off with his attempts to find out more about it. Persistent as he is, Dhani learns from his mother of a march near the sea and learns a lot more from Bindha, also a resident working in the garden. Bindha neatly lays out the details and discloses Gandhi’s idea of walking across Gujarat with his men, to a coastal place called Dandi to make salt.

It is but natural for Dhani to innocently clarify “Why will they make salt? You can buy it in every shop! Walking for a month! Why don’t they take a bus or train to Dandi instead?” Questions that children might echo.This is when Binda explains the salt tax and the restraint to make sea salt imposed by the British, and the purpose of the march as a form of non-violent protest.

Impressed by Gandhi’s ideas and motivated by the unfairness of the issue, Dhani is eager to participate, eager enough to follow Gandhi during his morning walk the next day to get his permission to join him. The simple yet well-chosen explanation that Gandhi adopts in order to convince Dhani to happily stay home completes the fiction.

The two pages of simple facts on the Dandi March of 1930 that flagged off the Non Cooperation Movement in India probably makes the book appropriate for the 11-14 years age group as the book claims. The book itself was written to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the event.

I talk a lot to children in schools and I found that though they like historical fiction, they dislike history!, shares the author who bears a reputation for creating historical fiction. Her resume includes a list of well-known publishers, and same is the case with the illustrator Tapas Guha. The sugar coated presentation of a piece of Indian history that teaches non-violence undoubtedly deserves our appreciation. This book also seems to be a part of a series called “Once upon an India”.

I seem to be stumbling upon books on Mahatma Gandhi lately, and I think this post will be a befitting place to add pointers to them for it may help parents around the world to introduce to children the ideas of non-violence and tolerance. And needless to say, a great leader such as Mahatma Gandhi.

A man called Bapu also from Pratham Books
Picture Gandhi – Tulika Publishers

AND My Gandhi Scrapbook – Tulika Publishers, both available here

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.


BABIES was published in 1963. The author is Gyo Fujikawa, who was raised in a Japanese household in California.

This book is something that you and your baby can enjoy together. It can also help a toddler prepare for the arrival of another newborn in the house by walking him/her through the world of babies.

I like the book because it exudes sweetness, it is warm and tender. Pictures of babies that make you smile, that make you appreciate how they make even the mundane things in life a pleasure. Inside, is a portrayal of everyday activities that babies do – crying, getting changed, eating, sleeping, drinking and the like. There are drawings of cheerful babies running around, naughty lilliputians preoccupied with mischief-making and the really cherubic ones busy with acts of goodness. There is neither a storyline nor a moral. However it succeeds in what, I think, it was intended to do – make babies relate to other babies and see their own world unravel before them. What the simple illustrations do for the adult is evoke the realization how very elementary things like holding a spoon or sliding a sock up the leg are actually huge successes in their petite innocent world!

The book was actually considered revolutionary, more so around the time it was published. Stumped? Here is the icing on the cake – the book shows babies of different races playing together and hugging each other! Gyo Fujikawa’s book depicting ethnically diverse children coexisting happily, in a way, opened the door to many more multicultural pictures books. It was for this reason that I felt immensely pleased when I picked up this book, even though this issue was much beyond the cognizance of my infant daughter!

There are so many good books out there for toddlers, preschoolers and young adults but what can I read to my baby – BABIES by Gyo Fujikawa. Enjoy!

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!