We asked some people who we know read a lot of Indian children’s and YA books to tell us about one (or more) really impressive book they read this year. We will be posting their replies over the rest of the month.
Parinita Shetty is an author and a children’s book professional.
We are thrilled that there are so many Duckbill books in Parinita’s list, and we promise no arms were twisted–platypuses do not believe in list-fixing.
Survival Tips for Lunatics by Shandana Minhas (Hachette India)
Twelve-year-old Changez Khan and his nine-year-old brother Taimur (aka Timmy) have been accidentally left behind by their parents in the wild. Just as they’re making plans to be reunited with their parents, there’s an earthquake. A talking sparrow then appears and saves them from a ravenous-yet-oddly-polite horde of giant crocodiles. Their excellent adventure also includes a philosophical bear, vegetarian Velociraptors, a poetry-hating dragon, some very irrational soldiers and a child kidnapping ring. The book is hilarious and surreal and just all-round wonderful.
(Technically the author is from Karachi, but the book has been published in India, so including it in a Best Indian Children’s Books list doesn’t really count as cheating, right?)
Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar (Duckbill)
I am so, so thrilled that this book exists. It explores a complicated tangle of relationships, suicide, sexuality, the acceptance and rejection of nonconformity, bullying and a whole horde of other subjects that are not a regular part of conversations about teenagers (and adults!). I particularly loved the fact that there was no stark division between the “good” characters and the “bad” characters. The ones that we’re supposed to be rooting for sometimes did uncomfortable, mean-spirited things while the ones we’re supposed to (and do) loathe got to air their point of view. Usually, I only manage to enjoy YA books up to a point. But this is one of the few YA books which I truly loved.
Vanamala and the Cephalopod by Shalini Srinivasan (Duckbill)
When I recommend this book to people, I struggle to explain what it’s about. “There’s a girl who sells her sister to a mythical creature called the Cephalopod. A Cephalopod is … look, just read the book.” Or “This story is strange and fantastical and superbly detailed, and sometimes it digresses into these mini backstories or alternate realities that don’t really have anything to do with the main plot … look, just read the book.” Or “The illustrations are magnificent. Look! Now read the book.” Or “It has a magical bull and a large part of the story takes place underwater and some children get turned into sea creatures … just read the book.” You get the drift.
The Case of the Candy Bandit by Archit Taneja (Duckbill)
And now for something completely different. Calm and rational Rachita and always-excited Aarti are two ordinary best friends. But when all the scrumptious sweets in their class start to go missing every day, Rachita decides that the two of them have to find the thief. No strange creatures in this book (although a couple of the boys in their class might count). No sinister mafia members luring kids away and forcing them to beg. No fantastical elements with mythical creatures. No students turning into marine animals. It’s just a clever story – wonderfully and hilariously told – with some marvelous characters and situations. I can’t wait to read more in the series!