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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.

Sandhya Renukamba is a voracious reader, teacher, blogger and writer.

sandhya

We are thrilled that there are so many Duckbill books in Sandhya’s list, and we promise no arms were twisted–platypuses do not believe in list-fixing.

Talking of Muskaan (Duckbill) by Himanjali Sankar
YA

12/12/13 – the day after the ruling against IPC section 377, criminalising the LGBT community, and Muskaan, who is unapologetically homosexual, is lying in the hospital, after trying to commit suicide. Her step is not related to the ruling, though. What went wrong in Muskaan’s world? The story is narrated through the words of three of her classmates. Her BFF Aaliya, with whom she has had a strange fallout of sorts. Subhojoy, the poor but geeky friend who becomes her emotional anchor through her turmoil. And Prateek, the arrogant and self-satisfied rich ‘cool dude’ who thinks the world owes him.

Himanjali Sankar has her finger firmly on the pulse of today’s teens, the way they think about the world, and the complexities of their interactions. This could well be the best book by an Indian author that I’ve read this year (despite initial misgivings on the suicide angle), and has been given a firm thumbs-up by my teen, who plans on writing to the author with some of her observations and questions.

Wild Verses of Wit and Whimsy from Alpha to Zeta in 26 Movements (Tulika) by Alok Bhalla
8+

Zany, wacky humour in verse form, this book is a clear tribute to the ilk of Dr Seuss (Manjula Padmanabhan’s illustrations show a Seussian ‘common man’ on every page), Edward Lear, Lewis Caroll, Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl.

Alok Bhalla takes every letter of the alphabet and creates an alliterative dance of words that makes perfect sense while being perfectly nonsensical, if you know what I mean. This book has to be experienced by anyone who loves words, and the extraordinary ways in which they can be strung.

An example? Yes, a yearning Yankee youth, yowling yearly in yucky Yukon, is your yardstick for the yin-yang of yammering yogic yaks, yoked to yonder yum-yum trees and yelping. Yeah, yell for yeastiest … You get my point!

How Did The Harappans Say Hello? and 16 other mysteries of history (Red Turtle) by Anu Kumar
8-13 yrs

Truth is often stranger than fiction, and there are many legends in history that we might not know much about. Who, for example, in the Mughal times, was Anarkali really? Did the Mahabharata really happen? What are the secrets hidden by the yet undeciphered Harappan writing? Who were the real creators behind the world famous Ajanta caves?

Anu Kumar takes these and other questions, that traditional history lessons might have no answers to, and explores the possibilities, whetting the readers’ appetite for more. A must read for history aficionados.

Queen of Ice (Duckbill) by Devika Rangachari
YA

History is often only his-story, wherein great women are either not mentioned at all, or are just glossed over, or painted very black, even though their actions might not be very different from those of their male counterparts – judged for being a woman first, and anything else, later. Strong woman rulers might thus be vilified for their motives and actions, usually remaining just hiccups in the fabric of history.

Devika Rangachari unearths one such intelligent and ruthless woman ruler, Didda, the early medieval queen of Kashmira (modern day Kashmir) who established a rule of peace and prosperity for a longish period of time, despite being born with obvious disadvantages. This book of historical fiction is wonderfully narrated, staying true to facts, yet giving a very human picture of this visionary ruler.

Petu Pumpkin Tiffin Thief (Duckbill) by Arundhati Venkatesh
5-8 yrs

Petu Pumpkin, a.k.a. Pushkin, is a foodie who is always hungry, and finishes off his classmates’ tiffins along with his own. How do the other boys counter this, and make sure he stops doing this and learns a lesson?

A hilarious book by Arundhati Venkatesh, whose second book in the series, Petu Pumpkin Tooth Troubles is eagerly awaited, not only by us at home, but also by my children at the special needs school I volunteer at, and to whom I have read it aloud.

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