Lubaina Bandukwala: My Favourite Children’s Books (a few of them) of 2018

Lubaina Bandukwala is a writer, children’s books specialist and the curator of the Peek-a-book festival.

There are a thousand different ways of defining a “good” book. For me, mostly it means two very simple things – One, that I actually want to stick with it to the end; and two, that I keep going back to it, in my mind.

A Firefly in the Dark
by Shazaf Fatima Haider
Age group: 13+

A Firefly in the Dark falls in the latter category. Young Shazeen is uprooted from her familiar world, after her father’s illness, to live in her Nani’s home. He mum is distraught and school is hard, small wonder that she doesn’t resist the lure of Nani’s fantastic stories. But the world of Jinns and Janeerees; of black magic and illusions is not just the stuff of Nani’s imagination, as she soon finds out. As she sinks deeper into the world of these stories, she sees the conflicts between good and deep malicious evil, between what’s real and what’s illusionary. We have such a rich tradition of fantasy, in addition to the epic-derived mythologies, and this book is one of the few I have seen that has captured this fantastic Arabian nights-esqe (a very dark Arabian nights) world.

The Explorer
by Katherine Rundell
Age group: 10+

I always love a good Katherine Rundell and The Explorer did not disappoint. Centred around four children who crash land in the Amazon (the leafy jungle not the one full of products out to get your wallet), this book retains Rundell’s beautiful descriptions and empathetically drawn characters.

Cloud and Wallfish
by Anne Nesbet
Age group: 10+

International books are full of interesting historical novels and one I liked this year was Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. This doesn’t go very far back in history, but drops us right in the middle of a most interesting period – the Cold War. One apparently normal day, Noah finds that he’s not Noah after all and his parents are not what they seem either. What follows is a most unexpected flight across the Iron Curtain to East Berlin and into a surreal mysterious existence. Haven’t read a children’s set in this era and I loved it.

The Night Diary 
by Veera Hiranandani
Age group: 10+

This tells the story Nisha and her family as they flee Pakistan into India during the partition. I really liked this one, not just for the story, but the lightness of touch. This could have well been such a heavy ponderous treatment of a dark subject.

The Magicians of Madh
by Aditi Krishnakumar
Age group: 12+

How can my list be complete without The Magicians of Madh? I was fascinated by the fantastical world of Royal Academy of Science, Magic and the Arts and the adventures of Meenakshi and Kalban fulfilled my personal rule number I of “good” books. It kept me hooked until the very end.

Picture books in India are rapidly evolving and there were several I really like this year. There were two picture books with a most poignant twist in the tale that I really liked this year.

Puu
by CG Salamander
Illustrated by Samidha Gunjal
Age group: 5+

I read this with a couple of kids and loved to see their reaction when they realised (with a little help) the words and pictures said two different stories about the same things.

Machhar Jhol
by Richa Jha
Illustrated by Sumanta Dey
Age group: 6+

The other was Machhar John. Can’t tell you more – can’t be an evil spoiler na?

Neel on Wheels
by Lavanya Karthik
Illustrated by Habib Ali
Age group: 5+

What’s not to love in Lavanya Karthik’s  Neel on Wheels? A lovely read and beautiful to ponder over, in the perception of who’s the hero.

I think that the books that children will really enjoy are What Maya Saw by Shabnam Minwala, Ninja Nani and the Mad Mummy Mix Up by Lavanya Karthik, and The Clever Tailor and Tree Boy by Srividhya Venkat–why lie, I loved them too!

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