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New Books We Loved in December!

December 20, 2021

It is the end of the year and we bring you some incredible new children's books that you must read! We absolutely love how exciting the South Asian children's literature scene is right now, with exciting new books, imprints, indie publishers, authors, illustrators and collaborations.  

The Girl Who Was a Forest: Janaki Ammal by Lavanya Karthik

Four years ago, we mums at Toka Box wrote about the women scientists of India. We had to scour Wikipedia for information on scientists like Janaki Ammal. Today, we have picture books on Janaki Ammal from famous publishers like Penguin and Duckbill! 

In the seaside town of Thalassery in Kerala, a young girl named Janaki is fascinated by the world around her. The town represents rules and structure, but the little girl's mind is unfettered and yearns for connections with the world. She then discovers a secret world within the world around her.  During a boat ride with her father, Janaki tells her father she wants to be a bird and fly away. Her fascination for the world of plants and animals is obvious. Her father then tells her something that astonishes her.

The book is about Janaki Ammal, arguably the first woman to get a PhD in Botany in the USA but instead of telling us where she studied or her list of achievements, the book dives into Janaki's childhood memories and shows us what could have motivated her love for science and her pursuit of knowledge. Instead of a list of Janaki's achievements, we get an inward journey.  

The imagery of the forest and the seed are powerful for young readers. We were mesmerized by Lavanya Karthik's illustrations of this book, all in black, white, grey and green, running in parallel to the story and exploding on the page when we understand the significance of what Janaki's father told her, words that will change her life forever. 

Pre-order this book now!

The Boys Who Created Malgudi: RK Narayan and RK Laxman by Lavanya Karthik 

Lavanya Karthik's Dreamers series takes a journey into the curious, uncanny minds of India's most famous men and women. We think that The Boys Who Created Malgudi is our favorite book in this series. 

Most of us grew up reading RK Narayan's fiction, especially the many adventures of Swami, Sampath, and the enchanting town of Malgudi.

For anyone who is a huge fan of RK Narayan's fiction and RK Laxman's brilliant illustrations, The Boys Who Created Malgudi is a marvellous mix of characterisation and motive. It is fascinating to see how Narayan and Laxman's lives and pursuits intertwine. The book is narrated from Narayan's point of view. Narayan loves the written word and writes as many stories as he possibly can, stories that feature people, incidents and places from his own childhood.

His brother, Laxman, whom Narayan calls Doodu, loves drawing and wants to be a famous cartoonist some day. While Laxman knows what his true calling is, Narayan is a little more perplexed. He loves to write stories about everyday people but grapples with different kinds of setbacks. For one, he tries to read all the tomes in his father's libraries but understands very little. He wants to emulate the master writers of the English language but finds that he has his own style, a style that shuns formality and affectation. He submits stories to many publishers but is constantly rejected. In the end, Narayan goes on a walk in Mysore, a walk that ends in a shift in perspective and an exciting new idea.

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Aai and I by Mamta Nainy, Illustrated by Sanket Pethkar

Aadya loves that she looks just like her mother, her Aai with her beautiful thick long hair and big eyes. One day, Aai goes way to a hospital where she has to stay to get better. Little Aadya is inconsolable but counts the days till Aai returns. When Aai returns, she looks completely different and has short hair. She even smells different. Aadya is shocked but slowly starts to understand her mother's new appearance. She uses this new experience to understand her own identity - after all, she now doesn't look too much like her mother. What does she do next?

We love how Mamta Nainy has spun a lively, childlike picture book out of a serious theme, deepening the characters with both passion and tenderness. Mamta uses just the right amount of words to give us a full measure of Aadya's sadness and her wonder at her mother's new appearance. Sanket Pethkar's illustrations are beautiful and touching. They fill our hearts with so much love that we think they would burst! 

Pre-order this book now!

There's a Leopard in My House by Vaishali Shroff, Illustrated by Urvashi Dubey

We love Vaishali Shroff's picture books. They always have themes that concern nature or conservation, including Sita's Chitwan: Not Just a Walk in Nepal's First National Park and The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur. They connect instantly with young readers and the connections run deep. When my daughter read Sita's Chitwan, she only wanted to visit national parks and took conservation very seriously.

In There's a Leopard in My House, Leela gets home from school and finds that her mum is late at work. Instead, Leela is astonished and terrified to see a leopard in her house. This leopard, however, has an appeal. He tells her that this use to be his home too many years ago. This book is a touching and empathetic look at conservation, deforestation and examining our sense of place. Where do we come from? Have we destroyed someone else's home to build our own?  

Pre-order this book now!

Coral Woman by Lubaina Bandukwala, Illustrated by Sanket Pethkar

Many of us have heard of Uma Mani, the 50-year-old homemaker and painter who learned diving in order to explore coral reefs! At 45, Uma took up painting as a serious passion. One day, when she exhibited her paintings in a gallery, one of the visitors asked her a question that stunned her. This prompted her to learn diving

This book explores how Uma took the plunge and learned diving, becoming a PADI-certified diver in order to explore coral reefs so that she could paint them better. This stunning book fuses Lubaina's narrative, stunning illustrations by Sanket Pethkar that take us into the heart of the ocean and their majestic reefs, and pictures by children!

We recommend this book for many reasons. It is beautifully written and intrigues the reader. Children also understand that life brings many surprises and we embark on some incredible adventures at 50 or 60! We also think that Uma's message about preserving coral reefs because they provide an important ecosystem for life underwater and also protect coastlines from damaging effects of tropical storms. Uma uses her paintings and her underwater videos to urge them to protect the corals. The book talks about how Uma now dreams of growing corals. She took another journey to the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park in Tuticorin, which once had 21 islands and reefs that surrounded them but only 19 islands remain. Two islands went under the sea because the reefs that protected them from erosion are now gone. Uma then discovered how marine biologists are experimenting with replanting and growing corals at Vaan Island.

This book is an incredible way to learn about conservation and saving the environment. Don't miss it! 

Pre-order this book now!

The Sage With Two Horns by Sudha Murty 

We love how Sudha Murty narrates lesser known tales from Indian mythology, tales we never knew existed, which include such fascinating characters, themes and motivations. We have stories from the Ashtavakra Gita or the book of self-realization. We loved the story about the snake that stole earrings, and the author connects the story of Uttanka with rain clouds in the desert that are still called Uttanka Megha! We love the stories that explore famous Indian sculptures, statues and artwork.

One in particular stood out. The story about the many statues of Kannagi really opens our eyes to Kannagi's story. We also loved The Way You Look at It, a story about a conversation between Karna and Krishna. One day, Karna is in a pensive mood and Krishna takes him aside to find out what is bothering him. Karna broods over why his mother abandoned him as a baby and compares his life with Krishna's own life. Krishna then encourages Karna and tells him that he is lucky to have someone like Duryodhana who supports him. Intelligent and astute as always, Krishna shows Karna how history will look at his many gifts and virtues. "If Duryodhana wins the war looming before us, the credit will go to you. Even if Yudhishthira wins, everybody will blame me because they think I am encouraging the war. Life is full of challenges and it is not fair to anybody." Life always has challenges, says Krishna. It all depends on how you look at it. Such stories encourage young readers to work their way through everyday problems and to tackle them.

After all, they are part of life. Sudha Murty's masterful storytelling simplifies even the complex narratives. We also love The Girl Who Wanted the Death Penalty, which is a story about Goddess Lakshmi, who wanted to test Lord Vishnu's belief that Punyanidhi, king of the South of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, was a true devotee of Lord Vishnu. The titles are intriguing too and children are keen to read each one because of how enticing they sound! 'The Indra's Who Became the Pandavas,' 'The Mystery of the Identical Nose Rings,' and 'A Pigeon's Weight' are some of the titles in the book. 

This is one of our favorite books of 2021!

Pre-order this book now!

Bumoni's Banana Trees by Mita Bordoloi, Illustrated by Tarique Aziz

Here is something extraordinary about Bumoni's Banana Trees, a new picture book from Tulika. While many picture books are based on a true story, this book actually came true! 

Bumoni's Banana Trees is about a girl named Bumoni who lives in a big backyard just outside the Kaziranga National Park. We dive into her world with Mita Bordoloi's engrossing narration. They use long banana stems to make fishing boats, use the stems, eat them as food, and even eat from banana leaves. Bumoni's family then tosses these banana leaves into a pit for the cows to eat. One night, a herd of wild elephants cross over to Bumonis backyard and eat the bananas. 

This area is bursting with banana trees and Bumoni loves eating bananas. One night, a herd of elephants cross the river and discover the trees. They come back night after night, earring the bananas and banana leaves. Bumoni's family is very upset. Bumoni comes up with a clever idea to keep the elephants at bay but she is worried. What will they eat and where will they go? Bumoni and her family think of a clever alternative.

Mita Bordoloi wrote Bumoni's Banana Trees as a story in 2014 and 5 years later, a cluster of  villages in central Assam's Nagaon district found a way of keeping crop raiding elephants off there crops. I won't spoil the ending of the book because it is exciting and holds your attention till the very end. Apart from being a beautifully written story, there is so much that children can get from this book. Conservation, the need to reduce animal-human conflict, sustainability and value for life - children learn these things so naturally from the book because it all comes from the plot. One of our favorite reads this year! 

Pre-order this book now!

Maithli and the Minotaur by CG Salamander and Rajiv Eipe

This incredible new graphic novel tells us the story of a girl named Maithili, who lives in the outskirts of a magical wilderness. Along with her friend the Minotaur, she sets off on an adventure in an outlandish world where not everything is as it seems. The book is filled with monsters, including the human kind. It is full of unusual characters and creatures, and we love the book’s twists, turns, its humor and of course, the phenomenal writing and illustrations.

The book begins with a sequence that is drawn and written so cinematically that you can imagine yourself to be part of the story. Maithili and her mother are on the run from what look like antagonistic humans who are out to capture Maithili. There is something about her that worries them. Maithili's mother risks her own life trying to protect her. 

Maithili and the Minotaur hurtles us across different sequences in Maithili's life, all adding up to create an irresistible story that is also filled with funny moments right in the middle of intense and serious ones. The visualisation and story building that go into this graphic novel is truly amazing.  

When I interviewed CG Salamander and Rajiv Eipe, they told me why kids love graphic novels and comic books. Salamander gave the example of Scott McCloud, who wrote a book called The Invisible Art, a comic book about why comic books are such exciting forms of art. Salamander said that if you imagine that someone is swinging an axe in Panel A of the comic and you have someone screaming in Panel B, your brain fills the gap between Panel A and Panel B. Comic books that way are interactive and get the reader to fill the space with their own interpretation, unlike a cartoon or a film that does it for them. Isn't this so cool?

Naturalist Ruddy by Rohan Chakravarty

Oh how we love this book! Rohan Chakravarty is a famous artist, cartoonist, wildlife buff and the creator of Green Humour,  a series of comics about the environment. In Naturalist Ruddy, detective fiction meets natural history! Naturalist Ruddy is a mongoose. He is also a sleuth and an adventurer, getting to the heart of some of nature's most fascinating mysteries. Written as an exciting comic series, we absolutely love the wildlife and detective crossover. There are tons of little mysteries that Naturalist Ruddy solves, using his wit, his knowledge of wildlife, and of course, books like Vivek Menon's A Field Guide to Indian Mammals. We love how the book references other famous books on wildlife and conservationists like Vivek Menon, F.W. Champion's book on tripwires and technology use to conserve forests,

The book takes us to Kanha National Park, Periyar Tiger and so many other places that are a conservationist's paradise! An absolute must read!

Pre-order this book now!

Playing by Sunaina Ali, Illustrated by Debasmita Das

Say the word 'playing' and you immediately think of the rhythm of a swing or the whoosh of wind on your face as you cruise down a slide. You think of a world beyond structures and rules. This picture book is just that - a free-swinging song of the body that wants to do everything and explore the world. In the book, a little girl, Ayesha, talks about all the things she likes to do when it is her playtime. She sings, swings, counts in tens, plays with her friends and in the end, we discover something about Ayesha and her imagination. We like how Ayesha's name is written in Hindi in little speech bubbles in the corner and so are the Indian classical music notes, Sa, Re, Ga, Ma. This hints at a world that needs a bit of everything and everyone to stay vibrant. 

Debasmita Dasgupta's illustrations capture the rhythm of a child's love of movement and how he or she sees the world when playing. Truly open-ended and magical! 

Buy this book now!

Pranav, what shape would you be? by Nandini Nayar 

Pranav is back! When she was 4, my daughter was a huge fan of Pranav's Picture by Nandini Nayar. There have been other Pranav books by Nandini Nayar but this one is published by ZooBoo! 

Pranav is a sweet and imaginative little boy who has these fun and endearing adventures with his mother. The biggest appeal of the Pranav books is the relationship between Pranav and his mother, a warm-hearted and fun person who truly understands him. The books are filled with lovely incidents that parents and children will definitely relate to and cherish.

In this board book, Pranav wants to be a ball. His mother then rolls and wraps him up with dupattas and he becomes a big circle who rolls around. He is soon bored and wants to become a square. His mother finds a big box and cuts five holes - four for Pranav's arms and legs and one for his head. Pranav loves being a square but soon gets bored and moves on to other shapes. Finally, he wants to be only one shape - himself!

A lovely way to explore shapes and objects instead of the customary board books that just mention shapes. We love the story. Pranav's mother resourcefully changes him into different shapes! The relationship between her and Pranav makes for a lovely shared reading experience. A definite must-read for the 0-2 age group! 

Abhi and Akku's A-1 Summer by Roopa Pai

Roopa Pai, bestselling author of The Gita for Children, is out with a picture book and we love it! Abhi and Akku's A-1 Summer is about two siblings who go to their great aunt's house in a village in India for the summer. Akku is excited but Abhi is disenchanted with the idea of being without the Internet or gadgets. When Abhi has an outburst an says he hates his vacation, Akki cheers him up and lists the many beautiful things about the place - the sunsets, the smell of wet earth, and so much more. Soon, Abhi and Akki find a way to spend their summer in the village - between mouthfuls of yummy laddoos made by their great aunt, they expand their list to things they want to do during their vacation. They want to pull radishes from the field, taste water from a mud pot, teach hip hop dancing to the other kids in the village, enjoy muddy field football with their dad, and a host of other activities. Who needs the mall or Wi-Fi when the village opens up so many wonders for a child? This book was the perfect antidote to my daughter's jeremiads about her grandmother's place having no malls. She got to play in the backyard, plant some vegetables, collect shells from the beach, and thrust her hands deep into the garden soil. We absolutely love Juilee Mahimkar's illustrations, which bring rich, dreamy hues to the book. 

The Happiness Train by Nandini Nayar

Nandini Nayar's new chapter book has an unusual and enticing storyline. Two children, Suraj and Radha, often wait for the 'Happiness Train' to pass their village. There is something different and mysterious about this train. It has a musical whistle and the coaches are painted with beautiful pictures. Everything about the train hints at faraway lands and adventures to chase. At the centre of it all is the Raja who owns the train. Suraj and Radha know nothing about him but , whom Suraj and Radha know nothing about and who runs the whole mysterious setup. One day, Suraj decides to board the train, and during his journey, he realises that things are not as they seem. 

This thrilling ride is full of twists and turns! There is something nostalgic and enchanting about trains in India. This adds to the air of mystery and magic. We love the characterisation, the story and we absolutely love the way Nandini Nayar writes a chapter book! 

Asha, is your cat in the zoo? by Veena Seshadri, Illustrated by Manasi Rambhia  

Perfect for the 0-2 age group, Veena Seshadri's Asha, is your cat in the zoo? rhymes perfectly and uses a fun refrain that will appeal to toddlers. In this book, Asha cannot find her little pet cat, Tuffy. She then drags her mother to the zoo. Asha believes that Tuffy might be in the zoo. They pass all animals in the zoo - elephants, hyenas, lions and tigers, among others. Asha asks each animal if they have seen her cat but they say, "we have an emu and a kangaroo, But no pet cats in the zoo!" Asha and her mom then discover a surprise! 

The book's wonderful use of rhyme, its clever adjectives and repetitive lines make for a wonderful reading experience for infants and toddlers. Toddlers also love animals, adore the idea of a pet and this is a great way to discover them. We love the illustrations too - they are fun and endearing. We highly recommend it for your peanuts!

Funny Jungle Book by Suvi Naidoo, Illustrated by Devashish Verma

Are you an elephant? Are you a panda? No I am an elepanda! A great book to exercise those phonic skills, the Funny Jungle Book is also a great book to practice phonemic  manipulation. Phonemic manipulation is when a child is able to play around with words to make new words. This is a great pre-reading skill.

For example, you may say pot and ask the child to replace the p with another sound - c or h for cot or hot. This is when a child is able to manipulate sounds - for instance, what does an elephant and a panda make - an elepanda. Monkey and crow make a cronkey.

Laugh out loud at the silliness and enjoy the quirky illustrations! The book is  perfect for imaginative little kids and for opening up a child's world to possibilities. When things go topsy-turvy, everything is fun! 

My First Animal Friends Book by Suvi Naidoo, Illustrated by Devashish Verma

We love board books that introduce children to animals. My daughter's first board book was about farm animals and while we enjoyed reading it, I always looked for board books with Indian names or themes in them. 

My First Animal Friends Book by Suvi Naidoo is perfect because it introduces our children to animals that we see all around us everyday. We love the names of the animals - Lucky the dog, Noorie the cat, Raja the rabbit, Sunny the snail, and many others. We really like the simple diversity of the scenes and the settings. For instance, we see pigeons cooing at the window or a lamb jumping in the lawn. This book could be set in India or in another country! We think that children need to get a sense of different places and cultures from a book, which makes this a perfect board book that gently and happily introduces children to the world of animals.

Pre-order this book now!

My First Animal Families Book

What is it with toddlers and their love of families? Almost every toddler I meet loves the idea of grouping things into families. My daughter would even group her crayons into families - papa crayon, mama crayon and baby crayon. While I gently tried to shuffle her idea of groups and families by introducing her to books like 'A Mother for Chocko' by Keiko Kasza, she persisted in grouping things into families. 

This is a natural tendency in children, to make sense and order of the world, and it should be encouraged! My First Animal Families Book by Suvi Naidoo introduces us to animal families and uses words from different Indian languages to describe family members. The author also gives a slightly different spin on the way she groups animals. We see Ammi mare, bhai horse and a little foal. We see Mamma cow and her baby calf in the field. We see papa penguin on the ice with a baby penguin. Ajji owl, Thaatha owl, and little owlet sit on the tree. This is a delightful little board book with playful illustrations that fills your heart with joy and expands a child's world.


Dotted Lines by Debjani Mukherjee

Dotted Lines is written by Debjani Mukherjee and is about the life of Bhuri Bai Bhil. Bhuri is a Bhil artist and the first tribal woman to take the Pithora paintings native to her village and make it her own, transporting it to places outside her village. The original Pithora paintings are on mud walls. Bhuri transferred them to canvases and sheets of paper. She is one of the most celebrated Indian artists living today.  

Titled 'a visual autobiography of an artist,' Dotted Lines tells us about Bhuri and her story. She grew up in Jabhua in Madhya Pradesh. She spent her childhood helping her parents in the fields and playing with the animals in her backyard. Art plays a formidable role in the village's life. Every year, when the villagers celebrate the Rakhi Pithora festival, they paint their houses with scenes of nature to receive the blessing of rain from Dev Pithora. Painting is an important ritual in their lives. Bhuri would sit and watch as the badwa or the village priest would paint the houses. He would make colors with flowers, clay and seeds. When Bhuri moves to the city and finds work as a daily wage labourer at Bharat Bhavan, the art curator there asks her to paint and that's when her life changes.

We are in awe of Bhuri's talent and her grit, but we also have to stop to marvel at the Pithora art in the book. All the scenes from Bhuri's life are depicted using Pithora art, a ritualistic painting done on walls by the Rathwa and Bhilala tribes. Pithora painting uses many 'dots' that are inspired by the maize corn grown in that area. 

Apart from narrating a brilliant story, the book also gives us a glimpse into life in a village in Madhya Pradesh, the people's closeness to nature and the beauty of treating painting as a ritual in itself.  


Looking for Laddoo by Aparna Karthikeyan, Illustrated by Tanvi Parulkar

We whooped in delight when we opened 'Looking for Laddoo.' It is a beautiful picture book set in Chennai, an Indian city that fascinates everyone, even those who have not visited it and certainly Tamilians like me who remember it with so much nostalgia and fondness. The illustrations by Tanvi Parulkar are simply astounding. Each page unfurls Chennai right in front of you, right from the beautiful Kalakshetra and the Marina Beach to Pondy Bazaar with its numerous shops and crowds of people. 

'Looking for Laddoo' is more than just a Chennai walk-through. It follows young Karthik as he goes looking for his dog, Laddoo, who is missing from home. Karthik's mother, Shankari, accompanies him as they go from one place to another. From the story, you can piece together that she is a vet. She attends to dogs, cats and even an injured bull in Mylapore. We hop from  the famous academy of music, dance and arts, Kalakshetra, to Gandhi Mandapam and of course, the famous Marina beach. Their frequent stops at Chennai landmarks do harbor little stories of their own. Shankari shows Karthik where her grandfather studied and they even go to St. Thomas Cathedral where Shankari attends to a vegetable vendor's goat. Mother and son visit Woodlands for a yummy dosa treat. We even get a hint of a radio shows broadcast in Tamil from Chennai and many adventures set in one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

Do they find Laddoo? Read and find out! We highly recommend the book for its beautiful storytelling and its stunning pictures. Cities are wonderful places, places where identities are forged and where people can find different ways to express themselves. I have never been to Paris but I still love reading about it. It is much the same with books like Looking for Laddoo. Savor it!  

Waiting for Turtles by Pankaj Sekhsaria, Illustrated by Vipin Sketchplore 

Samrat joins his mum on her field trip as a sea turtle researcher in the Tarmugli Island at Andaman. Samrat, his mother and her assistant, Ramachandran, camp in the beach and lie in wait for nesting turtles to appear on the beach and lay their eggs on land. Samrat is asleep in the beach when late at night, he feels a sudden tug.

Will the turtles make an appearance?

Pankaj Sekhsaria writes a fascinating book about conservation and taking responsibility for the earth. It was interesting to read about the four species of turtles found in the waters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Rising temperatures and marine debris contribute to the dwindling turtle population. Our kids were thrilled that turtle research is a serious occupation! Vipin Sketchplore's illustrations transport us to Tarmugli Island and we imagine that we are sprawled on the blue tarpaulin sheet in the beach, staring up at the stars and fighting the sleep to wait for the turtles to appear. This book is also available in Hindi!


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