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Sowmya Rajendran

By Anu Kumar . Illustrated by Kavita Singh Kale
Red Turtle, Rupa, Delhi, 2014, pp. 150, Rs. 150.00


History is not a hot favourite with students. Most look upon it as a monstrous subject that is not just voluminous but also irrelevant. Why bother memorizing names of people long dead and their complicated, boring histories? But history can become interesting if you pick up the right book. There have been new fiction and nonfiction books brought out by different publishers that have history as their subject. From picture books to chapter books, the variety is heartening to see.  Anu Kumar’s How Did the Harappans Say Hello? is the latest addition to the list. Written for children who are aged 10 and above, the book is divided into seventeen chapters, each dealing with a historical event or personality about which/whom little is known. All of it has to do with the history of the Indian subcontinent. The layout makes for easy reading—there are no long passages and convoluted sentences that are so typical of history textbooks. Instead, you have short and to-the-point paragraphs under catchy and often funny headlines that are sure to grab the attention of young readers. There are also textboxes throughout the book that further offer relief from the monotony of long narratives and throw light on terms used in the main text or offer more information on a fact mentioned. The black and white illustrations by Kavita Singh Kale complement the text and help the reader visualize battle scenes, historical figures, and dramatic moments ably.  While it’s good to see the lightness with which Anu Kumar has dealt with the subject, one wonders if the tone becomes a tad too irreverent in places. In my opinion, irreverence in children’s books is desirable as we, as a people, take ourselves way too seriously. But sometimes, irreverence can be misleading. For example, in the context of explaining oral narratives that made up the epics in different cultures, we are told, ‘yes, people wrote, or sung, a lot about wars in those days: probably because there wasn’t much else to do!’ While it is true that stories were passed on orally from one person to another for entertainment, it didn’t happen only because people didn’t have iPads to play with back then. Many cultures were conscious of their history and their civilization and wished to pass on to future generations their own stories as well as those of their ancestors. The ...

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