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Nita Berry

By Shabnam Minwalla
Year 2016, pp. 68, Rs. 150.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 11 November 2016

Not-so-lucky Sumi’s friends think she is so-oo lucky to have a lovely sea-facing room stuffed with beautiful toys, books and games, but Sumi only smiles politely. She doesn’t think so at all because she cares more about yummy food and is always hungry. This is quite a shame considering that her mother is a health food freak and writes cookbooks and hosts TV cookery shows all the time. When she works on a book on South American food, their home is filled with quinoa and llama stews for a month. Or rice dishes for every meal if the book or show is on rice dishes—much to the entire family’s dismay of course. Sumi is tired of gorging on food at friends’ homes, and is desperate to find a way out...till she hits upon a novel idea! These books are three of a series of Duckbill chapter books for young readers who are transitioning from picture books to full-length fiction. So the slim books with their short chapters are a useful precursor to long reading. ‘Jump into reading through a Duckbill hole’ says the back cover and a hole goes through the entire Hole Book. Is it an attractive gimmick? It was used effectively in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one recalls. Here the hole often becomes an interesting part of the page illustration—sometimes it’s a balloon, an omelette, a saucepan or just a hook to hang bags on…and when the lights go off it’s still there, although on a stark black page. The illustrations are funny, and expressive line drawings complement the text well. Priya Kuriyan and Tanvi Bhat manage to bring out expressions, feelings and meanings with a few deft strokes on the pages. With their whacky sense of humour and intriguing, tangled plots, the books are bound to catch and hold interest. The stories are original and the language is amusing and colloquial. Consider this— ‘Maya just needed to get to school fatafat.’ Or, ‘The rest of Miss P’s name after P was long and sounded like someone had set off a rocket in Maya’s mouth.’ This curious mix of English and Hindi (Hinglish…like on Radio Mirchi?) makes the books peculiarly Indian reflecting as they do today’s spoken language among the very urban young. Needless to say, this is something that schools and language teachers frown ...

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