Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Departure From The Mainstream

Maria L. Denjongpa grew up in Massachusetts and attended Brown University where she met her Sikkimese husband. She is one of the founders of Taktse International School in Sikkim, where she is also an English teacher.
We interview her about her new book with us, The Truth About the Tooth.

     Tell us about the origins of your story The Truth About the Tooth.                                               
This is a classic Buddhist tale. You hear different versions of the “Dog Tooth Story” all over the Himalayas, from Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, to Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. You’ll often hear Lamas (Buddhist teachers) saying, “If you have faith, even a dog’s tooth can radiate the light of enlightenment.”

          Why did you choose this particular story to be told?   
I love so many aspects of this story: the human part of a son forgetting to bring his mom a gift and then lying to her about it, the magic of light coming from a tooth and the idea that our minds create the world. And if that all were not enough, there is also the paradox of Buddhist ethics. We all know that we are not supposed to lie, but in this story the lie is not such a big sin. In fact, it leads to something beautiful and miraculous, something that stays with Tashi the rest of his life. 

The Truth About the Tooth is a twist on the usual moralistic tales - did you ever read a story in your childhood that was like this?                       

Not really. I read picture books like Sam and the Firefly where a naughty character learns a lesson and becomes good. And fairy tales like Cinderella where the hard-working, poorly-treated stepdaughter wins the prince. As a kid, I didn’t find those stories true to life. At least not true to my life. Bad things happened to good people all the time, and people rarely learned lessons and suddenly became good. I think that is why a nuanced story like The Truth about the Tooth appealed to me so much.

        Do you have a favourite children’s book that you have read?
     I remember my mother reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White to me one summer when I was small. She’d make us each a glass of lemonade and then we’d go outside and she’d read aloud under a tree. So there was the intense pleasure of being read to, along with the pleasure of a deep and wonderful story. I love books that ask big questions: What is love? What makes a good friend? How do we deal with betrayal and being different? How do we deal with death?

          Has being a teacher changed the way you write for children?    

Yes! Whenever you read aloud to kids, you can instantly tell if a story grabs them. They wiggle and whisper and throw pencils when it doesn’t. They sit in pin drop silence when it does. How I appreciate it when a writer has pared down the text so the sentences roll off the tongue! How I dread long sentences and bombastic words!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
       And finally, are you planning on writing more books for kids?           

Yes! I just completed a chapter book on Buddha’s life for eight to twelve year olds, and am working on two more Buddhist-inspired picture books for younger kids. 

You can buy The Truth About the Tooth here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tips on How to Write a Great Book Review

With the boom in book publishing, the availability of diverse kid lit, and the soaring popularity of reading devices like the Kindle, the average parent is often spoilt for choice when it comes to buying quality books for their children. A well-written book review is key to helping someone make a decision on whether they want to buy a book or not. So naturally, it is critical to cover all the important points while writing one. Here are some tips on how to write a good book review.

Don’t summarize the story
This seems to be the most common mistake people make while writing reviews. Very often, especially in children’s books, the stories are so short that summarizing them tends to give away the entire story. The element of surprise still needs to be there for the reader once they buy the book – also, people may not want to buy a book if they know the what happens in the end! Instead, mention in a line or two the premise of the story.  For instance, if you were to review the book Monkeys on a Fast, you would say something along the lines of, “A determined monkey chieftain tries to get his tribe of monkeys to diet in this hilarious story – this story is as much a children’s book as it is a glimpse into the common grown-up preoccupation with resisting carbs”.

Mention other key aspects
Write about other aspects of the book that stood out to you that a reader would not be able to tell just by looking at the thumbnail image of the book’s cover on an online retail store. Did you like the illustrations? Were they done realistically, or does the artist exaggerate the characters for comic effect? What was the typography like? Was it easily readable or a font that looked fancy but was not legible?  Does the font change colour depending on what is being said, and does this help or hinder the reading experience? And is it done with a specific pattern or does it appear to be random? For example, in a review of our book Farmer Falgu Goes to The Market, Kirkus Reviews writes, “…the concise onomatopoeic sounds are in bigger and colour-coded type, which provides additional emphasis and is perfect for read-alouds.”
What is the price point like? Is it too expensive or good value for money? Is it the author or illustrator's debut book? If so, it is worth mentioning that.
If the book is a part of a series, it would be a good idea to mention this as well.

What sets the book apart?
What does this book have that most other books out in today’s market do not? Is there a disabled character in it? Is he or she portrayed with sensitivity yet without being patronizing? Is there a character from a minority community that is not usually represented in children’s literature? Does the story deal with any topics that are taboo in society?

Talk about the book’s cover
Was it eye-catching enough to make you want to pick it up and read it? Yes, like mentioned in the above paragraph, a book’s cover would be visible to anyone who sees the book in an online retail shop. But you have the added benefit of having read the story, so you can judge the cover based on that. Does it give you an idea about the tone or mood of the story? Is it a fitting cover or does it give a skewed idea about what the book is about? Is it a hardback or a paperback? In rare cases some books have two covers if it is a two-way book. Mention this and how the covers differ from each other. 

The writing
Naturally, one of the most important parts of any book. But rather than describe the writing as ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘marvellous’, elaborate on what you enjoyed about the writing. Does the story flow well or does it have random jumps to different scenes? Is it written in prose or in verse? Does the level match the age group it is targeted at or is it far too simple or far too advanced?

Avoid superlatives
And lastly, try to avoid saying things like ‘this is my favourite book’. A person reading your review would not know what kinds of books you like or what your taste in books is for it to be your favourite book. Describe what you like about the book instead. For instance, “…the watercolours that are mostly in pastel shades lend the illustrations a gentle, peaceful quality.” If it is your favourite story, you can make it a starred review, or give it 5 stars on 5, rather than explicitly say so.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Fresh, Yet Familiar: Tanvi P.S.’s Tryst With Karadi Tales

Tanvi P.S. interned with Karadi Tales in the month of December 2017.

It was on a bright, cozy December morning that I stepped into a quaint building to see a big cut-out of a brown, cheerful bear smiling at me, pointing towards glass doors that held behind them an array of books. From all these books, the same kind-natured Karadi beamed at me. It was as if I had stepped into a new tale, with an old friend.

Picture a young child holding a book in her hand, waiting to read along with a bear that told her stories through a cassette. I was this child when I was around 7 years old. I loved Karadi Tales’ audio books. Sometimes, I even had an itinerary ready for when I came back from school: first I would read The Blue Jackal, then The Four Friends, and then save my favourite for the last, The Monkey and the Crocodile. As you can surmise, my childhood was built on a steady diet of fables and fantastic music, courtesy of this musical bear.

With every audio book that I picked up, I started off on a brand new journey. I would elatedly sing and dance along as soon as ‘Karadi the Bear’ welcomed me to his jungle. I would wait eagerly for the ‘tak-tadak’ sound that told me it was time to turn pages and let the story unfold. What a glorious twenty minutes I had with every new tale!

Now, over fifteen years later, after joining Karadi Tales as an intern, when I was asked to pick a book and reflect on my journey with Karadi, my hands immediately reached out to pick up The Monkey and The Crocodile. It has been a long time since I last read (and listened to) this audio book adaptation of the Panchatantra classic, but by the second page I was humming along as the story serenaded me. I found that Ratna Pathak Shah’s evil cackling as the cunning crocodile, Mrs. Jagged Jaws, still sent chills through my spine.

After all this time, Karadi Tales still manages to awaken that little kid in me by bringing together two of my passions – music and stories. All these years I only marvelled at the magic of the books, but now I get to glimpse the magic that goes into their making.  It’s been less than a week since my internship began. However, seeing that my days are filled with working on children’s books, and the road ahead seems tremendously promising. Dear Karadi, thank you for the journey so far. Here’s to many more days spent reading and listening to your wonderful stories.