Of Susu Pals and Unboy boys and a reading Bean

The Bean has decided she’d like to join the rest of her reading family. The Brat did this too. Made me wait months and years to see him read. And then began to read like it was going out of fashion (it is in some parts of the world!).

To me it was unthinkable that my children should not breathe and live the written word the way I do. Except that you can’t really force a love for the written word, can you?

When we were growing up, there were few alternatives to reading if you weren’t a sporty  kid. And while I loved the outdoors, small town UP in those days wasn’t really the place for a lone girl to be wandering around observing nature and watching birds. Still isn’t.

So I read and read and read, everything I got my hands on. But kids these days have options. Distracting options. Options that don’t require them to exert themselves. iPads, twenty cartoon channels, toys and games, malls (!). I try and restrict everything in that list, except the toys and games. And I read to them. And read. And read.

But more than that, I read to myself and they saw. They saw that mama was transported to another world in her book and could be remarkably grumpy when called away from it. Clearly there was something to it. And then the Brat began to read and wild horses couldn’t drag him out of a book until he was good and ready.

The Bean is a sprite… light on her feet, running up vertical surfaces, gracefully skimming across the tops of things, almost as light as cotton candy. I didn’t think she’d ever  take to reading. It required too much effort and why expend that when she had so much else to do?

Her progress has been slow too. And after the experience I had with the Brat’s slow start I was patient. I’d like to think!  But no dice.

And then she fell really ill a few days ago. Ten days during which she had viral fever, a terrible cough, a boil on her cheek, one in her nostril, a rash around her eye and then to top it all, a gastro infection that had her puking for three hours straight, ending up in the hospital emergency. She was so weak that she didn’t even jerk when they gave her the shot, didn’t shed a tear, just looked up at my face with betrayal and exhaustion writ large on her face.

I cradled her all the way home and wondered why she was being made to suffer so. In no small measure because of her constant playing in mud, climbing trees, petting strays and feeding cats, no doubt.

But she’d been so ill, that I had kept her home from school, refused to allow her TV for the strain on her eyes and had nothing to do but to lie next to her and read to her. And Her Highness had finally deigned to begin reading with me. Oh she could spell the words and read them out, she just hadn’t any desire to go through a book.

But she slowly regained health and chose to spend more and more time reading. Reading aloud first, then to herself as she got more comfortable. And then tonight, sweet revenge I made her read the book she’d made me read over and over again, until I was ready to slit my wrists. Richa Jha’s The Susu Pals is the book she loved enough to finally sit down and read to herself.

The Susu Pals

Don’t let the name put you off. I know there are purists who believe that there is a certain form literature must take. I have nothing to say to them. I’m all for reading everything, anything and having no boundaries on what one can read or write about. The Bean, like all girls, is constantly seeking that one best friend to bond with. We’ve moved thrice in the last four years, making that a little difficult. And then one of her closest friends moved to Colombo, ruining our last effort.

This book, about two best friends, Rhea and Dia, who do everything together. Even do susu together. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me because when I was a child I always envied the way men stood at the urinals and continued a conversation they’d started outside the loo, no sign of embarrassment. So while I’m not sure the Bean and any of her friends will end up sharing a toilet seat, I am blown away by the fact that Richa thought of it and used it. The ultimate test of friendship!

I also love the games the girls play together – robbing banks, slaying dragons, raiding tombs, sailing the seas as pirates. None of the stereotypical waiting for princes and making cups of tea. No sirree. Hear that crash? That’s Richa’s book bringing down the second taboo in as many pages.

And then one day Isha enters the picture and their friendship is not the same. Isha and Dia hook up, leaving Rhea out in the cold. Dia now finds her games silly, her ideas boring, and her company is unwanted.

Do Dia and Rhea get back together? Yes, they do. Read the book to figure out how. And there’s a surprise element towards the end that I won’t give away.

The Unboy Boy, seems to have been written for the Brat and I shook my head in surprise when I read it. It’s almost as though Richa visited our home and chose to write a book to that each of my children could relate to.

The Unboy Boy

As the name suggests, Gagan isn’t your average boy. He loves ants, he says good morning to the sun and eschews violence to the extent of not enjoying war stories (here I must digress, the Brat is taking a keen interest in history and wars!). His classmates tease him mercilessly and even his grandfather unkindly calls him a chooha (mouse).

And then one day while at camp, a pet cat disappears and there might just be a ghost around the corner. It’s up to Gagan to save the day now.

The illustrations by Gautam Benegal and Alicia Souza are simply fantastic. I’m sorry to lump the work of individual artists together, but both have a keen eye for detail and the little asides are fantastic.

Please buy. Please gift. And also read Art’s review of the books at Saffron Tree.

 

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