Sunday, March 25, 2012

Henrietta Sharp and the Magic Lunch Box

Author: Jan Welborn-Nichols
Illustrator: Susan Bachman
Type: e-book

Henrietta Sharp and the Magic Lunch Box is a book for pre-teens. The story revolves around a seventh grader Henrietta Sharp or Henri and her adventures along with her best friend Taffy, cousin P.J. Adams and a faithful mentor, the magic lunch box or L.B. for short.

Henri was a very bright student, but she lacked confidence because she did not have an attractive physique. One fine day she had strange experiences at school where see felt the walls to be moving. Back home she found a magic lunch box in her room which told her that she is a ‘Traveler’ and that she has the power to open portals and travel to far reaches of the universe. She told this to her friend and her cousin and together they, under the able guidance of L.B. and a life sized doll, Olive set out on a mission to save Earth from the wrath of the evil.

'Spoiler alert'...Through the journey, the kids meet a number of interesting people, like Sir Brocco Lee, McCauly Flower and so on and a few bad people like Max Nightingale. They have a lot of adventure and the three kids discover their latent talents. It is interesting how the story reveals through many twists and turns.

The book has a striking likeness with the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling and ‘The Dragonfly Prophecy’, by Jacquelyn Castle. All the three books have a kid with superpowers of which he/she is not aware of until someone special turns up out of nowhere and tells him/her about them. All the three had doting parents and had friends play a major role in their lives. The ‘committee’ of ‘Henrietta Sharp and the Magic Lunch Box’, the ‘ministry of magic’ of the Harry Potter series and the ‘commission’ of ‘The Dragonfly Prophecy’ play almost the same role. Like Rowling, Nichols has also used the nomenclature that is often a crooked form of a meaningful word that describes the thing. For instance, Grymvald could stand for ‘grim world’; Brocco Lee could come from ‘broccoli’ and so on.

The book has a few very funny instances, the funniest being when Henri thought, “What just happened? My enemy is my grandfather, my grandmother is right here but not really, my great aunt is a doll, and my mom doesn’t remember any of this. Nothing makes any sense.”

A wonderful pastime read, ‘Henrietta Sharp and the Magic Lunch Box’ is surely a book every child would love.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur? by Oceanhouse Media

Title : Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur?

(The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library)

Publisher : Oceanhouse Media

Available on : Apple Store

The Cat in the Hat's learning library aims at introducing the interesting natural concepts of world around us to the young readers by making education entertaining. In line with this objective, this is another offering in digital format by Oceanhouse Media with two options - Read to Me and Read Aloud.

The book has Sally and Dick, hidden messages held by Thing One and Thing Two, and the favourite Cat in the Hat as the tour guide who likes to call himself - Cat-in-the-hat-saurus. The Cat in the Hat takes Dick and Sally to a trip millions of years back in time when enormous lizards ruled over earth and the fossils of these fascinating creatures form an interesting research topic. They then go to the Super Dino Museum to learn more about various Dinosaurs who roamed on the face of Earth during prehistoric period.

It begins with a brief introduction about the Dinosaurs followed by going into specifics of some dinosaurs. The readers are helped along in correctly pronouncing the names of these dinosaurs by breaking the words into smaller fragments. This is not all, a small lesson is taught on paleontology too - what are fossils, where are these fossils found, how are they then put together like puzzle pieces to create the whole structures. These skeletons are now displayed in the museums for all to see and learn how these enormous creatures looked like.

Application features like - more information popping up on tapping Dino names, words getting highlighted as they are spoken out, tap on the images leading to naming words, touch-to-hear text and bold words leading to a little more detail, along with beautiful background score and sound effects, make it a great reading and interactive experience.

Children will enjoy the well acquainted characters and style of Dr. Seuss in new avatar. A great way to introduce the fascinating dinosaur world to young children. The zany illustrations and rhyming text are totally signature style of Dr. Seuss and are retained in exact same form.

This application has a slight variation in navigating from one page to another. Unlike the previous one, this has an arrow in the bottom right corner instead of swiping option. The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library is surely doing a great service by making these informative books available on the hand held devices too.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Title: WutheringHeights
Author:Emily Bronte
Publication:Peacock Books; Price:Rs. 95; ISBN:978-81-248-0009-6

Having learnt from my teachers as it being one of the best classics English literature could possibly gift and having read its abridged version as a child, I could not resist myself upon seeing this complete and unabridged version of ‘Wuthering Heights’ at the World Book Fair’12 in Delhi. And so my romance with the classics of English literature begins once again.

‘WutheringHeights’, a complex piece of artistic literature is a narration of events relating to two households Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, by a certain Mrs. Ellen Dean, inscribed as the diary entries of a certain Mr.Lockwood.

In1801- Mr. Lockwood, a tenant at Thrushcross Grange, went to meet his landlordand his sole neighbour, Mr. Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights and found the atmosphere of the house quite dismal, with the residents including an uncultured lad, a beautiful but bad natured young widow and two servants apart from Mr. Heathcliff himself. He had to stay there for that night as it had started to snow and he could not go back to his own residence. At night, in the room he was made to spend the night, he saw a strangs set of books containing labels, Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Linton and Catherine Heathcliff. He also had a nightmare where he encountered Catherine Linton telling him that she had been roaming on this earth, all alone and cold!

A confused Mr. Lockwood, upon reaching Thrushcross Grange asked his housekeeper, Mrs. Ellen Dean to tell him what the events that had happened actually meant and who were the three Catherines.

She began her narration that many years back the Wuthering Heights had been the property and abode of the Earnshaws. She was the servant employed to play with the children Hindley and Catherine Earnshaw. One day their father brought home an orphan, an uncivilized creature, whom he named Heathcliff and whom he loved more than his own children.

Heathcliffgrew to be a real devil, basically wanting to gather and possess all the property he possibly could, but he loved Catherine dearly. Though even she loved him much, she married Mr. Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange. Mr.Linton and Mr. Heathcliff could not get along with each other at any time in their lives.

In due course of time, Hindley Earnshaw gets married, his father dies, his wife too dies leaving behind a son, Hareton. Isabella – Mr. Edgar Linton’s sister fell in the trap purposely laid by Heathcliff as revenge against taking away Catherine and also as a scheme to finally be the owner of Thrushcross Grange. Isabella fell in love and married Heathcliff. Mrs. Catherine Linton kept losing her health over her divided love for Heathcliff and Edgar (Heathcliff basically, for they lovedeach other dearly, and Edgar, a little for he was her husband). She leaves behind a daughter, also named Catherine (or Cathy, as her father fondly callsher) and leaves for her heavenly abode. Ellen Dean and Mr. Linton bring up young Cathy in the most protective and loving manner in which they possiblycould.

Meanwhileat Wuthering Heights, Isabella is oppressed, tortured and she finally runs away to the south where she has a son, Linton Heathcliff. She dies young and her sickly son is brought up by his inhuman father, merely as a tool that might fetch his father the ownership of the Grange if he might inherit it one day. Hindley Earnshaw gambles and loses all his land to Heathcliff and Hareton is left a pauper after Hindley’s early death.

Heathcliff makes young Cathy Linton his prisoner and trickily gets her married to his son. He gets his son to write a will that after him, all his property will got to his father, Mr. Heathcliff.

Soon, sickly Cathy’s husband Linton Heathcliff and her father Mr. Edgar Linton (who had been suffering long) slip into eternal slumber. And this was the present state whenHeathcliff, the present owner of both the estates, Hareton Earnshaw, the uncivilized fellow Lockwood had met and Mrs. Catherine Heathcliff, the youngwidow of Mr. Linton Heathcliff lived at Wuthering Heights at the mercy of the old crook Heathcliff.
Very soon Lockwood leaves the Grange and moves to London.

In1802- Mr. Lockwood had another chance of visiting Thrushcross Grange where he finds that Ellen Dean has shifted to Wuthering Heights. He goes there to meet her and to settle some pending transactions with Mr. Heathcliff and finds that Heathcliff has died and thus now young Catherine is the owner of the two estates and very soon she and Hareton would be tying the knot and moving to the Thrushcross Grange, for she liked that place better and because they thought that Wuthering Heights was now haunted.

And thus the book closes on this peaceful and happy note.

Through the entire story, we get a good number of pieces that require a thought. Generations after generations, the same mistakes are repeated. As a famous quote goes, “Every generation thinks that it is better than the previous and wiser than the next” and the proverb “love is blind” comes true through this text. It was the baseless, blind yet tender love of Mrs. Catherine Linton for Heathcliff that ultimately destroyed her. Her sister-in-law, Isabella, even after having a lot of intelligence about his character, thought the entire world was against her and that her love was divine, married the rascal and suffered much. Young Cathy also believed that her love for the junior Heathcliff was pure and would pay little heed to anyone showing the the light of realitythat existed in life.

In the story, Mr. Edgar Linton comes across as a perfect gentleman, a good son, a caring brother, a really awesome husband (it is mentioned that no mother would tend to her only child as Edgar tended to Catherine) and a perfect father (the example is the bringing up he gave to his motherless daughter).

Another thing that comes in view is the human greed and selfishness. It has been there ever since and shall remain till human race exists. Heathcliff is shown to be a greedy man whose sole intention in life was to own the two estates mentioned in the book and he could go to any length to achieve his aim. He ruined two proper families, apart from his own, of course, to fuel his ambition and in the end he barely survived for six months after fraudulently gaining the ownership of the Grange, to enjoy the fruits of his wickedness. The question arises that if the grave is our ultimate destination and that all we do/make shall remain behind,why do we indulge in all sorts of wrong deeds, schemes and frauds?

A beautiful pattern can be seen in the way Mrs. Catherine Linton, born and brought up at Wuthering Heights cherished her old home more than the Grange; Isabella having spent her early years at the Grange found the Heights worthless. Young Cathy also decided to shift back to Thrushcross Grange upon her marriage to Hareton, for she loved that place much better.

The beautiful scenery, the vast open moors, the parks, the holy influence of the Church and the bible, colourful and picturesque description of the seasons, the varied facets of human nature, the deep running emotions and feelings of people that undermine all the rigid rules that are laid down by civilized society and of course the exuberant description and narration of the events, make‘Wuthering Heights’ a must read for those who want to cherish English literature in its pristine and the most beauteous form.

The Glass Tree by M Mukundan

Title : The Glass Tree

Author : M Mukundan

Illustrator : Poonam Athalye

Publisher : Katha

ISBN : 978-81-89934-79-8

'The Glass Tree' is one of the most endearing tales that I have ever read which begins with a role reversal of sorts. Grandma Mutthashi is pestering his grandson Unni, for a story before going to bed. This is because Unni's stories can put Mutthashi to sleep.

It does not take much time for 2-year Unni to relent to the pleadings of his Mutthashi. On this particular night Unni has a special story for his grandma- the story of a glass tree. He begins narrating the story as he imagines some pictures appearing on a bare wall in front of him. It is about a village chief - Kuruman. He is offering his prayers to the stone idol under the huge Champaka tree when a stranger, Melkorran addresses him and makes him believe that the old Champaka tree is about to die soon. Melkorran offers his services to Kuruman as he is adept in the art of making trees that don't grow old nor even shed a single leaf. Kuruman is completely bewitched by the idea of such a fascinating tree. Soon enough Melkorran sets to work, the old Champaka tree comes crashing down and the chirping inhabitants of the tree run helter-skelter trying to save their babies in the nests.

Melkorran shapes each and every part of the tree with utmost care and love. He builds the most beautiful glass tree which glistens with the sun rays but in spite of its magnificence there is something that the glass tree lacks.

Soon the images start to fade away from the wall in front of Unni and his story comes to an end.

This is actually retelling of a prize-winning original story. Fascinating art work by Poonam Athalye is a treat for the eyes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trade Winds To Meluhha by Vasant Dave

Title : Trade Winds To Meluhha

Author : Vasant Dave

Publisher : Vasantrai P. Dave

E-format ISBN : 978-81-922506-0-1

In 'Trade Winds to Meluhha', the author Vasant Dave recreates the scene of Bronze Age in Mesopotamia and Indus Valley Civilization. As the title of the book suggests, the story revolves around the trade between the two ancient civilizations.

Samasin, the stable boy of a Babylonian - Nergal, gets accused falsely in a murder case of a visitor who happens to be a businessman from Meluhha. He absconds from that place in search of Siwa Saqra, the person whose name the dying man uttered. As the destiny would have it, he meets beautiful lass Velli and falls in love with her but she does not reciprocate his feelings because of her own reasons. There is another character Anu who is in search of certain men for revenge. Samasin with the assistance of Anu gets to decipher a Dholavira glyph which leads them to another adventure in the ravines of Saraswati. He does succeed in finding Siwa Saqra in Mohenjodaro but is there something more to the murder in Babylon than he knew already?

Gradually the mystery gets revealed behind the trade between Meluhha and Mesopotamia and the master mind responsible for the execution of wicked schemes is unmasked.

A very well thought out plot and is executed cleverly. While reading the book, the readers would surely get the feeling of travelling back in time and I must compliment the author in providing the perfect balance of authenticity and imagination in the narration. The way each character is etched, the names given to them, certain phrases of bygone era and the sensibilities of that society - make for an interesting read. It is evident that author has done a lot of research on that period of time, the people who lived then and their lifestyles and he has succeeded in creating the rustic feel to the story which is absolutely required for a historical novel.

But how much ever I try, I cannot avoid mentioning that the story is not free of typos, a couple of more editing iterations should have been done before releasing the final version. As I began reading the book, for initial 25-30 pages, I found it a cumbersome read because of introduction of too many characters too soon and completely unfamiliar kind of setting but slowly the saga pulled me in and then I realized that perhaps that kind of introduction is absolutely necessary for setting the stage.

This book claims to be the first professionally researched novel on Harappan Civilization. It is available as eBook on Amazon.