Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Title : Mr. Popper's Penguins
Author : Richard and Florence Atwater
Age : 5-12 years

Read a truly feel good children's book after a long time. Once again I owe the sheer pleasure of reading a wonderful book to none other than my sister. She is the one who introduced us to the creative world of Jeff Brown (Stanley series), E.B.White(Charlotte's Web), Andrew Clements (Frindle) and many others. So when this time she mentioned the title 'Mr. Popper's Penguins', I lost no time in placing an order on Flipkart. It  helps that her first born is elder to my children so I get to inherit all the collected wisdom of her experience with the elder child. The family is in US and the mother and kids combo makes the best use of their local public library, taking part in most of their reading programs as well.

Though I have never seen a penguin in real life and I am sure most of the readers haven't either, but based on whatever I have seen in pictures, movies, TV programmes and other such sources, penguins have always appeared to me as very gentle(wo)manly with well groomed hair(fur), shining black tuxedo kind coats, snow-white fronts and sleek beaks. Just seeing them gives an impression that they are always ready for a party or for an office presentation.  And these are exactly the feelings of Mr. Popper as he dreams of far away lands while reveling in his favourite pastime of reading about the polar regions and the inhabitants of those regions.
A painter by profession with limited resources, he knows he could never live his dream of being in the midst of the polar creatures so he looks forward to devoting all his free time reading about them.

While listening to one of the radio programs Mr Popper hears his name called out when Admiral Drake who happens to be exploring Antarctica actually answers Mr. Popper's fan mail with a promise of a surprise. Shortly thereafter a surprise package lands at the Mr. Popper's doorstep. Out comes a fine penguin who is soon christened as Captain Cook by Poppers. The whole family gears up to make their new guest comfortable in their home by letting Captain Cook sleep in the specifically customized family freezer. One is lonely and two is company so another penguin Greta from Zoo joins Captain soon to have a big family with hime. Popper's family is thrilled to have them because Captain's family including ten little penguins now have brought playfulness and cheerfulness in the whole household but there are practical matters to take care of too and the financial issues topped the list of their worries.

Mrs and Mr Popper come up with a brilliant idea of training the penguins to organize a show with them - 'Popper's Performing Penguins'. The unique show soon becomes a rage and gets invited throughout the country but because of some unfortunate misunderstanding Mr. Popper and his penguins end up in a jail. There is a sweet twist in the tale at the end and Mr. Popper gets the lifetime opportunity to live his dream of ages.

The book was originally published in 1938 but a good story remains a good story no matter what year it is. This is undoubtedly one of the finest books in the children's literature space. The illustrations by Robert Lawson are par excellence so do pick the one with illustrations by him. The easily understandable language and the simplicity of the story would surely capture all readers right from page one.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong

Title : It's Not About the Bike (My Journey Back to Life)
Author : Lance Armstrong
Publisher : Yellow Jersey Press
ISBN : 978-0-224-06087-5

Lance Armstrong has been in news for the wrong reasons these days as he confessed having taken performance enhancing drugs to compete for the prestigious Tour De France title, not once, not twice but seven times. Yes, to err is human but sometimes the price of committing some mistakes is so high that it can rip a person off of his/her name, fame and wealth. Unfortunately 'the' unmatched and 'the' invincible Lance Armstrong has become an example of such a case. Final verdict is he has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, Olympic bronze medal that he won in 2000 and a lifetime ban has been imposed on him by anti-doping agency. A very sad departure of a fighting spirit from the arena of sports. Lance, you have indeed let your fans down. Lance writes in his book, "Odd as it may sound, I would rather have the title of cancer survivor than winner of the Tour" and after the big revelation he gets to keep the former title only.

There is no reason whatsoever why anybody should resort to unfair means to achieve anything including any coveted prizes or awards. Having said that, his indefatigable spirit to fight against a formidable enemy cancer and his determination to take his body to the same level of fitness where it was before the disease is indeed commendable. "It's Not About The Bike" is a tribute to a man's inspiration, enthusiasm, perseverance, unflinching spirit and determination to achieve what he aimed for.

Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the prime age of twenty four when everything was going right for him in the sporting world. The cancer had spread to his lungs and to his brain as well and he was given 40% chances of survival by his doctors. The ordeal that began in the third quarter of 1996 took much more from him than he expected but he battled against the disease, the life sucking chemotherapy sessions, the financial burden and fear of losing his career. But he survived against all odds and not just survived, he worked hard to regain his physical and mental strength so much so that just after sixteen months of getting discharged from the hospital, he won the Tour de France (in 1999) in the fastest ever time. 
(Tour de France is a grueling competition of cycling. The tour typically has 21 days of racing with 2 rest days and covers 3,200km (2000 miles). Tour de France is supposed to be the most physiologically demanding of athletic events. The number of teams varies from 20 and 22 with nine riders in each team)

He inherited the fighting spirit from his single mother who taught him to make every obstacle an opportunity and to make every negative a positive. Lance shares(partly ?) the pages from his life book with the readers and talks about disappointments and miracles, despair and hope, and fear and courage.

Interestingly he also brings up the topic of doping and drugs in the narrative at a couple of places. In his own words:
"Doping is an unfortunate fact of life in cycling, or any other endurance sport for that matter. Inevitably, some teams and riders feel it’s like nuclear weapons - that they have to do it to stay competitive within the peloton (dictionary meaning: The main field or group of cyclists in a race). I never felt that way, and certainly after chemo the idea of putting anything foreign in my body was especially repulsive."

"I can emphatically say I am not on drugs. I thought a rider with my history and my health situation wouldn't be such a surprise, I'm not a new rider. I know there's been looking, and prying, and digging, but you're not going to find anything.  There's nothing to find… and once everyone has done their due diligence and realizes they need to be professional and can't print a lot of crap, they'll realize they're dealing with a clean guy".

But entirely from the book's point of view, it is a well written piece, makes a great read and has managed to motivate many people including our very own Yuvraj Singh.

"I would just like to say one thing. If you ever get a second chance in life for something, you've got to go all the way."