‘The Night Life of Trees’ (2006) by Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai & Ramsingh Urveti
One of my earliest memories is of a rather precarious joyride through Aarey [in Bombay], in the late eighties — three children and an adult on a Hero Honda in pursuit of Energee! The forest took on different meaning through the years, from safe haven to muse to place of pride. The recent news of the BMC’s approval to clear nearly 3,000 trees in the forest for a Metro shed is heartbreaking to say the least. It’s telling of how far we’ve strayed from our roots, literally and figuratively. The Night Life of Trees from Tara Books is an apt reminder of our association with trees.
Based on the folklore of central India’s Gond tribe, its simplistic storytelling has trees as both stage and star — at times revealing their role as selfless givers; at times alluding to their enchanted nocturnal spirits. The delicious illustrations are by three of the community’s finest artists — Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and Ramsingh Urveti. The book’s large format, silkscreen-printed on textured black paper recycled from cotton waste, makes it a tactile treat.
—Gretchen Ferrao Walker, editorial consultant
‘Cry, Heart, But Never Break’ (2001) by Glenn Ringtved; illustrated by Charlotte Pardi
This book narrates the story of four children who live with their grandmother. One day, she had a visitor: Death. Here, Death is depicted as a calm, caring visitor (as opposed to how we view death in reality). Although the children try to keep Death away from their sick grandmother, Death attempts to prepare them for the foreseeable future by narrating a story about two brothers, Grief and Sorrow, and two sisters, Joy and Delight.
I believe that books on difficult topics such as this are necessary for children, and this title does immense justice to the notion of death and the emotions that come with it. To add to the charm of the already beautifully written book are the illustrations, lending a rough, unfinished look. The dark pencil lines, the unevenness of the watercolours and pastel shades right till the end are all visible, which adds to the warmth as well as the sadness of the story. I’d recommend that it be read by every child and adult at least once!
—Pranita Kocharekar, illustrator and designer
‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ (2013) by Oliver Jeffers
This is one of the most adorable recent children’s books I have read (gifted to me by Rohan Chakravarty, whose Bird Business, also, I’d highly recommend). The story talks about each colour complaining to humans about something that has been bothering them. Who is responsible for the colour of the sun — yellow crayon or orange crayon? Or blue, who loves his job but is tired from being overused? The takeaway — which is brilliant — is that all crayons are unique, and it is their differences that work in their favour. What’s more interesting is that there’s no fixed colour for anything. Black could be used for cheerful things, and pink could be used for cowboys — there’s no need for assigned genders and emotions for colours. It is essential to break such stereotypes as well as ideas of conditioning, and this is delightfully portrayed as a lesson for kids through this book.
—Sejal Mehta, writer and editor
‘Tomorrow I’ll be Brave’ (2018) by Jessica Hische
Picture books for kids are often meant to inspire dreams and hope, but one of the reasons Tomorrow I’ll be Brave is a favourite is because it is also gentle, empowering and forgiving. It’s a simple narrative that blends the stunning lettering that Jessica Hische is known for with adjectives to aspire to — like strong, smart, confident, brave… — for a better tomorrow. It’s a gentle reminder to ease the pressure: it’s okay if everything isn’t accomplished today, the future is still bright. And at its core, it’s also a to-do list (and a case for procrastination, perhaps — Hische is also well known in design circles for her advice on “procrastiworking”).
—Fabiola Monteiro, Senior Editor, Paper Planes
‘Fly, Little Fish!’ (2017) by Lavanya Karthik; illustrated by Satwik Gade & Ashwathy P S
This little gem of a picture book has my heart. It tells the story of a fish that wants to fly, taking the reader through its journey, urging you to egg her/him on. The story is a healthy reminder that all of us are different and that all our dreams are valid, whether others believe in them or not. As we grow up, it is so easy to lose ourselves in our quest to fit in. This book reminded me to hold on to the unique person who dwells in me and listen to her dreams, to cheer her on. It’s a great title to have on your bookshelf for days that feel blue.