Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A is for anything but an Apple : part two of the alphabet books with a difference series

I had posted the first part of a two part series on alphabet books with a difference and had promised a second part with fun alphabet books from Indian publishing houses. Apart from the obvious advantage of having an alphabet book with colours, characters, illustrations and examples that are culturally and socially familiar to a child, to me, these Indian made English alphabet books are very significant in our journey towards recovering from a post colonial hangiver and taking ownership of the language. 'Indian English' is not something one needs to cover up under a forgein degree. It's the result of a complex history and struggle and something we ought to take pride in. 

First up is a book with lovely illustrations in colours that are not typically found in children's books. The text by itself it fairly straight forward along the line of D is for a paddling of Ducks. It follows the format of matching animals to their communal groups and can be an excellent resource for older children as well. Is it a good book? yes. Is it my favourite of the three I am writing about today? No. 

The Alphabet of Animals and Birds by Prabha Mallya (illustrated and written) 
Published by Rupa 

I have lost track of the number of copies of this book that I have bought to give as gifts. By far my favourite alphabet book. I have always been a big fan of Anushka Ravishakrs writing and this one is no exception. Meet delightful Lions Licking Lollipops and Dull Donkeys Dancing Daily as you laugh your way through the book. It's witty, it's delightful and does wonderful things to the your toddlers vocabulary. 

Alphabets are Amazing Animals by Anushka Ravishankar 
Illustrated by Christiane Pieper
Published by Tara Books 

This is the newest alphabet book in our collection and a very interactive and fun one at that. Bright and happy illustrations and engaging text that will get you standing up, jumping, hopping and twisting over to form alphabets with your toddler. It's got the right amount of silly to get your toddler (and you) giggling. 

Hey, That's An A by Jerry Pinto 
Illustrated by Sayan Mukherjee
Published by Tulika 

And that, my dear children, is the end of this set. What shall we chat about in he next book post? 

Monday, January 30, 2017

One Saree, Three Occasions

I literally cannot say or write enough about my love for a nicely starched cotton saree. I would pick a cotton over any other fabric any day of the week. I wear them everywhere from weddings to coffee meetings. Most of us hesitate to wear a simple cotton saree to a special occasion because we think it will not look formal enough. Trust me when I say that a cotton saree with the right accessories can look as dressed up as any other 'dressy' saree. This ability to go seamlessly from one ocassion to another makes the cotton saree the most versatile garment in my wardrobe. 

Reena Sujai of Hastavem (she sources and curates beautiful Chettinad cottons through her Instagram and Facebook pages) sent me a lovely  gentle green Chettinad handloom cotton and that's the saree I am going to showcase today to help you style a simple cotton saree for 1) a wedding or formal occasion, 2) a concert or comparable occasion  3) a informal lunch or coffee date with friends. 

For a formal occasion like a formal social gather or a wedding where you are bound to end up feeling hot and stuffy in a silk. 

I have paired the Chettinad cotton saree with a silk cotton jacquard blouse, a pair of heavy antique kemp jhumkas and a traditional  kemp adigai. If you going to give his a try, stay away from the shiny gold and stick to antique or temple jewellery. 

Next is the same saree styled for a concert. 

I do not wear dressy silks to concerts. Not even to my Husband's concerts! I find that a dressed up cotton saree does he job as effectively as silk does. Chetrinad cotton saree paired with a kalamkari patchwork blouse and a pretty red and oxidised metal necklace and earrings from Rimli Botique (she has an Instagram page and a physical store in T Nagar, Madras). I rarely wear matched earrings and necklaces but this is one set that I would actually wear as a set! 

And for the last look, yes, you can wear a saree to lunch with friends or family! I wore this very saree with this blouse to an informal lunch with cousins and it looked perfectly casual. A saree need not necessarily be 'for a special ocassion' only garment. If a salwar or kurta can be worn casually so can a saree, right? Don't let all those yards of fabric  intimidate you. 

I have styled the cotton saree with a block printed sleeves less blouse, a pair of wooden earrings that must be about fifteen years old and a stunning brass and bead necklace from Umang Beads (deigned by a mother-daughter duo whose aesthetic I LOVE. They are on Instagram and on Facebook). 

If you try any of these looks for for yourself, let me know! I would love to see how you style yours. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Indigo Tales : one saree six ways

I know I have promised a lot of you that I will start doing blog posts about sarees and I decided to start that series off with a one sarees six ways post. Sarees are extremely versatile and never go out of fashion. A lot of times, we end up in a situation where the blouse  that was originally woven with the saree is no longer usable because it's either ruined or too tight or made in a style we know longer like wearing and the saree goes into the cupboard where it stays for the next decade. The adventurous amongst us pair it with a 'matching' blouse or a neutral coloured blouse. 

My favourite part about wearing a saree is the yards of colour and all the possibilities of mixing and matching it with other colours and textures and weaves. It's like a fun canvas that you can paint on over and over again. The same saree worn with a different blouse and jewellery can end up looking like another outfit alltogether. I never get blouses made for particular sarees. I get them made as I find fabrics I like and pair them with sarees as I feel like on the day I was that saree. Here I start with six blouse and jewellery pairings. If I were to write this post tomorrow I would probably do six entiredifferent blouses. 

The saree I have chosen today is a beautiful buttery soft indigo block printed mul cotton from Chidiyaa Online (look them up on Instagram and Facebook) that makes some very interesting block printed clothing. This is my current favourite indigo saree and that is saying a lot considering how many indigo sarees I own. If I were to pick six wardrobe staple sarees an indigo would definitely be on the list. This is my Saree equivalent of a pair of well fitting dark  denim jeans. The styling possibilities are endless.

The first features three trends that are very popular right now. Indigo on indigo, print on print and a crop top with a saree.the crop top featured here is also from Chidiyaa Online and I love the way they have put this crop top and saree together. Lon dokra beads that won't interfere with the high collared neckline of the top and a pair of handmade brass earrings to keep things interesting.

Look two is a bright green ikkat blouse, and silver jewellery. Experiment with fabrics and weaves too. Ikkat and block print, khun and block print, block print and block print and or even a stretchy knit with it! 

Look three is another ikkat on block print, this time, a bright red. Indigo and red or indigo and blue are guaranteed to be stunning. Especially if they are and bright reds or pinks. This blouse style (cute high all around the neck) is my current favourite. I skipped a necklace and went with long Jhumkas from Amrapali.

Do not be afraid to pair bright accessories with bright coloured outfits. Just like colours that compliment each other in saturation and vibrance. Sunny yellow + indigo = summer ready. Red and Blue bespoke beads from Umang (find them on Instagram and Facebook). 

This is for a day when you want to keep it simple and play up the indigo of the saree. Look for a black or white blouse with an interesting texture, weave or print to keep the look from getting boring and predictable. The stunning jhumkas (in a different shade of blue that picks the indigo of the saree 
without distracting away form it) is from Rimli botique (they are on Instagram and have a store in T Nagar, Chennai). 

And to finish the post, a grey and red Sambalpuri Ikkat. I seem to be having a ikkat day, don't I? I promise it was not intentional at all. The blouse is a fairly natural colour and the band of red provides a splash of colour. Temple jewellery goes with anything. So don't just reserve it for you South Indian silks and Kanchi or chettinad cottons. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Is for Anything but an Apple : part one of the Alphabet books with a difference series

Alphabet books with a difference

Raising a spirited, curious toddler who is discovering language at a remarkable speed is an exciting journey for the adults around because it helps us re-discover our own relationship language all over again in the process.  Watching my toddler learn new words and use  them to articulate and engage with the world around him is an almost everyday re-learning experience for me. It is a constant reminder of exactly how empowering language can be not just as a tool of effective communication but to give form to a child's (or an adults) imagination. The careful way in which a child picks the perfect word from his expanding vocabulary to best describe the fanstatical creatures and places in his make believe world has made me realise how unimaginatively and functionally most adults use words. 

As promised, 2017 will be the year I post more about children's books and to commence this year of reading and discovery I am going to write about our current favourite set of books : Alphabet books. Disclaimer : these are not your average  A is for Apple books. Think more along the lines of D is for Danger Delilah or L is for Lions Licking Lollipops. If you think the further possibility of your child, on being quizzed on his alphabet, replying with A is for Aunt Annie's Alligator unsettling then feel free to skip this post. If your home is like ours, then A could be for anything from Appalam to Aggi (our furchild Azhagi) depending on the day and that is perfectly fine by us. That is also why we love these quirky books. 

Book number 1 is a classic. You cannot beat Dr Seuss for some old fashioned sillies. Itch away with them itchy ichabods. My toddler loves the rhyme and the giggles.

ABC : An Amazing Alphabet book by Dr Seuss
Published by Random House

Baby Lit books are all the rage now and I am a huge fan myself. However, these alphabet books (we have A is for Atom : A mid century alphabet) are not my favourites from them. The illustrations and beautiful but I do feel like they may be more exciting for the adults as collectibles than for the children. For instance, D is for drive in does not make much sense to a toddler in 2017 and is not an important enough cultural reference for me to have a chat with him about at this point. The pre historic alphabet for instance may be a bit more general and less to do with a particular culture but this is not one of our favourites. 

A is for Atom : A Midcentury Alphabet by Greg Paprocki
Published by Gibbs Smith

There isn't much that Oliver Jeffers has published that I don't love and this book here is no different. It is exactly what the title announces it to be : short stories for every letter of the alphabet. The stories are sweet, thoughtful, bizarre, silly and just plain wonderful. Danger Delilah, a Dare Devil who laughs in the face of Disaster is a big hit in this home. Anybody that knows me also knows how particular I am about a well illustrated book and this one ticks that box as well. Once Upon an Alphabet is a keeper and will be a part of our library long after I am done  having children and they are all grown. 

Once Upon An Alphabet : Short stories for all the letters by Oliver Jeffers 
Published by Harper Collins 

In part two (which I hope to have up in a few days) of this set I will be writing about Alphabet books from some Indian publishing houses if you want to wait to read that as well before picking copies up for yourselves. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Three un-princessy princesses (A Book Notes series post)

Raising a child on traditional Fairy Tale stereotypes is a dangerous proposition. You run the risk of bringing up a little girl who thinks she needs to be pretty' princess waiting around to be rescued or a little boy who thinks he needs to be in control of other people's lives and decisions. Either way, this is a terrifying thought to take into the future with us because we don't want to be raising another generation of humans who think that women should be soft and dependent and men should act entitled and claim ownership over these women, their bodies and their mind.

You may think I'm ruining childhood by deconstructing a 'simple' sweet story but I think not. Nothing is as simple as it seems and the responsibilites of raising a child include being honest and truthful irrespective of how difficult we may find that. Children are capable of a lot more clarity, intelligence and sensitivity than your average adult, in my opinion. I believe it may be time for us to re-evaluate these problematic notions of gender and not blindly pass them along to them.. Not reading Sleeping Beauty or the popular versions of Cinderella (I don't include the Brothers Grimm version here) will not make your offspring's childhood less magical. Growing up in an environment where there is no space for questioning and curiosity will. Magic is in exploring, learning from your mistakes and  making your own destiny.  Magic is not about waiting locked up in a tower for somebody to come and rescue you.

We belong to a generation that grew up being told that that these gendered constructs are 'normal' and even desirable.  Drop the veil of childhood nostalgia and take a look at where it has left us. I certainly don't want to be responsible for raising another insensitive adult so you are unlikely to find those kind of 'children's fairy tale' books on our book shelves.

Having said all that, there are some days when you want a bit of fairy tales and princesses and dragons in your life and for those days I have these non-princess-ey princess book picks. These books feature three princesses from different cultures. There are wizards and dragons and even a royal airplane. There is also a conspicuous lack of a prince in all three books.

The Princess and The Wizard by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Lydia Monks
Publisheer : Macmillan

The book  starts out a bit  like a 'typical ' pink and glitter filled princess book about a blonde haired blue eyed princess, a wizard and a fairy godmother but just when you expect your usual (slightly insipid) Prince Charming to come to the rescue the plot goes in another direction. Here you meet  a clever little Princess who is in control of her own situation and escapes the vile wizard by outwitting him.

Never Say No To A Princess by Tracey Corderoy
Illustrated by Kate Leake
Publisher : Alison Green Books (Scholastic)

The next princess is another blue eyed blonde who lives in a pink sparkly  castle, of course. This is where the stereotype ends though for this  is a cleverly subversive book where an entitled  little  princess is taught manners by a dragon! Once again, not a single random prince in sight.

Princess Easy Pleasy by Natasha Sharma and Priya Kuriyan
Publisher : Karadi Tales

This is my favourite princess of the three because she is a modern day Indian princess with everyday problems. Princess Easy Pleasy is an insufferable little girl who is never pleased by anything! By the end of the book she learns  that being so difficult and precious is a bit over rather and that it's a lot more fun being a regular adventurous kid.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Books notes : Four First Books

I have never really gone by reading group levels for my now 20 month old from when he was a newborn and more by what he (and we) seemed to enjoy. Once he started picking his own books to read (around 12 months) I started leaving a mix of board books and  picture books across two or three reading levels accessible for him to pick up and read whenever he wanted do. There four books that I'm going to write about today were amongst his first ever books and have remained firm favourites for 20 months now. It's been very interesting to see the changing way in which he has engaged with the same book over the last year and half.

Doggies (A Counting and Barkin Book) By Sandra Boynton
Published by Little Simon

We have a fair number of books featuring  dogs in our library which is hardly surprising considering that my child's first proper word was his furbling's name! This book is exactly what it claims to be - a courting and barking book. For example, one dog says woof and then it builds on with a different bark variation for each number. you can imagine how loud 10 dogs and 10 different barking noises is going to get. This is the perfect kind of silly for babies and young toddlers. We usually have an eleventh dog (our own) contributing to the noise levels by the end of the book. Be warned that this book is a lot of work for the person that is reading it out loud. You wil be barking all evening long because the child wants to read this on loop. Not one for a quiet snuggle in bed before sleep time, for sure.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
Published by Walker Books

If I remember right,  this was the first book my husband and our then newborn ever  read together. Guess How Much I Love You is a bit of a modern classic and immensely popular. I would consider it a library staple between the ages of 0-2.5 or even 3 depending on the toddler. The story is about the sweetest bedtime conversation between a papa hare and a baby hare. The watercolour illustrations are gorgeous to look at as well.

Purple Jojo by Sameera Qureshi
Illustrated by Jaikar Marur
Published by Tulika

You know those books that you buy for your own library years before you even think of having a baby? This was one of those. I must have bought Purple Jojo for every niece and nephew of mine and it has been loved by all of them. This bilingual story (we have the Tamil and English version but the book has been published in a number of other Indian regional languages as well) is about a little dog who falls asleep under a tree and wakes up with mysterious purple spots all over his white fur.

Flutterfly by Niveditha Subramaniam
Published by Tulika

This is a wordless picture book filled with curiosity and joy. Younger babies  love to look at the adorable illustrations and toddlers can spend hours making up their own version of the flutterfly story following the pictures. We read this book, at the very least, once every day and have been from when he was an infant. This is what good children's books, I'm my opinion, are meant to do. Not teach the children to repeat after them but encourage them to find their own stories and go on their own big adventures. What could be more perfect than a book that allows a child to read a different story every time he or she reads it? Library 'must have' for children in the 0-3 age group.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Notes : The Odyssey (A BabyLit Primer)

Title : The Odyssey (a BabyLit book)
Author : Jennifer Adams
Illustrator : Alison Oliver

A lot of you have been asking me about the BabyLit Little Masters books so I'm going to start this books notes on the blog series with one from that set. These board books are a wonderful way to introduce toddlers to characters from your favourite classics and use these characters to explore basic concepts like numbers, colours ect., Some of the books are more specific to the books like The Odyssey, for instance, is a Monsters Primer which features some of the creatures that Odysseus meets on his twenty year journey over the seas back home from Troy after the end of the war. Circe or the Sirens may not make too much sense to an adult who is not familiar with Greek Mythology or the Odyssey but some other monster folk like the cyclops or the ghosts may be more commonly recognisable. 

The Odyssey (and it's various  translations and retellings) is an epic that I have personally loved exploring  over the years and I use this book as a tool to introduce these stories to my toddler. I would love  for him to be intrigued enough about the cyclops voyage  to want to hear me read him the original. Or perhaps, as a young adult,  read Chapman, Butler or even Fitzgerald for himself and fall in love with the language and imagery of their retellings of Ulysses' adventures. Maybe he will go on to read Tennyson's inspired poem 'Ulysses' for an entirely different perceptive. A book like this opens up an avenue for the parent to introduce children to great literature. Alternatively, they also work as just primers to introduce concepts to the child depending on the level at which one chooses to engage with these books.

I would strongly suggest that you start by collecting the titles corresponding to books  that you are already familiar with or would want to read in the original to enjoy these books to their full potential with your child. If you just wanted a counting book or a colours book there are many (more comprehensive) books out there. What makes these books special is the way they become magical gateways to a childhood (and hopefully adulthood) spent understanding what makes these 'classics'  so timeless. You could make this an excellent way for you to start reading those classics that you never got around to reading so you and your toddler can have fun discovering new worlds together. 

P.s. This cyclops is so cute that I could actually eat him up. 😂