The Katha Chest (Radhiah Chowdhury)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Katha Chest, written by Radhiah Chowdhury and illustrated by Lavanya Naidu, a powerful look at family, history and courage.

Exploring her Nanu’s home is always a treasure trove of wonders for Asiya, but no treasure is more exciting than the katha chest. Made from the fabric of saris that Asiya’s mother (Maa) and aunts (khalas) no longer wear, each katha quilt is soft with time and rich with history, especially with the precious – and sometimes painful – memories of the original wearer of the saris. Asiya likes it best when the whole family gathers, pulls out the kathas, and tells stories of Nanu, the grandmother who crafted each family katha with love and care.

Simply stunning. Chowdhury’s guileless, child-like prose weaves together with Naidu’s colorful, impactful art to create a story filled with tradition and love. Exploring six stories of Bengali-Bangladeshi women through Asiya’s mother, grandmother, and aunts, Naidu and Chowdhury touch on some serious subjects – war, protest, leaving home, grief, the loss of a child – in ways that are honest, sensitive, and appropriate for child audiences. Telling the five sisters’ stories through textless spreads of Bengali folk art is inspired, and all the more powerful for their silent yet emotional visuals. In a bold move, Bengali-language words are not italicized or translated, and offer only context clues as to their meanings. It’s a choice that may throw some readers off, but is easily understood by the end of the first readthrough. Length is perfect for a storytime, and JJ and I both really loved this one. An incredible story of family tradition and the strength of women, sisterhood, and culture. Absolutely gorgeous, and a must-read. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

A Sari For Ammi (Mamta Nainy)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Sari For Ammi, written by Mamta Nainy and illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat, a beautiful tale of family love.

In the village of Kaithoon in India, the unnamed narrator lives with her mother (Ammi), her father (Abba), and her sister Sadaf. The entire family works together to run the family’s business, making and selling saris in the haat (bazaar), but it’s Ammi who is the true talent, skillfully weaving intricate and beautiful patterns into the material, sometimes taking months to complete even one sari. Yet despite her beautiful work, Ammi only wears old salwar-kameez, never keeping her work so as not to eat into the family’s profits. The narrator becomes determined to purchase one of her mother’s beautiful saris as a gift, and enlists Sadaf’s help. Together, the girls embark on money-making endeavor that explores their town’s unique culture. Can they pull together enough for Ammi’s gift?

Touching. This lovely tale of two daughters’ devotion to their mother weaves together elements of Indian culture and the history of Kaithoon, a town known for its particularly unique and intricate saris, made using a special weaving process passed down through generations. Bold text emphasizes important topics and Hindi words, yet leaves the definitions to a backmatter glossary, keeping the text conversational and engaging. The colorful digital artwork is as bright and intricate as Ammi’s saris, giving great charm to the girls, their family, and their neighbors and community. And the story of the girls’ sacrifice and work to buy a gift for their mother is quite moving, showing both a youthful, guileless spirit of kindness as well as a realistic peek at the economics of a working-class family, a surprisingly underrepresented group in picture books. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ loved the artwork and learning the Hindi vocabulary. Overall, we liked this one a lot – an endearing tale of family love that opens a door to a special place and culture. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Feast of Peas (Kashmira Sheth)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Feast of Peas, written by Kashmira Sheth and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, a fable of mystery, deception, and vegetables.

Once upon a time in India, there was a humble man named Jiva, who worked in his garden all day to grow fresh vegetables. And among his okra and eggplants and beans, it was his pea plants he loved the best. He lovingly fusses over the little plants as they sprout, then blossom, then become tiny peapods, all the while singing a song of his excitement for his pea harvest. Yet when the day comes to harvest his peas, they are missing from the vine! Jiva’s friend Ruvji suggests that rabbits have stolen the peas, so Jiva builds a fence to protect his next crop… which also goes missing! Who is taking his beloved peas?! Jiva has a sneaking suspicion, and he’ll have to lay a clever trap to catch them in the act…

Fun! The mystery itself is a clever one, especially in the way the third act reveal plays out. Spoiler alert: Ruvji is stealing the peas and lying to his friend, and when caught, Jiva asks him to cook a feast of peas as penance. The food prepared looks absolutely scrumptious, and may convince little ones who avoid their peas to look at them in a new light. My only quibble is how quickly Ruvji is forgiven for his transgressions, which feel a lot crueler considering that he knows how much my friend Jiva loves his plants. Otherwise, lovely illustrations bring characters and backdrops to life, and are wonderfully infused with Indian culture and scenery. The length is best for ages 5 and up, though JJ was delighted with the repeated “feast of peas” song. It’s a unique book with a lot of magic going for it, and we enjoyed it! Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Cinnamon (Neil Gaiman)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Cinnamon, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan, a dark, mysterious, and marvelous fable, written in 1995 by Gaiman and previously only available in audiobook form.

Cinnamon is a beautiful princess who lives with her mother and father, the Rajah and Rani, in a land where everything is very old. Cinnamon has eyes made of pearl, which are very beautiful but cannot see, and she doesn’t seem to be able to speak a single word. The Rajah offers a room at the palace, a field of mango trees, a beautiful painting and an emerald parrot to anyone who can teach the princess to speak, but so far the few who have tried have failed. That is, until the day a fearsome talking tiger emerges from the forest and offers his expertise. Cinnamon’s family, especially her cynical great-aunt, are unsure, but let’s face it: there isn’t much a tiger can’t do when he sets his mind to it, a few that can stop him. Will the mysterious tiger be the one to teach Cinnamon to speak? And if he does… what will she have to say?

This one was wonderful, beautiful, thought-provoking and strange – everything that you would expect from the writing of Neil Gaiman. The text is a joy to read, filled with sly humor, evocative language and fantastical themes. Srinivasan’s Indian folk art-inspired illustrations shine here, capturing the color-rich environments and characters in bold and dramatic yet understated art. There are a few things to note: the length makes this one better for slightly older bookworms, as even JJ began to wiggle by the end, and there are some decidedly darker moments, including a none-to-subtle and barely-offstage death. But for fans of Gaiman’s signature macabre humor and Srinivasan’s strikingly beautiful illustrated art, this is a treasure of a fairytale. Baby Bookworm approved!

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth (Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes)

Hello, everyone! Well, we’re back home, but JJ managed to catch a nasty cold while we visited her grandparents. Fortunately, a good book can be a nice remedy, so today we read Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes. This is a fantastic retelling of how the god Ganesha helped to write the epic Hindu poem, the Mahabharata.

Ganesha is a little kid like any other, except that he has the head of an elephant and rides around on his magical friend Mr. Mouse. And like so many kids, Ganesha loves sweets. One day, while enjoying a super jumbo jawbreaker laddoo candy, he breaks off one of his tusks! He is heartbroken, until his broken tusk leads to him meeting a wise old man named Vyasa, who convinces Ganesha that he and his broken tusk may just be fated to help write the greatest poem ever written.

There was so much to love about this book! First, the art: gorgeous colors and Indian designs leap off of every page, giving the illustrations a uniquely authentic look that fit the classic story perfectly: traditional yet modern. I loved that the author and illustrator found such a great way to tell a classic legend to children: it allows for exploration and discussion of Hindu traditions and faith for the unfamiliar, and gives Hindu children a fun and modern way to learn one of their classic stories. Additionally, the length is perfect for baby bookworms, and JJ absolutely adored the story and the illustrations. This was an awesome book, and we loved it! Baby Bookworm approved!