Tag Archives: humans

You are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim

you-are-stardust-by-elin-kelsey-and-soyeon-kim Title: You Are Stardust
Author: Elin Kelsey
Artwork by: Soyeon Kim
Publisher: Owlkids Books
ISBN: 978-1926973357
Genre: Children’s Books, Picture Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I read “You are Stardust” because it was the first book mentioned in “The Story Cure” by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. This book, The Story Cure that is, is like their earlier book “The Novel Cure” but for children, their parents and everyone who has ever wondered what should I gift a child or a teenager. It is also for adults, if you ask me, to relive their childhood by reading or re-reading these gems mentioned in the book.

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So now back to the first book “You are Stardust” – authored by Elin Kelsey and beautifully illustrated by Soyeon Kim. I am of the firm belief that children’s books are not only for kids or teens. They are most importantly for adults – who have lost their child-like innocence, their ability to question, to wonder or to know how the world works.

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This is what the book is about – life, universe and maybe everything (or not). This is the book to cure children of what’s the world all about (that’s what the book says). The book is lovely – when I say this, I don’t mean it loosely. It really is lovely. The illustrations by Soyeon Kim are gorgeous – with every turn of the page, I was only too happy or perhaps more than the last page. This book is perfect to teach kids about the universe, the Earth and in turn about humans.

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Elin Kelsey is an environmental writer (I got to know of it after I read the book) and now I can clearly see the connection that the book is trying to bring out between kids and the natural world. “You are Stardust” is grounded in science, philosophy (most parts really) and stunning dioramas by Kim.

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There is also an app about the book and its creation. I for one cannot wait to download it. Being a picture book, it doesn’t restrict itself to kids. It is most certainly for adults as well. Go pick it up. Read it to your child or nephew or niece and then read it yourself. Be enthralled by it.

I read this book as a part of the reading project (one of the reading projects) I have started: To read all books mentioned in ‘The Story Cure’. It is an ambitious project and I hope to see this through at least. The next book in line for this is: The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

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Book Review: The Devil’s Garden by Edward Docx

Title: The Devil’s Garden
Author: Edward Docx
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330463508
PP: 240 pages
Genre: Science, Fantasy, Literary Fiction
Price: £12.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

Set a book in the Amazonian jungle and the nature of the place can’t help but seep into the characterisation. It’s evidently used intentionally to this effect in The Devil’s Garden, which, as the title suggests (opposing the more conventional Garden of Eden imagery), is the location where fundamental questions about human nature are going to be examined and played out.

The novel’s deeper questions about how humans behave in a natural environment, without the trappings of civilisation, cutting even beneath layers of religion and superstition that get in the way, is borne out further in the etymological studies of Dr Forle, a scientist who is working there with his team, examining the behaviour and the influence of ants on their environment and the ecosystem. His research however is upset by the arrival of government and army officials who are attempting to register the native population (some of them undiscovered tribes) for initially unknown purposes, but undoubtedly for their own personal interests.

Underlying the book then, the ants and their colony is a fine metaphor for the examination of group actions and individual behaviour in a social context, for comparing and contrasting questions of purpose – whether for commercial, social, religious purposes or just self-interest – and whether those aims are progressive towards a higher, more altruistic purpose or whether they just reflect life as constant change.

That much is made clear early on through some scientific journal entries and in how it applies the struggle that develops between the Amazonian natives and the officials, the events watched with mounting horror by the research team, but Edward Docx doesn’t really manage to do full justice to this idea. As a social experiment, the conclusions are, well, inconclusive. As you might expect, self-preservation becomes paramount as events reach critical proportions at an improbable pace, and as such it becomes hard to sympathise with any of the characters. The ideas and the writing are what keep the reader going and wanting to read and know more, but that is also because Edward Docx is a powerful writer. Docx’s writing is certainly evocative and I had exceptional vivid scenes of the settings in my head, but the story failed to grab me, as it probably should. I desperately wanted to know more about the behaviour of the ants they were studying and less about the frankly odious government officials. Good, but not great.

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Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

I received, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary” by David Sedaris in the mail yesterday and finished it this morning. I could not stop reading and loved it to the core. I remember reading, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” a long time ago and also the fact that I could not stop laughing. I was almost in tears at the end of it and “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” was no exception.

What we have here is a unique and absurd collection of what appear (on the surface) to be anthropomorphic animal characters- squirrels, storks, cats, toads, turtles, and of course a duck. Each story starts out benign and normal enough, more or less like an Aesop’s Fable, but then gets more preposterous as far as animals go and then more and more relevant to life as we live it today. In other words, each story holds up a mirror to our everyday life- but this being David Sedaris it’s more a Wonderland or Funhouse mirror. Perhaps the closest I could come would be Aesop’s fables written by a very modern Lewis Carroll.

Sedaris says to not expect a Moral for each Fable, but if you read them carefully, you should find some insight. “His morals are not spoon-fed cautionary tales of cause-and-effect but rather seemingly matter-of-fact observations that pack a subtle aftershock of insightfully insinuated scrutiny.”

The mirror has shattered, and each little tale here is a sharp shard. There is a danger that if you handle the jagged pieces you will cut yourself. The sardonic self-interest of the cat, the anxious spirituality of the brown chicken, and the bemused acquiescence of the chipmunk—David has exposed these all-too-human characteristics but he has not given us himself as a human lightning rod to accept and defuse the psychological voltage. The animals in these parables, true to type and operating as they do out of unapologetic instinct, certainly can’t absorb any of the shock, and we are left alone, face-to-face with our own pettiness, cruelty, wisdom, ignorance, tenderness, heartbreak. The tales are sometimes laughable and sometimes excruciatingly uncomfortable, and almost always brilliant. As fables, they are simply written—but they are definitely not for children despite the cartoonish illustrations. They are not for adults who wish to remain ignorant of their human failings either. Like all good fairy tales, they are instructional, but only if you pay attention and apply the parallels.

The cruelty and darkness that some reviewers mention is a standard function of cautionary story-telling, and it’s there to grab your attention; it provides the necessary tension so that the reader is drawn in, either through outrage, fear or discomfort. There is a grotesque element operating here that gentler readers will have difficulty reckoning with. I am one of those, and my first instinct was to say: forget it! But I went back over the parts that had first offended me, and with a second reading found that David’s sense of humor was intact; it was mine that had been lacking. His insights remained unflinching and devastating.

Although SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK might not be the usual fare readers have come to expect from David Sedaris, it has all the earmarks of what makes his nonfiction truly remarkable: biting wit, caustic satire, and an ever-so-subtle detection of a wink aimed toward his readers. Ian Falconer’s illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment to these acerbic tales. Unexpected, yes, but this slim volume provides a refreshing change of genre from one of our most treasured and talented writers.

As you read, the pieces of the broken mirror reassemble, and by the end of the book you will be able, once again, to see a reflection. It’s you alright, with the tail of a rat, the talons of the owl, the pecked neck of the fowl. Cringe. Laugh (sheepishly). Change your attitude. Think twice. Hold your tongue. Examine your motivations. It’s uncomfortable but it’s necessary. How else can we become more aware if not through the shock of self-recognition? And how else can we grow unless we see how small we really are?

Here’s a youtube sneak on the tale “Squirrel and the Chipmunk”

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk; Sedaris, David; Little Brown and Company; Hachette Book Group; $21.99