The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Runaways, Homelessness, Survival, India, Friendship, Social issues, Hope

Opening: Talking to you was always easy, Rukku. But writing’s hard.

Synopsis:

Life is tough on the teeming streets of Chennai, India, as runaway sisters Viji and Rukku quickly discover. For cautious-minded Viji, this is not a surprise — but she hadn’t realized just how vulnerable she and her sister would actually feel in this uncaring, dangerous world.

Fortunately, the girls find shelter — and friendship — on an abandoned bridge that’s also the hideout of Muthi and Arul, two homeless boys. The four of them soon form a family of sorts, sharing food and supplies and laughing together about the absurdities of life. And while making their living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to take pride in, too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves — and are truly hoping to keep it that way…

Padma Venkatraman’s moving survival story brings to light the obstacles faced by young people in many parts of the world, and is inspired by children she met during her years in India. Her heroic characters will touch readers with their perseverance and unwavering love for each other.

Why I love this book:

Padma Venkatraman’s passionate, heartbreaking and hopeful novel sheds light on the extreme poverty of four homeless children in India. Her powerful storytelling and vivid imagery, draws readers into their extraordinary journey. The setting is culturally rich. Venkatraman is a lyrical writer and there are many poetic turns of phrase. The novel is a beautiful love letter written by Viji to her sister, Rukku.

The four heroic children in the story are homeless for different reasons and will touch reader’s hearts. Viji and Rukku bravely flee an abusive and alcoholic father.  Arul’s parents are killed in accident. Muthu’s stepbrother sells him into child labor. Other street children are abandoned on streets or dumped in orphanages. Viji is protective of Rukku, her developmentally challenged sister.

The plot is dangerous and suspenseful, making this story a page turner. Life may be harsh for this four-some as they scale the garbage heaps, but it also shows their resilience, sense of adventure, deep friendship and hope. The richness of their close relationship makes this story shine brightly, even in the face of adversity. They are brothers and sisters. “We’re not just friends, we’re family,” says Arul. 

There are lighter moments when Rukku befriends a stray puppy, she names Kutti. Rukku doesn’t like sifting through garbage and sits beneath a tree stringing beads into intricate necklaces. Her jewelry brings a nice profit in the local markets and helps feed their family. Viji also begins to see what her sister can do, rather than what she can’t do. I love these uplifting moments.

Growing up in India, Venkatraman’s memories of starving children provide the inspiration for her novel, The Bridge Home.  Her story is well-researched and she draws her story from the tales of the children she meets while doing volunteer work with her mother at respectable children’s homes and schools. Most important, I love that she writes about a culture she knows so well. I hope we see more uplifting novels from her in the future.

Padma Venkatraman was born in India and became an American after living in five countries and working as an oceanographer. She is also the author of A Time to Dance, Island’s End, and Climbing the Stairs. Visit her at her website. I highly recommend her other novels.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors

*Purchased copy.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar

Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 25, 2019
Official hashtag: #ReadYourWorld

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India

Chitra Soundar, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Dec. 31, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Pages: 179

Themes: Folktales, India, Cultural traditions, Humor, Friendship, Multicultural

Synopsis:

Being a wise and just ruler is no easy task. That’s what Prince Veera discovers when he and his best friend, Suku, are given the opportunity to preside over the court of his father, King Bheema. Some of the subjects’ complaints are easily addressed, but others are much more challenging. How should they handle the case of the greedy merchant who wishes to charge people for enjoying the smells of his sweets? And can they prove that an innocent man cannot possibly spread bad luck? Will Prince Veera and Suku be able to settle the dispute between a man and his neighbor to whom he sells a well — but not the water in it? Or solve the mystery of the jewels that have turned into pickles? These stories are inspired by traditional Indian folktales.

Why I like this book:

I read as much as I can about the Indian culture because we adopted a son from India. Chitra Soundar’s chapter book is especially fun because it is about Prince Veera and his commoner friend, trying to outsmart some of the King’s trickiest subjects with wit and a great deal of humor!

Prince Veera and his friend, Suku, appear in every chapter of the book. Like his father the king, the prince is caring and compassionate. Because of his relationship with Suku, Prince Veera is more aware of what it happening in the kingdom than his father. Together, the prince and his friend, are clever, eager to investigate complaints, wise beyond their years, and witty in their dealings with the locals. They also show a great deal of compassion towards the poor and expose those in his father’s kingdom who are  mean and bully others.

Each page is illustrated with pen and ink drawing by Uma Krishnaswamy, which add to the overall feel of the Indian culture and traditions. This book is an excellent read-aloud at home and school. This is a fun book for children to discuss the stories and decide what is fair, right or wrong.

Check out: Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.  Official Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld. There will be links to reviews of picture books, middle grade and YA novels.

Chitra Soundar is originally from the culturally colorful India, where traditions, festivals, and mythology are a way of life. As a child she feasted on folktales and stories from Hindu mythology. As she grew older,  she started making up her own stories. She is the author of the picture book Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India. Chitra Soundar lives in London.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

A Time to Dance and a Book Giveaway

I reviewed A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman, when it was first released in 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books.  It is a beautiful story written in free verse.  The author has sent me an autographed paperback copy (2015) to give away to one lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment below indicate your interest, follow my website, and be a resident of the US or Canada. I will announce the winner on September 13.  I have included part of my earlier review of this remarkable gem. The hardback copy is a permanent resident on my bookshelf.

Suitable for ages: 12 and up

Awards: ALA Notable Book, Booklist Editor’s Choice, Kirkus, other national and international awards

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities, Loss, Courage, Recovery

Book Jacket SynopsisVeda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling.

But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational and courageous novel is lyrical with each word carefully chosen.  Verse is the perfect medium. Padma Venkatraman weaves together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Indian Bharatanatyam. This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.”

Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm. Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives.  This book is a treasure!

Padma Venkatraman is a chief scientist and oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal

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The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk

Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, Authors

Jess Golden, Illustrator

Beach Lane Books, Fiction, Jan. 12, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Transportation, India, Tuk Tuk, Nursery Rhyme, Multicultural

Opening: Tuk tuk wheels go / round and round, / round and round, round and round. / Tuk tuk wheels go / round and round, / all through the town.

Publisher Synopsis: This picture book brings an international twist to the beloved nursery rhyme, The Wheels on the Bus, by bringing you aboard a busy three-wheeled taxi in India! Anything can happen as the tuk tuk rolls through town—from an elephant encounter to a tasty treat to a grand fireworks display. And in the midst of all the action, one thing’s for sure: passengers young and old love every minute of their exciting ride as the wheels of the tuk tuk go round and round!

Why I like this book:

This mother and son writing team have created a clever multicultural spin on the popular children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus.” Children are introduced to Indian culture in this joyful story about the riders traveling around town in a three-wheeled motorized tuk tuk. Readers will get a taste of street life as riders hop on and off the packed tuk tuk, pay their rupees (money) to the wala (driver), greet each other with “Namaste,” stop for a cow that blocks the street, get sprayed with water by a roaming elephant, munch on papadoms (snacks) and “bobble-bobble-bobble all through the town.”

As you read the story out loud, you can’t help but slip into the melody of the song.  The language is lyrical and a delightful way to engage children using different words, “ching, ching, ching,” “squish, squish, squish,” and “om, om, om.” Jess Golden’s lively pastel illustrations are colorful, playful, expressive and encourage exploration. His quirky humor transports children to another country and shows the daily lives of the children and families who live there.  My favorite illustration is of the Yogi sitting cross-legged on top of the bus chanting  “om” as the tuk tuk driver waits for the cow to move.

I won “The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk” in a giveaway on Sue Morris’ blog, Kid Lit Reviews. Stop by Sue’s website!

Resources: Sing the “Wheels on the Bus” and then “The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk.” Talk about the differences in the type of  transportation, food, and dress.  This book lends itself to many discussions as children study the illustrations. Would they like riding in or driving a tuk tuk?  What would they do if a cow stopped the tuk tuk they are riding in?  Have them draw a picture of a tuk tuk.

Kabir Sehgal started his class newspaper in second grade and has written ever since. A bestselling author of several books, he is also a jazz bassist and Grammy-winning producer. One day he hopes to drive a tuk tuk through the streets of India. But for now he rides the subway in New York City.

Surishtha Sehgal was a university professor for many years and now enjoys reading to children during story time. She is the founder of a nonprofit organization that promotes social responsibility among students, and she serves on the boards of two universities and a national arts center. She loves sipping chai with her family in Atlanta.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

A Time to Dance

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Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 2014

Suitable for ages: 12-16

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities

Book Jacket Synopsis: Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational novel is lyrically written in verse. Padma Venkatraman weaves together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Bharatanatyam. This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.”

Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm.  Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives. This book is a treasure on my bookshelf.

Padma Venkatraman is an oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

Saraswati’s Way

Saraswati’s Way

Monika Schroder, Author

Frances Foster Books, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 -14 years

Themes:  Indian boy wants to study math, Poverty, Child labor, Hindu culture

Award:  2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year

Schroder has written a powerful, compelling and inspirational novel about twelve-year-old boy from India, who has a gift with numbers.  Akash sees numbers as patterns in his head.  He desperately wants to learn more from the village teacher, but he knows more than his teacher.  Akash shares his dreams of applying for a scholarship to go to a city school with his Bapu (father).  He is told that if the gods want him to have an education, he will.  He prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, to grant his wish and to help him.

But, life deals Akash a blow when Bapu develops a fever and dies.  His Dadima (grandmother) sends him to work in the landlord’s rock quarry to pay off the family debt.  When Akash mathematically figures out that the landlord is charging interest on the loans, he realizes he will never pay off the family debt.   Late one night he hops a train headed to New Delhi to pursue his dreams.  He is now a street child rummaging for food and stealing to survive.  He wonders if Saraswati has abandoned him.  The streets of New Delhi hold unimaginable dangers, and temptations.  Akash must find a way to make money to pay for a math tutor.  His dreams of attending school present him with some difficult choices.   He can follow a street-smart boy, Rohit, and earn a lot of money dishonestly.  Or he can work with Ramesh,  a kind elderly newspaper vendor, who sees something very special in Akash.   He remembers his last conversation with Bapu before he dies.  “What you desire is on its way.” 

Monika Schroder, an elementary school teacher in New Delhi for seven years, really captures the essence of India — its color, heat, smells, beauty, poverty and child labor practices — through the eyes of a very determined orphaned boy.   In an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book she estimates there are between 100,000 to 500,000 street children.  Schroder also says about 80 percent of the people in India practice Hinduism.  There also is a glossary of Hindu words.   “A boy like Akash has a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India,”  said Schroder.  “Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck achieves his goal against all odds.”