Monday, January 14, 2013

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami {The Children's Bookshelf}

The best picture books transport a reader to a particular time or place, engage them with all the senses in a fully-realized snapshot of that reality. This can be a fantasy situation -- I'm thinking of excellent imaginative books like Inga Moore's A House in the Woods -- or it can be an actual place. For parents and teachers looking to give kids an understanding of a specific cultural system, picture books can be the doorway through which all readers enter.

In Uma Krishnaswami's Monsoon, young readers are set down in the world of a young Indian girl, waiting for the monsoon rains to come to her home in the northern part of the country. The summer is a hot and dusty one, and the family cannot wait for the rains to come and scrub all the grit and grime from the air. Though they know the rains are not long in coming, still the intensity of the heat builds, and with it the worry that this will be the year the rains don't come. The girl reads the fears in the faces of the adults around her. Even the slightest rumble makes all faces turn to the sky, searching for signs that the clouds are gathering. When at last the weather turns, the sky breaks open and the sweet rain comes, making the girl and her family burst with pure and perfect joy.

This is a beautifully written and illustrated book, one that reflects a view of India that's inclusive and unique. The girl and her family aren't poverty-stricken, they aren't beggars waiting to be saved. Rather, they're just people like those in any other culture, held captive by the weather and waiting for sweet relief from the summer's intensity. Krishnaswami uses evocative imagery, poetry really, to tell her story. Readers will fairly swoon as she describes the heat and grit in the air, then celebrate with the family as rain finally arrives. And the artwork by Jamel Akib is perfectly suited to the tone of the story, with a hazy softness that builds the emotion even as the family wonders and worries about the rains.

As a family story, Monsoon is just as fully realized, with the strong and reassuring relationships among family members emphasized throughout. An added bonus is the author's note at the end, explaining the importance of the monsoon and the people's deep connectivity to the weather of their region. As with the best title, Monsoon is story, character and setting all drawn together in a gorgeous picture book that makes a great addition to any library.

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami, published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Ages 3-7
Source: Library
Sample: "Evening falls. I watch the faces on TV. Old and young, poor and rich, all across India, we wait for rain. The heat makes me feel like a crocodile crouching snap-jawed."


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Playing by the book said...

Do you know Saffron Tree? It's a children's literature blog based in India. Not all the books they review are Indian, but many are, and it's a great way to find out about interesting books from another part of the world.

Michelle Cusolito said...

I don't know how I missed this book. I just reserved it from my library.

I have a picture book manuscript about waiting for the rains in Niger, West Africa, so this is a topic that interests me. (I have many "good rejections" and am back making some small revisions before I submit it again).

Erica MomandKiddo said...

I agree, this is a lovely book!

The Picture Book Review said...

This looks like a beautiful book! I'll have to check it out for my son. Thank you for the great review -- I hadn't heard of this book and am now looking forward to reading it.

Ms. Yingling said...

I do love this author's middle grade books. It's nice to see she is doing picture books now.

Lori Norman said...

I love your focus on diversity in literature for children. Monsoon sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Even in Australia said...

I'll have to check this out!

Pat Zietlow Miller said...

I've heard good things about this book, but I have not read it yet. Thank you for sharing it!

Mud Hut Mama said...

You are introducing me to so many great books! Thank you - I'm going to try to get a hold of this one - it sounds lovely.

Charlotte said...

That looks like a lovely one!