Terrapin, an imprint of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), aims “to help young citizens discover, explore and treasure the world around them through books” and that it is what the book The Natural Wonders of India clearly sets out to do. The author takes children, possibly in the five to seven age-group, on a bit of a whistle-stop tour round India – starting from the north, going clockwise down to the east, then to the south, the west and then back again to the north.
The concept is very good. The book describes places that are not on the beaten tourist track – although possibly every cinema-going Indian now knows the Pangong Tso, thanks to the 2009 film Three Idiots. The book gives young readers a fair insight into the diverse physical make-up of the country and, perhaps, also succeeds in introducing an understanding of our natural capital into their minds.
However, what it doesn’t do is “unravel the mystery about 10 such fascinating places” as stated in the blurb. The text doesn’t quite explain the optical illusion of the Magnetic Hill. The readers will get to learn about how stalactites are formed in Krem Mawsmai, but not about the stalagmites. They will also not be any the wiser about the statue/idol in the Vaishnava Satra, which seems to be the focus of the illustrations in that chapter. Also, very strangely, for a book that boasts of environmental sustainability credentials, there’s absolutely no mention of what global warming is doing to the Siachen Glacier!
Additionally, the book is let down by the language that is stilted and almost forced, and a style that is confused – at times chatty and at times formal. There is also the occasional grammatical problem – for instance, muddled-up number (the pronoun in the plural, but the verb in the singular). The ‘letter’ from the children at the start of the book just doesn’t work – it reads like a sermon and can be quite off-putting. Also, the very obvious questions asked by the two main characters doesn’t quite fit the image the author wants to convey of two bright children. For example, it would be a fair assumption that a class would be briefed by the teacher before an educational school-trip, and, if yes, then why are the children asking such basic questions? It would have worked much better if the author had made the teacher use the trip to reinforce what the children have already learnt in class.
The look and feel of the book cover is good – the illustration is appealing and paper quite tactile. The idea of adapting paperclips for the chapter numbers is a great one and gives the feeling of travel notebook. The combination of photographs and cartoon images works well. However, the randomly highlighted words don’t add anything to the design at all. You first think they are all environment-related words or place names or natural objects, but there is no pattern really. Take the Magnetic Hill chapter, for instance – “extraordinary”, “yellow board”, “surprise”, “jeep going uphill”, “optical illusion” and “awesome” have no obvious connection to each other.
That said, the book is informative and can easily be used by teachers, parents or carers to spark a dialogue with children about our rich natural heritage, about responsible eco-tourism and general sustainability principles. It can also be used for more practical activities like mapping places as the last page suggests.
By Mohua Bhattacharya
Author: Vijaylakshmi Nagaraj
Illustrators: Santosh Gautam, Vijay Kumar, Yatindra Kumar, Vijay Nipane
Subject category: Contemporary/Non-Fiction