This is a darling story, and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it since I read it… even during a very solemn meeting about flood relief work and such. It lifted my spirits because, for one thing, there is no underlying, dour message about morality or religion or any such thing, and for another, I have always loved donkeys: not that I’ve known any (which may well be the reason). But most of all, it’s just a good story, and at the end of the day, this is the most important and focal thing in any literature, children’s or otherwise.
It’s set in Ladakh, with satisfying Ladakhi names and flavour – the family includes Nono, Padma, Aba-ley, Ama-ley and cousin Stanzin; Bumboo has to be safeguarded from lurking snow leopards; and there’s chhang and thukpas by way of food and drink. Bumboo, the protagonist, is one of the family’s pack animals and in grave danger of being sold off because he avoids any nocturnal work, in fact any night-time activity at all. As darkness falls, so does he. He falls on his knees wherever he happens to be, and young Padma was sure to find him in exactly the same spot the next morning.
Well, this was all very well when he was in the animal pen, but not when he was being a pack animal or carrying Nono. On a festival evening, when the family was returning home, Bumboo went on strike and slumped on his knees. Aba-ley was distressed; the family wasn’t rich enough to support a non-productive donkey, and the amchi’s prognosis was night-blindness, for which there was no cure. There was nothing to be done but to sell him, and Aba-ley stood firm in spite of Padma’s pleading.
This is a human condition that many children will empathize and connect with. You bring a mangy street cat or a sick dog home, and are told by Authority that it cannot stay. Fortunately for Padma and Bumboo, and all of us readers, there was a happy and very innovative solution, which you will find out when you read the book. It is a great example of out-of-the-box thinking, and thanks to this, Bumboo must have continued his happy and comfortable life with Padma and her family and, we hope, lived to a ripe old age.
Sujatha Padmanabhan writes with a light hand and the language is easy and fluent. However she struggles (who doesn’t?) with the challenge of keeping the language level consistent. Expressions such as “provided him some entertainment”, “called upon”, “could not handle” could have been avoided. This is the eternal bugbear of writing for children, and keeping it simple seems to be the answer. The illustrations are evocative and touching, and bring the story to life. However everyone’s ears are way too big and sometimes look like unnatural growths or, as on the back cover, a bugle stashed behind the ear. In fact when I first saw the book and glanced at this picture, I thought it would be about a bugle, or trumpet, or some such instrument!
Bumboo is highly recommended, and sure to be enjoyed both as a read-aloud or for self-reading. It is wholesome, fun, and easy to engage with at many levels.
By Zai Whitaker
BUMBOO…THE DONKEY WHO WOULD NOT BUDGE
Author: Sujatha Padmanabhan
Illustrator: Madhuvanti Anantharajan
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Book