Regional language books, in this case Marathi children’s literature, being made more widely available through translation is always cause for celebration. Pune-based art and children’s publisher Jyotsna Prakashan has been publishing for six decades, and receiving their books for review has opened my eyes to the wealth of interesting and inexpensive books available via their website.

The concept of both stories appeals greatly. In The Journey, we follow a grain of corn which is swept away by the wind during the harvest. Unlike his neighbours, he’s not destined for “soft, white rotis for children” or even “crispy biscuits”, but to lay in the soil, until nourished by the rain he sprouts back towards the light, beginning a new cycle of growth. It’s an excellent way to “join the dots” when it comes to thinking about where our food comes from, as well as introducing children to life cycles.

The premise of The Road is equally charming – with a similar depth of meaning to explore. A small lamb strays from the herd and ploughs his way determinedly through the jungle, despite being told that there is nothing but danger to be found on the other side. Coming to rescue him, a shepherd discovers new, fertile pastures – and a village. Trade opens up between the settlements, alliances are made, and a path, then a road, and finally a highway, follows.

The idea that one out-of-the-box thinker who refuses to be told what to do can shape the course of events so radically is fantastic – and very true, I’m sure. It’s also interesting that the final result is so far from what could possibly have been envisaged at first – and reminds us that the knock-on effects of our actions are often not what we expect.

Interestingly, although both books have the same author, I was, for the most part, on board with the use of language in The Journey, but found aspects of The Road jarring. I’d be interested to know how far that can be attributed to the different translators. In The Road, partially constructed sentences predominate: “Enjoy rolling on the soft green grass. Return home by the reddish walkway. Lovely life. Full of fun.” Reading these opening pages, I almost felt it would work better as poetry rather than prose, but the overall takeaway was that badly constructed sentences, even if knowingly crafted for a certain effect, could do much to confuse a young reader.

I’d love to see the original illustrations, which even as reproductions have a definite charm and whimsy. The gradations of colour stand out – a field encompassing many shades of green, or a ripe harvest containing brushstrokes of yellow and brown hues. But the poor printing on shiny paper detracts from the earthiness of the illustrations. Somehow the cover designs, too, do little to showcase the art.

Though allowances have to be made when books are affordable, and clearly designed to reach as many children as possible, it has to be said that the production, design and typography really let these books down. On the whole, the text on each page is too weighty, and little effort has been made to integrate it meaningfully with the images. The typography is uniform and unimaginative. It’s a shame, but also a fitting illustration of the importance of design in creating picture books which young readers can truly engage with.

By Maegan Dobson Sippy

Author: Swati Raje
Illustrator: Chandramohan Kulkarni
24 pages each
Rs 75.00 each
ISBN: 978-81-7925-364-9 / 978-81-7925-362-5
Jyotsna Prakashan, 2013
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction
Age-group: 5+

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