These stories are part of Deepak Dalal’s Feather Tales series and feature a group of garden birds, a member of the avian police force, Longtail, Shikar the gallant squirrel-friend of the birds (who even speaks the bird language), and others. The first story, Talon the Falcon, concerns the fate of a caged peregrine falcon, one of the fastest and most sky-bound birds in the world. Its owner, an appropriately crass and greedy (and obese) man, wants the bird for all the wrong reasons; mostly, to improve his status and make others jealous. After an initial fright, the bird gang realize Talon is caged and therefore harmless, and then join Shikar in his daring and successful bid to release Talon. In return, Talon swears on Greatbill, Lord of the Birds, never to harm squirrels. After which there is a satisfying swoop on the greedy owner by his now-free pet, and a return favour for Shikar from Talon when he is being attacked by a dog.
The second story, Flamingo in my Garden, deals with the bird-napping of Sunglow, a beautiful flamingo denizen of the Mumbai mudflats. The culprits are the gulls and crows, more specifically Skull and S-Crow. Sunglow is incarcerated in a cave by these wicked birds, and is rescued by noble Longtail after a series of adventures. These include a sunset deadline set by the crows, a koel whose fellow-nestlings are crows and is therefore able to prise the secret whereabouts of Sunglow from them, and the Cave of the Dark Heart which only Scowl the Owl can negotiate. But having led Longtail there, the owl pushes off, and the rescued flamingo and Longtail can’t find their way out. They are completely lost … until the shrewd police-bird remembers S-Crow’s riddle: The raven’s right wing was stronger. This, he rightly surmises, means they must keep turning left, and they eventually emerge from the cave. But the adventure doesn’t quite end here either.
Deepak Dalal is a children’s writer who focuses on the environment and wildlife. His knowledge of birds and animals gives his writing a special perspective, as with the descriptions of creatures and their habits. This is how Talon enters the story: “This was no ordinary bird; it was the biggest and most fearsome bird that Shikar had ever seen. It perched proudly on talons so large that they sent shivers snaking down Shikar’s spine. A casual slash would rip a squirrel to shreds – no question about it. As Shikar watched, the bird cocked its head. Its eyes swung towards the squirrels and settled on them.” Definitely a naturalist speaking, and that too one who has watched raptors perch, hunt and observe.
There are other messages in these stories apart from the obvious ones of cagedom/ imprisonment and right and wrong thoughts and actions. Shikar looks and thinks different – with a white face, and a bunch of bird friends – and is therefore ostracised by the other squirrels. This message, that differences are not only acceptable but wonderful, is an important one to include in children’s literature today, given the rapidly deteriorating social norms about differentness, in India and indeed worldwide. There is also a good reminder, laced into the flamingo story, that there’s no absolute black and white in our characters, and we all deserve a second chance. Pidgin preaches this to Longtail, again a good thing for children to think about.
Dalal’s language is generally even and appropriate, though now and then there’s a slight shock to the system; as when someone suddenly says “Ooh-la-la”, or a couple of obscure metaphors such as on Page 49 of Flamingo: “See, Skybird, your egg is starting to crumble. And the crumbled shells aren’t going to favour you, I’m afraid.” Also, Dalal should have limited his characters to those who have a focal part to play in the story, and done away with the likes of Mitalee. Having been introduced to her, one keeps wondering when she will reappear and become part of the story.
These are definitely two books that seamlessly combine fun and learning, and the characters and narratives can be used for vigorous pondering by children with a bit of help from parents or teachers.
About the Book
- Author and Illustrator Deepak Dalal
- Year 2016
- Publisher Penguin Random House
- Language English
- Age Group 9+