“As a child, we are called liars for having a wild imagination. As an adult, we are called authors.” Shals Mahajan and Timmi of the eponymous tangles are one such liar-author pair. Timmi in Tangles takes us into the inner world of a young child, reminding us of the sheer scope of kids’ imagination. Through a few episodes from the life of the irrepressible Timmi, the book also manages to ask some questions about the world we live in. Illustrated by Shreya Sen, Timmi in Tangles won the 2014 Crossword Award for Children’s Writing.
Young Timmi lives with her mother and their housekeeper/babysitter Kamal Mausi in a city. Though her age isn’t explicitly mentioned, it’s safe to assume she’s about six or so. Her tangles range from a sudden decision to be a raja, to getting into trouble thanks to a range of imaginary friends, to trying to arrive at an understanding of being a “good girl” for her own peace of mind. Through the four short anecdotes in the collection, we get a good glimpse into Timmi’s everyday life and the people important to her.
Mahajan has penned a fun and imaginative character in Timmi, but if one has to pick one outstanding aspect of ‘hir’ writing, it is the protagonist’s voice. In some ways, Timmi is reminiscent of the late Barbara Parks’ Junie B. Jones series, which also stands out because of how the author captures the narrator’s voice in such a delightful manner. But whereas the Junie B. Jones books are told in the first person – and also considering that books for this age-group inevitably have the adult-talking-to-child feel to them – Shals Mahajan has managed to give Timmi a characteristic, believable voice and a point of view in the third person; there is no talking down whatsoever.
Timmi’s seamless flitting between reality and imagination – as young children are wont to do – is captured perfectly in this book. Timmi’s voice never falters and the reader sees the world as she sees it – making sense of its complexities in her own individual manner, having her own opinions about things, asking questions that baffle her and finding answers to what needs to be explained. Timmi is your regular urban Indian child, and Mahajan subtly and cleverly also inserts markers of a child growing up in our changing contemporary times.
For example, Timmi belongs to a somewhat unusual family, rather than the mother-father-children type of traditional families we are socialized into calling ‘normal’. Her mother, who works in an office and spends her days typing incomprehensible things on the computer, is clearly a single parent. But as ours is not a world that allows much variation from its self-imposed norms of the acceptable, Timmi is inevitably faced with her own six-year-old’s version of an existentialist crisis.
With this book, the author makes a bold decision to straddle the picture-book and chapter-book levels with some rather interesting results. Timmi can be read out to young readers who can’t yet read or are just beginning to, and it is also perfect for readers ready to try their first book on their own. Shreya Sen’s illustrations are just the right break from the text that is needed to capture Timmi’s world for the reader. As for the hole – Duckbill’s hOle series is a delightful concept, making books something that children can play with. Some of the themes discussed in the book – fantasy versus reality, what makes a family, lying versus having an imagination, asserting oneself – should make for stimulating discussions with children.
As the Crossword Awards citation for Timmi in Tangles said, “Writing for younger children is often seen as something “easy”, something that does not require too much of effort or care, something that anyone can do… But simple does not mean simplistic.” In fact, far from being simplistic, Timmi in Tangles doesn’t just make us laugh, but also makes us think.
By Shireen D.
TIMMI IN TANGLES
Author: Shals Mahajan
Illustrator: Shreya Sen
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Chapter Book