Wings to Fly is an unusual picture book in that it tells the true story of an extraordinary person, Malathi Holla, who lost the use of her legs when she was a child but went on to be a champion sportsperson. In the book, Malathi’s courage and determination get a jolt when, at a sports meet in Ahmedabad, she is not allowed to participate in a race because there are no other women participants. Fortunately, she is allowed to race with the men, “all big and strong”, and she wins! Apart from her success in sports, the book tells us that Malathi works in a bank where she is much respected and loved.
The illustrations are outstanding. Every page has images with strong lines, some quite quirky and funny. Perhaps the best is the one with all the big and strong competitors in their wheelchairs at the starting line of the race with the little girl at one end – very evocative and pulls at our heartstrings. Yet… the drawings show Malathi using her left hand to write; one wonders if that is factually correct. And among strongly etched bank customers is a lady with a beard; is that intentional?
There are some puzzling features about the narrative too. The early part of the book is written in single sentence paragraphs in the present tense, like a poem, but the lines seem too dry to inspire children; is this for fear of being sentimental? The author then shifts to the past tense, and at the end, abruptly, one reads, “She was Malathi Holla…” Was?
These quibbles notwithstanding, thank you, Tulika, for telling young readers the story of Malathi Holla’s courage.
By Poile Sengupta
Author: Sowmya Rajendran
Illustrator: Arun Kaushik
Tulika Publishers, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Book