This is the second book in the Bookasura series by author Arundhati Venkatesh. I haven’t read the first book – be warned that there are many tantalising references to it in this one, which is perfectly fine, but it also means that some allusions just pass you by leaving you scratching your head. This is just one instance, but the many casual mentions of Chhota Bheem went right over my head. Please remember that this is a chapter book for early readers; a child reading Koobandhee without reading Bookasura is bound to feel very frustrated if all the blanks are not filled, so it would make sense to read the series in order. This is clever marketing.

From what one can make out from reading a synopsis of book one, Koobandhee takes off pretty much where the first story left off. Bala, the monster-conquering boy hero, has a school break and is happy to set off for his grandparents’ place where he had such grand adventures earlier, except this time he’s saddled with his little sister Meera, who, he is half inclined to believe, is a monster herself. Then, as soon as he reaches his native village, to his utter shock, it seems to him that he sees monsters everywhere. But his biggest challenge is the one-eyed Koobandhee who lurks near the well behind his favourite uncle’s house. What happened to Bookasura? Who is Koobandhee? Is she related to Bookasura? Or does she have any connection to Kabandha? Worse, does she have any connection to Meera? Not all these questions, nor some pending from Bookasura are answered, so you’re all set for book three.

One can see why these books are easy to like. They are simple, fun books, meant purely to entertain. There’s a lot of humour in the writing, and the suspense element will keep a young chapter book reader turning the pages and begging for more. The context is completely Indian and highly relatable. These are the positives and there is actually no real need to dig below the surface, but if one is trained to look underneath, one will dig as a matter of habit anyway.

Points to ponder: why does the mother have to “shriek”, “screech” and “fume” her way through her brief appearance, and the father be given no choice in the decision to send the children away?

While it is certainly exciting to welcome a baby into your house for the first time, it is surprising why the grandmother ignores Bala to the point where she doesn’t even bother to hand him his plate of food when the children first arrive.

Every now and then a character begins to relate a story from mythology but drops the narration half way through, or in a vague fashion. While this certainly serves to fire Bala’s imagination, the reader is left high and dry.

Towards the end of the book, Bala’s grandmother mentions more than once that she isn’t feeling too well. Neither Bala nor his grandfather feel particularly concerned or even offer to help around the house except when she specifically requests them to do so. Even when Bala finally takes his baby sister off his Paati’s hands, it’s more to help himself than her. There is also a passing reference to how the grandfather seems to be slowing down, but again, little sensitivity is shown by the main character.

And finally, while there is a message about the importance of reading and how it helps grow your imagination, it’s ironic that the solution to Bala’s problem comes not from books but through a popular cartoon character on TV. In fact, books, other than being named, have little or nothing to do with the story itself.

Children often take away subtle learnings from all kinds of books, so questions such as these may bear thinking about.

The illustrations by Priya Kuriyan are funny and demand attention, adding to the craziness of the storytelling. A reader is sure to linger on the pages that have the drawings. One can well imagine Koobandhee and others in this series as comic books. The fact that the characters are largely unidimensional, and that there is so much comedy, will suit the format.

By VR Jyoti

Author: Arundhati Venkatesh
Illustrator: Priya Kuriyan
92 pages
Rs 150.00
ISBN: 978-9351032113
Scholastic, 2016
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Series/Chapter Book
Age-group: 7+

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