by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa, Barefoot Books, 2020
Is there any sound more delightful that a three-year-old’s giggle? This short, sweet book with its delicious pictures makes my daughter giggle every time. It’s sort of a colours book – a page of green, a page of brown, of white, of orange – as the girl hunts through the market stalls in an Indian town looking for a little present to take home to her mother. The riot of colour is there, but it’s also an introduction to some of the sights and sounds of India, and of Chennai in the south where it is set.
Unsurprisingly, my daughter loves the ‘pink sweets soaked in ghee’ – she can recite most of the book, and comes out with this line throughout the day for no particular reason, accompanied by a cheeky grin, as if she might get one soon. We pluck them off the pages, popping them in – these are gulab jamun we say, these are the best. She likes to try the mint and coriander too – snatching bites as we read – and joins in with me: ‘Tea, tea!’ I smell cardamom.
But her favourite page, the one we have to read first and last as well as in the middle, is the page for red. The chillies spill over, and as the girl sneezes, my daughter giggles and giggles – little white teeth gleaming, dimples flickering – everytime: Achoo, achoo! I cover my face. ‘It’s bubbling up in my throat,’ she says. Maybe there’s something inherently funny about sneezing when you’re three. But ending the day with a bedtime giggle is a joy.
My husband’s family are from Chennai – the markets of Vadapalani and Mylapore are familiar places for him. I recognise the temple at the end of the market street from visits to his grandparents. There’s something both sweet and bittersweet about reading this with our daughter at the moment. ‘Will you take me to India when coronavirus is over?’ she asks. Until we can travel again to see these places and share them with her, books like this one give her a peek. And plenty of giggles.