By Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun, Walker Books, 2021
For a boy whose absorbing interest is mythology and ancient civilizations, I had wondered how much my son would enjoy a book about an ordinary girl and her new sibling. But we’d enjoyed Chitra Soundar’s Prince Veera and Suku stories, so I offered the first Sona Sharma book to him on that basis. And he loved it. So much so, that he asked me, without prompting(!), if there was a Sona Sharma 2. Fortunately there is, and I have it from Chitra Soundar on Twitter that she’s editing number 3.
Book 2, Looking After Planet Earth, is again set amongst Sona’s family, friends, school and neighbourhood in Chennai. My son doesn’t remember, but when he was a baby we spent a month in Chennai with him, and much of that time was in a very similar house, someone was always arriving, the phone ringing, a delivery, coffee or tea being made, and there would be intricate white patterns by the door, or on the pavement, the kolam designs that take centre stage in this story. It’s one of the reasons why he says he likes the book; ‘It’s funny,’ he says, ‘and it’s set where Daddy’s family comes from.’
The book is full of lively, engaging pictures, and it’s a perfect length for kids my son’s age; it’s aimed at 6-9 year olds. It’s a slim book that packs a lot in. There’s the environmental message, and tied to that, Sona shows us the need to talk to people, understand, if we’re to change behaviour – as she brings her grandmothers closer together. There are lots of other notes in the mix too like the kolams, an artistic blend of traditional and modern – with a guide at the back so kids can try them for themselves. Lots of big ideas weave through this deceptively simple story of a girl trying to make a difference but, even more, trying to get others to make a difference too.
I read this book after my son had finished it, and then asked him to tell me about what he’d thought. He was surprised – why would I ask him when I’d just read it for myself? So I tried to explain that I’m interested in what he thought about the book, what did he like or not like, what made him want to keep reading? He likes Sona, he says, she has strong ideas. And then he asked me what my favourite bit was? (Thatha explaining that ‘Judges have to be impartial to be fair.’) And what I thought of Elephant? (I like that he’s so supportive of Sona; we agreed that lovies should be supportive.) But it’s his book and he should have the final word – he explained he would recommend the book because ‘It’s about helping planet Earth which I think is important.’