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Two books that promise to connect children with nature

Ruskin Bond's ‘Old Trees Have Secrets’ and Dhan Gopal Mukherji's ‘Adventures of Sirdar’ introduce children to the wonderful world of flora and fauna

Children can read the two books together as an engaging community read. Photo: Unsplash
Children can read the two books together as an engaging community read. Photo: Unsplash

This summer break, two new books seek to whisk children away from the hot, dusty cityscapes into the vibrant world of flora and fauna. The first one is Old Trees Have Secrets, a new poem by Ruskin Bond, featuring exquisite illustrations by David Yambem and meant for kids aged 6 and above. No one writes about the wisdom of big, gnarly old trees like Bond, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday. He evokes a bustling ecosystem around an ancient tree, with its wide spread out branches. It welcomes all creatures big and small—allowing children to play around it and squirrels to scurry up in search of food. In a way, the journey of the tree becomes a metaphor for life itself with its changing moods—a space where joy and sadness, light and shadow, co-exist. You will find kids playing hide-and-seek near one part of the ancient tree and a leopard lurking in another part. 

Bond writes about the storms that the tree has weathered and the many incidents it has witnessed, while keeping the secrets of one and all. Bond follows a simple, yet engaging, rhyming scheme to keep the kids hooked: “Old trees have secrets, they have seen it all happening; the birds still singing, the river still running; the folly of hate and the joy of living…”. 

I have gifted the book to several seven-year-olds in the past two weeks or so, who have responded to Bond’s poems in a myriad ways. Most ventured out with their parents and friends to the neighbourhood park to find the oldest tree that existed there. They came back home squealing with delight on discovering a nest of birds on the branches, and even an upturned bat hanging from the treetop in the daytime. Some others turned poet themselves, trying their hand at the rhyming scheme, penning down short verses about the leaves, the flowers and the squirrels that they see in their balconies. The visuals by Yambem—a plant enthusiast and a visual storyteller from Manipur—further spur the imagination. 

Also read: 4 new books to add to your bookshelves this week

The other book, The Adventures of Sirdar: The Chief of the Herd—once again published by Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger Books—takes this tryst with nature a notch further. It allows kids, aged nine and above, to embark on a roller coaster ride through the wild. Written by Dhan Gopal Mukherji in 1927, this is a retitled and reissued new edition for children of today. The story draws from observations and experiences of the author, who grew up in a small village in Bengal, located on the edge of the forest. “His books also present the forests of India as a magical place where the creatures communicate with each other, where animals not just live and die, but where they understand that they are a part of a web of life that connects them all,” states the publisher’s note. Mukherji, who later moved to the US, became the only writer from India to be awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal for writing for children. 

In this book, he takes us on a fascinating journey of Sirdar, a young elephant who takes his herd to safety, away from capture by hunters and death. Never in the history of the herd, has a 30-year-old been made the leader. But Sirdar’s intelligence and leadership qualities render him unusual. The story also delves deep into the man-elephant relationship. Sirdar has known only brutality at the hands of humans, with his father having been killed for ivory and mother captured by lumbermen. Mukherji pens a heartwrenching account of mother and son’s days in slavery and subsequent escape. However, these days of struggle grant Sirdar an insight into the human mind, thus allowing him to be an efficient leader for his herd. 

Mukherji paints vivid scenes of spring in Brahmaputra valley as the elephants make their way to the gorges. Their relationship with the other jungle folk—the playful buffaloes and the vicious tigers—makes for a wonderful read. Parents and children, while reading together, can discuss their own experiences of the wild—from safaris or treks. At the heart of the book is the art of leadership, which the author dwells on throughout the text. “In one word the story of true leadership, whether amongst men or animals, is one of the gradual loss of self. Selflessness is the rock on which a leader’s life is built,” he concludes. 

Also read: Growth of children’s literature is critical for a nation: Kavita Gupta Sabharwal

Book details

Old Trees Have Secrets by Ruskin Bond, illustrated by David Yambem

Published by Talking Cub

Pages: 16, price: 250

The Adventures of Sirdar: The Chief of the Herd by Dhan Gopal Mukherji

Published by Talking Cub

Pages: 160, price: 250





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