Monday, March 28, 2016

#MMGM- Mahtab Narsimhan

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Narsimhan, Mahtab. Mission Mumbai
March 29th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dylan is thrilled to be in India with his best friend Rohit for a family wedding. He can take pictures and maybe come up with a winner for a photography contest, Mumbai is full of adventure and excitement, and the food is fantastic! Rohit is less than thrilled. He's been happy living in New York City and isn't enjoying being back in the filth of the city, nor does he like being with his relatives. His aunt, especially, is being demanding and pushy, telling his mother that Rohit will have to move back to India because she doesn't want to continue to pay for his school. Dylan thinks that if Rohit were more polite, his aunt would agree to fund his studies, but Rohit thinks that the ruder he is, the more his aunt will want him to stay in the US! As his cousin's wedding approaches, the family tensions increase, and Rohit's family decides to travel to Deolali to get an apartment the own their ready to sell. Dylan thinks this is an opportunity for more adventures, and he's right. Sometimes, however, adventures can be more dangerous than exciting. 

Rohit and Dylan's friendship is based on their shared love of fantasy books, especially The Lord of the Rings. They are at odds during this trip, since Rohit had hoped he could stay in NYC with Dylan's family. While Rohit's family problems are clearly visible to Dylan, he doesn't know that Dylan's parents are about to divorce. The boys' interchanges are very true to life, and it's refreshing to see a story with such a firm friendship, despite the difficulties the boys encounter. 

The best part of this book was the descriptions of Mumbai... and of food! I am so hungry for Indian food right now because of all the detailed discussion of samomas, jelabis and all manner of dinners, snacks and drinks. I found myself getting distracted looking up pictures of Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach! When I first picked up the book, I was disappointed that it was told from Dylan's point of view, but by the end I decided that seeing Mumbai through his unfamiliar eyes was the way to get the most vivid descriptions. 

There are so many excellent authors from the Indian sub, so readers who enjoy Varsha Bajaj, Narinder DhamiKavita Daswani, Uma Krishnaswami, Kashmira Sheth, N.H. Senzai,  Padma Venkatraman,  or even Chadda Sarwat's fantasy books will enjoy this trip to a bustling and hectic city with two friends who each have their difficulties to overcome. 

12308124Narsimhan, Mahtab. The Tiffin
 2011 by Dancing Cat Books
Digital Copy through Overdrive Media

Kunal was abandoned by his mother as a baby, and has lived and worked with the Seths, who run a restaurant. They are not particularly nice to him, and the customers also given him grief. He finds friendship with a dabbawalla (delivery man) who brings tiffins to the restaurant to be filled up before being delivered to office buildings. Vinayak has his own reasons for befriending Kunal, and after Kunal is beaten and runs away, he opens up his modest home to him. Kunal thinks that working as a dabbawalla would be much more interesting than the work he has been doing, especially once he comes up with the idea of finding his birth mother, who worked in the financial district, by putting notes in tiffins asking her to contact him. Being a dabbawalla is harder than Kunal thinks, and he runs into many problems and dangers along the way. In the end, he realizes that sometimes the family you need is already in place. 

Strengths: This was extremely interesting, and a fast paced, informative read. Narsimhan writing has a lot of dramatic tension with the fights and dangers that Kunal can't seem to avoid. I learned a lot about a topic which was completely unfamiliar to me!

Weaknesses: This might be hard for readers who haven't read as much fiction set in India as I have to understand. 

What I really think: I would love to see this edited slightly to explain some of the unfamiliar aspects to North American audiences. 

26154225Frith, Nicholas John. Hector and the Hummingbird
March 29th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Hector the bear and his constant companion Hummingbird investigate the wilds of Peru, eating breadfruit and scratching themselves on trees. Hummingbird, however, is a bit too high energy for Hector, and eventually wears on Hector's nerves. Hector tells Hummingbird to leave him alone, which Hummingbird does... mostly. He follows Hector as he goes through his day in peace and quiet, but never makes his presence known. Hector eventually gets lonely, but since Hummingbird has never been two far away, the two have a cheerful reunion. Hector tries to explain his need for quiet to his friend, and the two work out a way for them to be together but not drive wash other crazy. 

The illustrations are the very best part of this book. The colors are reminiscent of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, and something about the retro 1950s font and the colors just really made me happy. Hummingbird appears several times on each page, flitting about and driving Hector up a tree! The style is very original and singular, but Frith clearly has studied mid century illustrations and internalized the best features of it. 

The story has a good message about giving people space, and I can't think of many other picture books that have that message, although there should be a lot! While it's good that Hummingbird eventually learns his lesson, my own personal children would probably have taken this as a prescription to follow me around but be really quiet about it! There is a list at the back of the book of different jungle animals that can be found on the pages, and that adds another level to an already interesting story. 


Alex Baugh said...

Your first two books sound really interesting to me. I always enjoy book set in India, more so when they gives lots of description about the sights, food etc. I'll have to look for these. Hector and the Hummingbird looks interesting and I haven't read many books set in Peru.

Kathy Martin said...

Nice looking books. I don't think I have ever read contemporary fiction set in India. I'm currently reading a historical fantasy set there though. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Greg Pattridge said...

Three very different stories and I want to read them all thanks to your thoughtful reviews. I may read that first one at the nearby restaurant serving various dishes from India. Sounds delicious!

Sonora Mae said...

Wow! These sound really colorful and interesting. I'll have to check them out.

Akilah said...

I have never heard of those first two books before or the authors. Thank you so much for putting them on my radar. I'm going to check them both out.

Akilah said...

AUTHOR. I see that it's the same person who wrote both books.

Myra Garces Bacsal said...

I've read and reviewed The Tiffin a few years back. It was an interesting read. I think we invited the author here in Singapore during the Asian Festival of children's Content the year this book came out.

Cheriee Weichel said...

I laughed when I read this line "my own personal children would probably have taken this as a prescription to follow me around but be really quiet about it" I get it. My boys were like that too. We have a copy of The Tiffin in our library, but I haven't read it. I've added both of these to my want to read list.

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