What makes you happy?
A walk in the park?
A fresh haircut and blow-dry?
An elaborate, delicious meal?
Years ago, a professor I truly admired told our class of eager literature students that she found true happiness in picture books. She said picture books are like popcorn. No matter the time or place, or whether you are stuffed or hungry, the smell of popcorn always makes you happy and eager to take a fistful, because you associate popcorn with happy memories.
At the risk of usurping that idea, picture books and by extension, children’s books is what happy is made of for me too! Children’s books have the power to take me back to small circulation libraries with tall racks piled high with books or simpler times when we would fight over who was braver – Secret Seven or Famous Five. Reading late at night during summer holidays, exchanging books with friends, and finding new meaning in the same book every time you read it – are all small memories that continue to make children’s books endearing to me.
March 20 was the International Day of Happiness. This UN-sanctioned observance is a way of recognising that happiness is a fundamental human goal and the importance of happiness in daily life. There are so many things to be upset about, right now. The falling stock market or upcoming tax season. Perhaps you are disheartened by the collective lukewarm efforts to tackle rising global temperatures. And that is why, a children’s book may be the easiest, cheapest, most satisfying self-care investment you can make for yourself. This might be the best time to grab a children’s book, sit back, and have a good laugh – a moment of happiness, a quick trip back to uncomplicated times.
Stock your arsenal for those bad, gloomy days with the best recommendations for happiness-inducing books from authors and illustrators of the Indian children’s literature world! Here are some of the favourite books of those who write for children.
Lavanya Karthik, author and illustrator (Dreamer series, Ninja Nani series)
Simply Nanju, Zainab Suleiman
Nanju or Nanjegowda studies in a differently-abled school. Even though he was born with a problem in his spine, nothing fazes him too much. Until books start disappearing in his school and everyone in his class thinks he is to blame. Nanju and his best friend Mahesh need to work fast (and smart!) to clear his name! This is a fast-paced, hilarious whodunit.
Karthik says, “It does have moments of sadness, yet makes me smile and laugh out loud each time I read it.”
Arundhati Venkatesh, author (Junior Kumbhakarna, Bookasura, Ramanujan)
Kittu’s Very Mad Day, Harshikaa Udasi, illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
Peopled by many delightful characters with distinct voices and quirks. My favourites are Punni who hates anyone taller than her, Potu with his intermittent cries of “Halwa!” and Mangaleshwari with her endless questions. A madcap fun book that captures the idiosyncrasies of an Indian family, it is also a sensitively written story of a boy on crutches. Gender and class differences are dealt with almost imperceptibly; Udasi manages not to adopt a condescending tone or to let Kittu’s disability define him. The skate park idea is brilliant, and the illustrations are exuberant.
Ogd, Anushka Ravishankar
The book is cerebral and hilarious in equal measure. This deeply-philosophical-yet-outrageously-silly category-defying book features a secular messiah born foot-in-the-mouth, who doodles, reveals fundamental truths, and bites her toenails. Curious about what happens in the battle between the Bandaids and the Sandalwood Pastes? How Möbius strips (or Bandaids, because they’re the same thing!) can be the secret to redemption? How biting one’s toenails could lead to salvation (and as a side-effect, salivation)? Read Ogd! Perfect for adults who love the humour in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and teens who enjoy the wordplay in Haroun.
Menaka Raman, author (Loki Takes Guard, Topi Rockets from Thumba)
Moin and the Monster, Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Anita Balachandran
I think it is such a perfect book because it is so funny and has that wonderful kind of absurd humour that I really love. It is an agenda-less wonderful, rump of a book. My favourite character in the book is Tothogotho, the music teacher! The monster is outstanding too! It is one of the funniest and best books ever written.
Uma vs Upma, Meera Ganapathi, illustrated by Renuka Rajiv
This is a book that is funny and makes me happy. It is such a relatable idea of kids that hate certain kinds of food and play with their food and make things with their food. Renuka Rajiv’s illustrations are brilliant.
When I Grow Up I’ll Have a House, Jerry Pinto, illustrated by Sheena Devaiah
This too is a wonderful book. The way Jerry Pinto has gone back to his childhood mind and managed to conjure up all these things that children desire. The book is so much about the freedoms that young people want so badly and it is such a fun, whimsical book. The Voice is so perfect and Sheena’s illustrations are fantastic and perfect for the text. I always read it when I’m feeling a bit down and need a pick-me-up.
Priya Kuriyan, comic book writer, illustrator (Poonachi, Beauty is Missing, Ammachi’s Glasses)
Where is Number 5 written and illustrated by Pankaj Saikia
It’s so subtle and funny. The characters are endearing and Saikia’s beautiful illustrations of the rural countryside really warms your heart!
Nandita DaCunha, author (The Miracle on Sunderbaag Street, Who Clicked That Pic?)
A Silly Story of Bondapalli, Shamim Padamsee, illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalan
I would pick the book for its humour.
Cherry Tree by Ruskin Bond and Malgudi Days by RK Narayan for their carefree protagonists and positive stories from a gentler time.
Icky Yucky Mucky, Natasha Sharma, illustrated by Anita Balachandran
A book with wonderful imperfect characters who don’t worry about what others think and are perfectly happy in their own skins.