Show a child the wondrous world tucked inside a seed pod, and you will have a tree hugger for life. Tell her about the magnificence of a tiger in the wild or the intricate tapestry of a spider web, and she will listen, fascinated. Here is a list of books that invite children into the natural world, introduce them to a bevy of animals, and make them fall in love with the forests they live in. Happy reading!
Alone in the Forest by Bhajju Shyam, Gita Wolf, and Andrea Anastasio
As we live more and more in isolated pockets of urbanity, the forest often becomes an alien space, one that is feared or looked upon as something to be cleared to make way for development, or as a place that is separate from us. Alone in the Forest tells the story of Musa, who goes to collect wood from the forest, and allows fear to take reign when he hears a deafening noise. Illustrated by Gond artist Bhajju Shyam, the book shows the beauty of a forest, with elaborate renderings of trees and wildlife. But what it reminds us is about the psychology of fear and the distance we have forged between the forests and the concrete jungle.
The Alphabet of Animals and Birds by Prabha Mallya
Alphabet books for older children are a fabulous way of introducing them to concepts. The alphabets are familiar as a concept, and can help children remember unusual words or narrative themes. The Alphabet of Animals and Birds is one of the best ways to learn the collective nouns of animals and birds. Turn the pages of this enchanting book to know that B is for a Sloth of Bears, H is for a Bloat of Hippos, and M is for a Plum of Moorhens. Prabha Mallya’s illustrations are delightfully quirky and mischievous.
Birds from my Window and the Antics they get up to by Ranjit Lal
Ranjit Lal’s writing desk faces a wall. And there’s a good reason for that. Because if it faced the window, he would be staring out of it all the time, watching the birds outside it, and as he explains, “this book would never have been written”. Good thing he does that, because it’s a fabulous book about the birds he’s been observing for years – from the little brown sparrows to the myna birds that have “major attitude” to the “funny birds” coppersmiths and barbets, there’s so much to learn and read about. Written in Lal’s characteristic witty style, this book is a must for birding enthusiasts, or well, anyone with a window.
Book of Beasts: An A to Z Rhyming Bestiary by M Krishnan
What better way to revisit naturalist M Krishnan’s writing than through a children’s book? The wildlife writer and photographer created these beautiful illustrated alphabets as a guide to the animal world for Asha Harikrishnan, his grand-daughter, as a series of birthday presents. Which is why A is not for apple, rather it’s for Aardvark (“coat is much like rain-wet sand”), N is for Nightjar (“each species has its own distinctive song”), and R is for Ratel (“black below and pale on top”). The book is perfect for budding naturalists who are keen to learn about the animal world, and Krishnan’s illustrations are beautiful, recreating each species with sensitivity and meticulousness.
The Ghost of the Mountains by Sujatha Padmanabhan and Madhuvanti Anantharajan
Based on a real-life incident that took place in Ang in Ladakh, the inspiration for The Ghost of the Mountains, came from Rigzin Tundup, who worked on Kalpavriksh’s Snow Leopard Conservation Education Programme in 2006. The author writes in the Acknowledgements, “Rigzin saved the life of a snow leopard in 2007”. The picture-book is about 16-year-old Rigzin, who comes across an angry crowd circling a barn, inside which a snow leopard has got in to eat the goats and sheep. Rigzin helps save the day and educates villagers about the big cat being an endangered animal. Issues of poaching, man-versus-animal conflict, and wildlife laws are an inherent part of the story. The book also offers some fascinating insights into the Ladakhi community, and introduces children to a different geographical location and its culture.
The Honey Hunter by Karthika Naïr and Joëlle Jolivet
Step into the “land of eighteen tides, where three rivers meet, deep inside a mangrove forest, near the Bay of Bengal”. Writer Karthika Naïr and artist Joëlle Jolivet team up to create The Honey Hunter, a stunning picture-book that lures young readers into the mangroves of Sundarbans, introduces them to the bees that make honey there, and Shonu, a little boy who is desperate with hunger, ignores the rules set by the honey hunters of the region, and goes into the forest. There’s peril in the form of the Demon-Tiger, but there’s also hope to be found there. Human-animal conflict, greed, and environmental degradation are just some of the subjects that ripple in the story. Jolivet’s pop illustrations infuse color to Naïr’s rich prose, creating a world that’s sumptuous, just like the forest of Sundarbans.
Jadav and the Tree-Place by Vinayak Varma
Pratham Books Storyweaver
Meet Jadav “Mulai” Payeng, who makes forests! Vinayak Varma tells the story of this conservationist who lives in Assam and who spent decades re-wilding a deforested tract of land. It’s a joy to see the stark, barren pages come alive with trees, flora, and fauna, as Jadav goes about making more forests.
Lai-Lai the Baby Elephant by Shekar Dattatri
Translated into Hindi by Sandhya Rao, Lai-Lai the Baby Elephant is a bilingual book about elephants. Young readers will meet Lai-Lai, a baby elephant who is just one-day-old, three feet tall, but weighs a whopping hundred kilos. Through photographs, wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri gives an insight into the world of wild elephants, their behaviour, their habitat, and the fragility of the ecosystem.
The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street by Shabnam Minwalla
Nivi and Nikhil’s family move to the city and they soon settle into Cosy Castle on Dorabji Street. But horrors! Nivi and her new friend Sarita find out that the gigantic tree in their community garden is about to be chopped down by two awful neighbours. A little bit of teamwork, some best laid plans, and a dash of magic is called upon to save their beloved tree from becoming a stump. Svabhu Kohli’s black-and-white illustrations are charming, while Shabnam Minwalla reminds us that it’s small actions that can make a big difference when it comes to preserving the environment.
The Tigers of Taboo Valley by Ranjit Lal
This is Ranjit Lal at his best, as he writes about Rana Shaan-Bahadur, the most macho and royal alpha male tiger of the Sher-Kila National Park. One of the most photographed tigers in the world, Shaan-Bahadur’s ego is bigger than an elephant’s trunk. And then he finds himself lumped with the responsibility of his four cubs – Hasti, Masti, Phasti, and Zafraan, when their mother is killed by a poacher. A male tiger taking care of cubs is not the only strange occurrence in Sher-Kila. There is the poacher Khoon-Pyaasa, a wildlife photographer, an underground gang of porcupine terrorists, and don’t miss Diclo and Fenac, the vultures. Poaching, tiger behaviour, and threats to forests are interwoven into this hilarious and thrilling adventure.
Up World, Down World by Padmaparna Ghosh and Sunaina Coelho
Pratham Books Storyweaver
Environmental writer Padmaparna Ghosh writes about two worlds – the Up World and the Down World, both of which have always viewed each other with suspicion. But one day, Gopa, who lives in the Up World of the canopy forest, accidentally drops her book on Fatima’s head. Fatima, a little girl who lives in the Down World, befriends Gopa, and they set off to meet the animals and birds who live in the Up World. Sunaina Coelho’s illustrations are luminescent, recreating India’s canopy forests and its frogs, snakes, and birds vibrantly.
Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah by Aparajita Datta, Nima Manjrekar and Maya Ramaswamy
Strap on your virtual backpacks and join Niwupah the hornbill on a walk through his rainforest home. Maya Ramaswamy’s vivid illustrations are the perfect way to explore the forest and meet its many denizens. Walk the Grasslands with Takuri is another book in the series by Nima Manjrekar, Nandita Hazarika and Maya Ramaswamy.
The cover image for this feature is by Sunaina Coelho from Pratham Books’ Up World, Down World by Padmaparna Ghosh. The illustration is from www.StoryWeaver.org.in