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Outstanding Books
October 6, 2013

The title itself is such an exalted duo of words. The word, outstanding needs to be unpacked, the word book is one we are very familiar with. But as a young child on a MOP site reminded me months ago after borrowing a slim collection of collected paper masquerading as a story book, “ ye tho kitaab hi nahi hai” ! For those of us who use story books and live in them and dream of them, a book is already a symbol of something. It represents an amalgamation of ideas, feeling, form, visuals, sensorial experiences, imaginations and has a presence that overtakes us in a subtle yet powerful way.

If that is what a book represents , we need to be concerned about what makes this powerful amalgamation outstanding. And here lies the start of another Bookworm journey.


Chetna and I negotiated with Elaine the guardian of book shelves at the BW Mother House for a shelf dedicated to Outstanding Books. Over the past few years we have lost many precious books. Like a die- hard optimist I dream that they are lost to BW because they are so wonderful and not because someone spilled coffee or forgot it on a bus or worse left it out in the rain. But the truth is the loss of many books leave us bereaved and sad. We do not have the resources to keep buying books and each book is a memory keeper and it’s loss is irreplaceable.

Elaine needed no real persuasion, and a shelf was cleared for our journey to begin. Over the past 2 weeks, we have been slowly filling the shelf. If I find a book that I am not sure belongs on it, I keep it aside for Chetna/ Elaine or any other interested BW person to review and comment. I am quite obsessed with this task. Not so much as to discover the outstanding books that are out there, but to bring to mind the outstanding books that have stayed with me and must be at BW.

I have a google document where I am posting outstanding books and Krystal needs to locate. She has been diligent. She found




for me. This has been my book for 2013. I started the year with this book and for me it is outstanding. It went on the shelf along with others and we realized we are slowly further categorizing books on the shelves. Outstanding was not a stand alone category. Miss Rumphius hits the high score on story line, language, emotion, sensitivity, beauty, illustrations and above it all it is humble and inspiring. So this one sits on the Inspiring book shelf along with


When I shared Tomas and the Library Lady with Usha Mukunda recently she said, you can feel the warmth by just looking at the book. That is so true. Our inspirational shelf inspires.

Chetna has been greatly moved by The Dead Bird , for both the sensitivity of the issue and the form and way it is represented. But more to the point, the book has helped her 6 year old daughter relate to death of bird in her community. When


we agreed upon a shelf for emotionally charged books, I searched BW until I found My Great GrandPa Joe. A book with photo illustrations and told in the first person. A simple book that sustained my son Tahir when his grand father was  ailing with Alzheimers and he could not understand why this seemingly loving man could be so different at times and why he was not acknowledged. My Great Grandpa Joe is outstanding in how it draws you into a family and allows you to reflect on death, ageing, discomforts but also on life , love and family and how everything needs a balance.


This shelf also now has our new favourite Allen Say. Our friend and guide Usha Mukunda shared The Kamishibai Man with Chetna and I and both of us have been buying Allen Say with every spare penny we have. But my favourite is Allison. I have not read a book on adoption as powerful as this, yet as simple, direct and straightforward as Allen Say says it and then his water colour illustrations are paintings from a Master.

And what I want to do most of all, is share this book with my friend Amrita Patwardhan with whom I have been discussing books around difficult themes. So more and more I feel an outstanding books hits many,many intellectual and emotional targets in our minds and then reaches out . Every book that is on that shelf as of today, has a story that connects the book with powerful memory, people past and present and relationships!

Books about relationships brings me to another book that we are still debating over Mukund and Riaz


It is a book that introduced me to Nina Sabnani and her visual art. A book that reverberated with me despite me not ever overtly feeling like a migrant or someone who left a friend behind. But can any of us make this claim ? And then the rich use of fabric as a visual medium. I commune with fabric. I grew up with my mum’s machine signaling new clothes, new linen, a birthday , a festival – all things happy when the cloth was laid out on the dining table and measured and carefully cut and crafted. This is a special book, but some of us are still debating on it being outstanding.

As my eyes move across the Outstanding Shelf now half filled, I note the section on outstanding illustrations that we are collecting. Peter Reynolds is Chetna’s outstanding choice as she has worked for many years with enabling children into representation and talking to parents about process over product.


But my outstanding collection is Donald Crews. Again a favourite of my sons’ who are naturally discerning readers, but also for how his characters come alive, his visuals move ,make sounds and have conversations with the reader and his themes are strong emotional binders. BigMammas House is my favourite, but so are also Short Cut and Freight Train


I need to end this post with one more category that is growing on the shelf. That of love. The most talked about emotion in our human existence and yet the hardest to refine on paper for young readers. Most books are either overtly mushy or sentimental and many of them just miss the whole depth of this emotion. My eyes pause over For the Love of a Cat and The Mountain that Loved a Bird. These are my love stories for now. Both outstanding for the way they remind us that love is a deeply powerful emotion , it breaks us and it binds us and in the end it is only love that will sustain us.


It is why at Bookworm, we aspire to help children learn to love books!

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