How the Stars Came to Be

How the Stars Came to Be
Poonam Mistry
Tate Publishing

I’ve loved Poonam’s art since I saw her first collaboration with Chitra Soundar, so was totally thrilled to learn of her new solo picture book.

Perhaps like most people you’ve wondered how the stars came to be in the sky and this story offers one possibility.

Way back in time the only light came from the sun and the moon.

A fisherman’s daughter loved feeling the Sun’s rays on her during the daytime while at night she would lie in her bed thinking of her father on his boat out at sea with only the light of the Moon to guide him.

That’s fine, other than for the few nights every month there’s no visible Moon at all, leaving the fisherman to work in total darkness. This troubles the Girl so much that one morning the Sun discovers her shedding tears and asks what’s upsetting her.

On hearing the girl’s concern and pondering upon it, the Sun takes one if its golden rays and throws it down to earth where it breaks into a million glowing fragments.

“Gather together all the shining pieces,” the Sun tells the Girl,  “…Then tonight when I drop beneath the horizon … place each of them into the sky. … We will call them stars.”

The Girl does as she’s bid, naming the brightest Polaris; then continues her task creating wonderful images with her positioning of the pieces.

Week after week she works on her skyscape but months later her bag still seems full of stars. How will she ever complete her work?

Meanwhile a Monkey has been watching the Girl and while she’s distracted he descends, seizes the bag and dashes back up into the tree.

A tussle follows,

and out of the bag tumble all the remaining stars, spoiling the work of the Fisherman’s daughter.

Or perhaps not; for sometimes accidents have happy outcomes …

This is an incredibly beautiful book – let’s call it a neo pourquoi tale – where every spread stuns you with its awesomeness. Poonam’s art is inspired by her love of nature, and her gorgeous, intricately patterned work, is based on Indian designs and colours that I as a frequent visitor to India appreciate all the more.

I wish I could show you every single illustration but for that you’ll have to get hold of a copy for yourself.

You’re Strong With Me

You’re Strong With Me
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

For her third ‘With Me’ book Chitra Soundar sets her story on the scorched African grasslands and features a pair or giraffes – a mother one and her baby – taking for her repeat refrain ‘You’re strong with me’; and as with her previous titles, Chitra has done her background research.

Gently and reassuringly, the adult giraffe offers encouragement, advice and information as her little one begins to explore the world around.

There is so much to learn: the little one is unaware of the special symbiotic relationship between oxpeckers and giraffes and so attempts to shoo away the oxpecker that has landed on his mother’s back.

Mother giraffe explains its role (eating ‘itchy insects’ and cleaning her fur) and saying that what hurts her baby’s skin now will feel a mere tickle once her skin thickens. “Until then you’re strong with me” she comments.

The dangers of fire and its role in renewal are also explored,

as is the importance of being acutely aware of any sounds around; that way is to be forewarned of other animals be they foe or otherwise.

Further lessons follow as sunset comes and baby giraffe needs help reaching the water to quench her thirst

and then soon it’s time to stop for the night.

As always, intricately patterned composition and colour palette are key in Poonam’s illustrations. For You’re Strong With Me a multitude of brown and golden hues predominate, strongly evoking the arid landscapes of the setting (I have some curtains from India in a pattern and colour very similar to the endpapers.) and when appropriate she adds teal shades for the creek wherein the little giraffe encounters baby fish and is instructed how to quench her thirst, doing so safely under her mother’s watchful eyes.

The Chitra/Poonam partnership goes from strength to strength: whither next? I can’t wait to see.

You’re Snug With Me

You’re Snug With Me
Chitra Sounder and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

Chitra Soundar sets the follow up the You’re Safe With Me in the wintry wilds of the Arctic.

Her tale of care and protection begins in a den dug into a snowdrift by Mother Bear where she gives birth to two cubs.

As they grow they become more curious: “What lies beyond here?” they ask. Their mother tells them of the frozen lands without, lands where, thanks to the hard snow, it’s safe for them to walk; but “only where the land will let us walk . .. “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

Longer nights bring restlessness to the growing cubs and a reassurance that “As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.”

From then on, Mother Bear gently teaches her little ones about the importance of maintaining the delicate balance of nature: the ice will only melt “if we don’t take care of it.” …

“We should only take what we need.”

In between times she answers their questions, telling of the approaching spring; of Earth’s place in the cosmos and the other animals they share the land with. All the while punctuating her lessons with the reassuring refrain, “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

By the time there’s a whiff of spring in the air outside. Mother Bear has taught her cubs all she knows, thus preparing them for their independence.

Now it’s time to venture outside and welcome the new spring – Mother and cubs together.

The environmental message is soft spoken in Chitra’s mellifluous text but she adds a final page spelling out her hopes that readers will take on a stewardship role when it comes to caring for our precious planet. We’re also given some additional information about polar bears and I was surprised to learn that new- born cubs are only the size of guinea pigs.
Inspired, I think, by Indian folk art patterns and repetitive block print motifs, such is the mesmeric quality of Poonam’s intricately patterned images that you find yourself transfixed by every spread and her colour palette is absolutely gorgeous.
Picture books don’t get more beautiful than this.

A winter blanket, a hot chilli chocolate and Chitra and Poonam’s book – bliss on a chilly day.

Blog Tour : You’re Safe With Me

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be part of the blog tour for a truly stunning picture book; thank you Lantana Publishing for inviting me to participate.

You’re Safe With Me
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

It’s night-time deep in the Indian forest: the moon is high and the stars a-twinkle. Suddenly though the skies turn deepest dark as a storm brews. All the baby animals are wakeful and scared.
Fortunately for them, Mama Elephant – huge and wise – arrives on the scene and with her softly spoken “Hush … You’re safe with me.” rocks the little ones to sleep.
The wind causes them to whimper and Mama Elephant offers an explanation, “Don’t worry … He’s an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands.
Further explanations are provided concerning the clattering thunder, the zigzagging lightning and the rumbling river all of which are proffered in the manner of a lovely gentle lullaby that brings comfort and slumber to all the little animals.

Simply and memorably told with a repetitive structure, onomatopoeia and alliteration this tale is rich indeed.

I’ve been fortunate to visit India – the Keralan forests, coastal Kerala, Goa, Himachel Pradesh and Rajasthan – many times during the Indian monsoon season: it truly is an amazing multi-sensory experience, different in every location.
Both author, Chitra Soundar and artist, Poonam Mistry capture monsoon time so beautifully in their wonderful book.

I now hand over to Chitra to talk about her own monsoon memories that inspired her story …

You’re Safe With Me originates from the memories of the monsoon storms of my childhood. I grew up in the coastal city of Chennai, a port and a fishing hub. During the monsoon season, we got used to listening to the radio for news about the storm and we knew all the technical terms that define the ferocity of the storm.

Here is a sample of a video in Tamil that describes the storm that’s expected. We heard similar broadcasts, except on the radio. As kids of course we didn’t have TV until I was 15 (another long story).

My memories of rain are clearly etched with sound, the feeling of damp and wetness everywhere – clothes not drying, squishy doormat, wet clothes and the smell of damp clothes. As a 6-year old I remember climbing on to the top shelf of my cement cupboard because our flat was flooded. We waited the water out by sleeping on the top shelves.

As an 8-year old and later, I have sat by the radio listening to the news, waiting for my father to return from work. An hour’s journey would stretch into four as he waded through the streets, drenched in the rain. As a teenager, I have cycled in the rain to school, my book-bag wrapped in three sheets of plastic. I remember losing my expensive raincoat at school and having to cycle through the torrential downpour.

But all my memories of tropical thunderstorms are not scary or stressful. For a city that’s hot most of the year, rains are both a blessing and a curse. The first drops fall on the parched ground, evoking the fragrance of the earth. The rain is relentless, loud and full of promise. The good memories are always associated with the cool air, the sound of rain and a spicy Indian snack with a book by the window.

I’ve returned to the topic of the thunderstorm often and in various ways. Long ago when I was just starting out, I wrote a story that was inspired by a real life incident during the monsoon rains called Afraid of Dogs.

And of course my love for flood stories led me to the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, which is again set during the torrential downpour of the monsoon season.

You’re Safe With Me is a storyteller’s take on the thunderstorm. Monsoon rains and thunderstorms are dramatic elements of this beautiful earth. Clouds gather over the ocean, they create low pressure and they bring rain and storm. I wanted children not to be afraid of its ferocity.

But this is also a book about perspectives. I wanted young readers to look at anything loud or bright or scary from a different viewpoint. Something unfamiliar might terrify us. Once we understand an unknown, it’s familiar, it can be fun or perhaps it needs to be respected.

I had no expectation of how the illustrations would turn out. I knew Poonam Mistry will and should interpret the story the way she sees it and she would bring her own experience of the storm to the story. And she has done it wonderfully, hasn’t she?

Her art inspired by India has brightened the pages and created a third dimension to the story.

Thunderstorms are a necessary part of living near the ocean. And we’re just a small part of how things work on this planet. And therefore, we should do our part to protect the nature around us, lest we should one day be deprived of its beauty and kindness.

Thank you Chitra.
For more guest posts and reviews, I hope readers will follow the rest of this blog tour.