Guest Review: Shiva and the Rise of the Shadows

This is a dystopian tale of a boy, Shiva whose entire life changes after the eruption of a mushroom cloud. He is struggling to keep his family – that consists of just his little cousin sister Vasuki – with him.

Saving the world

One not-so-fine day, Shiva wakes up at a school and he has no recollection of his journey there. A battle has been raging between the Keepers and The Shadows since time immemorial and now Shiva is pulled into it. If the Keepers lose the war, the world may just end… This story ends with a terrible twist in the end.

This book is very nicely written. My favourite character is Shiva. He is quick-witted, strong and loyal to his family and friends. Best of all, he is courageous. I also like Chang, who rattles off facts like my little brother usually does: ‘Did you know that if you yelled for eight years, seven months and six days, you would have used enough sound energy to heat a cup of coffee?’  Hmm… Going by that, my mum would have made a plenty of cups of coffee!

Another favourite character of mine is Septic. He spends most of his time inventing new insults and swearwords. Interesting.

The thing that I liked about this book was that you don’t need to wait till the third or fourth chapter for the story to make sense. It grips you from the first page. Unputdownable.

Shiva and the Rise of the Shadows
By Kanika Dhillon

Reviewed by
Ishaan Singh, Faridabad
Age: 12

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Guest Review: The Magic of the Dazl Corals

The Magic of the Dazl Corals is the eighth part in the Taranauts Series written by Roopa Pai.

In the first book of the series, The Quest for the Shyn Emeralds, the Great Crisis happens when Shaap Azur, the evil twin of the Emperor breaks free from the prison and traps the 32 Tarasuns, the stars of Mithya (it is another universe altogether, with eight worlds) and plunges it into darkness.

The last adventure

The Emperor then chooses three children – Zvala (the Firegirl), Tufan (the Boy of Wind), Zarpa (The Child of the Super Serpent Shay Sha) – to bring the stars back to Mithya. The Taranauts, as they are called, have their job cut out – go to the other seven places in Mithya and rescue the four Tarasuns that each had.

This is the last installment in the adventure. Zvala, Tufan and Zarpa are worried that Shaap Azur is going to be as ferocious as he has never been before. Dazl is a city where people live by the power of gulroses and if the corals are not rescued soon, there will be no gulroses and the people will die. The people in Dazl live on trees because a huge monster lives on the ground.

To get to the corals, the Taranauts have to solve the four riddles, which Shaap Azur has hidden. If they solve each one correctly, the four corals will return to the sky and join the other Tarasuns. Meanwhile, when the Taranauts are in Dazl there is a war going on at Zum Skar between the Emperor and Shaap Azur that can only lead to destruction. Who will win?

I liked The Magic of the Dazl Corals particularly because Dazl is a unique city, unlike the rest. The city is totally pink, and pink is my favourite colour too! The book took me into a world of imagination and inspired my creativity. I wish that it had not ended and that the author will consider bringing back the trio with some more adventures.

The Magic of the Dazl Corals
By Roopa Pai

Reviewed by Sana Bashir, Delhi
Age: 10

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Guest Review: The Boy Who Loved Math: the Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

Well… What do I have to say about this book? Lets see… AMAZING! If you aren’t going to read this book, you’re really missing out on a lot of good literature. If you do and you are into art, you are in for a delight.

This book tells us the life of Paul Erdős – the Hungarian mathematician – with vivid and bright illustrations. People might argue and say that picture books, like this one, are only for babies and children who are in pre-school. Well, I say that they are wrong! Without illustrations, this is what the book would look like:

No problem at all

There once lived a boy who loved Math. His name was Paul. Paul’s mama took care of Paul very well…(etcetera, etcetera)

Illustrations bring a book alive, not restrict it to a specific age group! My 44-year-old mother loved the book mostly because of the illustrations! So, it is because of pictures that people love this book as much as Paul Erdős loved Math.

Let me give you an example… On the page showing various mathematicians’ and scientists’ Erdős number it is the illustrations that show us the scientists’ names and pictures, not the words. Without the illustrations, we’d be wondering how many people have Erdős numbers.

An Erdős number of 1, by the way, is what a person has after working with Paul Erdős (these are numbers given to those who have worked with Erdős and denote how closely they have worked with the man). An Erdős number of 2 goes to a person who has worked with a person who has an Erdős number of 1. Albert Einstein’s Erdős number is… 2! Yes, even he didn’t manage to work with Paul Erdős himself! There are lots of interesting stuff like this.

The book tells us about everything but his death, so it makes us feel very happy. After all, who would love a book in which the main character dies? Usually, an article or adults book about Erdős would say at the end – Paul Erdős died on blah blah blah… Instead this book ends with – Everyone loved Paul and Paul loved Math. Too happy an ending?

I don’t think so. I think this makes it a very enjoyable book – and a favourite in families. This book, I reckon, is one that deserves both a Carnegie and a Kate Greenway Medal!

The Boy Who Loved Math: the Improbable Life of Paul Erdos
By Deborah Heiligman

Reviewed by:
Imran Batra, Noida
Age 12

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Guest Review: My Family and Other Animals

This is a real-life account by the legendary animal expert Gerald Durrell. In this autobiographical book, Durrell recounts some of his amazing adventures when he was a child.

At home with animals

This story is about Durrell and his family. He and his siblings Larry, Margo and Leslie along with their mother move to the Greek island of Corfu. Written by Durrell himself, this book contains their adventures on the island.

I liked it firstly because it was hilarious, every 5-10 pages there was some super funny incident. Secondly, it was very realistic when it came to the ‘biology’ part. The main character is Gerald or Gerry in those days. Along with his faithful companions – the dog, Roger and the puppies Widdle and Puke – he spends every free second looking for new types of fauna to research on or capture. He keeps getting new pets and friends in each chapter.

My favourite part of the story is when they hold a party and their army of pets runs amok in their house. This is a book for people who appreciate humour and the animal kingdom.

My Family and Other Animals
By Gerald Durrell

Reviewed by
Devvrat Sahai, Ghaziabad
Age: 12

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Guest Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Lines may divide us, but hope will unite us…

Nine-year-old Bruno knows nothing of the Holocaust, Final Solution and the horrors and cruelty of the Nazi Camp.  All he knows is that he has to leave the comfort of his house in Berlin to a desolate, godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere.

Boyne has you turning page after page

It is a place where he has no one to interact with and no means of entertainment, amusement and recreation. Until, he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives on the other side of an adjoining wire fence, where everyone wears striped pajamas.

Bruno and Shmuel are different yet similar. They share common physical features and birthdays, though Shmuel is pale and pinch-skinned and is always hungry, whilst Bruno is happy and well fed. Their friendship leads Bruno from innocence to revelation and is consumed by something terrible.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a refreshing take on the WW-II, as it is from the perspective of the young son of a high-ranking Nazi officer. It is a touching story that will move you to tears. Though it is unbelievable at first, that a Nazi officer’s son is ignorant about the political situation; Boyne’s writing style will make you believe otherwise. The innocence is amplified in the first person style that the author has used.

I strongly urge you to read this book. A simple book on the cruelties of the Nazi’s which will forever leave an impact on your heart.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
By John Boyne

Reviewed by
Diya Ahuja, Delhi
Age: 11

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Want to become a Eureka Reviewer?

We kick off this new initiative this Gandhi Jayanti with three exciting reviews by three young reviewers. We shall keep uploading more in due course.

Click on the links below to read them

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

My Family and Other Animals

The Boy Who Loved Math: the Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

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The Children’s Point of View

Last Saturday, Dorling Kindersley and Eureka! took forward the panel discussion held two weeks ago (see Internet as a reference tool for children). This time around, the participants were nine children who took time out from their Saturday evening activities and came to DK’s Editorial office at Panchsheel Community Centre. Conducting the proceedings were Rohan and Prema from DK.

Boardroom Stuff: Hard at work

The session started with a questionnaire that asked them how they used the Internet for help with assignments in school or homework. Once this preliminary exercise was completed, everyone was asked a simple question, “Do you like homework?” Apart from Shireen, no one liked homework – some felt that it was boring while others complained that there was just too much homework being given out and in the end it was all just a waste of time because they felt it was simple copying and writing tasks that had no meaning.

Some creativity
Next, the DK team asked the kids to draw or write down their “Homework personality”. The responses varied from ‘Speed Racer’ and ‘Usain Bolt’ who just rush through the work as fast possible to “Iron Man” who loves mixing work and play. Some even drew a ‘snail’ to show how slowly they did their homework. Malhar turned out to be a multi-tasker – he plays football on his playstation while doing homework. And for every question he completes, he scores one goal in the game.

Teamwork
The session moved onto a team-task. The group was split into teams of two and each team was given an IPAD, a laptop and a pile of reference books (published by DK). Ten topics were listed out on the board (for example, the human body, electricity, fastest cars, favourite dinosaur). Each team was asked to pick a topic and write a brief note on it using one or more aids provided to them. A time limit was set and they were asked to complete the task in the given time. The kids worked diligently and enthusiastically. Most of them used the laptops and IPADs to finish their work quickly, but there were some like Diya who used the encyclopedias also.

The surfers
Most of the children gathered there said that they used ‘Google’ and ‘Wikipedia’ to sift through information and collate data onto a word file (a simple copy-paste job). On being asked why they liked Wikipedia, they said it was easy to understand, it had information listed in various categories like History, References and that it explained everything in very simple language. All difficult terms contain click-through links for explanations. Some of them talked about sites like BBC’s ‘Bitesize’, that seem easier for completing assignments. The only exception was Diya, who maintained that a book was still her best friend for doing any kind of homework.

Parents pain points
Parents still feel that schools are giving out too much homework and at times, concepts have to be introduced and learnt at home. For this, they need to refer various websites and it is always important to monitor children when they are looking for new information. But kids are slowly learning to get by on their own.

Restrictions on Internet viewing time are laid out strictly. Some parents keep it to an hour a day and reduce it during exams. Cyber security is an aspect that is of concern to many parents today. Parents do not like their children interacting on social networking sites, which they feel should be age-regulated. A social networking site, designed specially for kids, with age-control barriers and proper security features, is something they would love to see on the Internet.

Information-based discussion groups and password protected usage for kids is something parents would support wholeheartedly. They think sites need to be more child-friendly and the interface should be such that younger children can easily access the information as well.

One of the participants, a teacher at a reputed school in the NCR, felt that pasting data directly from the websites is a growing problem. Students do not feel the need to think and write on their own. In the mad dash to complete multiple assignments, not a lot of time is spent on reading, assimilating and reproducing information in their own words.

There have been instances when wrong information available on some websites was copied down because the children resorted to short cuts. Teachers, she pointed out, would like students to spend more time reading and learning rather than blindly copying data. Parents support this idea by not allowing their children to directly edit documents from the web. They’d rather take print outs (on recycled paper) and ask the children to read and type out their assignments after understanding the matter thoroughly.

Thoughtful mood

An ideal site
The last question of the day – “What would you like your ideal information site to be like?” – threw up a number of responses. This is what came out:

  • The ideal site should be able to give specific as well as elaborate information on a particular topic.
  • There should be a grade-wise division of the difficulty level for the topic.
  • There should be lots of visual support – Images, Graphs, Videos
  • The website should be able to divide the information into categories that are easy to understand
  • A revision exercise or quiz at the end with educational games will help.
  • Experiments (if shown) must contain videos with a step-by-step procedure explained in detail.
  • It should be easy to browse and the language used must be simple to understand.
  • A feedback or discussion board (password protected and age-regulated) pertaining to each topic must be present.

A major problem faced by almost everyone – and pointed out by Adi – is that search results normally do not throw up examples pertaining to India. Children, parents and teachers feel that any subject looked up on a website must contain data which is supported by examples related to India so that it is easier to understand and relate to.

The session ended with a final vote. Each child was asked to vote for one feature they thought was indispensable in any reference website and for one feature they felt that the website could do away with. It will be interesting to see what DK comes up with the material that came up during both the sessions.

Vineet V George

 

 

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The Internet as a Reference Tool for Children

What’s a bookstore that aims at providing good, clean fun for children with non-academic books doing in a panel discussion about school homework? We, at Eureka, thought that it would be nice to chat with our parents about school life. The main objective of this discussion – organized in collaboration with Dorling Kindersley India at BumbleBees School in GK-II – was to understand internet usage among primary and secondary school children as recreation and as a source for assistance in their homework.

Homework for the parents. Not that they were troubled

Rohan from the editorial department of DK India started off the session by asking the parents present about how the Internet helped them and their children in carrying out school assignments, projects and homework.

One-stop shop
Some of them responded by talking about the lack of a concise website for younger children (6 to 8 year olds) where information is collated and displayed in a child-friendly manner. Though there are a number of schools that don’t encourage the use of the Internet among younger students, some such as Vasant Valley or The Shri Ram School are quite proactive and suggest age-appropriate websites to parents. They also encourage parents to sit with their child and work together. Still others hand out worksheets that students need to complete on their own. A lot of research goes into creating these worksheets and teachers expect the same kind of research from students while completing them.

Most of the parents shared their experiences on how they were trying to regulate the content that children, left to their own devices, were bound to find on the web. Educating themselves and staying in touch with the latest software in the web-world is the way forward for many parents. Net Nanny is one such tool available to parents all over the world.

The Ideas Shelf

Another parent stressed on the need to place the family computer in an open area, making it easy for parents and guardians to keep a check on the sites being accessed. Schools have found out that, rather than fight the march of technology it is better to use it wisely. A few have introduced tablets to make learning more fun and interactive. Sites and programs like Mindspark and Educomp are leading the way in taking learning to a digital platform. But many parents still felt that a good book is the best way to gather information and learn. They still spend time, going to a bookstore or a library and selecting the right encyclopedia or reference book. But time becomes the biggest obstacle when it comes to accessing information from books. With deadlines for projects and the variety of information required to complete assignments in school, the Internet has turned out to be the only practical solution for most households.

The DK team then asked the parents what they wanted to see in a website. They showed the parents sites such as Meritnation and BBC Bitesize and asked for opinions on the kind of site the parents would want their children to view, primarily for help with school-work but also as a safe yet interactive interface where they wouldn’t have to worry about the content.

Safety net
Parents stressed on the need for a site where the child can search for a particular topic of interest and get information, images or videos on that topic along with references of other safe websites. Though a single site may lead to duplicity in work or ‘plagiarism’ as one parent pointed out, if it could provide links to other sites for further reading, children can collate information from a number of sites and parents can leave the child to their task, with the assurance of a safe web-browsing experience for their little ones. Many parents are ready to pay for such sites, by either using the ‘online wallet’ or ‘pay-per-use’ systems. But all parents unanimously said no to ‘online chatting’ – for learning or otherwise. Does that call for a Google for Kids?

The discussion also touched upon the use of smartphones amongst today’s children. Parents sometimes indulge their children by giving them expensive smartphones, which can easily access unrestricted content on the Internet and there is almost zero regulation. There are some smart parents who permit a child to use a phone only when there is an emergency and that too, a normal phone without smartphone features.

Looking ahead
DK India promised to use all the feedback gleaned to try and create an interface – online and off – that will help parents and children in supplementing their schoolwork.

This story doesn’t end here. On September 7, 2013, DK invites children between the ages of 11 and 14 at four in the evening, to take part in an open-house discussion on the same topic in DK’s editorial office at Panchsheel Community Centre. Those who want to send their children can write in to contactus@eurekabookstore.com. All entries are first come, first seated.

Vineet V George

 

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Gurglings of Oops

There is absolutely nothing in this world that gives me greater pleasure than talking to children and making them laugh. For me, the only other thing that comes close is when I can talk to kids and impart some perspective or knowledge in science, economics etc.

So I was rather happy with myself when I combined the two and created a unique blend of fun and learning in my workshop – Gurglings of Oops.

A chance to try this out at large scale presented itself when I had one day at Delhi and the team at Eureka! Books swung into action. In that one day, between 9 AM and 2 PM, they fixed up three back-to-back workshops in three different schools. The logistics had to be precise and the timing perfect, but we realized that if we managed ourselves well, we could do it.

At St Mary’s

The day started at St Mary’s at Safdarjung Enclave – addressing 120 kids from grades 5 and 6. It was fantastic and I could see the kids enjoying it. The lack of a mike made it slightly challenging and I had to make full use of my stentorian voice. We had to cut off on the dot and rush to Pathways Gurgaon. The audience size was 50 and it was much more effective thanks to the availability of a mike. Again I could see that the kids were highly excited. I was speaking their language and the highly interactive workshop where they learned an alien language, which had a remarkable similarity to English and had to suggest a futuristic wacky gadget was exactly what got them excited.

Heritage School

 

Heritage School, Gurgaon was the best experience of the three. Here I was addressing grades 5 and 6 and the total strength was 360! I was scared of how I would ever control a crowd that size. But the teachers of the school had absolute control over the students without in any way being scary. The children were incredibly well behaved. The workshop went like a dream.

 

When one intersperses ‘Angry Birds’ game, a species with brains in the backside and scientific concepts such as Black Hole and Neutron Star, the learning is fun filled and effortless.

That was the best day in my nine-month-old authoring career. And for that, I need to thank Eureka Books and the fantastic teachers at the three schools.

 

Ram G Vallath

 

 

 

Oops the Mighty Gurgle is Ram G Vallath’s first book.
About the book

The groinks are slowly taking over planet after planet, and their next target is Earth. The Intergalactic Governance Council is tied up in disputes. All that stands between the human race and annihilation is Oops the Mighty Gurgle. Click here to buy

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Eureka@Mayoor School

The book week at Mayoor School, Noida was held from the 22nd to the 26th of July 2013. All the students and staff participated wholeheartedly throughout the week. With the help of the teachers of Mayoor School we were able to organize a lot of fun activities for the students. Some of the lucky classes also got to attend sessions by Samina Mishra, Sharanya Deepak and Simi Srivastava over the duration of the event.

Samina Mishra
On a rainy Friday morning, even before the sun had a chance to peek out from between the clouds, the students of Class 7 had already assembled in the library. They were in for a special treat.

Samina, a documentary filmmaker, writer and teacher based in New Delhi, with a special interest in media, has written several books for children. The session was based on the book, Whispers in the Classroom Voices on the Field, an anthology of school stories edited by Richa Jha and for which Samina has contributed. Samina Mishra read out from her story, based on a Muslim girl growing up in Okhla (Delhi). The students hung onto every word and you could tell by their reactions that they understood what the story meant.

Voices in the Classroom

This was followed by a question-answer session. All of them got a chance to speak to Samina and know a little more about what it takes to be an author and how to write a story. The biggest surprise of the morning came at the end of the session when the teacher announced that the students could come and get autographs of the author on their books. The whole bunch raided the podium with whatever they could find to get an autograph of the author. It was a crazily happy bunch of children that trooped off after this!

 

Sharanya Deepak
It was time for some Vampire-Fun for the students of Class 2 as the 2nd session of the book-week kicked off at Mayoor School Noida. Two hundred and twenty five children of age 8 are not easy to handle, but Sharanya used her “Thinking Cap” to great effect as she started the session with a book-reading session from her book, The Vampire Boy published by Duckbill. The students were all ears as Sharanya explained what vampires were and, in turn, also got new explanations about vampires. It was so much fun to see the students excited as they followed the adventures of Kristofer, the Vampire Boy, breathlessly.

Vampire Academy

This was followed up by a craft session on making a Vampire-Bookmark. The teachers chipped in and helped in making sure each and every child was involved in the craft session. The excitement in the air was palpable as Sharanya went around guiding all the students. This was perhaps the noisiest library in the world for half an hour! No wonder the principal, Sarita Madhok herself came down and joined in the activity. It was a refreshing sight. By the end of the session, Sharanya had managed to teach each and every student how to make the bookmark as they proudly showed off their creation to all of us.

Sharanya followed it up with a session on writing for Classes 9 & 10 and then another with 125 students of the remaining sections of Class 2.

Simi Srivastava
The week ended with a session by Simi Srivastava, one the more emotive storytellers in India. Simi, who runs Kathashala, is a soft skills, life skills trainer and a performing artist. She is professionally trained in theatre, creative music and movement, miming and puppetry. She used all of these to narrate stories.

Drama at Mayoor

Simi’s session was attended by the students of Class 1, who had been waiting for the event to start with bated breath since a bad traffic jam that extended miles on both sides of the school delayed every one of us. But once Simi entered, she began the session in her  boisterous way – she has a unique method of interacting with her audience – and kept them engaged.

They laughed with her, sang with her and listened to everything she said with great interest. The Principal, Vice Principal and all the teachers enjoyed the session as much as the students did. I’m sure many of the staff learnt a trick or two as Simi brought the curtain – and the house – down.

We are grateful to the staff for their support throughout the book-week, especially Sarita Madhok, Paramjeet Kaur and the two librarians, Parul and Simi for enthusiasm in ensuring that the sessions went off well.

Vineet V George

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