House, truck and jungle

Art picture books from India and Pakistan

As India and Pakistan celebrate 70 years of independence, international children’s book reviewer, Kate Shepherd looks at three stunning art picture books from the region that portray three very different styles.

The House That Sonabai Built: Looking at Art series by Vishakha Chanchani & Stephen P Huyler (photographer) pb 9789350466278 $22.00

This photographic picture book tells the true story of Sonabai who was married at just 14 years old to a man much older than herself.  She lived in a rural village and was very limited in what she was allowed to do.  When she had a child she decided to make him some toys from the clay she had discovered near the village well.  This was the start of an amazing creative life, in which she made toys but also decorated her whole house with patterns and figures and screens which filtered light and were decorated with animals, birds and people.

She came from a village with a tradition of decorating the walls of their houses with dung and mud and then making patterns but she went so much further.  She used bits of straw and bamboo to give strength to her figures and latticework and then pressed in clay to make the figures and forms.  She painted them in bright colours from natural food stuffs.  When four people from an art and craft association in Bhopal came to the house looking for folk artists, they were astounded to see the wonderful works of art she had created.

Her work became celebrated and many exhibitions were arranged for Sonabai, who was shy but gave workshops around the world, always accompanied by her son.  She also passed on her unique skills to people in her village so that there are still many artists who carry on the style and magic of her work today. (8 – 13 years)


This Truck has got to be Special  by Anjum Rana Illustration design Samer Kulavoor Truck art Hakeen Nawaz & Amer Khan  hb 978938314523  $30.00

Anyone who has seen the amazing Pakistani trucks covered with brilliantly coloured designs and paintings of animals and animals will be delighted with this book as it celebrates the work of the truck artists.  This picture book is a collaboration between a Pakistani writer, two Pakistani truck artists and an Indian illustrator.  It tells the story of Gul, a truck driver who finally owns his own truck and wants it to be painted just beautifully.  The book describes how Gul and the truck artist work together on the design for the artwork on the truck.

It also describes his life as a truck driver in Pakistan and the routes in Northern Pakistan where he travels.  The design of the book is striking in that the background illustration is in black and white while the art on the truck appears in a burst of colour.  At the end of the book there is a description of how the book came about and some information on truck art.  This is a fascinating book of special interest to art teachers.  (9 – 16 years)


The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam with Gita Wolf and Sirish Rao  hb 9788192317120  $25.00

This is a remarkable book in so many ways.  Bhajju Shyam was brought up in a tribal village in the jungle but, as a young man, he learnt how to paint in the tradition of the Gond artists.  He became very well known and was invited to go to London to paint the walls of a new restaurant.  For him, a tribal man to travel in a plane and then to live in a city such as London was an extraordinary experience.  This book shows us Bhajju Shyam’s unique vision of his experiences, through text and paintings. Gond artists are not interested in portraying what they see realistically; theirs is a world of feelings and imagination. Bhajju was amazed at the experience of flying and he felt he must be upside down since the clouds were below. The idea of an underground train made him think of a train snuggling through the earth like a giant earthworm. He was surprised that English people seem to change character when they enter a pub; they become happier and laugh a lot.  He draws them as bats since they wear dark clothes and come out at twilight and make loud noises.

In London, he found that everyone checked their watches all the time, whereas in his village the rooster would wake him up.  His stunning painting of Big Ben with the clock face superimposed on the head of a rooster combines two symbols; Big Ben, the symbol of time in London and the rooster, the symbol of time for Gond people.  He marvelled at what he saw in London and because he had no language to communicate his feelings to those around him, his impressions became all the more vivid.  This is a stunning picture book, beautifully illustrated and produced.  There is a fascinating section at the end of the book where the publishers describe how they met Bhajju and listened to his stories about his travel and conceived the idea of combining his own words and paintings in a book conveying a Gond view of London. The title compares Bhajju’s view of London with Kipling’s much earlier view of India.  (7 years to adult)


Kate Shepherd
Kate has been reviewing books and making lists of recommended books for International Schools since she first set up Austral Ed in 1993.  Now Austral Ed is part of Gleebooks Education which is the Educational division of Gleebooks, one of the oldest independent bookstores in Sydney.
Click on the bookshop to follow the link to the Gleebooks Education International Service and further information about their services for international schools.


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