While teaching in India, I adapted to my new terrain and quickly learned that my expectations needed to be modified. One thing I missed was familiar children’s literature. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Scholastic Book Fair only to be disappointed by the fair’s small and limited selection. I was used to mega showings that were commonplace at American schools. The Indian book market favors books published and distributed in the UK. The colorful cover of The Bird with Golden Wings: Stories of Wit and Magic, by Sudha Murty and illustrations by Ajanta Guhathakurta (Penguin Books, 2009) caught my attention.
Can you judge a book by its cover? In most cases, I’d say no. But, I eagerly purchased it along with a few other books that had less striking covers. My fifth grade class, a cross section of affluent Indians and expats, had mixed reviews. My photo gallery includes a couple of the students’ illustrations.
The author, Sudha Murty, is the wife of N. R. Narayana Murthy, one of the cofounder of Infosys, a global company that operates in more than 30 companies including the U.S. In addition to being a respected author and teacher, Sudha is the current chairman of the Infosys Foundation, a highly regarded organization that addresses the needs of the indigent.
Ajanta Guhathakurta is an illustrator for Penguin Books in India and received her formal art education in Delhi.
This is an example of a book written and illustrated by individuals who have an excellent understanding of Indian culture. Does this fact make the book more authentic than books written by people who may be considered “outsiders” or are less knowledgeable about the culture? (See my previous blog- Agendas and Multiculturalism that discusses the question of insider vs. outsider.)
This collection of 21whimsical and mystical stories and illustrations relies heavily on Indian traditions and are intended for an Indian audience. Oftentimes the message or the moral of the tale is directly stated rather than being inferred. American school children can benefit from listening to stories written for another audience. Lesson plans could include:
- Differences in word usage- U.S vs. British/India
- Myths and tales associated with Hinduism and Indian culture
- Indian foods and customs
- The reoccurring theme of good vs. evil
- The role of the clever one
- The gender defined roles
- Character analysis
- Ways to deal with conflict
A brief synopsis of each story and a list of main characters are included.
The Golden Fish and the Demon- Be grateful for what you have and be careful for what you wish for. (Characters-husband, overbearing wife, and a magical fish) While reading this story to my class, my students drew their own illustrations. Two are included in my photo gallery.
Divide and Eat- There are multiple ways to determine fairness and some people will always be disagreeable (Characters- two twins who had nothing in common, and 2 travelers)
Skills for a Prince- Focuses on the desire to capitalize on our unique skills. (Characters-a young prince who loved pranks and 3 men)
How the Sea Became Salty- Greed can have consequences.(Characters- an orphan, his caring brother and obnoxious sister-in-law, mystical dwarfs, a ship captain and his crew)
The Banana Tree Princess- Trust is the key to a successful relationship(Characters- prince looking for a wife, a king, a queen, and a girl who lives in banana tree)
How to Catch a Goddess- Cleverness and faith can bring mystical rewards.(Characters- wife, affluent husband who lost his wealth, town crier, and a queen)
The Precious Rupee- It is important to understand the value of hard work and money. (Characters- a man who acquired wealth, family members, and a lazy son)
The Bird with Golden Wings- Being modest will reap rewards while being greedy can have dire consequences. (Characters- a mother, her daughter, and a noisy neighbor)
The Smartest Cook- A sense of humor and cleverness can lead to success. (Characters-clever man, village landlord, village people, and guards to landlord’s house)
Sukeshini and the Lake Demon- Working together people can make a difference. (Characters- a young beautiful woman who cared for sheep, her mother, an angry demon, and villagers)
The Silly Rich Boy- Being haughty and arrogant makes someone susceptible to being fleeced. (Characters- a father and his selfish and arrogant son, and three thieves)
The Clever Thieves- Successful thieves can be recruited to do good will and in the process will change.(Characters- two thieves, soldiers, king’s minister, and the king)
The King with Donkey’s Ears- Even if you think no one is listening, your secret may be heard if you utter a word.(Characters- an honest king with donkey ears, and the king’s barber)
Books for the Cook- Money that is rewarded without any effort is not fully appreciated.(Characters- a scholarly king, scholarly teacher who started a school, his lazy disciple, and school cook)
The Kind Stepmother- Kindness reaps its rewards whereas greed leads to consequences. (Characters- young woman, older husband who dies, rude child who doesn’t like his stepmother, and a mystical snake)
A Father’s Wisdom- All words do not need to be taken at face value. (Characters- father and his two sons- one rich and one poor)
The Cunning Lion- Families can work together to solve a problem. (Characters- father, adult daughter, uncle, stranger who doubles as an English speaking lion, and villagers)
The Magic Jug- Kindness reaps its own rewards. (Characters- poor, well mannered man, wealthy unpleasant man who turns into a donkey, and a stranger)
The Wishing Tree- Love for children- natural and stepchildren should be unconditional. (Characters- a mother, two sons who get along- her well treated son and a stepson who she mistreated, and a shepherd with a mystical secret)
Tit for Tat- Confronting dishonest behavior will lessen the chances of it reoccurring. (Characters- two friends- one deceitful the other gullible, and monkeys)
Sow a Witch- Wisdom and cleverness outsmarted the witch. (Characters- teacher, student, and human eating witch)
A quick search revealed that this book is available on uread.com
Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and a Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.