I spent a delightful afternoon yesterday reading the Barefoot Books collection of Indian Tales, as told by Shenaaz Naji and illustrated by Christopher Corr. Barefoot Books aims to "celebrate art and story that opens the hearts and minds of children from all walks of life, inspiring them to read deeper, search further, and explore their own creative gifts." I was initially attracted to their list by a press release mentioning a collection of Buddhist Tales (more of this in a later post.) My new little grandson, Luka, now barely six months old, is already fascinated and loves to sit on my lap and turn the board pages of his baby books. It's not so much a matter of "reading" to him yet, but the experience of being close and watching him learn is in itself a joy.
It was with this in mind, and the prospect of reading more to him as the months and years pass, that I contacted Barefoot, and they were kind enough to send me a generous sampling of their publications for review. Each one of these story books is beautifully written and exquisitely illustrated, with a real feel not only for the culture they represent but also for content that teaches, without sentimentality or preaching, the values of kindness and compassion, awareness to the world and its natural beauties, and sensitivity to living beings of all kinds. These are the kind of things that I myself have come to value most in life, and the gift I would most like to pass on to little Luka if I am given the opportunity.
The stories are produced for children of all ages, and Luka is certainly not ready yet for these Indian tales, but one day, perhaps when he's seven or eight, or a little older... The stories themselves are culled from the great wealth of Indian mythology and literature, and are delightfully told in simple language, without fuss or condescension. They originate in a spectrum of different regions that spans the sub-continent, and each story is preceded by an informative passage that describes the geography and special culture of the region -- from the distinctive foods and flavors to the manner of dress and furnishings, the dances and social customs as well as the religious beliefs. I myself learned a lot I had never known about India from my afternoon's reading!
The illustrations, too, are a delight: richly conceived, thoughtfully interactive with the stories, and with a clear reference to the literary and artistic traditions from which they spring, they benefit also from an awareness of the diversity of contemporary artistic expression. A glance through the other books that Barefoot sent is evidence that Indian Tales is no one-off success story. I'll be writing more about those others in a future post, with special attention to their Buddhist content. In the meantime, I apologize it this seems like a rather weighty way of writing about something as innocently diverting as a children's book; but believe me, if you have children of any age in your family to entertain and teach with a purely pleasurable reading experience, Barefoot Books is worthy of your attention. They also do CDs and puzzles, and much more.