KRISHNASWAMI, Uma Book Uncle and Me Scholastic, 2013 100pp $12.99 pbk ISBN 9781742836720 SCIS 1624758
It is worth noting that this book was first published by Scholastic Books India 2012. Its ethnic origins make it highly suitable for use in multi-racial schools and for class/school discussion everywhere about matters of cultural significance, at the same time pointing up universal social problems and ways of solving them. The text is freely illustrated in humorous black and white sketches that embellish the text and add a quirky flavour to the text, but no illustrator is named. The book is dedicated significantly ‘to young readers everywhere’.
Would that there be more ‘Book Uncles’ in this world! This one runs a free Lending Library on a corner in a busy Indian city. He spreads books out on planks of wood and has a small tin can for donations. Yasmin is a regular and devoted borrower: Uncle’s Number One Patron. Woven around this phenomenon is the warp and weft of life in a bustling Indian city and the coloured thread is that of the lives of the inhabitants such as those who, for example, participate in a tee-shirt folding contest in which the contestants fold a dozen each of a rainbow-coloured pile of tee-shirts, their hands flying as fast as karate punches. The busy life of such a city comes radiantly alive from the interaction of its inhabitants, their idiosyncrasies, their banter, and their deep humanity.
The crisis comes when Uncle’s lending library is deemed an illegal operation in that Book Uncle does not have a permit. So the Library is to be shut down. This is a universal theme of a small man and his ‘rights’ dramatized in films, books and newscasts. It is the David and Goliath story and here it is humorously and dramatically told; and with spice and originality. The droll and somewhat cheeky illustrations demand close scrutiny and add wonderfully to the unfolding drama. Special targets are greedy and unsympathetic officials: especially Mayors. The protest is enthrallingly dramatized. It demands the readers’ sympathy largely from the cast of colourful characters headed by Yasmin herself, while raisings questions of ethics and morality, without ever preaching or being swamped by didacticism. This is a book to enjoy, chuckle over, and from which to learn but, primarily, to enjoy. MS