Guddu, a young girl from the Mithila region of India, provides colourful and fascinating glimpses into life in her village.
I was browsing the Katha Books website when the distinctive cover art of Bioscope caught my eye. The site also allowed me a sneak peek at the contents of the book (which is great when you are buying online). The prospect of a story about the ‘simple joys of life’ in a small village in the Mithila region of India sold it to me.
Bioscope is told from the perspective of a young girl, Guddu. It’s not so much a story as an introduction to the village where Guddu lives. And because it’s so hot outside, Guddu doesn’t take us on a direct tour; instead she chooses to share her drawings with us and talk us through them.
‘Well, you can peep into my village through my drawings. Ma tells me they are very good.’
I like Guddu! She is chatty, enthusiastic and immediately likeable. Her village is her world and what a wonderful place it is, where the simple joys of life are cause for celebration. Guddu’s favourite game is to collect beads as they fall from a tree outside her home, and her excitement as the sweetseller heralds his arrival is palpable! We are treated to fascinating insights into her everyday existence: in one illustration, she helps her mother take their washing to the well; in another, the village elders meet in the shade of a large tree and drink tea from clay mugs. The natural world is also an important theme: trees and flowers abound; Guddu’s pet squirrels make an appearance as do a snake named Kaliya and a koyal bird, Kokila.
Of course, the real illustrator of the book isn’t Guddu at all, but artist Shanti Devi. Devi was selected for the IBBY Honour list 2012 for this title, and deservedly so. Her artwork in the traditional Madhubani style features brightly coloured scenes outlined in black, with attractive geometric borders. It is a stunning introduction to a traditional Indian art form practised by Mithila women and passed from one generation to the next. The back matter provides more information about Madhubani art and the art of alpana.
Throughout the book, there are numerous references to Indian culture and traditions, in both the illustrations and text. Some references may not be instantly understood by readers who have limited knowledge of Indian culture. For example, as Guddu chatters away about her drawings, she mentions ‘Sita’ (the Hindu goddess), the ‘Nagaphanchami Puja’ (Hindu ceremonial worship), ‘choupal’ (village meeting place) and ‘kullahads’ (clay mugs) of tea. Would a lack of understanding prevent enjoyment of this picture book? I don’t think so – but I love looking things up and finding out more! Some readers might want to create their own glossary before sharing the book with others.
Bioscope is a colourful and engaging introduction to village life in the Mithila region of India – with beautiful illustrations in the Madhubani style. I’m so glad this title caught my eye.
Bioscope by Mamta Nainy, illustrated by Shanti Devi (Katha, 2011)
Mamta Nainy is an editor and author of eight books for children, including Milky Way and A Brush with Indian Art. She previously worked as an advertising copywriter and copy editor. She is an avid reader with a passion for art.
Shanti Devi is an artist who paints in the traditional Madhubani style. Her work has featured in exhibitions in Canada, Australia and India as well as picture books. She also runs art workshops for children. She comes from the state of Bihar in India.