“The soldier immediately protested, shaking his head and waving his hands vigorously. The children giggled as he patted his stomach to show he was quite full.”
A Stranger Comes Calling is penned by Bharati Jagannathan and illustrated by Tapas Guha. Bharati is a historian and a teacher. She believes in teaching history to kids in a way that goes beyond the narrow circle of academics. Her goal is to write about ordinary people in different periods in history. This book stays true to her word. The soldier around whom this book revolves is an ordinary man but through her writing, Bharati teaches so much about language, Indian political and trading centers of the past and coins in the Kushana empire. The best part is she does it in a very implicit way, children are not burdened with these facts. These are presented to them in a very subtle way, all inclusive and arising from the story.
It’s a place near Mathura in the Kushana period, where Ambika and her brother, Govinda are amused by the stranger who arrives at their home. Their father, Nagadeva is a blacksmith and this stranger has some things he wanted to mend. The kids find it funny how he gesticulates his hands and the strange language he speaks. They find it interesting how he doesn’t wear a dhoti but wears something like a modern day pajama (of course, the historical period this book is set in, India wasn’t introduced to the use of stitched cloth) and how his hands are inserted fully in his top, only his palms showing.
How the kids reminiscence the various trips they have taken on bullock carts, to the neighbouring city of Mathura (prominent political and trading center of the Kushana empire), how the market is vibrant with merchandise of all kinds, colorful clothes, sweetmeats and garlands of fragrant flowers. The book ends with the kids conversing with the stranger about the different types of coins, gold, and copper and enjoying delicious raisins.
The audience of the book are able to take away a lot of information in bits in a very easy and subtle way:
- Different kinds of languages spoken in different parts of India
- What is Mathura Art and what unique sculptures were made using this style
- Sugarcane was used in India from very early times and people were used to eating sweets and desserts from eras ago
- What types of coins were used in India at the beginning of the Common Era, and what types were used in the Kushana Empire
Why should kids read this book
As a mother who wants her kids to read different kinds of books, I would very much recommend this book to other moms. The book gives a little glimpse of a part of Indian history. As a kid who doesn’t live in India and who is minimally exposed to India’s history in any way, may be geographically, historically, art and culture-wise, this book is an easy read. With the giggling of the kids in the book and their amusements, the readers would be fascinated and would continue reading till the very end. Bharati Jagannathan has written the book in such a way that the children can see all this happening before their eyes. The beautiful illustrations by Tapas Guha match the story and keep the little readers engaged. So, get it today and let your kids travel with Ambika and Govinda on their bullock cart, meet this stranger and see a copper coin by themselves.