As soon as you start reading The Paradise Flycatcher by Deepak Dalal, you are plunged into a story combines plot, character, and details perfectly. It’s hard to stop reading when the writing is engrossing and the setting is irresistible.
In The Paradise Flycatcher, a rare white-headed squirrel named Shikar vanishes without a trace. The garden that he lived in is populated by bulbuls, robins, black drongos, yellow ioras, sunbirds and more beautiful species of birds. All the birds are plunged into gloom by the disappearance of the squirrel. When they find out that the squirrel was last seen in the company of the paradise flycatcher, they decide to go looking for him on their own. Meanwhile, a girl named Mitalee was Shikar’s close friend and she mourns the disappearance of her beloved squirrel. Her friends Maitreya and Alisha decide to help her look for Shikar (whom Mitalee calls ‘Snowdrop.’) Could Mitalee’s neighbours, the cruel Chintu and Arjun, be involved in a cruel pet trade? In the race to save Shikar, the adventure of the birds and Mitalee’s own adventure merge beautifully.
There’s so much that I enjoyed about The Paradise Flycatcher!
The setting is brilliant
My favorite part about the book is the setting. The author brings in birds as beautiful as arctic cranes, minivets and parakeets into the plot. The reader gets a glimpse into the magnificent varieties of birds in India, as well as their migratory patterns, colors, sounds, their evolution, histories and so much more.
A chemical engineer by profession, Deepak Dalal is well known for his Vikram Aditya series of adventures. These adventures set in places like Lakshwadeep, Ladakh, Andaman and Ranthambore. With The Paradise Flycatcher, he brings in a strong sense of conservation. The book also displays a deep understanding of and love for flora and fauna, and how the Indian landscape shapes our identities.
The book has perfect strands of humor
It’s hard to get humor in children’s fiction right. Most writers try too hard and the children end up sounding too clever for their own good. The conversations between Mitalee and her friends are funny and it is easy to relate to these scenarios. For instance, there is a scene involving Mitalee and her geography teacher. The teacher catches her drawing squirrels in her notebook and launches into jeremiads about how hard he prepares for each class and how carefree his students are. As people who are familiar with Indian classrooms, we can certainly appreciate the humor in such a situation!
The narrative arc is very inventive
I loved how inventive Dalal was with the plot. One of my favorite chapters is ‘The Wires.’ This describes how the various birds perch on telephone wires and swap stories and trade gossip. This is also where the birds who are Shikar’s friends go to find out ‘intel’ from on the ground (or the air?) about the location of the paradise flycatcher who disappeared with Shikar. Here’s a quote from the chapter:
“Even news of penguins — perched here on these wires, we know what’s happening in their distant ice-bound home. And migrations. We have the latest on them. Up-to-date accounts, that’s what we’ll give you. The Arctic terns, the cranes, the god-wits, the seagulls — you can learn about all those epic journeys across the planet here. Bird-nappings, the weather, gossip, matters of the Sky Council — the latest, the trending stories — that’s what we broadcast here, at the wires. THIS is the place to be.”
A sense of conservation
Dalal has written the book with a keen sense of nature. It is about the connections that children forge with flora and fauna. As someone who works with children, it makes perfect sense to see a little nature lover like Mitalee. I have seen 4-year-old children who know EXACTLY where a chameleon is hiding. The illustrations by Krishna Bala Shenoi are a treat to behold.
I also read parts of The Paradise Flycatcher in a park. I suddenly became alert to the sounds of birds, insects and animals around me!
There is so much about this book that you and your kids will love. It is a brilliant adventure and we get to really like and care about the characters. More than anything else, its sense of identity (the birds, the animals and a deep understanding of bird habitats in India) is vibrant and exciting.