A joyful, high-energy child embraces life with gusto in Meena’s Mindful Moment, an insightful picture book by Tina Athaide, winner of the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. When Meena arrives at her grandfather’s village in India for a visit, she races off the train in a burst of open-armed exhilaration. This excitable gal has trouble containing her emotions, and a puffed-up, seafoam-green cyclonic creature, with flailing purple-striped limbs and a warm toothy smile, personifies her boundless exuberance. Inseparably linked, Meena’s “hurly-burly hullabaloo,” which no one else can see, is a constant companion.
In the morning while her grandfather, who she calls Dada, greets the sun with yoga poses, Meena tries to stand still and tall as a tree but soon is undone by an overwhelming itch demanding to be scratched: “her throat tickles with songs and she doesn’t know how to make it stop.” Singing and spinning out of control, Meena and her hullabaloo disrupt the tranquil vibe in the park. At the marketplace, too much twirling and swirling upsets the apple cart and garners disapproving glances from shopkeepers. Still revved up in the evening, Meena rushes to the beach to watch fishermen haul in their nets, and her constant swishing and splashing rocks the boat there too.
The uproarious and raucous panoramic illustrations by Åsa Gilland, a Swedish artist and designer based in Indonesia, pulse with invigorating, bright colours and kinetic movement. Meena and her hurly-burly friend merrily cavort and cartwheel across the spreads, leaving a comically chaotic trail of disorder, disgruntled villagers, and startled animals in their wake.
It’s clear that Meena is not intentionally misbehaving; she just gets overexcited in certain situations. The child knows she needs to find a little serenity, but she hasn’t learned how to self-regulate. Showing patient acknowledgement, acceptance, and understanding, Dada confesses he also has a hurly-burly hullabaloo that is a part of him too, and he sometimes needs reminding “to sit … to breathe … and to be still.” Meena follows her Dada’s model and puts his time-tested techniques into practice.
This playful, positive meditation doesn’t seek to quash Meena’s “jingle-jangle” get-up-and-go vivacity, only to slow it down when needed – a reassuring message that is a breath of fresh air.
Small moments of stillness, connection, and gratitude are a recipe for happiness in Chaiwala!, a sumptuous debut picture book by Cambridge, Ontario, author and teacher Priti Birla Maheshwari. Travelling by train in India, a young girl and her mother enjoy a sweet treat during a ten-minute stopover in Jaipur.
On the busy railway station platform, a vendor serving steamy cups of chai attracts a long line of customers. When it’s the child’s turn to order, she is captivated by the chaiwala’s tea-making process. Well-orchestrated onomatopoeic sounds bubble up and swirl across the page, like the “clink! clink!” of the cups, and the “Tuck tuck tuck!” of the mortar and pestle crushing and blending ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and a dash of black pepper. When the spicy aromas are released, the girl deeply breathes in the scents of comfort and warmth and exhales with a contented “Mmmm!”
Firmly grounded in the moment, the child’s focused first-person narration has a meditative quality: “The chaiwala digs into the rustling leaves. One scoop, two scoops, more!” The tea seller puts on a good show with theatrical panache: when cooling the piping hot chai, his performance is poetry in motion, as is the rhythmic, descriptive sentence: he “lifts the glass so high / and pours it / back and forth, / back and forth.” This ode to sensory delights has ceremony and precision: “O Chaiwala, give me two cups, please!”
Ashley Barron’s brilliantly hued cut-paper collages capture the hustle and bustle of the train station. Textures seem tactile, from the rough, coarsely woven burlap of travellers’ rucksacks to the fine silk of saris. Chai in hand, mother and daughter find an oasis of calm amid the crowd. Rejuvenating and mood-enhancing, Chaiwala! is a sensory experience to be savoured.