MONSOON AFTERNOON by Kashmira Sheth. Peachtree Publishers, September 2008
The four seasons of the year are a favorite and recurring theme explored by children’s authors. Now, with an increase in ethnic writers tackling the genre, we have books about the monsoon, which transport children to a different part of the world. Kashmira Sheth, award-winning author of three young adult books and a picture book, My Dadima Wears a Sari, has written Monsoon Afternoon for kids between the ages of four and eight. Her new picture book provides a glimpse and a feel for the first monsoon rains of the season. It is a story about continuity and change, a child’s absorption with nature, and the bond between him and his grandfather.
The nameless narrator is a restless boy, who observes the animals outdoors just before the first drops of rain fall. Bored with the advent of rain, he requests his family members one by one to play with him. However, his dadima wants to drink her tea, his mother has to leave for the clinic where her patients are waiting for her, his father needs to finish scribbling his story on a notepad, and his hungry brother plucks fruits from a basket to eat. With nothing to do, he does what any bored child might—he stares at the rain, catching drops on his forehead. Fortunately, his dadaji notices he looks “as glum as an ink pot.” His grandfather is ready to sail paper boats in an old washtub that is filling with rainwater. The two have fun sailing paper boats until their creations sink to the “bottom of the washtub sea.”
When it’s dry, the two take a walk and observe the changes around them. The boy asks questions to find out whether his grandfather, as a child, did the things he likes to do, such as swing on the banyan tree, and whether nature behaved in the same way during his childhood. In the end, when Dadima scolds them for tracking mud into the house, the boy wants to know whether his grandfather, too, was scolded for the same reason as a little child.
Yoshiko Jaeggi, who did the illustrations for My Dadima Wears a Sari, has again teamed up with Sheth. As before, her watercolors are engaging and add to the impact of the prose. She chooses shades of green as the predominant color in Monsoon Afternoon.
The voice in Monsoon Afternoon is subdued, and emotions are kept in check. Sheth doesn’t evoke the intense feelings that can accompany the downpour of torrential rains. What she achieves is a recounting of a transformed afternoon. In an author’s note, she mentions what her childhood was like during the monsoons and provides a few facts about the season.
Another children’s book, Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami, tells a comparable story with an educational slant about the rains and how vital they are for India. Like Sheth, Krishnaswami features a nameless narrator, but her protagonist is a girl who longs for the monsoon season to begin. Both Krishnaswami’s and Sheth’s stories depict a grandparent sharing the rains with the narrator, and the children, as countless Indian kids do, fold paper into sailboats.
Monsoon Afternoon is not Sheth at her finest, but children will still enjoy the story. Children who haven’t encountered the monsoons will get an idea of the season’s pleasures, and those who have will revel in the memories this book conjures.