Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Charu's Blog, Indsight, Turns 4!

My buddy Charu's blog, Indsight, turned four yesterday!

If you haven't read Indsight, now's a swell time to do so. Check out her photos, especially.

Happy reading!

Book Review: Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos

There's no better way to say it – I'm a sucker for love stories.

Not the kind in which boy meets girl, fireworks explode and the constant excitement is punctuated by frequent bolts of lightning and thunder. Well, not anymore, anyway. I grew out of those, oh, say about fifteen years ago.

The kind of love story that reels me in these days is the one in which the affection is deep, the love is caring and the respect is mutual. You know, the kind that leaves you with that warm, cozy feeling of well-being, comfortable in the knowledge of the myriad, mysterious possibilities of love - long after you've shut the book and consigned it to the bookshelf.

Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos' debut effort, is just that kind of a story.

It is the story of Cornelia, a thirty-something, five-foot tall storehouse of energy and integrity, who, everybody agrees, is wasting her days managing a coffee house in Philadelphia when she could be doing something worthwhile with her talents. Just what they are (other than a love for and obsession with old Hollywood movies – The Philadelphia Story the prime among them) no one can tell yet.

It is also the story of eleven year old Clare, lost in the wilderness of the problems plaguing the adults around her but holding steadfast with all the discipline and grit she can muster.

Through the machinations of fate and destiny and the stars, Cornelia and Clare meet. Above all other relationships and love connections in the novel, the one that is pivotal to the proceedings is the story of how Clare and Cornelia fall head over heels into adoring affection for each other. Nothing binds Cornelia to Clare – neither familial ties, nor professional ties nor ties of friendship – other than those of love and a fierce interest in her well-being.

As the story progresses, I realized, Cornelia's world is one in which many of us would love to inhabit. To have the friend she has; to have the parents she has; to have the brothers she has; to have the motherly, aunt-type confidant and role model she has; to have the kind of childhood she had; to have the emotional wherewithal to take a broken young child under the wing as she does; and to have the beau (oh, yes!), the love of her life, that walks into her world one day.

Cornelia's first person voice – strong and steady for the most part, but doubting as well, of her own ability to carry the burden – guides the reader through this journey. The informality of the language in which Cornelia addresses the reader serves to let him in on Cornelia's innermost workings turning him into a willing participant in the goings on.

Apart from Cornelia's voice, the strongest of the novel's characteristics is the warmth and love cocooning its people, places and events. For a story that puts its characters through various types of wringers - death, divorce, child abandonment, mental illness – that it leaves you happy and content as you turn the last of its 300-odd pages, is quite an achievement.

And you appreciate that achievement even more for the smart, knowledgeable way in which the story is told. Although half the story is told in the voice of Cornelia and the other half from the perspective of eleven year old Clare - who's seen more tragedy and heartache to fill more than one lifetime - de los Santos manages to inhabit both and a panoply of other characters that reside in her book. They are all well-rounded, with just enough of the frailties and failings to give them flesh and blood and make them believable.

Half-way through the story you forget it's a story and you root for the right thing (well, all the things Clare and Cornelia long for), to happen. What more can I say?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Woman's Worth

Even as a teenager, the best thing I liked about my grandmother was her soft, squishy, plump lap. She would groan under my weight as I settled in and leaned back onto her bulky stomach, but as she wrapped her chubby arms around me, I would feel the loose flesh of her neck on the side of my face. I cannot remember a time when my grandma was not big and soft.

It never occurred to me that she was not beautiful or that she should have had non-flabby arms or slender thighs.

To me, she was someone who made yummy things to eat (the best coconut obbattu in the whole world) and beautiful art out of cotton and shiny paper; braided young girls' hair with intricately set flowers (moggina jade) for portraits or dance recitals; had the gumption to yell at my mother and my aunts and uncles; someone who never addressed her husband by name; never ever took off her mangalasutra (even when it needed to be repaired, she held on to it while the goldsmith fixed a loose hook); who was proud that she and her husband had managed to bring up five children on a shoestring budget and found good spouses for all of them; someone who took joy in the fact that she was a grandmother many times over.

There is something absolutely calming in staring at the face of someone that has been through a whole life and has come out at the other end of it without frayed edges and with the center intact.

By the time I'm her age when she passed away, I shall count myself incredibly lucky if I could achieve a semblance of the kind of relationships she had with her children and the comfort she felt in her skin.

But this is not the message girls growing up get these days. We've all heard and read about (and can see for ourselves) how the media is inundated with ads exhorting women to become fairer, put on fewer wrinkles, have sticks for arms and legs, banish gray hair and have flat stomachs but full breasts. The engines of the $200 billion cosmetics industry run on these aspirations.

Which is why it was somewhat shocking and gratifying to see this ad for Dove in Time Magazine yesterday. True, Dove still sells shampoos and conditioners, and face and body lotions, but the message of this pro-age campaign and the message of their Campaign for Real Beauty effort are ones that resonate.

A woman's worth measured by the number of wrikles she has earned, not by the number of wrinkles masked; a woman's worth measured by flab acquired by years of living, not flab supressed by years of poor eating; a woman's worth measured by the streaks of gray in her hair collected over a lifetime of ups and downs, not by how successfully they are covered up.

One can hope.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Yummy Mummy vs. Slummy Mummy. And the Winner Is...Who Cares!

I thoroughly enjoyed this Newsweek piece by Kathleen Deveny about the "Mommy Wars".
The mommy wars are killing me. Raise your children however you'd like. Just please—please—stop telling me about it. Do whatever you want: stay at home with your kids, wear gym clothes all day and make your own organic baby food. Work 60 hours a week, fire your babysitter every six months and communicate with your children via BlackBerry. Declare your toddler carbon neutral or get your hair highlighted while you're in labor. Breast-feed your kid till he's 17! I'm a single working mother, and should be interested in all this, but I'm not.


We have become Narcissist Mommies, obsessed with defending our parenting choices. Yes, motherhood is exhausting. Sure, husbands could be more helpful and bosses are always demanding something on the day your kid comes home with lice. The challenge of finding good, affordable child care is no joke. But we didn't exactly invent kids. "No one can ever understand how difficult it is," says Kateria Niambi, a publishing executive from Montclair, N.J., and single mother of girls, ages 14 and 11. "But once you are a mother, you need to get over it. There's no need to whine about it."

Here's my take on the "Mommy Wars" and why we need to put an end to them.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm a Rockin' Girl Blogger!

Taz, my Akshara project buddy, has bestowed upon me the title of Rockin' Girl Blogger. Very cool, eh? Brought a smile to my face and tickled me pink! Thanks Taz!

Here are three fine bloggers that deserve the title as well:

Amrita Rajan at IndieQuill
Deepa Krishnan at Mumbai Magic
Praba at SaffronTree (We've met already. Twice! I know, I know, a post is long overdue)

As Taz says, rock on ladies!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What do you do when your sister is jealous?

Seven year-old brother is massaging (very well, I might add) mother's forehead and temples on the bed. One year-old sister is doing the War Dance of Jealousy on the floor. She can see but she cannot reach. She does circles, squeals, reaches out her arms, flings them back to her sides in frustration, wails, and finally, flops to the floor in utter dejection.

Brother watches sister's frenzy. He knows that feeling all too well. When the occasion demands it, he's a master at displaying fits of heartburn himself.

So he says to his little sister, with the air of someone who's seen everything there is to be seen, "N, no matter what I do for mama, she'll always love you, OK?"

Candles Burn, Flowers Glow

Candles burn, flowers glow

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. The aroma of mom's cooking fills the air. My home is abuzz with family and friends. Kids squeal at the sound of the firecrackers. In the chaos, these flowers - aglow in the candlelight - give me pause. I love being home. I'm content.

This is my entry for the Fields of the World Contest hosted by Crazy Hip Blog Mamas.

Tell us where out next “Fields of the World” arrangement should come from! Is there a special memory, place, or family heritage that can help inspire us? Upload your photo with a descriptive caption and tell us the inspiration behind it.

If you'd like to participate, click on either of the links above and enter away! Have fun and good luck!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fisherman's Cove, Chennai

A few months ago, we had to make a two-day trip to Chennai. We decided to make the most of it and stay at Fisherman's Cove in the outskirts of the city (close to Mahabalipuram).

Fisherman's Cove is a lovely resort, blessed by a stupendous location and gorgeous landscaping. A range of accommodation types includes rooms, cottages and villas. The cottages and villas are steps away from the ocean. A few of them, we were told, had suffered damage during the tsunami and had been refurbished.

A view of the ocean from the cottage

Dragonflies hang on for dear life as a strident breeze rocks the hammock

One of the cottages. The spacious wooden swing is very relaxing.

The sit out beyond the lobby of the hotel.

At the hotel's main restaurant (the one that houses the buffet), the food is nothing to write home about. In fact, the buffet is unimaginative at best.

For dinner, though, the hotel's Upper Deck restaurant is a fantastic choice. The ambiance is perfect for an outdoor space. The restaurant is set on a mound a few feet higher than the rest of the ground, affording great views of the ocean in the dying light. Service is attentive without being intrusive. The chef and the wait staff go out of their way to get you what you want. Reservations are a must.

The cottages are comfortably furnished and will ably aid and abet you in committing the crime of relaxation. At night, the only sounds are of the ocean as the waves dance with the beach in a relentless tango.

Why are Pkblogs.com and Inblogs.com framing my pages with their ads?

Has anyone else encountered this problem? A search for Palm Meadows, Bangalore, brings up the following link:


and when you click on it, it brings up my page with that post, but with Pkblogs' ads framing my page. There are other links to more of my posts via Pkblogs and Inblogs. SIFY used to do this to all my posts a year or so ago until I called and told them to knock it off.

If you have encountered this problem, please could you tell me what you did to stop it?

It makes me mad because Pkblogs and Inblogs are trying to make money off of other peoples' work merely by framing pages with their ads.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Indian Schools: ICSE or CBSE? International or Mainstream?

If you are a parent looking to move to India and are confused about the choices available in terms of schooling for your children, this article in this weekend's Mint Lounge offers you a good overview:
It’s a subject all parents obsess about: schools. How few good ones there are and how to get their children into them. The International Baccalaureate (IB) or the Indian School Certificate Examinations (ICSE)? How to make it to South Mumbai’s Cathedral & John Connon School (Maureen’s Head Start playschool is the way), or Campion, or J.B. Petit School.

Or, should you just skip those traditional schools that are stressful, competitive and ramshackle and opt instead for that growing set of new schools which come with an “international” tag? There are plenty of options: The number of Indian schools offering the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) has grown by three times in as many years to almost 200, while 37 outfits offer the IB programme.

My posts on Bangalore schools are here (more posts are linked within each post).

When the sky threatens to fall, you dig deep

I read two stories today from people half way around the globe from each other, but each one resonated for the same reasons. They are gut-wrenching stories of adversity that befalls ordinary people and, more importantly, they are stories of ordinary people digging deep within themselves to find the emotional wherewithal to surmount the adversity.

There is this story of Sadhika, a four year-old, who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago (via Uma).
Both Rajni and I were numb. We went back home and shut ourselves inside for three days. During the second counselling session at aiims we were told that the whole department was with us. The estimated cost for the three-year course of treatment was Rs 7.5 lakh. We were cautioned that there could be a relapse after five or six years.

One night soon afterwards, my wife and I sat together and cried out loud. How could God do this to us? Then Rajni reassured me. She said we had to try and do our best to save Sadhika. We decided we would strive together. It was a cathartic moment. We sensed God’s will behind it all. Maybe it was part of God’s master plan for us.

We then informed our friends and family. We did not want to hide anything from anyone, in part because we also saw this as an opportunity to generate awareness about blood cancer. We told Pulkit that his little sister had a blood infection and we would all have to work hard to help her become well again. The reactions from those we knew were mixed. Some supported us; others told their children to stop playing with Sadhika.

But we were undeterred. I work for a private firm, and they supported me and granted me leave whenever I needed it. Rajni’s family, and my sisters and their families supported us and were always ready to donate blood.
Then there is Jana Lee's story. Frail and sick, she finds solace in simple things - planting some seeds and watching them take root and come alive.
Everything is so simple when you've been sick. To be outside wearing the sun as a shawl when your heart has been so cold for so long is a gift. To think of the ground as a womb and no longer as a grave is a relief. Kneeling to pull weeds and sift the soil becomes each day an excuse to pray. Night crawlers glisten in my fingers fiery red and as valuable as rubies, eyeless and innocent of their importance to prepare the earth for the growing of plants. I watch robins pulling them from deep, secret places beyond the garden's edge, sensing the movements of the worms underground with their feet. I knead dirt for hours like a baker working dough.
In adversity, there is hope.

Please do take time to read both the stories.

Travel: Open Air Markets - What's Not to Love?

Open-air markets are incredibly addictive. Or may be it's just me. I could while away hours in a market, peeping into every store, inhaling the smells, chatting up the store owners, gawking at strange produce and buying some for later, tasting samples, soaking in the atmosphere - the colors, the flavors, the people, the chatter, the hustle and the bustle.

Youngsters hang out at a fresh fruit stall (fruit chopped and served in plastic cups) in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Dragon fruit in Port Douglas' open-air market

After spending all day or days in museums, monuments and anything else that might set a city apart from any other I've ever visited, all it takes is one visit to a market to realize that I may be in a different land but there are a lot more things that bind people than set them apart.

Familiar items in Prague's Havelska Market near Old Town Square...

... Sorrento (well, perhaps the lemons are a tad larger than I might have seen before)...

... in Nice ...

... and Port Douglas.

Markets offer you a glimpse into the soul of a city as no other feature can. It's where the locals hang out - and connect - to carry out mundane transactions; it has the stuff the locals buy for every day life - the onions to go in smabhar or sauce, the tomatoes to go in rasam or a salad, the apples or the kishmish that will be savored after dinner, the flowers that will adorn an idol or grace a dinner table that night. As you go about the business of picking what you want to buy and paying for your loot, it feels like you are being let in on a secret. For a time, however fleeting it may be, the city embraces you as one of its own. And that's a heady feeling.

As we wrapped up breakfast at a restaurant near Nice's Old Town, we saw the chef receive the meat for the day's dishes from his supplier.
P.S. The chef was hot! And check out that scooter! The noise matched its girth.

Having grown up in India, markets were always part of the equation, no matter where we lived. When we lived in Bangalore, my dad used to take me and my brother to any market we came upon on weekend jaunts that had no destination. The market at Jayanagar 4th block, K.R. Market, and the ones at Malleswaram 8th cross and 15th cross were regular haunts and were the supermarkets of old during festivals, stocking everything from sugarcane and yams for sankaranthi and pongal to idols for the Ganesha festival, Christmas trees and lights in December, plantain shoots and the pooja items for Hindu rituals.

This boy on Bannerghatta Road in Bangalore saw the camera in my hand and posed with the two sugar cane shoots

An open air Municipal market in Panajim across from the Mandovi River. It stank to high heavens in the warm, humid weather, but was the produce was inviting.

A shopkeeper in Jayanagar IV Block Market in Bangalore stocks haldi, kumkum and ganesha idols.

The Gandhibazaar market in Bangalore is one of my favorite open-air markets. Flowers are a staple.

When I left India many moons ago and landed in Philadelphia, after days of moping around, feeling lost and disoriented, I found my bearings in South Philly's Italian Market (I am eternally grateful to my then room mate for taking me there when she did). It had everything to assuage a lonely girl's homesickness.

Markets are also very handy when you are traveling to countries with unfamiliar cuisines or if you are rushing from one place to another with no time for a sit-down meal. We've called upon a variety of foods - from cherries, oranges, strawberries and baked goods and candies - bought in open-air markets as reinforcements in a pinch.

Candied fruit in Nice's open air market near Old Town (Vieux Nice)

And sometimes, it's much more than the stuff for sale, delectable though they may be, that stays in your mind.

Michael, in Port Douglas, laid out bowls, spoons and ladles, created from dead wood he foraged for and found in the local forests. We lingered and chatted and found that he'd read Shantaram and liked it.

Turns out the Italians do take their siestas seriously. Sleeping Man Snoring on the Amalfi Coast.

The tag says it all.

Nuns catching up on some window shopping in Amalfi.

So the next time you're stuck in a strange city for a length of time, check out its market. You might not feel so lonely after all.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bangalore Service Providers

Here are three Bangalore service providers that I thought were very good at what they did.

1. Boutique Tailor: Sana Mohiuddin (Libasse on Airport Road - 9844104746) is a wonderful lady who has four or five tailors working under her. She has excellent ideas for chudidhars and blouses. She also beautifully decorated a shawl for me.

2. Coral Art Gallery: Art and photo framing, and art pieces. Contact Rajendra Dugar on (080) 2676 5920.

3. Govardhans in Jayanagar: Invitations design and printing. Call (080) 4121 0341.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Roland's HP-207 Digital Piano

I don't know a lot about all the cool stuff digital pianos enable you to do (and it is a lot), but I know enough to say that we are mighty pleased with the Roland Digital Piano (model HP-207) we acquired when we returned from India.

After the rather dismal experience we had trying to keep our old piano tuned and in condition in Bangalore, a piano that would never require tuning sounded appealing. That and the fact that digital pianos also allowed the pianist to experiment with varied instrument sounds propelled us toward a piano store that also sold digitals. Once there, the salesman promptly took us to the most expensive on the floor. We smashed his hopes - as gently as we could. Not only was it too expensive, it also had too many features that were not necessary for someone my son's age.

We saw a few more models on the floor, but the HP-207 seemed the most appropriate for our needs. The sound is awesome, the keys feel like and have the same weight as those of an acoustic piano. You can plug in headphones when you are practicing or lower the volume if you want to be quiet; you can play the drums or the guitar or the harpsichord (just a few of the more than 300 sounds promised by the manual); produce police car sounds or airplane sounds; you can record your own compositions; make use of the pre-recorded songs in the memory to learn new songs, etc., etc., etc. I'm sure there are a whole lot of other features my son has not discovered yet (the manual is hidden away safely for now).

We spent some time debating whether an instrument with all these features would be a distraction, but our son's teacher laid our doubts to rest. In his experience, having the other features (such as other instrument sounds or the ability to record a piece or a child's own composition and play back) on hand were valuable in the battle against boredom.

That observation has borne out. My son actually spends a lot more time at the piano than just practising his pieces - to fiddle with the settings, discover sounds, make up songs, etc. And it is a lot of fun to listen to all the different tunes wafting from a corner of the house.

Keeping Geography Real

A neat way to kickstart interest in geography and to sustain it, I found, is to put up a wall map of the world or a map of the country you are in and mark each city your child has visited with a tiny sticker. It's mighty thrilling to see the excitement building in your child's face as you mark each city and the interest spreads to what's around that city and beyond.

Feroze Khan Chat on Washingtonpost.com

Writer/director Feroz Khan will be online Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the film [Gandhi, My Father].

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

Questions and comments may be submitted here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

At Virginia's Sky Meadows, One Step Closer to the Heavens

Last night, for the first time in all the years we've lived in the United States, we heard a cow moo.

A whole herd of cows grazed lazily on the patchy green and golden grass in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a fenced-in enclosure. On our side of the fence, apple tree branches hung heavy with the weight of the fruit.

We could see a line of cars ahead of us as we entered Virginia's Sky Meadow State Park, about an hour west of Washington, D.C. The parking lot was already full and cars were now beginning to line the gravelly path skirting a grassy mound on which a young boy and girl were tossing a football to each other.

Just beyond them, we could barely see the tops of the backs of chairs and a few heads. Counting our lucky stars that we had a couple of portable folding chairs stashed in the trunk of the car, we found a parking spot, walked up the mound, past the football-throwing kids, and came upon a large field.

An assortment of groups - families, friends, couples - sprawled on sheets spread out on the grass and sat on chairs in the lower part of the field where the ground was level. In the middle, about fifteen telescopes stood on the ground - some slim and long and others fat and long - their sights trained on the skies. Their owners bustled about, connecting wires, setting up chairs and ladders, firing up computers and good-naturedly talking to curious children and adults alike.

More people came, with children, pets, blankets, picnic hampers and flashlights. As the sun dipped low over the horizon, the breeze picked up and a lone star appeared in the center of the pale blue sky. The show had begun.

Sky Meadows State Park is host to a cooperative program series put together by the Smithsonian Albert Einstein Planetarium, NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab Solar System Ambassadors and the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club. One moonless Saturday evening every month from April to November is reserved for this special event - a slide show presentation on a specific area of astronomy, a tour of the skies presented by a park official, topped off with telescope-hopping to take a peek at the skies.

As the last of the summer light faded out, more stars popped up in the huge inverted bowl above us - more stars than I had seen in a very long time. My son, his friend and I made our way to one of the telescopes, the kids' curiosity getting the better of their manners as they peeped into every part that looked even remotely like an eye-piece. The amateur astronomer to whom that telescope belonged guided the kids to the correct aperture and pointed them to that first star we'd seen that evening.

"Do you know what that is?"

"A star?"

"No, that's Jupiter."

"Jupiter? Wow! Can we see it through the telescope?"

"Of course."

Then a bit later, "Mom! I could see Jupiter with my naked eye!"

That set the flavor for the evening. Everything was coated in generous doses of excitement, the thrill of seeing something that had been only the stuff of books writ large on every one's faces. A fluffy band of cloud that stretched from one horizon into the other, we learned, was a band of the Milky Way.

The slide show presentation was educational and useful, drawing people into the evening's program and giving them pointers on what to look for later on in the skies. The volunteers of the Astronomy Club offered up their telescopes to long lines of grateful people, turning their telescopes at intervals to showcase new patches of sky. An occasional shooting star hurtling down the sky produced "oohs" and "aahs".

We wandered from one place to another - heads swiveling up to watch the skies and swiveling right back down to make sure we did not trip over anyone on the grass - trying to take in as much as we could. Then there were the people who picked a spot early in the evening and did not budge, their attention focused on the sky, just enjoying the giant, outdoor planetarium, their lasers pointing this way and that, calling out names of constellations, stars and planets.

Whatever you choose to do, at some point in the night, you are bound to revel in witnessing something way larger than yourself playing itself out in the skies - and develop a crick in your neck.

Trip Information:

  • Three more Astronomy nights are planned for this year at Sky Meadows: September 8 (7:30 pm to 11:00 pm), October 13 (6:30 pm to 10:00 pm) and November 10 (5 pm to 10:00 pm).

  • The park charges an admission fee of $4 per car. The show itself is free.

  • The park is located at 11012 Edmonds Lane in Delaplane, Virginia, about an hour west of Washington, DC (66 W towards Front Royal, Exit 23 to US 17 N, Left on Edmonds Lane).

  • Carry food (the closest food source is McDonald's 10 miles away), portable folding chairs or sheets to lay on the grass, a flashlight, warm clothing, and a telescope if you have one.

  • Sky Meadows' website has information about other activities offered there (hiking, camping).

File Under "She'll Always Be My Baby"

Me: "Dad! We went parasailing. It was so much fun! All three of us went up together! Big N also had a lot of fun! We could see for miles and..."

My dad (sternly): "What were you wearing? A skirt or pants?"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Children's Book Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves and The Girl's Like Spaghetti by Lynne Truss; Illustrated by Bonnie Timmons

In the introduction to her best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves (The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation), Lynne Truss describes a "true stickler":
For any true stickler, you see, the sight of the plural word "Book's" with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated.
Anyone who has experienced similar distress at the sight of misplaced apostrophes, redundant or missing commas and overused semi-colons, and has felt the urge to fix the errors (on restaurant menus, billboards, brochures, fliers - you name it) is bound to empathize with Truss and delight at the sight of the "Punctuation Repair Kit" so thoughtfully included in Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Now, sticklers (and teachers and parents) have two more reasons to rejoice. Last year, Truss authored a children's edition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and, recently, its companion book, The Girl's Like Spaghetti.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Illustrated by Bonnie Timmons (who drew the cartoons for the popular television series, Caroline in the City), the two books are attractive, colorful and entertaining renditions of what happens to sentences when commas are missing or end up in the wrong places, or apostrophes appear where they shouldn't. Truss takes a sentence, punctuates it in two different ways and Timmons draws an image for each of the two variations illustrating the different meanings the sentences consequently take on.

For example, in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, the sentence, "Look at that huge hot dog!" appears first with no commas (accompanied by an illustration of a huge hot dog on a grill), and in the second instance, a single comma makes an appearance after the word "huge" to read, "Look at that huge, hot dog!" (and is accompanied by a drawing of a very big, white, spotted dog, panting near a kiddie pool).

This same example could have been written in prose with the consequences of the placement or omission of the comma explained in purely grammatical terms, but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. What a delight it will be for teachers and parents to have this book, to flip to a page and be able to say to a child, "See what happens if you don't use a comma here?" or "See what happens if you put an apostrophe here instead of here?" The prospect of nipping bad punctuation habits in the bud (while the children are having a good time of it) will surely be welcome.

For those parents, teachers, curious youngsters or other readers wanting to know the grammatical explanations for the consequences of misplaced punctuation, there is a handy table at the end of the book that compares the two iterations of each sentence. To continue with the above example, in the version without the comma, "huge" modifies "hot dog", and in the version with the comma, "huge" and "hot" both modify the noun "dog". So, in the former, the sentence describes a hot dog, while in the latter, the sentence describes a dog.

The Girl's Like Spaghetti follows a similar pattern. One of the most common punctuation errors involving an apostrophe must be the use of "it's" for "its" and vice versa. As the table at the end of the book explains, "The apostrophe makes a contraction of it and is", while its (without the apostrophe) "is a possessive pronoun..." The illustration accompanying the example, "Look, it's behind." is that of a turtle falling behind in a race and "Look, its behind." is illustrated by a boy pointing to a horse's behind. Point made, and how!

As you flip through the pages and look at all the illustrations and examples, you may begin to wonder if children should be the only beneficiaries of these wonderful books, and most likely you will conclude, not. It is not unusual to come across several instances of misplaced, absent or overused punctuation in the course of a day (even in newspapers, sometimes) where the culprits are mostly us adults. These illustrated books might, in all probability, be more successful in driving home basic punctuation rules than most grammar texts have apparently hitherto achieved, and readers are bound to have more fun in the process (my seven year-old certainly did).

Eats, Shoots & Leaves and The Girl's Like Spaghetti are must-have additions not only to elementary school libraries, but to all libraries and book shelves everywhere.

Then, perhaps, sticklers the world over can give a rest to those Punctuation Repair Kits.

Websites to check out:

Lynne Truss
Bonnie Timmons
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Girl's Like Spaghetti
Save the Comma