Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: Akbar and Birbal by Amita Sarin

I was at one of my favorite book haunts in Bangalore, looking for books for my children when I came across a book titled Akbar and Birbal. It was on the shelf with other novels and non-fiction books targeted at teens and young adults, but it seemed like it would be a good introduction to a part of Indian history for my nine-year-old. I added it to the growing stash in my arms and gave it to him along with a book from the Lemony Snicket series and a couple of Ruskin Bond books.

As expected, he picked up the Lemony Snicket book first and later in the day moved on to Akbar and Birbal. I could tell he was tentative, not really sure what it was all about, but he gave it a shot. Half an hour later, he had not put the book down, which was a good sign. When he was done with it, he did not stop raving about it for days, recounting parts of the book that he liked best. He liked it enough to want to write about it. The indented text that follows below is his review of Akbar and Birbal. It was first published in Blogcritics Magazine for his own feature (!), A Kid With a View.

[Start] Akbar, the emperor, and Birbal, his top minister, were wandering through the streets of Agra disguised as ordinary men. They heard the yelling of a woman from inside a house. They both thought she had been screaming at her child. But to their surprise a man came sprinting out of the house. Akbar was furious. He could not believe that men in his kingdom were cowards. Birbal disagreed and said that while Akbar was a great king, men like the man who was running away from his wife were ordinary men and had to be kind to their wives or get kicked out of the house.

Akbar and Birbal argued for days and days. Finally Akbar called a meeting in his palace gardens. He invited all the married men in Agra. He then asked the men who listened to their wives to move to the left and the men who did not to move to the right. One man moved to the right. All the rest moved to the left.

Akbar told Birbal that he wanted to reward the man that had moved right. But Birbal asked the man why he had moved to the right. The man said that he did so because his wife told him to stay away from crowds!

Birbal had won the argument with Akbar. This was no surprise because Birbal's wit always outsmarted Akbar, and Birbal did it in the most clever way imaginable.

Akbar, the great Mughal emperor, lived from 1542 to 1605. He thought of himself as an incredible emperor, which is what he was. Birbal lived from 1528 to 1586. He was Akbar's most trusted advisor and a wise ambassador who found a way around war. Birbal helped Akbar see through problems that he could not fully understand. Birbal was an outstanding minister both to his people and his king.

Amita Sarin has narrated this book elegantly and in a funny way. I found myself smiling or laughing at the end of each story. The author has sneaked in some historical facts along with the anecdotes. The way Birbal solved problems stunned me.

This is a joyous book. Anyone can read it because it is a fantastic swirl of Indian history, Indian ways of life and hilarious descriptions of events.

Unbelievably, I thought this was going to be some boring history book my mom bought for me. Finally, I learned my lesson. Never judge a book by its cover or its blurb! [End]

I haven't read the book myself, yet. But needless to say, I am a fan already!

Update following Amy's (She Writes) comment: The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Flipkart (for readers in India).


Praba Ram said...

Crisp and clear writing, C!
The words you have chosen are very ineresting -"sprinting out of the house, in particular..evoked imagery! And I also liked "fantastic swirl of Indian history" - nice! Keep 'em coming!! Thanks to your Mom for giving us a flavor of your writing!:-)

Sands said...

Beautifully written. Kudos to him. My 9 year old absolutely loves the Akbar Birbal series. I buy him the amar chitra kathas every time I visit India and he has a huge pile that he reads and re-reads a million times :) But it is impossible to get him to write :(

Choxbox said...

And this is a joyous review C!
*high-fives him*

Sylvia K said...

Marvelous review, beautifully written! Definitely kudos to him! And why am I not surprised?? I know whose son he is! So good to have you back! So glad you had a great visit!


Broom said...

What a lovely review! Please thank him from me.

(He has your genes)

mallikamt said...

Wow..what books did your son read as a preschooler?


Unspoken said...

It sounds like a great book! I wish it was available locally to me!

Unknown said...

very nice review for very nice & interesting book.

Anuradha Shankar said...

wow!! this was great!!! I saw this book at crossword recently, but samhith is too young for it... now i know i can buy it for him after a while!

Usha said...

Wow, already and so nicely written! way to go young man! Now I am tempted to pick up the book and have a go at it too.

Uttara said...

That was a great review C. Now I want to get the book for myself!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thank you all, for your encouragement. Needless to say he thrives on it. He loved reading your comments. So thank you for taking the time to leave them.

Mallika, he first started out with the phonetically arranged books, the ones that use as many rhyming words as possible in a story (Jim the crab who lived in a lab and so on). I think they are published by Scholastic. He began phonetically and even now he uses that method to decode unfamiliar words.

For pre-school, though, there are so many options that you cannot go wrong with any choice, really. Dr. Seuss is always a great choice as are the Step Into Reading series. We moved to India mid-way through pre-school, but he took to the books there as well - just short books with easy sentences. Then it was on to the Magic Treehouse series, Judy Blume, etc. It all depends on the children and what they are ready for, I guess.

Midlife Roadtripper said...


I'm so impressed. Your 9 year old? You must be so proud. I see the written work of adults that can't compare to his insight and ability. Please tell him that I enjoyed reading his review and I'm thinking I will be hearing about him someday, at the very least as a famous writer and most intelligent teacher and reader.

P.S. I had such a visual of you gathering all the books in your arms. Enjoyed it.

Poppy said...

The genes are just shining through Sujatha - he writes so well! Loved this review.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Here is something parents maybe interested in.
HOO's Tales 2010 - The international festival of stories is here. This year, Hippocampus, the children's library in Bangalore and Chennai, brings you a great set of storytellers from the UK, Germany and India. Its now a week long event with storytelling, workshops and performances for adults and children.

Feb 20th to Feb 27th in Bangalore and Chennai.

Check out the HOO's Tales website for details -

Rainbow Scientist said...

Great review from your son.

For young children, I would also recommend Boxcar children series. My 6 year old loves reading them.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Julie, Poppy, thank you for your kind words!

Rainbow Scientist, my son loved the Boxcar series at that age too! Thank you for the recommendation.