A Children’s Book about India and the Environment

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Editor’s Note: I set out this month to find a book on Holi to review and found what seemed to be a great one: Holi by prolific writer Uma Krishnaswami. The only problem with this book was getting my hands on it as I wasn’t able to find a copy at my local library. In my search for the book, I was introduced to many other books by the same author who is inspired by her Indian heritage in her writing. Her latest book, Out of the Way Out of the Way!, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy (yes, they really have almost exactly the same name), is a beautiful story about the environment, development and preservation. What follows is a review by author, Nandini Bajpai.


Out of the Way! Out of the Way! follows the journey of a sapling, a boy and a road, but most of all, the place where they all grow–an unnamed village in India. The boy finds a young tree in the middle of a busy village street and carefully borders it with stones. What happens next could happen, perhaps, only there. The stream of people and animals swerve to make room for the young tree and the path gradually curves out enough to accommodate both. Over time the dirt road turns into a major paved road, the village turns into urban sprawl, the boy into a father and grandfather. And the tree grows tall and wide into a refuge for wildlife, a resting place for people and animals, and a landmark of the cityscape around it.

The book resonated with me on a very personal level. I grew up in New Delhi but every time I go back, it is different. India has been growing at an incredible pace. The fields and villages of Haryana that we used to drive through to visit my father’s farm have turned into Gurgaon, a major international city. And yet, at some cultural level, it is the same. It is difficult to capture that sense of change and sameness, but Out of the Way! Out of the Way! does it effortlessly.

This is no wordy, complicated, messagey book. The simple narrative and catchy refrain work beautifully for the picture book reader. The illustrator of the book (would you believe, another Uma Krishnaswamy, this time with a “y” instead of an “i”?!) has done a great job breathing life into the author’s prose with her wonderful folk-inspired artwork. I can’t tell you how many times my children and I have recognized something around us from the illustrations in the book on our last trip to India. “Look, a bullock cart/ street light/ street dog/ mango seller, just like in the book!”


Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about the author, Uma Krishnaswami, you can check out her blog: Writing With a Broken Tusk. Interviews with her about this book can be found here out-of-the-way-out-of-the-way and here out-of-the-way-out-of-the-way and here out-of-the-way-out-of-the-way.

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