Written by Sharanya Manivannan and illustrated by Nerina Canzi, Ammuchi Puchi (Amazon linkis published by Lantana Publishing. It has been shortlisted for the Neev Children’s Book Award, 2019. Recommended age for self-reading: Regular 7+ | Advanced 5+.

The lush green leaves, rainbow-coloured flowers and two wildly imaginative siblings, Aditya and Anjali, traverse through a tough but eye-opening phase in their lives. Nerina Canzi’s gorgeous illustrations bring Sharanya’s lyrical but simple prose to life in Ammuchi Puchi.

When they were younger, their grandmother Ammuchi’s ghost stories used to make Anjali cry. With time, the fear went away. The figure in the mango tree no longer frightened them. And they really enjoyed her stories. But everything changed when Ammuchi’s red mouth (from chewing paan, not drinking blood) no longer echoed laughter or spoke of horrors hiding in dark corners. After spending two weeks in a white sterilized building, the hospital, she passed away. Sadness hung around the house and the children were suddenly struck with a void that couldn’t be filled. No more songs (from black and white movies). No more colourful flowers in hair?

On a particularly dreary day, Anjali spots something in the mango tree: a big and beautiful butterfly that looked exactly like the brooch Ammuchi had gifted her on her birthday. She names the butterfly Ammuchi Puchi (Ammuchi means grandmother and Puchi means an insect). The butterfly provided the children with much-needed distraction.

The children had Ammuchi Puchi, but their grieving parents didn’t. The kids told their parents about Ammuchi Puchi, but their parents didn’t believe them, of course. But when Ammuchi Puchi led the kids to an old camera that had belonged to their mother, their parents finally came around. But, by this time, the butterfly had disappeared.

Difficult topics

As adults, we try to shield children from all difficult topics, including death. Just like with other difficult subjects, we need to talk more openly about death. Of course, there is no single ‘right’ way to come to terms with the passing of a loved one. Everyone reacts in their own individual way. Books about death can allow for conversation with children to help them deal with their grief.

Gone Grandmother by Chatura Rao, is a picture book by Tulika, which tells the story of a little girl, Nina, who deals with her grandmother’s death by picturing her as a star in the sky. The Boy with Two Grandfathers written by Mini Shrinivasan, published by Tulika, also deals with a boy who loses his mother to cancer. Internationally, there are many picture books that deal with loss, including Oliver Jeffer’s The Heart in the Bottle

What did you think of the book? Comment and let us know! Have you read our reviews of the other books on the Neev award 2019 shortlist? Also, check out the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary Award list!

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