Stuti Agarwal succeeds in creating a very memorable eight-year-old named Tootsie Lama. For one, I dare you to try and forget that name. With her ‘fringe set right between her ponytails’ and her bright red gumboots, one can imagine Tootsie gallivanting across the hills of Darjeeling, free as can be. In this heartwarming, almost Heidi-esque tale, we soon realise Tootsie isn’t like any other child her age. She lives by herself. She cooks her own meals. She also gets into loads of mischief and takes on life with gumption!
The story of Tootsie begins on the street, where she fended for herself before she was taken in by an elderly couple with a farm.
“There, inside the small red-brick house, by the burning fireplace, she had her first full warm meal – thukpa.”
We soon realise that thukpa becomes a great source of comfort for Tootsie. Tragedy strikes again very soon in the form of a landslide, that takes away her new Aama and Baba. Tootsie carries on with even more vigour, believing that her Aama and Baba will return one day. (Heartbreaking.)
But Tootsie isn’t all alone, her neighbours help her out whenever they can. She also has a loyal friend named Tenzing, who is always ready to indulge in her every whim and fancy. The two have a secret hideout in the corner of a garden inside the canopy of an old oak tree. It is here that young Tootsie ideates her next mischievous ploy. She longs to eat a simmering bowl of thukpa, just the way her Aama used to make it. But how is she to get her hands on one?!
Joel Daaju, though an unpleasant man, makes the best thukpa broth in all of Darjeeling. So the two set off, with a plan in mind. It involves Tenzing distracting Joel Daaju and a healthy mix of grasshoppers, cockroaches and other creepy crawlies that Tootsie has gleefully caught. Just what is Tootsie Lama up to?! Does she get to have her thukpa and eat it too? Read the book to find out!
Agarwal sets the story in Darjeeling, where she grew up, with the mighty Kanchenjunga as its backdrop. Her love for the land and its people comes through in her writing. Ishan Trivedi, through his beautiful double-spread illustrations, takes us into the bitter-sweet landscape of Tootsie Lama’s life.
Gently laced with reality, the story tackles heavy topics of loss and hardships with a lot of spunk. Published by Juggernaut, this book is recommended for children 7 and above. It is especially useful for those transitioning to chapter books as it contains 8 easy to read chapters.
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!