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Tales of Bon Bibi from the Sunderbans

Ever since the start of this year, I’ve been drawn to books written in verse.

I have been reading aloud and working on understanding poetry through picture books, with my younger elementary students and working through Love that Dog a novel written in verse with my older, middle grade students.

Then, one young student brings me her outstanding, deeply moving poems, inspired by the writing of Thanhha Lai in Inside out and Back Again…..and just like that poetry and books in verse, seem to call to me.

So when I chanced upon a book by one of my favourite authors Amitav Ghosh, Junglenama in the library, I couldn’t help but pick it up. It is the story that I am familiar with and one I consider an absolute gem…as narrated in ‘In Bon Bibi’s Forest’ by Sandhya Rao, illustrated by Proiti Roy and published by Tulika Books.

I paired these books for this weeks 'Twosday Tuesday', not just because it is the same Bon Bibi legend of the Sunderbans, but to highlight how tales are often enhanced by the meter they are written in. This one is written in ‘dwipodi-poyar’ like meter of 24 syllable couplets that replicate the cadence of the Bengali original.

The central tenet in the story is limiting our wants and of preserving a balance between the needs of human and those of the others with whom we share this planet.

It is the kind of story that features often in the tellings of indigenous people, especially and is a story that urgently needs telling today.

Both books have stunning illustrations in very different styles.

I have long pored over Proiti Roy's evocative illustrations in In Bon Bibi’s forest and artist Salman Toor’s in Junglenama, add to the mood of Ghosh’s writing.

A read-aloud of the picture book is a wonderful introduction to the verse format of Ghosh’s story, and an opportunity to debate over the merit of verse and prose.

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