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Two Inspiring Stories - One a Great Read, the other Disappointing.


Sometimes on a Tuesday, I share two books that I have paired for a particular reason, usually because of the way they complement each other.


I had been mulling over this pair as it is not how I usually pair books on what I hashtag on Instagram as #twosdays.

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My two books today are picture book biographies that are about inspirational women who learnt to read at 90 years plus.


In THE OLDEST STUDENT - How Mary Walker Learned to Read, Mary Walker begins to learn to #read at 114 years of age.

In BAREFOOT EMPRESS, Karthyayani Amma starts to read at the age of 96.

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Both women had hard lives, poverty in both cases and slavery in one, preventing them from attending school.

Their longing, passion and drive to read stands out and sends out a strong message- You’re never too old to learn.”

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However there ends the similarity.

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The Oldest Student is a masterclass in #picturebookbiographies .

It weaves important historical events into the narrative, telling us the effects of these events on Mary Walker’s life and learning. From slavery, to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the Civil Rights movement, the Great Chattanooga Flood and effectively narrates the effect of the deaths of Mary’s family members on her.

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In my opinion, a topic like this one needs the perspective of a slightly older child, one who is already reading and takes their reading and learning for granted. Old enough to imagine just how difficult it will be to learn reading at such an advanced age.



So when I read Barefoot Empress, which I picked up firstly because I have the highest respect for celebrity chef Vikas Khanna, the author, and secondly because of my familiarity with the Mary Walker story…I was curious to read a similar story with an inspirational Indian woman.


The linear plotting of Karthyayani Amma’s life and the stilted writing made this a disappointing read for me. Short, stilted sentences where conjunctions seem to be completely missing…this is a text that would be suitable for a young reader. Even then, there needs to be some beauty in the writing. I get that Vikas Khanna is a chef and business man, but then were there any suggestions by the editorial team?

Celebrities writing books are great, but let's bear in mind that we need to respect the readers intelligence when we offer them a book, even and especially if those readers are children.

With a little more detail skillfully woven into the storyline, better plotting and characterisation, and definitely better editing, it would make for a an inspiring read for an older child.


Remove the celebrity author (for whom I have the utmost respect) and the inspiring subject and focus on the writing...to get my point.


A lost opportunity to create an impact featuring an Indian role model.



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