Sep 232023
How to review books of favourite things and other impossible things! [Review]
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Book Name: How to reach Mars and other impossible things
Author: Menaka Raman
Publisher: Puffin
Illustrated by: Rajiv Eipe
No of pages: 44 (not a chapter book)
Recommended Age Group: 8 years+ (6 years onwards for curious kids and advanced readers)

Let me first confess that everything about this book includes a few of my favourite things.

Menaka Raman’s words, Rajiv Eipe’s illustrations, book about Mission Mangalyaan, and the cover!

The cover! Cat in an astronaut suit! But then the cover just doesn’t have a cat, it has a little girl in long black pigtails, in an astronaut suit with an auto waiting in the background. Did they all travel in an auto to the red planet? With such a delightful premise, and the inspiring and pride instilling book, how do you review it? How do I ensure that my biases doesnt come between my review of the book and my admiration for the subject/creator?

Perhaps with the same scientific rigour. First admit to the bias, and let my discernment of facts, NOT be swayed by my admiration for the subject and the creators. Instead, use my judgment and evidence — much like the protagonist Rabia, to ensure there is no bias.

First the hard evidence on all things I am biased about:

  • Rajiv Eipe’s work talks for itself — much better than my words can express. They aid the story and the science with humour, cartoons and illustrations.
  • Menaka Raman explains the complex science, in a way that is good enough for us to understand it conceptually. But more importantly, the device of the story format where we take a journey with Rabia, to uncover the story behind Mission Mangalyaan, makes it engaging and inspiring.
  • The story of the mission and the scientists behind the operation, is peppered with facts, humour and simplicity
  • And Rabia, a curious girl, on her own mission to find scientists, using a scientific temperament, makes for a fantastic protagonist on a quest to seek answers.

The story starts with the reader getting introduced to Rabia and her cat observing the world, as she questions everything around her. Reflecting her own desires and her quest to seek answers, when asked to draw a scientist, she draws a woman-scientist. But who ever knew of a woman-scientist? She is mocked at by everyone at school — except for their teacher.

Even when she is mocked and is disappointed, she addresses it with the same scientific enquiry that she does everything else. She goes on a quest to find the answer — and when no one can answer it for her, she decides to find it for herself.

The opportunity quickly presents itself, when the school goes to U.R. Rao Satellite Centre, ISRO in Bangalore, and she quickly goes to gather evidence that will either reject or accept the hypothesis — Are there any woman scientists?

The reader, through Rabia, is then introduced to the Operation and the people behind the operation. And like Rabia’s classmates, the reader is left questioning the stereotypes they carry in their heads too. In school, when asked to name a scientist under 2 seconds, other than a friend who brought up Marie Curie, winner of two Nobels in two distinct fields, most of us used male scientist names. 1 in 35. Perhaps, the readers of this book will have a better ratio.

The picture Rabia drew at the beginning of the story, looks a lot like her. And girls like Rabia, when they see these women scientists, with relatable questions and thoughts that children have growing up, will know that they can do it too.

Operation Mangalyaan. Even making the movie Martian was more expensive than the mission! And all using precision mathematics, auto sized carrier, and hard-working enthusiastic scientists who look and talk like we do! I have found chest thumping nationalism to be a little scary. ISRO, like the scientists, inspires a different, quiet pride in the work our people do, and inspires us to do the same.

I wish, in such us-and-then times, when everything could be offensive, people use the same critical thinking that Rabia employs — use scientific temperament rather than an emotional one to counter/assert their own beliefs instead of some type of whataboutery.

This book is certainly bigger than the creators — and that is the hallmark of any good book.

ADDED BY ASHA: Amardeep, who has a very very curious 6yo, ordered this book after reading this review. She has shared her review along with some inside pages here in the fb group.

If you got goosebumps while reading this review and wish to order the book from Amazon (kbc affiliate link),


Disclaimer: Mandira is part of the #kbcReviewerSquad and received this book as a review copy from the publisher via kbc. She is the author of the award winning book Children of the Hidden Land.

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