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Written by Lavanya Karthik and
Illustrated by Habib Ali
Published by Duckbill Books
Neel on Wheels is a welcome addition to the world of picture books.
Narrated from the point of a younger child, Neel on Wheels is a paean to the courageous Neel, who is unfazed by anything that happens to him. There is a clear note of hero worship in the voice of the narrator which is heartening to see. It hints at the strong bonds between the siblings and suggests a relationship built on admiration and complete trust. In short, the young narrator (who remains unnamed through the story) has complete faith in his brother Neel to banish all the scary monsters and save him from any danger. The reason – Neel has wheels and these give him superpowers and elevate him to the status of a super being.
The narrative is simple and Karthik uses the familiar world of home, parks, friends and the swimming pool to create an instant sense of connect for the young readers. The monsters that are found lie within the known contours of this world. And for that reason, they are far more frightening than creatures spawned in unknown and strange realms. The inclusion of the incident where monsters attack the children in the swimming pool is interesting since it proves that Neel’s superpowers are not restricted to monster attacks on the land.
The illustrations are wonderful and infuse the narrative with verve and an exuberant vitality. Every single spread contains the kinds of sly details that can keep a child occupied for hours. The spread depicting a scene from a market, in particular, presents the observant child with endless opportunities to notice and appreciate minute details. The artist has not only sought inspiration from the text, he has also filled every frame with the kind of zany energy and crazy logic that is certain to appeal to children.
The narrator’s voice is one of the strongest things about this book; shining with the unquestioning and unwavering faith that the young boy has in his brother’s abilities to help him out of any sticky situation the world may throw at him. His imaginative take on the mundane aspects of the world around him are hilarious and are sure to resonate with children. His innate ability to interpret the most monotonous aspects of his life and see the adventure where there is none are inspiring. This ability is nothing short of a superpower, making Neel on Wheels a book about not one boy with superpowers, but rather siblings, each with his own special superpower. One has the power to imagine monsters where there are none, and the other has the ability to banish those monsters, no matter how large and frightening they are.
The power to fight evil has always been something to aspire to. But in these days when lack of imagination is at the root of such a problematically narrow world view, doesn’t the power to imagine become equally desirable? A difficult choice for readers to make, and one of the many reasons they will keep coming back to this book.
Published by Duckbill, this book is aimed at younger readers and is a real winner. But at Rs 299, it does seem rather steeply priced.