Childhood is a gift and should be cherished before the raging hormones of teenage make their appearance and the daily drudgery of adulthood sets in. School days, people say, are the best days of their lives. Zainab Sulaiman’s Simply Nanju reminds you of that.
10-year-old Nanjegowda, fondly known as Nanju, has a spinal defect due to which he has no control over his bladder or bowel movements. So he wears a diaper to school. He has crooked feet and hobbles around. His Appa regularly threatens to send him to a hostel run by his Prakash Mama if he doesn’t do well in class. But he remains unfazed and nothing seems to bother him much.
Simply Nanju is about a bunch of kids who study in Class 5 at United Integral School. We follow these differently-abled kids for a little over a period of two months.
Nanju’s best friend is the intelligent Mahesh, who is in a wheelchair and can’t sit upright for long periods. He’s very small for his age and has a head much larger than his body. He’s the steady sort, rarely ruffled by any kerfuffle and thinks through every plan, acting as a foil to Nanju’s impulsive harebrained ideas.
Nanju has great regard for the pretty class topper Aradhana but she couldn’t care less. It doesn’t help matters that he has barely any interest in studying and routinely copies Mahesh’s answers, solidifying his position as the class copycat.
Nanju’s nemesis is the cunning Ronit, who mocks Nanju whenever he gets a chance. Ronit’s hand was crushed by a bus coming from the other side when it was hanging outside the window of his school bus.
The book is centered around a mystery, a whodunit for kids (and adults who enjoy reading children’s books). The notebooks of class topper Aradhana vanish and reappear days later in tatters. Happy-go-lucky Nanju makes it his business to find out who the person behind this atrocity is, when he is the one accused of doing it. His weak performance in class and his nature as a copycat do not help his case. He sets out to find the culprit with Mahesh in charge of the investigation.
In between there is a picnic, an inter-school cricket match and a talent show, the staples of any school year. Simply Nanju will keep you engrossed till the end, and I bet you won’t be able to figure who did it.
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- The author has a lightness of touch and the book is suffused with warmth. She tells the story of Nanju and his friends focusing on their joys and triumphs. The humour comes from unexpected places and also, as they are children, their innocent way of looking at the world and sometimes doing foolish things in their naivety will make you laugh.
…a new resolve growing in his heart that would have given Jack’s beanstalk a run for its money.
- The author has written about differently-abled children without drawing attention to their afflictions. The ailments of the children are not always mentioned by name, but the impact it has on the child’s functioning is shown. The matter-of-fact way it is woven into the narrative makes it appear natural.
- The author shows rather than tells. Their class teacher Theresa Miss’s battered watch and handbag are mentioned in passing rather than telling us about her background.
- The dialogue feels real and lively. You feel as if you are back in school, sitting in their classroom listening to the exchanges between these kids. It will make you long for those good old days. It is apparent that the author has keenly observed everything she saw and experienced in the time she spent time in classrooms.
- The cover art is stunning. The cheerful book cover illustrated by Tanvi Bhat will make you smile.
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- We need more books like Simply Nanju; I wish we had such books when we were growing up. This should be required reading in schools, to not only sensitize the children about the differently-abled, but also to help the children understand how alike they are to each other.
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- At 122 pages it is a fast read. The story is consistently engaging. It was like a joy ride without any dilemmas (except towards the end) which would have perhaps made it more realistic.
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- Nanju is raised by his father and older sister, Shanti. It is mentioned that his mother died two years ago, but the struggle to raise a motherless child is not shown. Shanti takes care of Nanju and her father though she is a teenager herself. I would have liked to know how she shoulders these responsibilities.
A funny whodunit.