Monday, 21 April 2014

Chotto-Ma's Little Long List of Books & Films, 2014

I've been thinking of sharing this list for a while. But lists tend not to be easily made in this house. The time between intention and action is usually as long as the list we didn't make. It's interspersed with many let's-make-a-list conversations. Followed by we-really-need-to-make-a-list conversations.

Then, one day, a little girl learnt to write. And boy, did she like lists. She took over the household's List Making Operations, and ever since, life has been full of her wonky-tonk lists filled with everything we need, and many we don't.

Here's one of them - well, two to be exact - which we think you might enjoy. (Thanks Sandeepa, for asking to know what Chotto-ma is reading - it prodded this post on.) You'll find a list of her most-loved books (excluding the ones in Bengali), and of her favourite movies.

When it comes to Chotto-ma's choice of what to read and watch, we've always taken care to steer her clear of stereotypes (of which there are far too many). We've tried to make accessible, the kind of cinema and books that are spare and beautiful, often just kooky and fun, possibly eccentric, but mostly just faithful to an older innocence.

We'll update the list, as we discover more literature and cinema for children to fall in love with. This is Chotto-ma's favourite as of 2014, aged five (and a half, which we're told, is quite important to point out). So check back as this little list gets longer; you'll find it on the blog homepage when you need it.

If you think of a lovely book for Chotto-ma to read, or a movie to watch, let us know - we love a good recommendation.

The Little Long List of Books & Movies, 2014
by Chotto-ma 


Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Shel Silverstein

Rhymes for Ranga
By Freda Bedi and Anna Bhushan

by Ludwig Bemelmans

The Moomins and The Great Flood (and the rest of the series)
by Tove Jansson

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (and the rest of the collection)
by Beatrix Potter

The Tiger Who Came to Tea (click for a wonderful article about Kerr and her family)
by Judith Kerr

The Story of Babar (and the rest in the collection)
by Jean de Brunhoff

Black Beauty
by Anna Sewell

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

This is Rome (and the rest, including 'This is New York', 'This is London' and others.)
by Miroslav Sasek

Wind in the Willows (click the link to listen to the story on BBC's School Radio)
by Kenneth Graham

Little House on the Prairie
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
(I've read this to Chotto-ma a chapter at a time. Be warned, the story is far removed from the world of 'careful fiction' children are exposed to today. This is life as it was in the Kansas prairie, for the Ingalls family, in 1889: huntings, hard winters, illnesses and all.)

Big Questions From Little People and Simple Answers from Great Minds
by Gemma Elwin Harris

The Tales of Panchatantra 
- a collection of old Indian fables

All books by Oliver Jeffers
Her current favourites are The Incredible Book Eating Boy, and The Heart and The Bottle

A Bear called Paddington
The Adventures of Rupert Bear
These classic bear books almost never run out of steam.

The Velveteen Rabbit (click to hear Meryl Streep read the story)
Margery Williams
An enchanting book, which redefines 'real', and shows you that if you love something hard enough and long enough, it can come alive.

(There are piles of popular children's books that are missing from this list; books by Julia Donaldson, Lynley Dodd or Alan Ahlberg for example. Only because it's a list of Chotto-ma's most-read books now. We've read some too many times over, and which she seems to have outgrown.)


My Neighbour Totoro
A Miyazaki classic set in rural Japan that charms, unleashes magic, yet says it as it is.

Moon Man
This visually stunning, quirky German film (dubbed in English) is based on a book by French illustrator Tomi Ungerer. With art and music that's an absolute feast.

Ernest & Celestine 
Simple, beautiful storytelling! We have the original French film with English subtitles, but it has also been dubbed in English.

Homeward Bound: the incredible journey
Chotto-ma is a dog person. Where this film is concerned, that explains it all.

Another one from Miyazaki, and Studio Ghibli. It's the fast, funny and topsy-turvy adventures of a goldfish named Ponyo and a five-year-old boy named Sosuke.

You know E.T. The alien who rides a cycle over the moon. What's not to like, right?

The Secret World of Arrietty
Once again, by the lovely folks at Studio Ghibli, a story about a young Borrower called Shida and her fragile friendship with a human boy called Kamiki.

Because of Winn-Dixie
It has a lovely, scruffy dog called Winn-Dixie who finds a sweet-little-tough-little-girl called India Opal. Another doggy-movie that Chotto-ma loves.

Fly Away Home
This one's been a long-time family favourite. A young girl, a flock of adopted geese, a farm in Ontario, and one long, breathtaking flight.

Un Monstre à Paris
Gorgeous Paris, beautiful music, and a wonderful story - all in one place.

The Snowman
Chotto-ma loved the book before she watched the movie, and now she loves them both. A simple, beautiful story that you can read and watch many times over.

The Last Polar Bears
An eccentric grandfather sets off on an expedition to the North Pole with his dog Roo. The story is told through the letters her writes to his grandson. A short film very frequently watched in this house.

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne
Her favourite Bengali film, this is often our Sunday afternoon movie. A masterpiece of rhyme and rhythm, directed by Satyajit Ray, and based on a story by his grandfather Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury.

Kirikou and the Sorceress
A beautiful film based on West African folk tales, and directed by French writer and director Michel Ocelot.

Azur et Asmar
Another animated fable by Michel Ocelot, that sweeps over North Africa and the Middle East, with two princes, a Djinn, a magic key, an enchanted door, and an adventure that's everything a traditional fairytale should be.

(I've left out the classic musicals - like Mary Poppins, Annie, Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz - because you don't need me to tell you about those. And also because Chotto-ma's utter love for them seems to be taking a little break for now.)

So, that's it. The Little Long List from my little list-maker. I hope you enjoy the books and films as much as we do.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

The promise of music

We now have a piano in the house. It arrived a few days ago, this gleaming black thing, filled with the promise of music. Promise, because none of us can play. But we have a little girl who's eager to learn; she had her first lesson today.

The house sounds wonderful - off key, off pitch, off to a new start of some kind. As Chotto-ma and the piano get to know each other, the teacup rattles on its saucer. But there's something in this early tunelessness that makes me glad. The house is writing its own song. There's D playing his guitar, Chotto-ma tinkering with the piano, sunlight fumbling on the sofa, and me groping for words. Flimsy things that leave such a definite impression on the mind. There's nothing like it - the three of us at home, feeling around, filling our own spaces, feet touching.

This morning, Chotto-ma's frenetic bout of 'composing' on the piano resulted in two pieces, one of which she called 'Walking through the forest'. The piece starts with the quiet trickle of a stream. The hop of a bunny. Leaves crunching. Deer scampering. And then it all takes a terrible turn. The growl of a lion. A loud, breathless chase. Crescendo, crescendo. And finally - utter, deathly silence. Dhang! 

Yes, I might need ear-plugs soon, but for now, it's all good. There's that promise of music. A tune blinking in the distance. The possibility of beauty in a row of black and white keys. A seed has been planted, and our spring is beginning to sound like a piano.

We went to the market today. Everything's ablaze. The English spring is an extravagant creature. The stalls are reeling with colour and smell and a circus of seasonal produce. The flowers and fruits are showing off. The tomatoes are ridiculously red. We got some ridiculously-red tomatoes home, and I charred a few on an open fire, and made a sauce that tastes like our spring.

Ablaze and strong and full of feisty music.

Hot Charred-Tomato Sauce

This packs a punch. It's very garlicky, it's extra-spicy, and for me at the moment, it beats sriracha hands down. It's the simplest thing to make, especially during a barbecue. We add it to everything nowadays - in soup, in a burger, as a dip, dolloped into pasta, as a marinade or in a sandwich. It's gloriously good, with a personality to boot.


1 large, red tomato
2 cloves of garlic
2 green chillies

Char the tomato on a barbecue, or an open flame. I held my tomato above a hot hob with tongs, turning it this way and that, till the skin blackened.
Peel some of the skin off, leaving some charred bits sticking on. It gives the sauce a fabulous smokiness.
Put the charred tomato, garlic and chillies in a processor and blitz.
Add salt to taste.
Done. Smear.

(We had ours with courgette fritters today) 

So good.