The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury illustrated by Lavanya Naidu

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The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury illustrated by Lavanya Naidu

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This 40 page picture book for preschoolers and up shows connection to family, memories, and Bangladeshi culture as a little girl explores the quilts made from her Maa and aunts’ worn out saris.  This book has been on my radar for a while and while there is nothing wrong with the slow and thoughtful story, it didn’t sweep me up in a hug and wow me, as I had hoped it would.  The illustrations are as critical as the words in conveying the message, and the illustrations are indeed beautiful, I guess I just needed more.  More connection to the emotion the little girl was feeling recalling the strong women in her life, more impact to the fact that her Nanu is no longer with them, and more understanding about the history of Bangladesh that seems to shape the memories.  I worry that most readers simply won’t get anything other than the surface level of the book, which is ok, the memories woven through generations manifesting in quilts, is tangible and perhaps enough.  I feel like, however, the framing of the story and the textless illustration pages attempted to add more layers to the story, and I think to anyone not Bangladeshi, those layers might not be understood.  I wish their was an afterward with notes about the pictured references, inclusion of such backmatter would really open the book up to a wider audience, and give the book discussion and staying power in my opinion.  If you are Bangladeshi this book will be a treasure I’m sure, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Asiya loves going to her Nanu’s house, there are treasures there.  Her favorite treasure is the katha chest.  An old trunk full of the quilts made from the old worn out saris of her Nanu, Maa, and khalas. She snuggles in their warmth and listens to the stories they tell. Stories of hardship, joy, skills learned, moves made, loss, death, love and family.

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Boro Khala’s looks like Khalu’s medal, from a sad time when he was away.  Mejo Khala bright oranges and yellow like her fingers.  Shejo Khala’s is stiff and neat, she is never messy.  Choto Khala’s has a white streak like the white saris she wears since Khalu died.  Maa’s katha is patchworked and different than the others, and Nanu’s is paper thin and smells of tea, old books, porcelain and wood.

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There is an author’s note and illustrator’s note detailing the construction and value of kathas, but nothing about Bangladeshi wars, wearing white after a husband’s death, or the textile skills and artistry shown.  The book would read well with context or activities about family heirlooms, connections, and traditions.

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