Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dancing in the Rain--Actually a Monsoon!

For the last few days, I've been especially drawn to the picture book Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami (author) and Jamel Akib (illustrator). Maybe it's because I just got back from India, and the book is about an Indian girl who is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the monsoon. Or maybe it's because I'm working on a picture book manuscript with an Indian theme, and I want to read lots of other books with Indian themes. Or maybe it's simply because it's been raining here lately, and rain is on my mind...  

I do love the rain. I love its rhythm--the thumpety thump of the drops against the window pane. I also love the mood a good rainstorm can gently ease me into. So calm, so relaxed, even when thunder booms and lightning sparks across the sky. I love the book Monsoon, too, because it makes me feel the same way.

Uma Krishnaswami has such a beautiful way of describing the activity in the streets of India as all different kinds of people await the much needed rains to break the thick summer heat. Her writing is so full of sights and sounds, smells, and emotions that you really feel like you are experiencing the story as you read the book. (I think the fact that I've been to India several times makes this effect even stronger.)

In the street, a taxi driver honks
an angry horn, 
but the cow is tired
and will not move. 
Wheels inch around her. We laugh.
The driver frowns
and wags his head at us,
and tears off in a cloud of dust.

The illustrations by Jamel Akib are gorgeous. The colors in the book are bright and plentiful, just like the colors of India. But the images are also a little blurry, sort of how things might look when you view them through a rainstorm. I think this quality, along with the poetic nature of the text, contributes to the peaceful feeling I get when I read the book.

So, what does all of this have to do with dance? Well, because I was feeling so drawn to the book and wanted to feature it on my blog, I came up with a couple ways to weave dance into my post. First of all, in the last scene of the book, the young girl and her brother "dance with the joy of earth's sudden sweet scent." What a lovely ending.

But also, in an author's note in the back of the book, I found out that classical Indian dancers have special hand gestures for several words related to rain. I looked into this a little more and learned that these hand gestures are called mudras, and each one has several meanings, depending on the context of the dance and the subtle differences in the way the hands move during the gestures.

In the video above, the first of the single-handed mudras is called Pataka, and it can mean clouds. The second mudra, called Tripataka, can mean thunder. Lightning and umbrella are among the other rain-related words that different mudras can represent. What a complicated, but beautiful, form of dance. 

Complicated but beautiful is probably a good description of India as well. And Monsoon--well, that's simpler. It's just beautiful!

UPDATE: Not long after I posted this review, Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed author Uma Krishnaswami over at Cynsations. It's a wonderful interview that includes some great advice for other writers and some background information on Uma's new middle-grade novel The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. You don't want to miss it!


  1. what a beautiful book! I learned how to do Bharata Natyam in college. It was really hard but really fun! Thanks for sharing this book. :)

  2. Hi, Maria! Thanks for your comment. That's awesome that you learned some classical Indian dance in college. I love watching people perform it...especially all the intricate movements of the hands and the expressiveness in the faces of the dancers...

  3. What a beautiful review! I love how you weave dance into all your posts. And thanks to you my boys have discovered the Elephant and Piggie books. I loved the dance one, but I have to ease them into it as they are boys who don't dance and don't understand my background with dance. Unfortunately to them, that is still something for girls (but I'm working on it!).

  4. Thanks so much, Brooke. And I'm thrilled that your boys have discovered Elephant and Piggie. We were finally able to check most of the books out from the library, so I think I've read almost all of them now. Speaking of boys and dance, I will have to post some "boy" dance books soon :)

  5. Thanks for posting to Book Talk Tuesday again this week! Another beautiful book. It is so quiet and simple, yet the kids sit on edge waiting for the rain to come. Living in Iowa- this book reminds me of the middle of the summer just before a big storm when it is sooo hot and muggy. May be you should so a rain dance? : )


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