Children’s books are a vital component of a young mind’s development—the journey toward a more tolerant worldview often begins on the pages where a fantastic tale can transport the reader to an unfamiliar place. Deven Jatkar’s THE VAAHANA TALE is a vibrant introduction to Indian mythology, and more specifically, the legend of the mighty deities who crossed the world upon the backs of magical animals called Vaahana (Sanskrit for ‘that which carries’). One might expect to find harmony in the heavens above, but there is a terrible dilemma: the Deities no longer agree as to who is the greatest of them all.
THE VAAHANA TALE opens on a warm summer day when eight Hindu Deities decided to come together and play. Some, like Vishnu, the deity of preservation, flew across the sky on the back of an eagle or a peacock, while others preferred to ride an elephant or a ram across the ground. As the day wore on, a debate erupted: who had the best Vaahana? Durga, the Deity of power, argued that her lion was the fiercest of the bunch. Saraswati, the Deity of knowledge, countered that her swan was the ‘perfect mix of beauty, brains, and brawn,’ and thus, the most logical choice. Still, there was no discounting the sheer might of Indra’s elephant or the toughness of Agni’s ram. While the Deities argued, the Vaahana grew bored—each animal knew its strengths and limitations, and they all realized that it was only when they were together that they were at their best. Finally, after squabbling away the day, the Deities found their Vaahana playing together, unfazed by their differences. Inspired, the Deities’ argument came to an abrupt end; they finally understood that there was no such thing as a ‘best,’ as everyone is the best at something.
There are countless children’s books published every year that aim to strike a chord with young readers. And while many writers succeed in crafting an endearing story and pairing it with stunning visuals, Deven Jatkar has created something special here. From the pacing, word selection, and even the choice of font, THE VAAHANA TALE perfectly combines all of the elements that define a children’s ‘classic.’ But as any parent is all too aware, a cute, clever story is only one half of the equation—when it comes to ‘reading time,’ a child’s eyes will ultimately gravitate toward the pictures. Jetkar is clearly a skilled writer, but his vibrant, heavily stylized illustrations truly elevate THE VAAHANA TALE. Set against subtle, washed-out backgrounds, the hand-drawn deities and their Vaahana are uniquely stylized and, thus, incredibly memorable—all the more important given how many characters are featured. Additionally, the character lists and the inclusion of annunciation guides tucked in the corner of each page are a thoughtful touch.
While Hindu practitioners are an obvious audience for this book, families from all cultures and denominations will appreciate the timeless message of tolerance at the heart of the whimsical and beautifully-illustrated THE VAAHANA TALE.
~James Weiskittel for IndieReader