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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #10 (March 7, 2006), page 17.
The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story
By Uma Krishnaswami
Illustrations by Ruth Jeyaveeran
By Josephine Bridges
The Happiest Tree is a subtle little story full of surprises. It all starts out with "a new and improved version of Red Riding Hood" that Meena’s class is writing and preparing to perform. Meena loves working backstage, but she’s afraid that she is too clumsy for the part of a tree that her teacher insists she play. A serious child, Meena approaches her part with as much devotion as if she were playing the lead. She would never think of herself as a role model, and that’s part of what makes Meena someone to admire and emulate.
Another of Meena’s excellent qualities is her observation. There is "so much to see" at the Indian grocery store that Meena, leaning forward to look at a brass bell, knocks over a bag of rice. Mrs. Vohra, the store owner, knows what’s important and what isn’t, and she reassures the child that all is well and gives her a piece of matthi, a spicy, crumbly snack. When Meena is drawn to a children’s yoga class in the back of the store but says that she is too clumsy to join, Mrs. Vohra doesn’t mince words. "Clumsy shumsy," she tells Meena, "Just try it and see, na?"
Ruth Jeyaveeran’s illustrations are all quirky and captivating, but her pictures of children doing yoga are both luminous and humorous. Meena isn’t a prodigy, but she’s determined and attentive, and one day, sitting in the lotus position, she realizes, "I can change my body by how I feel inside … If I am quiet inside, my body will be still. That’s what yoga is really about."
But that doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect forever and always. It’s a strength of The Happiest Tree that there are still challenges in store for our plucky protagonist, who has learned from yoga how to be at peace even in the midst of difficulties with the class play. "Best of all, she knew she could do this again, anytime she wanted to."
Added benefits include a glossary of Indian words at the beginning of the book, and more information about yoga, including a list of yoga books for children, at the end.