Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari

I was delighted to be sent this story for review and then to be asked to take part in the blog tour.  I knew that I would probably love the book because the author is an alumni of Bath Spa University and their MA in Writing for Children.  Over the years I have been lucky enough to know many of the staff and students and I know that the quality of writing is second to none.  The book is a middle grade story, set in modern day India and it is an absolute stunner.

The story is told from the perspective of Lena, who is devastated by the sudden disappearance of her beloved elder brother Kay-Kay.  He and his best friends were on their way back from a school summer camp in Goa, and at some point during the train journey he just seems to have vanished.  Lena, like so many young people becomes frustrated by what she perceives are the slow reactions of the police and other authorities.  In the end she decides to try and and find some answers for herself.  Then begins a long and hazardous journey, following the train stations where Kay-Kay’s train stopped.  On the way she meets a wide range of people and discovers a lot about herself, as well as finding out things that her brother had kept hidden from the family.  However, the main question is always, where is Kay-Kay and can he be brought home?

This is one of those really magical books that you come across now and again.  Lena is speaking directly to her brother and this really adds to the feeling of how personal the story is.  When Lena discovers the poetry that her brother has kept hidden from his family, she is overwhelmed by the beauty and lyricism of the words  and the pages become her constant companions as she undertakes her quest.  We get a real sense of the reality of her environment and the incredible contrasts in modern India; it really makes me wish that I was able to visit and enjoy the country myself.  I have a distinct feeling that this is now on my list of favourite books for 2024 and it has five stars from me.  I am also delighted that Dev has written this short piece for the blog, speaking about using the second person in her writing, many thanks.


Dev Kothari: Writing in second person

I believe that the way a story is told is as important as the story itself. Sometimes when I write, I have to try writing a piece in many different ways, in different voices to find the one that works best for it. And some lucky few times, a story appears to me having already chosen the right form in which it wants to be told. That was the case with Bringing Back Kay-Kay which is told in Lena’s voice as if she’s talking to her brother, Kay-Kay, a form of second person narrative. I didn’t set out to write the story this way, but it felt right from the very beginning. Even so, as I carried on writing, I conducted further research, by reading other books written in second person. While I’d read a handful of adult novels that used this form, I hadn’t come across any children’s novels that did so. Upon researching I discovered Rebecca Stead’s beautiful, intriguing MG novel When You Reach Me, Lucy Christopher’s Stolen, a sensational YA novel, and E. L. Konigsburg’s delightful MG novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. All of these books showed me different ways of how the second-person narrative can complement a story and more importantly, they helped strengthen my confidence in choosing this form too. Even so, I’d be lying if I said I had no apprehensions about how young readers would take to it. Since the book came out, however, I’ve heard from so many readers that it is this style of telling the story that seems to have immediately hooked them or helped them emotionally connect with the characters. So, I hope that the second-person narrative is one of the reasons why you might enjoy reading Lena and Kay-Kay’s story too.

Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari (£7.99, Walker Books) available

The Gita for Children by Roopa Pai

We live in a nation that is multi-ethnic and becoming even more so as the years go by.  It is therefore very important that we all have some understanding of the beliefs and histories of the various communities who share our small island.  As a librarian for a school library service, I was always aware of the need for books that reflect on the main religious and cultural groupings that are found in our schools.  Whilst there are some excellent books aimed at primary schools, both as information books and as re-tellings of myths and legends, this appears to be the first book that not only tells the  story of the Gita, but also explains so many of the names, events and thoughts that we read about in the book.  I am delighted that I have been asked to host this article by the author and I hope that this book will bring the characters alive to the intended audience.  Happy Diwali to everyone.

Why did you write The Gita for Children, and what age is it aimed at?

The first edition of The Gita for Children was published in 2015. If anyone had told me, even in early 2013, that I would write a book for children on this subject, I would have laughed. Uproariously. My book ‘What if the earth stopped spinning, and 24 other mysteries of science’ had just come out, and the last thing on my mind was a book that had anything to do with religion.

Soon after, I was brainstorming with my editor on the possible themes for my next book, when she suggested I try my hand at a retelling of the Bhagavad Gita, one of India’s ancient and revered texts, for children. Aghast, I staunchly refused to even consider it. Despite never having engaged seriously with the Gita, I believed the text was too abstract, too esoteric, too religious, probably sexist and casteist, somewhat irrelevant in the modern age, and certainly not for children.

But my editor, bless her heart, would not let it go. In the end, I decided it was fair that I read the text once, with some commitment, before I made my decision. What I discovered blew my mind.

Far from being religious, the Gita is a book of secular wisdom, a self-help book for life, delivered as a conversation between two best friends, the warrior prince Arjuna and his mentor Krishna. Its luminous ideas on self-belief, rightness of action, success, happiness, and doing one’s work with no expectation of reward, but simply as an offering to the universe, are as relevant to children as to adults, as meaningful to Indians as to people of other cultures, and as true to the age it was composed in as to the 21st century.

What’s more, its recommendations are practical, not idealistic, and entirely non-judgmental. There are no saints or sinners in the world, says the Gita, just people who make decisions that are mindful and in tune with their own natures, and people who make decisions that are guided by their emotions and the opinions of other people. As for gods and demons, they both live inside of us, not outside – who we are is who we choose to be.

In the increasingly polarized world that young, confused Arjunas inhabit today, the importance of the Gita’s compassionate guidance, which urges them to make friends with their own Krishna, the wise best friend who lives inside each of them, and trust him to guide their chariots through the battlefield of life, as another Arjuna did so many millennia ago, cannot be overstated.

That is why I wrote The Gita for Children. And because I believe that we are all children where the Gita is concerned, the book is for anyone above the age of 9.

The Gita for Children is published by Swift Press on the 24th of October (to correspond with Diwali), but it can be pre-ordered here:

Roopa Pai is a computer engineer who always knew she was going to write for children. In addition to Taranauts, India’s first fantasy adventure series for children, she has several other published books to her credit, including The Vedas and Upanishads for Children. To make a living, she brings together three other loves – history, working with young people and her hometown in Bangalore – in her day job as a guide with Bangalore Walks, a history and heritage walks & tours company.

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The Acrobats of Agra by Robin Scott-Elliot

Beatrice, known as Bea, finds herself in India and living with her Aunt, Uncle and cousin.  She has grown up living with her grannie in Scotland, after her parents had died in India, but as the latter got older she was no longer as able to care for Bea and the family packed Bea off to Aunt Constance.  Unfortunately the year is 1857 and the city of Agra and the surrounding region are fast becoming the centre of a rebellion by the Indian troops.  Bea and her relatives had just attended a performance of the Circus and but within days life has changed as the city of Agra finds itself under siege.  Bea finds herself caught up in events and together with Jacques (an acrobat from the circus) and an Indian servant called Pingali manages to escape from the city and head for the hills, in an attempt to find her younger brother George.  He had travelled to India with their parents and was sent to live with another aunt after their deaths.  The dangers that this group face, both from the rebels and from army deserters brings them into huge danger and makes them very aware that you cannot judge people by their ethnicity or background.  The epilogue at the end rounds off the story and we get an insight into how lives have changed over the three years since the rebellion.

Literature has long been fascinated by the Indian continent but although there are many adult novels written about the history and events, there are fewer written from a child’s point of view.  Even those are often about a person travelling from India to the UK and the differences that they find.  We can start with titles such as the “Secret Garden”  but we are now seeing an increase in books that give us a much better perspective of the country’s history as well as allowing us to share in the lives of a huge range of people.  Bea is a very strong and feisty character who did not want to travel to India, but is determined to be re-united with her brother whatever it takes.  She is the total antithesis of a Victorian young lady, having been brought up in Scotland and allowed to have freedom of movement and thought.  The strictures of life within the Raj are frustrating and you get the feel that the European women live in a constant form of social straitjacket.  Life in Britain was itself full of social restrictions, but this was only amplified in the confined communities that they found themselves in as part of the Empire.  We also get an insight into the total lack of cultural and religious understanding that the British had for the population that they were ruling; the rebellion was caused by the supposed use of pork and beef fat to coat rifle shells, which was insulting and against the beliefs of both Muslim and Hindu communities.  It  is to be hoped that the world has changed for the better, but I do wonder if there are still people with no empathy and understanding of those around them; however that is a question that should be a large area of discussion within schools.  Above all this is a thrilling adventure story that pits the central characters against all kinds of dangers, but they come together and even take on board the saying “All for one, and one for all” from the “Three Musketeers”.  It is a story that is very exciting but which will also make you think about what happened and why.


Robin Scott-Elliot has been a sports journalist for 25 years with the BBC, ITV, Sunday
Times, Independent and the ‘i’, covering every sport you can think of and a few you
probably can’t. In 2012 he covered the London Paralympics as the Independent’s
Paralympic Correspondent. He threw that all away to move home to Scotland and
write. He lives on the west coast with his wife and two children. His first book for
children, The Tzar’s Curious Runaways, was published in 2019.