The Katha Chest (Radhiah Chowdhury, illus by Lavanya Naidu, A&U)
In Radhiah Chowdhury and Lavanya Naidu’s book, elegant textile patterns are patchworked together with descriptive snapshot stories of young Asiya’s family members and their histories. Asiya delights in every one of her grandmother’s kathas (quilts), each one representing the life and experiences of the women whose saris they’re made of; Asiya loves to feel them and imagine them ‘whispering soft, warm stories to her’. Drawing on their respective South Asian cultures, Chowdhury—who is an advocate, as an author and editor, for representation and diversity in publishing—and Naidu offer a gentle book with a small narrative journey (the catalogue of memories leads to the family celebrating and farewelling their matriarch and maker of the quilts) and a big narrative heart. The quilts are paired with panels styled after Bengali folk art, wordless chronicles of each family member Asiya recognises; and revealed in the quilts are her aunts’ personalities, losses and passions. Asiya’s own mother’s quilt, which is different to the others, is unmistakable because it ‘smells like ink and tomato sauce and home’. The book, suitable for the 3–6-year-old audience (as well as older readers who might use it as inspiration for their own patchwork or memory projects), is one of love, reminiscence and family.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg, an editor and writer, is a bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop.