THE first in the Zain & Ana series of adventures, 'At Least a Fish' by Anushka Ravishankar is delightfully quirky and unpredictable. What begins with an innocuous request by Ana for a pet, "At least a fish", results in wild set of events with a mythical dragon, a very real turtle and finally, the dog that she originally wanted; except this dog thinks it is a fish!
To begin with, Ana's plaintive plea is momentarily granted. Three goldfish arrive swimming in a fish bowl, certainly a far cry from cuddly, playful dogs. As pets, there isn't much they can do, and imagination is all you've got to play with. So, Ana, along with her best friend, Zain, decide that the fish constantly opening and closing their mouths could only mean they aren't getting enough food. They venture out into the dreaded "swimming pool" in the neighbourhood for some weeds, a neglected, dirty pool, filled over time with murky legends.
And thus the stone is cast and, from here on, the ripples take over. The cast now includes twins, Meena and Beena, Zain's sister, Sameera, and a distraught Dr Nirmala, desperate to find a home for the last of her puppies from a stray litter.
Where the book scores is in its natural understanding and portrayal of children. There is always a sense of upright innocence that outlines every chapter, making the sequence of events believable, and the story accessible. Even the adults, somehow, are painted with the caricaturist's brush, giving them exaggerated, identifiable personalities.
Anushka's narrative and illustrations feed each other, giving both the space it needs - sometimes two pages for an illustration, sometimes two to three pages without. It's a delicate balance she achieves, highlighting only those aspects that will appeal to the child, leaving the rest to his/her imagination. The only negative is the layout of some pages, where the text is a little difficult to read against a watermarked grey background.
If you have read Anushka's previous books, then this is one more to add to your collection. If not, this would be a good place to start. Here's looking forward to more of Zain & Ana's adventures!