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Book Review: The Misadventures Of Butterfingers - Utterly, Butterly, Entertaining!
Bindu Nair Associate Professor in English, S D College, Alappuzha, reviews the fourth book in the Butterfingers series by Khyrunnisa A.
On Feb 04, 2017

The feisty Khyrunnisa A. is spot on, yet again, with her collection of short stories and a novella, The Misadventures of Butterfingers, the fourth in the series of Butterfingers stories, published in June 2016 by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin for children’s literature. 


This time she has the eponymous hero “Butterfingers”, (nickname of the thirteen year old student of Green Park School, Amar Kishen), slipping and crashing and dropping things on his disastrous way to ultimate victory, in a series of stories that include Amar’s “misadventures” with things as varied as ghosts, Shakespeare, roller skates, a flying umbrella, an eerie auto ride, a lost kitten, a cactus plant, a voice recorder, and what not! Every story has Amar crash landing into one unexpected adventure after the other, and coming up trumps, along with his friends Kiran, Eric, Minu and the rest, not to mention the inimitable Princi Jagmohan and the teachers!

Unlike the earlier novels in the same series, which had cricket and football matches as their backdrop, these stories have different settings, one more unpredictable than the next! The first story in the collection is a superb sixty four page novella “Ghosts at Green Park School”, which is close to a Conan Doyle like thriller, with a rapacious developer, a resident school ghost, and a dramatic adaptation fashioned out of the plots of three Shakespeare plays, with Sherlock Holmes himself appearing as a character, which can only be described as a masterful stroke of sheer inventiveness on the part of the author, who is at her creative and literary best here. Armed with her most powerful literary weapons, her creative plots and her humorous word play, she takes us on a joy ride with Amar, aka Butterfingers, as he bumbles and tumbles his way through an ingenious plot that includes a hilarious account of the staging of the Shakespeare play, at the end of which “all’s well that ends well”, of course.

Other “misadventures” include one with an umbrella with a fancy handle involving Mr. Kishen’s friend Colonel Bogle, and a refreshing story “The Mystery of the History Paper”. The rib tickling “The Cactus Affair” has the Principal crashing down the stairs, while “The Masterpiece” is, like its title, a masterpiece of inventiveness, with an utterly endearing art teacher named Mr. Hiran Hiran! “The Adventure with the Voice Recorder” has a nice contemporary feel about it, while “The Open House Meeting” pulls at your heart strings at poor Mrs. Kishen’s plight when faced with an army of complaining teachers!

The author’s talent for hitting off life-like characters is in ample evidence, with a gallery of unforgettable portraits like the ones mentioned above and others like the fat Mrs. Mehta, the “cool dude” exchange student Pranav Rao, the land grabbing Mr. Prageeth, the sleazy Wasan, etc., not to mention the “regulars” like Amar’s long suffering parents, his friends, the Principal, and the staff. The characters are all well developed, and familiar now to all Butterfingers-lovers, and there are enough new characters popping up now and then to save the series from predictability. The illustrations by Abhijeet Kini well match the characters as they come alive in our imagination.

 

The author’s spontaneous and irrepressible humour, skilful repartee, and word play are of course the highlights of her writing. Every other sentence has either a pun, a quibble or a joke, which keeps the reader constantly chuckling, and at times rolling in laughter. Although Dr. Johnson claimed that Shakespeare “lost the world” for his puns and quibbles, Khyrunnisa certainly has won not only the world, but also our hearts through her masterly word play!

 

The highly popular and entertaining Butterfingers stories first appeared in Tinkle magazine as a comic strip in 2006, quickly gaining popularity among book lovers all over India, young and old alike. Khyrunnisa later wrote three novels for Penguin, Howzatt Butterfingers! (2010), Goal, Butterfingers! (2012) and Clean Bowled, Butterfingers! in 2015. The books drew praise from personalities like the late Nawab of Pataudi, Shashi Tharoor, VVS Laxman, who were charmed by their refreshing humour and the sporty, fun filled plots. Like J.K. Rowling , who wrote the first Harry Potter stories to entertain her daughter, before fame came knocking at her door, Khyrunnisa too started writing stories to entertain her cricket crazy son Amar, which eventually led to the creation of an enduring and endearing character for posterity, in his namesake!

Children’s writing in English in India has not seen a very consistent output either in the past or in recent times, with occasional appearances of brilliant writers like Ruskin Bond, RK Narayan with his Malgudi series, or more recently, Kalpana Swaminathan. A welcome addition to this list, Khyrunnisa A. adopts the best of the western tradition in children’s writing by creating a series with the same set of characters like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or the series with the Five Find-Outers. She combines this with the best in simple Indian fare, scenes from a ubiquitous Indian school, to which any English speaking Indian, of any place or any time, can easily relate. 

The author, in keeping with the ethos of children’s writing, maintains a fine balance between imparting life skills and values, and keeping alive the sense of fun and adventure. This is especially worth upholding in this age when most children are wired to their computer games and live their lives in the virtual world, untouched and unmoved by reality. These simple tales could just be the magic wand that would awaken this generation to the simple pleasures of reading, the exercise of the imagination, and the enduring values of life. The series definitely deserves to go places, beyond the seas and skies. Rarely has writing a review been so pleasurable an occupation! 

 
 
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