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Rhymes of Whimsy: The Complete Abol Tabol

Region: South Asia, India

Authors: Sukumar Ray

Original Language: Bengali

Translator:  Niladri Roy

Illustrator: Hirday Jayaraj; Sukumar Ray

Genre: Poetry

Descriptors: animals; humor; India; people; poetry; satire

Age: 11+ years old



“Come ye muddled to a world befuddled  

In impossible, whimsy verse”  

Rhymes of Whimsy: The Complete Abol Tabol is a bilingual collection of 53 children’s poems presented in the original Bengali side-by-side with the English translations. The author, Sukumar Ray, was one of the first poets to write nonsense verse for children in Bengali. Each poem transports the reader into a fantastical world of wacky characters. In “Mutant Medley,” Ray creates animal mutants by combining two different animal species together, like the Duckpine and the Storktle. “Ghostly Play” recounts a story of two poltergeists, a mother and a son, playing together in the moonlight. In “Shadow Play,” the poem’s narrator tells the reader about his business of capturing shadows. Did you know that all kinds of medicine can be made and sold from squeezing the shadows of different types of trees? Underneath all the puns and whimsical rhymes, the Abol Tabol is also a “cleverly disguised socio-political satire, written to mock the state of society and administration of early 20th century colonial India.” The translator, Niladri Roy, is thoughtful and meticulous, going above and beyond to ensure that the English translation captures the meaning of the original Bengali poems. Roy’s goal was to be as “responsible as possible,” and he does so by preserving the rhyme, cadence, meter, and double meaning of the original verses. At the end of the book, the translator has included several pages of notes about the translations. Roy gives readers the context and insight into some of the cultural references in the poems, definitions of Bengali words, and explanations for some of the artistic liberties he had to take during the translation process, such as changing words to suit the rhyme scheme and to make sense to Western audiences. Rhymes of Whimsy is a delightful read that is perfect for readers 11 years and older.  

More About This Book

Reviewed: print book by Haton Cross Press (2017). ISBN: 9780998655727. 82 p.  

Notes: For the purpose of this review, only some of the poems have been read.

Content warning: The poem “Caution” mentions a man getting run over in the street.  


Reviewed by: Leah Byrnes

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