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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

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    From Rudyard Kipling to William Dalrymple, these titles document the folly, cruelty and heroism of the Raj

    For the past five years I have been bewitched by the story of the British in India. It started with my rediscovery of my grandmother’s family, the Lows of Clatto, who for more than a century endured mutiny, debt and disease everywhere from the heat of Madras to the Afghan snows.

    But then I was drawn into the wider history of this extraordinary enterprise. How did the British come to be ruling the most populous nation on earth? What did they think they were there for? Did they genuinely believe that the empire would last forever? I have tried to go beyond the breathtaking rush of events, the terror and the cruelty and the heroism, to get to the doubts and flashes of understanding which some of them had now and then, none more so than John Low, the family patriarch, who was famous for his love of native rule; yet who helped to depose three rajas and was ultimately blamed for the outbreak of the Great Mutiny. The books I have chosen illustrate these melancholy paradoxes of empire.

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    From Roald Dahl’s enormous crocodile to Gemma Merino’s aquaphobic one , the Book Doctor snaps at her quest for crocodile books to thrill a pre-schooler

    My four year old both loves and fears Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. Are there any other picture books about crocodiles which she might enjoy?

    Crocodiles are fascinating because they can look so dormant while remaining deadly. It’s pretty unusual ever to get the last laugh on one!

    @GuardianBooks@GdnChildrensBks André François Crocodile Tears - crocodile shaped, beautifully drawn, very funny. http://t.co/RvIDFWnbFB

    We love Tim Warne's 'Dangerous!' crocodile & 'Have You Seen the Crocodile?' by Colin West @GdnChildrensBks@ChapmanWarnes@mooseandmouse

    @GuardianBooks@GdnChildrensBks And WATCH OUT FOR THE CROCODILE (also @geckopress) about power of imagination. http://t.co/1BE5Yl8TR4

    @cjfriess@GdnChildrensBks@ChapmanWarnes@mooseandmouse And this one! Smile, Crocodile, Smile. pic.twitter.com/8XN4p2utOT

    @GdnChildrensBks@roald_dahl@NickSharratt1 We love I Went To The Zoopermarket's chocolate croc #snappertising

    @GuardianBooks@GdnChildrensBks don't miss Alexis Deacon's CROC AND BIRD http://t.co/Q9mEV1Rd6W

    @GuardianBooks@GdnChildrensBks My absolute favourite for crocodile storytime isSolomon Crocodile by @catherinerayner#doubletrouble

    @GdnChildrensBks What is a Crocodile's Favourite Thing? by Ben Hawkes is wonderfully silly and Crunchy Croc by Sam Lloyd is ace for toddlers

    Dutch illustrator #Maxvelthijs was fond of the #crocodile and other #animals@GdnChildrensBks@pbooksbloggerpic.twitter.com/Gi8X2HAHMq

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    On 20 May, 1910, Edward VII is buried at Windsor and in Sussex, a best-selling author and poet writes to his son, at school. “Dear old man, This has been one of the most wonderful days that ever I remember. In the first place it was the first day of real summer weather – hot but not too hot with a wind that drove away the thunder-clouds.

    “In the second place it was more of a Sunday than anything you could imagine. Last night was hot and sultry with bright white lightning, winking and flashing far away towards the East; now and then one heard (I was up about 2am to listen to it) a low growl of thunder and then the rain fell as a steady warm drip,” he writes in Oh Beloved Kids: Rudyard Kipling’s Letters to His Children, edited by Elliot Gilbert (1983).

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    Drawing on its mythology and from its abundant wildlife there are a great many wonderful stories about India. From Gita Wolf to Madhur Jaffrey, the Book Doctor heads off in search of sunshine and splendour (and tries to avoid the snakes!)

    We are going to a family wedding in India later in the year and I want to give my children an introduction to some of the stories from India and to some of the things that will be the same and some which will be different.

    Drawing on its mythology and from its abundant wildlife there are a great many wonderful stories from India which will help readers of any age gain a sense of Indian history and culture. A good place to start is with the stories about the countryside and the animals in it. Many of the Indian myths are about animals and many of those animals still live in India today. Animal characteristics remain constant over the centuries even if there are many fewer of them and their habitat changes.

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    'I felt myself hearing the strange noises, feeling the ground slither with snakes and sweating in the heat of the penetrating environment of the jungle's overpowering force'

    There is probably not a single child in the world without a preconceived idea of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Show me one who doesn't know about Mowgli's adventures through the jungle with bumbling, kindly Baloo and cunning Bagheera, thanks to Disney's version of the book.

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  • 07/15/15--04:05: Top 10 books about spies
  • The literature of espionage, like its subjects, is often not to be trusted. These are some of the accounts you can believe

    Betrayal, seduction and subterfuge: these devilish arts are central to the ancient craft of spying. And, whether in fact or fiction, the literature of espionage continues to fascinate us with the enduring question of whether some kinds of dark, loathsome conduct may be ultimately justified.

    The New Spymasters, my new book, is the product of nearly 20 years of writing about and meeting spies, ever since they emerged from the shadows of the Berlin Wall. It has taken me so long because I wanted to provide something I believe is unique – a dispassionate outsider’s perspective on modern espionage, which at the same time is deeply informed. Too much of the spy bookshelf is coloured by ex-insiders with an agenda; or writers either with little knowledge or who negotiate access and as a price submit to fact-bending censorship.

    Related: The top 10 summers in fiction

    Related: The top 10 books about the mafia

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    Tiny ‘mancub’ Mowgli fights for survival against a lush subcontinental backdrop teeming with photo-real CGI beasts in Jon Favreau’s fantasy

    The first trailer for Disney’s live action remake of 1967 animated classic The Jungle Book has hit the web, hinting at a CGI-heavy action adventure featuring lush imagery of Indian flora and fauna.

    Related: Tiger fight: Benedict Cumberbatch's Shere Khan to battle Idris Elba's rival cat in Andy Serkis's Jungle Book

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    What makes the British short story special? In a trawl through thousands, Philip Hensher found a generous tradition that not only suits established writers but gives a platform to voices on the edge of society

    Over the last two years, I undertook the task of reading as much of the British short story as I humanly could. Invited to prepare a Penguin Book of the British Short Story on a very substantial scale, I made the point to my commissioning editor that anthologies rarely seemed to be the product of much rigorous reading. Quite often one had the impression that the anthology editor’s choice depended on what authors he already knew. Most anthologies seem to have been produced after the editor had read at most 200 stories. In the end, I probably read 20,000.

    There was something to be gained by assuming that one actually knew very little about the British short story. First, the known knowns. I wrote down 300 or 400 names of writers of fiction from the last 200 years and investigated their bibliographies. Next, the known unknowns. Library catalogues are peculiarly unhelpful in that they do not often distinguish between a novel and a collection of stories; still, the act of typing “and other stories” into the catalogues of the British Library and the London Library produced an immense number of interesting volumes by authors I knew of, as well as those I did not. (The subsequent task of trying to establish whether the author was British or not was sometimes rather more difficult.) Finally, I decided to read as much short fiction as I could in the context in which it first appeared: in magazines, journals, even newspapers.

    Related: AS Byatt reads 'At Hiruharama' by Penelope Fitzgerald

    A novel took time; short stories could be written to order and address current events

    If the short story format began at a certain point in history, might it – like the epic and the masque – have an end?

    Related: To cut a long story short

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    Jane Austen rubs shoulders with Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett sits next to Harry Potter in the great self-help archive assembled by our contributors

    A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in a double retirement.”

    Thus the young Jane Eyre escapes the double trial of her aunt’s scolding and “the drear November day”. Her escapism isn’t straightforward though, as her book of choice is Bewick’s History of British Birds which, between the bucolic engravings of robins and sea-fowl, features ghoulish scenes of hellfire and hangings.

    The fiend pinning down the thief’s pack behind him, I passed over quickly: it was an object of terror.

    Related: Sign up to our Bookmarks newsletter

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    From Pooh and Piglet, Charlotte and Wilbur to Sophie and the BFG, children’s books are full of unlikely but wonderful friendships. John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, whose new book, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, features an unexpected friendship between Hitler and a French orhpan boy, selects his favourite fictional friendships

    Unlikely friendships between humans and animals are staples of both children’s literature and cinema. Kipling’s tale of a child, Mowgli, growing up in the jungle alongside Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther while taking care to avoid the attentions of the tiger Shere Khan – because he might, you know, eat him – presents this as an entirely natural state of affairs. The stories are fables, the animals offering moral lessons, particularly in the three stories featuring the “man-cub” himself. Adapted so often and into so many different shapes, it’s best to go back to the source, to the jungle, and read it as Kipling intended.

    Related: How Goodnight Mister Tom was turned from book to stage play

    Related: Roald Dahl's greatest philosophical quotes ever

    Related: Children's books podcast: Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers on their picture book, Imaginary Fred

    Related: How to draw... a boy and a bear in a boat - in pictures

    Related: Why we're glad Bunker Diary won the Carnegie

    Related: John Boyne: 'You can't sit there weeping over your own stories'

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    ‘Vulgar rabble-rouser’, ‘rootless cosmopolitan’, ‘mouthpiece of the empire’ … Kipling has had his share of detractors. But, 150 years after his birth, interest in India’s greatest English-language writer is growing

    There’s a dilapidated bangla (bungalow) in the grounds of the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai that commemorates the nearby birthplace of Rudyard Kipling. But it’s not the actual spot where one of India’s greatest English language writers (arguably the greatest) was born to the school’s principal, John Lockwood Kipling and his wife Alice, 150 years ago this month, on 30 December 1865 – that has long since disappeared. And, apart from a plaque that seems to have a shifting presence, there’s really not much to show for Rudyard himself. Efforts by the Indian and state governments, as well as private foundations, to turn the place into a museum, or something appropriate to Kipling, have foundered, largely because Indians can never quite decide what they think about him.

    They are not alone. Kipling, the “bard of empire”, has always been difficult to place in the cultural pantheon. Britain, too, has done remarkably little to officially mark the sesquicentenary of its first winner (in 1907) of the Nobel prize for literature (and still the youngest ever from anywhere).

    There are, currently, two new big-screen animated versions of his timeless classic The Jungle Book in the works

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    Want to know when your favourite author has a new book published? When the awards are being dished out? What film adaptations are up-coming or get the low-down on festivals near you? Then check out our literary calendar for 2016

    Have we missed anything? Email us at childrens.books@theguardian.com or tell us on Twitter, @GdnChildrensBks. We’ll add to it as more dates become available!

    4 Never Evers by the authors of Lobsters, Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison, is published.

    Related: Quickfire interview: Rick Yancey

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    Is he hopelessly outdated, a standard-bearer for a discredited part of British history, or a writer with a profound understanding for all humanity?

    The end of December 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of Rudyard Kipling’s birth. I suppose you might say that this fact proves just how long ago a century and half can seem – at least if you take the common view of Kipling as the bard of empire and the standard-bearer for a discredited part of British history. But, given the debates that still rage about Kipling, his message and his legacy, you might just as easily say how close he still seems. He is a writer of perennial interest, not just because of his undoubted talent and way with words, but because we still don’t quite know what to make of him.

    Is this Indian-born, youngest ever winner of the Nobel prize for literature a parochial English figure? Is this exquisite stylist and literary innovator a hopelessly old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud? Is he a racist, or someone with sympathy and understanding for all humanity?

    Related: The 100 best novels: No 34 – Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

    He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Ghar – the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore museum. Who hold Zam-Zammah, that ‘fire-breathing dragon’, hold the Punjab, for the great green-bronze piece is always first of the conqueror’s loot.

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    Hard questions about race and colonialism are hurdles Kipling first-timers must initially confront, but Kim remains a glorious novel filled with adoration for Victorian India

    I could hurl plenty of appreciative adjectives and cliches at Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. But there is one common phrase I can’t use: Kim is not an “unalloyed pleasure”; it’s more complicated than that. There are stumbling blocks for all but the most innocent in our post-colonial world.

    I hesitate to reduce Kim to crude questions of black and white (or even, as so delineated in the book, the shades in between) – especially since last week’s inspiring, informative chat showed, there’s so much more to talk about. However, race and empire are hurdles all Kipling first-timers like me must face. He is one of the dragons our society had to slay, in order to come to a settlement with the colonial past – and the scars remain. I tried to come to Kim with an open mind – but I felt like I was having my worst fears confirmed when I came across sentences like the following:

    My experience is that one can never fathom the Oriental mind.

    Dynamite was milky and innocuous beside that report of C25; and even an Oriental, with an Oriental’s views of the value of time, could see that the sooner it was in the proper hands the better.

    That would have been a fatal blot on Kim’s character if Mahbub had not known that to others, for his own ends or Mahbub’s business, Kim could lie like an Oriental.

    You cannot have Shakespeare, but not like it to look like antisemitism (The Merchant of Venice), or misogyny (The Taming of the Shrew). You cannot enjoy Kipling but claim you cannot take him when he looks like an imperialist. Well, you can. But it seems to me to demonstrate a lack of imagination, or creative sympathy and of empathy... For anything you might say about, or against [Kipling], there is one (and probably more than one) counter-example from his own work.”

    Related: Why we still don't know what to make of Kipling

    Related: The 100 best novels: No 34 – Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

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    Often regarded as an early YA novel, Kim appears to be a simple coming-of age story, until you begin to notice the unobtrusive brilliance of the craftsmanship

    More from the Guardian reading group

    Many of the pleasures of Kim are straightforward, direct and easily absorbed – much like Rudyard Kipling’s prose. Indeed, his writing is probably chief among those joys. It’s a book where moving through the sentences is its own reward. Few novels have such beguiling rhythm, imagery and vocabulary.

    The very words are fun to read, fun to say out loud: “Wonder-House”, “Zam-Zammah”, “Kimball O’Hara”, “Sind, Punjab and Delhi railway” – and those are just from the first page. But it’s what Kipling does with them that really counts, in prose so perfect you barely notice how clever it is when you first read through. It’s only when you stop to analyse that you notice how well everything is constructed:

    As he drummed his heels against Zam-Zammah he turned now and again from his king-of-the-castle game with little Chota Lal and Abdullah the sweetmeat seller’s on to make a rude remark to a native policeman on guard over rows of shoes at the museum door.”

    Kneaded to irresponsible pulp, half hypnotized by the perpetual flick and readjustment of the uneasy chudders that veiled their eyes, Kim slid ten thousand miles into slumber – thirty six hours of it – sleep that soaked like rain after drought.”

    Related: Top 10 books about the British in India

    Related: Reading beyond Rudyard Kipling's imperial crimes: the complexities of Kim

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    The author’s acclaimed biographer will be here on Friday 29 January at 1pm GMT to answer your questions about his life, his books and his legacy

    Andrew Lycett is “a biographer of distinction”, according to Giles Foden. His life of Rudyard Kipling was described as a “magisterial study” by Terry Eagleton and met with wide acclaim when it was published in 1999. So too was Kipling Abroad: Traffics and discoveries from Burma to Brazil, a collection of Kipling’s travel writing. He has also recently edited Kipling and War– a look at Kipling’s intriguing, complicated writings about the military conflicts of his time.

    Andrew has also written an excellent book about Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, and critically acclaimed lives of Wilkie Collins and Dylan Thomas, among others. He has also worked as a foreign correspondent for the Times and Sunday Times, is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. A fantastic guest, in other words, who will be able to tell us a great deal both about the art of biography and about Kipling.

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    Disney’s new live-action version of the 1967 film will have to take great care not to cause offence, critics say

    Disney is bringing back The Jungle Book in a live-action remake, but worries over racial stereotyping that plagued the 1967 cartoon original are already making critics fret.

    The film, which premieres in Los Angeles tomorrow, has a stellar cast, including Idris Elba as Shere Khan, Bill Murray as Baloo, Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, Lupito Nyong’o as wolfmother Raksha, and newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli. Director Jon Favreau promises a film that relies heavily on author Rudyard Kipling’s “strong mythic stuff”. But both Kipling’s book, which was written from a British colonialist perspective, and Disney’s animated adaptation have long been criticised for their racist overtones, and critics warn that it will take more than talking animals and other visual effects to avoid offence.

    Related: Bear necessities: short but sweet first trailer for Disney's Jungle Book remake hits web

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    With Rudyard Kipling’s children’s classic The Jungle Book back in everyone’s minds, we approached our favourite illustrators to recreate their favourite scene or character from the book. Here is Chris Riddell’s homage to Kipling’s beloved, bumbling bear Baloo – a character he says inspired one of his own

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    Each day, artists illustrate a scene from Rudyard Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book. Here Jill Calder has created the scene where Mowgli and Bagheera discuss fire (the ‘red flower’), brought to life with ink and digital artwork

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    Hyperreal digital animation meets old-fashioned storytelling in this faithful remake, which loses the songs but brings new, ingenious twists on the original

    What on earth is the point of remaking Walt Disney’s great and possibly greatest masterpiece, the glorious animated musical from 1967, based on Kipling’s tales, all about the “man cub” Mowgli, brought up by wolves in the Indian jungle – famously the last film to get Disney’s personal touch? A remake which furthermore leaves old-fashioned animation behind, departing for the live-action uncanny valley of hyperreal CGI, which heretically loses most of the songs and which also abandons the original’s final, unforgettably exotic glimpse of a real-life human girl?

    Related: The Jungle Book: meet the characters – in pictures

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