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*Rickshaw Girl* by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan- young readers fantasy book review

Rickshaw Girl
by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
Ages 7-12 96 pages Charlesbridge January 2007 Hardcover    

Ten-year-old Naima is very creative. Her beautiful patterned alpanas have won first prize on International Mother Language Day, and her paintings bring color to the clay walls inside her family’s one-room hut. Naima wishes she could help her father earn money just as her friend Saleem does. But, as Saleem points out, “You’re a girl. Girls stay home and help their mothers. Boys earn money and work with their fathers. That’s just the way it is.” Not willing to accept this reasoning, Naima finds a way to earn money for her family, put her talents to use, and learn a new trade.

Naima’s family is poor. Her dad works hard as a rickshaw driver from dawn until midnight. Her mother wears old saris, and her father is in need of a warm shawl. Naima wishes she was still in school, but there isn’t enough money to send both sisters to school. With the help of Saleem, though, she does find a way to earn money for the family. Not only does this money help pay for the expensive mistake she made with her dad’s rickshaw, but it also helps her mother recover something precious.

For everyone, growing up has its frustrations. Now that she’s older, Naima doesn’t like the fact she has to see Saleem in secret, and she’s not looking forward to the day she has to wear a restricting sari. Her aunts have a poor opinion of her, and she even overhears her mother say, “If only one of our girls had been a boy.” But Naima soon experiences a new kind of freedom and admiration. She meets a woman painter who is earning her own money and who is willing to help out Naima and her family.

Jamie Hogan has illustrated newspapers, magazines and children’s books. Her gorgeous black-and-white illustrations in Rickshaw Girl are rendered in pastels on Canson Paper. Each of the thirteen short chapters starts with an authentic alpana design. The artwork continues with designs on the walls of the hut and on the panels of the rickshaws. The characters in the book dress in traditional clothing, and each piece is explained further in the glossary at the back of the book. The glossary consists of the fourteen Bangla words that appear italicized in the story, such as a-re, biryani, kurta, and tabla.

The illustrations help readers learn about Naima’s culture and see further into her life. She’s happy and at peace mixing the rice powder paint in preparation for her paintings, but when she gets frustrated with Saleem and his outlook, she sticks her tongue out at his back. There are many views of the hand-painted rickshaws in this story, and a few of the surrounding landscape. There is an illustration of a village centrer, and several illustrations show the various bushes and different types of trees that grow alongside the roads and in the yards. There is even an illustration of Naima’s secret meeting in the banana grove.

Naima’s story was inspired by the girls and women the author met while living in Bangladesh. The culture, the language, and the artistic expressions of Bangladesh can been seen in all the characters that appear in Rickshaw Girl. This story reflects the changes taking place in Bangladesh. Microfinance is one of the ways women in Bangladesh are succeeding in their own business ventures. This effort brings hope and employment to so many who need it - just as it does for Naima and the woman painter in Rickshaw Girl. I highly recommend this book.

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  Tanya Boudreau/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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