A friend of mine in Romania recently mentioned these books by Mitali Perkins to me – I had previously read Bamboo People by her and loved it, so I checked these two books: Rickshaw Girl (2008) and Tiger Boy (2015) from the library. I devoured Rickshaw Girl in one sitting, and read Tiger Boy several days later. I can’t recommend these two books (for ages 8 to 12) more. Both these novels are set in other countries – Rickshaw Girl is set in Bangladesh and Tiger Boy is set in India.
I get so excited when I discover a new author whose writing I love (new to me, I mean) and I find out she is a TCK. Mitali’s father was an engineer and his job took their family from port to port in different countries. By the time Mitali was 11, she had lived in India, England, Ghana, Cameroon, Mexico, and then The United States. Settling in the United States as a Middle school student was very difficult for her (I know the feeling – although I didn’t stay, our family returned to the United States when I was in eighth grade). Mitali struggled as a child to find her place in these different cultures, and books became her refuge.
“Books were my rock, my stability, my safe place as I navigated the border between California suburbia and the Bengali culture of my traditional home.”
She was brought up as a Hindu but became an agnostic in her teens. During her junior year of college, while studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, she came repeatedly face to face with images and stories of Christ. As she read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, as well as the New Testament, Mitali was confronted with the person of Christ. Mitali explains her reaction upon delving into the New Testament this way:
“I was encountering a Jew with olive-colored skin, black hair, and dark eyes. This Middle Eastern man healed foreign women; he knew what it was to feel lonely and rejected.”
Through her reading, Mitali came to understand how Christ’s death on the cross conquered evil and reconciled man to God. She came to Faith and upon her return to the US, she was baptized.
She later realized that the many stories and novels she had read as a child were deeply steeped in the Christian Faith. In an article she wrote for Christianity Today, she reflects on books from her childhood:
“Louisa May Alcott wove John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress into Little Women. Johanna Spyri’s Heidi described God’s forgiveness through the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett perhaps subconsciously provided a metaphorical glimpse of the Trinity—Father (Susan Sowerby), Son (Dickon), and Holy Spirit (the robin). And of course, C. S. Lewis’s Aslan leapt into my mind and heart. For years, these spiritual mothers and fathers had been teaching me about the Bible. I just didn’t realize it.”. Christianity Today – Testimony: When God Writes Your Life Story by Mitali Perkins/ DECEMBER 31, 2015
Mitali has written nine books, including Rickshaw Girl, Bamboo People, an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults and her most recent novel, Tiger Boy. She and her husband currently live in the San Francisco area, where she continues to write, lectures at St Mary’s College and visits schools and libraries throughout the country.
Naima is a young girl growing up in a small village in Bangladesh. She loves art and is the best artist in her village, famous for her alpana patterns, a traditional art work. But Naima wants nothing more than to help her family make ends meet. Her father is a rickshaw driver and their family is barely scraping by. They can’t afford to send both Naima and her sister to school at the same time. When Naima accidentally damages her father’s rickshaw and the family is unable to pay for the repair, Naima must find a way to make things right.
What I loved about Rickshaw Girl:
- An easy-to-read moving story for ages 8-12
- Culturally rich, and beautiful charcoal-on-canvas illustrations by Jamie Hogan
- Well developed characters and relationships including Naima’s close friendship with her neighbor Saleem and Naima’s loving family relationships
- Steeped in Bengali cultural details, with a glossary of Bangla words at the back of the book
- Strong, courageous and loving female heroine
When a young tiger cub escapes from the nature preserve and is at risk of being attacked by the island poachers, Neel and his sister set out to find and rescue the cub. Neel is a bright student and the headmaster of his school has selected him to take an exam to win a scholarship to a prestigious school. But Neel has mixed feelings – he doesn’t want to leave his home, his family or his island. It isn’t until the hunt and the rescue of the tiger cub that Neel comes to understand how his academic abilities can help him to someday return and do his part to help preserve the natural beauty of the island, the lives of tigers, and help improve the lives of his family and friends.
- Tiger Boy is Junior Library Guild selection.
- NCTE 2016 Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book
- Junior Library Guild Premier Selection 2015
- CCBC Book of the Week
- Selected as a Waterbridge Outreach Book
What I loved about Tiger Boy
- Easy-to-read, yet gripping tale – perfect for ages 8-12
- Amazing charcoal-on-canvas illustrations
- The natural beauty of the Island in the Sunderbans of West Bengal painted so well in the book, from the cool freshwater ponds to the mangrove forest to the long stretches of beaches
- The fragile connection between nature and humans, beautifully portrayed by Mitali
- The fact that Mitali does not down play the poverty and hardships of life on these island (for example, the mother’s illness, and the father’s difficulty finding work)
- Neel’s love and bond with his older sister, Rupa, and his deep respect for his baba (his father)
- Neel, the main character, portrayed as smart and a book lover, but also someone who is passionate about nature and animals, and the great outdoors
- The plight and magnificence of the wild Bengal Tiger, presented in a way that children can understand – Great book for animal lovers – your child will want to learn more about tigers.
Can you tell I love these books?
“It’s only once a while that you get a book that manages to create a lump in your throat and at the same time makes you read as fast as you can because you want to know what happens next.” – Indian Moms Connect
Books by Mitali Perkins
For ages 8-12
- Rickshaw Girl (2008)
- Tiger Boy (2015)
For Young Adult (*books I’ve read and recommend – I definitely want to read Open Mic!)
- *The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Originally published as: The Sunita Experiment). (2005)
- *Monsoon Summer (2007)
- First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (2007)
- First Daughter: White House Rules (2008)
- Secret Keeper (2010)
- *Bamboo People (2012)
- Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices (2013)