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Consider the reading levels a child goes through. You start them out on baby board books. Slooowly you start reading them picture books. Once they've a grasp on that then they start reading on their own with easy readers. A couple years in and it's time to move on to early chapter books. Finally, and with great relief all around, they're reading thick 500-page fantasy novels and everyone is happy. Now which one of those reading levels is, to your mind, the most difficult to find? Which is to say, which reading level seriously lacks in the quality-writing-department when all is said and done? My answer would have to be the early chapter books. Picture and baby board books are a dime a dozen and if you doubt the sheer quantity of easy readers out there, come on down to my library sometime. No, it's early chapter books I worry about. Around this time you want to start luring the kids with writing that's a little more sophisticated. Sure, you could hand them #43 in the Droon series and be done with it, but wouldn't you like to hand them a fun book that talks about other cultures and features sympathetic characters and realistic concerns? Basically what I'm saying is, strong literature written in an early chapter book format is a rare beastie. "Rickshaw Girl", by Mitali Perkins therefore manages to be all he stronger when you consider how rare a title it really is. Funny, smart, and chock full of the sights, sounds, and smells of Bangladesh, Perkins offers up a delightful book that distinguishes itself from the pack.

Ask Naima the one thing she's good at doing and she'll tell you right off the bat that it's alpanas. A complicated but balanced series of designs painted on her family's path and threshold, Naima tends to win her Bangladeshi village's prize for best alpana every International Mother Language Day. This year, however, is different. This year Naima's father isn't bringing in enough money to pay for the newly redesigned rickshaw he runs. Frustrated that as a girl she can't do anything to help the family earn more money, Naima makes a crucial mistake. One that might destroy her family's dreams for good. If she's to make it right, she must summon up her courage and, with the help of her friend Saleem, use her creativity to find a solution to her problems.

Sometimes it's nice to hear the story of a screw-up. No one's perfect, sure. We know that. But how often do you read a book in which the main character does something so cringeworthy that it has the readers, regardless of age, suffering the shame of a well-deserved embarrassment right along with the heroine? What Naima does (and I'm not going to give it away) is wrong. Yet she's a character you want to believe in. Her family situation is actually pretty dire, all things considered, and what with having a heroine who is less than perfect, you really feel you can root for Naima. Perkins has the enviable talent of knowing how to connect a reader to a character. There's a spark there. An understand that takes place. Alongside the believable and consistently interesting storyline, the book comes across as a keeper.

Now anyone can write a work of fiction off the top of their heads. And a couple people might even be able to make that work of fiction halfway decent reading. Imagine then the difficulties involved when one must write not only something interesting and well-put together, and not only an early chapter title, but also a Glossary of unfamiliar terms paired with illustrated images, and an Author's Note giving additional background on Bangladesh and the author's connection to it. All these things are greatly appreciated and easy to understand. And while a Bibliography or website or two wouldn't have been out of place, what we do have here is doggone swell.

Illustrator Jamie Hogan remains a bit of a mystery to me. A relative newcomer to the children's literary scene, Hogan's work makes me want to thump Charlesbridge Publishers soundly on the back in thanks. What a fruitful pairing. Hogan's style tends to be pastels on Canson paper, though they appear black and white in the book. It's almost an affected style. You can see the texture of the paper beneath the images she draws. Yet her characters are pitch perfect 100% of the time. In an interesting twist, Hogan chooses never to show the faces of Naima's mother and father. You see her sister, her pal Saleem, and even a random boy on the street, but the only glimpse you get of the parents is their hands. Only one adult appears in this story, and she's definitely not related to Naima in any way. So in a sense, Hogan has chosen to throw in her lot with the children. Her heroine is a strong girl with natural energy. When she sticks out her tongue in one scene, it is exactly the way a kid WOULD stick out their tongue. Hogan knows how to capture kids at their most natural. It shows in the story.

If there's a moral to this book it may be, "Stop and think before you act." Sound advice, by and large. In an age of high fantasy and the aforementioned 500 plus page texts, slim realistic novels like, "Rickshaw Girl", have to be especially good to get any of the attention they so richly deserve. I think Perkins and Hogan together accomplish that requirement with a seeming effortlessness. Consider this a necessary purchase to any library system, irregardless of collection size. A keeper through and through.
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on November 26, 2012
I thought that "Rickshaw Girl" was a good book for girls around ten years old. I am a ten year old girl and while reading this book I found it rather interesting. I barely could put it down. I finished it in about an hour, since it was such a good book. I think the main character in the book (Naima) showed lots of expression as the oldest child. She did a lot of work for her family as well as she also wanted to help her family. She knew her family had struggles and I think she wanted to find a solution for her poor family. This book is full of character, expression and interest. I reccomend this for young girls ages ten to four-teen. It was really good book. I enjoyed the characters, the plot, the beginning, and the end. I don't have the kindle version but I do have the real paper-back version and I am very pleased. The book was a very well-written book.
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on June 7, 2007
There is a dearth of books for kids who are just taking off with their reading skills, which makes this story all the more welcome. Readers will meet Naima, a young Bangladeshi who is struggling with her family's financial troubles and her place in the family as a girl. Traditionally, girls are not allowed to work or earn money, but her father sure could use the help. Naima cleverly devises a way to help her family and empowers herself along the way.

Set in Bangladesh, readers will get a glimpse of life in a foreign land and a culture quite different from the American standard. With Bangla words interspersed in the text, readers are introduced to a new language, as well.
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on August 15, 2008
Stifled by Bangladeshi social norms that restricted her ability to engage in the community and work for pay, Naima felt frustrated that she could not earn money to help her family. Without enough money to pay for school fees, her parents had already withdrawn Naima from school, and now her younger sister faced the same fate. Her father had to work from dawn until midnight everyday as a rickshaw driver to generate enough earnings to also cover the loan payments on his new rickshaw.

These pressures, combined with her creativity, audacity, and cleverness, led Naima to decide that she would disguise herself as a boy and earn money by driving the rickshaw. Her first attempt to operate the vehicle would have marked an adventurous first step in this bold plan were it not for the long hill, sharp curve, and thick thorn bushes. Naima escaped unharmed, but Father's brand new rickshaw was badly damaged. Naima is devastated, and quite some time passes before she comes up with a new plan that better utilizes her talents.

Rickshaw Girl gets top ratings for delivering an entertaining story that is chock full of valuable economics lessons. The reader experiences a poignant account of the challenges associated with living in poverty in a country where traditional customs still limit women's economic and social opportunities. Also woven in are lessons about entrepreneurship, the need for financial capital to start a business, and the importance of microfinance for individuals - such as the woman who owned the rickshaw repair shop - who otherwise may not have been able to secure a loan. Weighty issues perhaps, but most children will be enthralled by the plight of a spunky girl who damages her father's most valuable possession and needs to make amends.
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on July 18, 2013
Mitali Perkins is a gifted story teller, Rickshaw girl is an important tome to dig deeper into Asian culture. As a grade six geography and language arts teacher it is a wonderful tool to dig deeper into the curriculum. Boys and girls, both enjoyed this story and made great connections and inferences. It is a story to be read again and again. It is without hesitation that I recommend this book for any classroom library. Mitali Perkins also will make school visits and lead the children in a wonderful writer's workshop! She is as brilliant as her books!
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VINE VOICEon April 30, 2007
If you have an elementary-aged reader who wants to learn about other cultures, "Rickshaw Girl" is a terrific book. It tells the story of Naima, a young girl known for her painting skills, yet feeling powerless to help her family's finances (girls can't do anything but cook, clean, and decorate, she says!).

To her surprise, a woman in a neighboring village has opened her own business -- painting rickshaws! Can Naima convince her family to let her become an apprentice to this forward-thinking woman?

Told in easy-to-understand language with just enough foreign vocabulary (with a glossary, too), "Rickshaw Girl" will show young readers that even in the most desperate circumstances, everyone can contribute to a solution.
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on April 1, 2007
This is a fun and engaging story. Your kids will love it.

You might love it, too. This is a subtle and heart warming story of women's empowerment. Without an angry word, or a whiff of ideology, this story tells what poor families can do by enlisting the gifts of all their members. These women don't wait for someone to act for them, but take risks. And everyone wins--there is no zero sum game here.

But my imagination is soaring--this is a kid's story, and you'll just have to enjoy it on that level!
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on July 23, 2010
Everyone knows that Naima draws the most beautiful alpana patterns in her Bangladeshi village. But she wonders what good can come from her talent if she can't help her father drive a rickshaw because she's a girl. Money is tight for the family, and Naima worries that her mother's heirloom bracelets will need to be pawned to pay for rickshaw repairs. She's determined to help, even if she has to take a risk to do it.

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins is the touching story of a girl who longs to put her talents to use. Naima's father is careful to let her and her sister know that he is happy to have daughters, but Naima realizes her society values girls only for cooking, cleaning and carrying water. Education for girls is limited, especially since parents are expected to pay for it. When Naima discovers a woman who has broken the mold to support herself, she can finally see a path to help her own family out of its poverty.

Rickshaw Girl is very accessible for younger readers, and it gives them a glimpse of constraints that can be placed on girls in some societies even today. The charcoal illustrations by Jamie Hogan beautifully capture Naima and her village life. A glossary in the back is a good introduction to terms used in Bangladesh, and the author's note is about micro financing and how it is helping women and girls around the world raise themselves out of the cycle of poverty. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 7 to 10.
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on December 29, 2012
Submerges you into Bangla culture! My daughter finished it in just two hours, but found the story sweet and compelling, and interesting enough to be the basis for a good girls' book club discussion.
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on October 15, 2007
Mitali Perkins has created yet another wonderful novel about strong, cultural girls. In Rickshaw Girl, we meant Naima, a ten-year old girl living in Bangladesh. Her father owns a rickshaw business, finally gaining more business as he gets a brand new rickshaw, but still not enough business to pay the family bills. Naima is upset because she knows if she had been born a boy she could help earn money for the family, but being that she is a girl she has no choice but to stay home and work on her painting.

When Naima decides to disguise herself as a boy and teach herself how to drive the rickshaw, she manages to crash the rickshaw, damaging the beauty of the cart and ruining all chances of her father continuing to gain new clients. Devastated, she again disguises herself as a boy and steals away to a new repair shop the next town over, hoping she can somehow earn money to help repair the damaged rickshaw. What she finds in the repair shop is surprising, heartwarming, and inspirational.

This short novel was fantastic and typical Mitali Perkins writing. Young girls can read this and feel empowered to do anything they want to do, no matter what that may be. The story is also accompanied by a few illustrations that not only add to the plot, but also allow the reader to view the work Naima can do. The book was really quite amazing.
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