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Saraswati's Way Hardcover – November 9, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 5-7–With his talent for math, 12-year-old Akash dreams of escaping his dreary existence by winning a school scholarship. He and his widowed father, Bapu, eke out a precarious existence with their extended family in rural Rajasthan, a drought-plagued region of India. After Bapu's death, Akash is sent to a quarry to work off his family's insurmountable debt. He runs away and ends up living in the New Dehli train station. He forages through trash heaps to find food, joins a group of homeless children, and moves from one perilous situation to the next. In one of the most harrowing episodes, he and a friend sell drugs for a dangerous drug lord. Akash's story is involving, yet the fast-paced plot outpaces character development, and the hopeful ending arrives abruptly. In an author's note, Schröder briefly describes the plight of street children in India; she also adds interest with references to Vedic math and Hindu gods. Despite its good intentions, Akash's story remains too thinly sketched to be memorable.–Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

In Rajasthan, India, 12-year-old Akash loves math, and he dreams of earning a scholarship to further his studies. After his father’s abrupt death, though, his grandmother sends him to work in a quarry to pay off the family’s deep debt. Quickly realizing that loan-shark interest rates will never allow his family to reduce what they owe, Akash escapes by sneaking onto a New Delhi-bound train. In the bewildering big city, he joins a group of street kids who feed themselves from garbage scraps and earn coins by collecting plastic bottles. Schröder, a German-born educator who now lives in India, frankly exposes the harsh realities of the street children’s world: many sniff corrective fluid for a cheap, brain-melting high, and even Akash tries selling drugs to make the quick money he needs to continue his education. Eventually, though, Akash begins to find real opportunities and support. With skillfully integrated cultural details (further explained in an appended glossary and author’s note) and a fully realized child’s story, Schröder presents a view, sobering and inspiring, of remarkably resilient young people surviving poverty without losing themselves. Grades 4-7. --Gillian Engberg

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374364117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374364113
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,643,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Yana V. Rodgers on December 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
With his extraordinary mathematical abilities, twelve-year old Akash had already surpassed what his village math teacher could teach him. Akash dreamed of earning a scholarship so that he could attend a better school in the city, but his father's untimely death forced him to go down an entirely different path: his grandmother sent him off to work in their landlord's quarry in order to pay off the family debt.

Only a few days of this backbreaking physical labor and some quick calculations led Akash to conclude that the debt would continue to grow no matter how hard he worked. He managed to sneak onto a passenger train for New Delhi and join up with a group of boys at the train station who supported themselves by going through the trash and selling plastic bottles. However, as Akash became more exposed to the darker side of street life, including petty crime, gambling, and drugs, he would need the guidance of Saraswati the goddess of knowledge as well as his own keen intuition to steer him toward the right path.

Set in a rural Indian village as well as the bustling train station and streets of New Delhi, this novel provides young learners with a glimpse of what it could take for an orphaned and unwanted child to survive in the most challenging of circumstances. A relatively gentle tone helps to introduce middle grade readers to issues associated with child poverty and child labor that they may otherwise not read much about.
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Format: Hardcover
At one point, Akash, the hero of Saraswati's Way, is asked what it's like to read by one of many illiterate boys he meets and he replies: "It's like going to different places without leaving where you are." Esteemed Reader, I cannot think of a finer way to describe Saraswati's Way to you. This book is a portal to another world not often seen in American fiction, the world of India through the eyes of a peasant child. It's a world that will equally tantalize and haunt you.

Like many Americans, I'll admit that the Ninja is woefully ignorant of other cultures and my knowledge of India comes mostly from Slumdog Millionaire, Apu from The Simpsons, and Karl Pilkington's journey to the Taj Mahal on An Idiot Abroad. I have Indian friends, but they've been Americanized. If you're an American who is already very familiar with India and its culture, you're still going to love Saraswati's Way because at its heart it's a great story well told. But for the ignorant, such as myself, it is fascinating to have this opportunity to learn more about Indian culture and social rules wrapped around a compelling story.

From a craft perspective, Saraswatti's Way is a great example about how to write about setting and how the choice of setting informs every aspect of the story. If you're a science fiction writer describing other worlds, or a small town Indiana boy like me writing about small town Indiana, Monika Shroder is a wonderful world builder and her work is worth studying. See how she delivers exposition about culture we need to know to understand the story without ever interrupting the story. To even understand the title, you need to know that Saraswatti is the Indian goddess of knowledge and to know the importance of religion in Indian culture.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a compelling story of Akash, a 12 year old boy who hails from a village in Rajasthan, India. He wants to get educated. He loves maths and is good with numbers. Akash is determined to study. However, he has to face one challenge after another - his family is in debt and cannot afford his education, things take a turn for the worse as his father dies, he is sent off as a bonded labour, he runs away and ends up as a street child. The story of the obstacles Akash faces to make his dream of going to school come true and his ceaseless efforts are inspiring.

The novel highlights many social and economic problems- the plight of the rural poor burdened with debt, child labour, drugs and state of education. Yet it does so without pessimism and hopelessness. The author does not try to find an easy solution but is able to imbue hope that if one tries one can still beat the odds.

I felt there is also a deeper message in the novel - Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, does not come by wishing or praying alone. Knowledge has to be acquired and to be sought by doing the right things. ( The vehicle of goddess Sarawati is a swan which is fabled for its ability to distinguish pure milk from milk mixed with water i.e, separate the good from the bad.) That is Saraswati's way. Akash, a devotee of goddess Saraswati, learns this lesson through his struggles to reach his goal.

The characters in the novel are realistic and can be encountered in everyday life in India. Having lived close to where the action takes place in Delhi one can appreciate the accuracy of details. Due credit also needs to be given to the author who has successfully been able to capture the stories of the deities and the local customs and traditions .

They say storytelling is a powerful way of teaching. This novel is definitely one such story which you may like to read and share it with children.
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Format: Hardcover
The main character, Akash, is every math teacher's dream student. He loves math and has a gift for it. Unlike here in the United States where students can get a free education, Akash must have a scholarship to continue going to school. His tutor has taught him all he knows. Akash is not going to fool himself. He knows they don't have the money. His father works hard to support all of them. That includes his grandmother and his uncle who is addicted to opium and gambles away their money. The money goes as fast as Akash's father makes it. When the father dies Akash find the farm owner knocking on their door demanding the back rent. The grandmother sends Akash to work in the quarry. Akash figures there is a better way for him to make money and use his math skills. He runs away to New Delhi to make his fortune. It is very difficult for him there. He is a street kid and has two options. He can make quick money dishonestly or he can find honest work and make it slower. This is an internal struggle that only he can choose. So what does he do? He prays to the Hindu goddess Saraswati asking for guidance. You'll need to read the book to see what he decides to do. This is a great book to have in your classroom to teach multicultural issues. I would recommend this to upper middle graders and up. There is quite a bit of mature material in it. It needs to be there because these types of activities happen in real life but it is pretty mature for the younger crow. I gladly place this book on my shelves.
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