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. You can find a helpful discussion guide at Perkins’s website.