by Farhana Zia. Peachtree Publishers, 2016. 176 pages. ISBN 978-1561459049. Click here to purchase.
This lovely little book follows Basanta, a young girl living in a village in modern day India. Basanta works with her mother in the big house, often working for the rich girl of the house, Little Bibi. Being around Little Bibi makes Basanta question everything about her life - why does Little Bibi have so much? Why can't Basanta have fine things too? When Basanta finds a ring that Little Bibi has lost, it doesn't seem to wrong to consider keeping it for herself. Little Bibi has so much. Will she even miss the ring? In the course of the story, readers follow Basanta as she learns about the things that have real value in your life.
There's a lot to love in Zia's second novel but what really stands out is the setting. Though the village where Basanta and her family and friends live is never named, the details of life there are richly woven throughout the text. We meet the merchants and families that create the fabric of the village and spend time with the children as they play, conspire, and create together. Basanta is a determined, curious girl who questions the way her world works and doesn't just settle for "that's the way it is." Her Amma is another great character - she loves Basanta but also expects her to make hard choices, do the right thing, and think about her actions. I love grown-ups with personalities of their own (that are still so loving) in children's literature. One of my favorite parts of Child of Spring is a kite flying battle between the children in the village. It's a lively, exciting scene that brings play and competition to children to life in a very immediate way. Basanta's struggles to understand her place in the world is also a struggle to understand her place in the community of her village and this is, again, where Zia's writing really shines. This is a book so firmly rooted in place it is almost tangible. I think this would be a great book to do as a read-aloud to a class: the chapters are short and episodic and there's lots of great, descriptive writing to dig into.
A few notes: I wish Peachtree hadn't chosen to italicize the numerous Hindi words throughout the text. There's no need to italicize another language in a text, even if that is the way "it's always been done." It distances the reader. (Check out Daniel José Older's awesome video about why he doesn't italicize Spanish in his stories - this is it in a nutshell.) I also wish Zia had been more definitive about the exact place in India (an author's note mentions the book is set in "the state of Hyderabad in India." which is where Zia grew up) and time of the story. I have also seen a few reviews refer to this as a middle grade book but I think it is much more suited to to an older elementary crowd, so keep that in mind as well. (I think it would be perfect for 4th-6th grade readers.)
I was glad to spend time with Basanta and her entire village - the children are ingenious and determined and they have fun and are allowed to make mistakes like real kids. I was taken with this sweet and immediate story of growing into a community and a place.
Reviewed by Angie Manfredi