Rickshaw Girl

Rickshaw Girl

  • 1495

By: Mitali Perkins / Illustrated by: Jamie Hogan

Naima is a talented painter of traditional alpana patterns, which Bangladeshi women and girls paint on their houses for special celebrations. But Naima is not satisfied just painting alpana. She wants to help earn money for her family, like her best friend, Saleem, does for his family. When Naima's rash effort to help puts her family deeper in debt, she draws on her resourceful nature and her talents to bravely save the day.

Includes a glossary of Bangla words and an author's note about a changing Bangladesh and microfinance.

Watch an interview with Mitali Perkins from Girls Leadership:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Mitali Perkins, author

Mitali studied political science at Stanford University and public policy at U.C. Berkeley, surviving academia thanks to a steady diet of kids' books from public libraries and bookstores, and went on to teach middle school, high school, and college students. She lived in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and California with her husband and twin sons

Mitali lives in Northern California with her family.

Read more about Mitali.

Jamie Hogan, illustrator

Jamie Hogan grew up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. She began her freelance career in Boston, with work appearing frequently in the Boston Globe. She taught editorial illustration at the Art Institute of Boston and became active in the Graphic Artists Guild. Her illustrations have been included in American Illustration, PRINT Magazine, Graphis, and the Society of Illustrators. Jamie’s work evolved into a collage style and her clients included San Francisco Focus, Mother Jones, and the Los Angeles Times.

Jamie lives in Maine with her family.

Read more about Jamie.

Awards & Honors:


  • ABC Best Books for Children
  • Amelia Bloomer Project
  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
  • Boston Author's Club
  • CCBC Choice
  • Jane Addams Children's Book Award Honor Book
  • Julia Ward Howe Book Awards (Highly Recommended)
  • Moonbeam Children's Book Awards (Bronze Medal)
  • New York Public Library's Children's Books - 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
  • Notable Books for a Global Society
  • NYRA Charlotte Book Award Reading List
  • Sequoyah Children's Book Award Master List
  • Skipping Stones Honor Award

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

Money is tight, and Naima wants to do something to help her family. If only she were a boy like her friend Saleem, she'd be able to drive her father's rickshaw and add to the family's income. Naima does have a special talent; she can paint beautiful alpanas--traditional patterns used by women to decorate Bangladeshi homes during special occasions--but how can this help her make money? When Naima decides to disguise herself as a boy and drive the rickshaw, she accidentally crashes it, and the family's debt soars even higher. Now Naima is more determined than ever to help her family--and prove that being a girl can be a good thing. Straightforward black-and-white pastel illustrations incorporate alpana patterns and depict various elements of Naima's daily life, and a helpful Bangla glossary and informative notes are included. A child-eye's view of Bangladesh that makes a strong and accessible statement about heritage, tradition and the changing role of women, Naima's story will be relished by students and teachers alike.


Perkins draws on her family roots to tell the lively contemporary story of a young Bangladeshi girl who challenges the traditional role of women in her village so that she can help her struggling family in hard times. Naima's parents cannot afford to pay school fees for her anymore, but she wins the village prize for painting the best traditional alpanas patterns. She wishes she could help her father drive his rickshaw, and one day, disguised as a boy, she drive--and crashes--it. How will they afford to fix the dents and tears? More than just a situation, this short chapter book tells a realistic story with surprises that continue until the end. Hogan's bold black-and-white sketches show the brave girl, the beautiful traditional alpana painting and rickshaw art, and the contemporary changes in the girl's rural home. An author's note and a glossary enhance the moving story.

The PlanetEsme Plan

As I read this book over winter break, the shocking thought came over me like a slow-rising sun: "I can't wait to get back to school and read this aloud!" I actually went to the calendar and counted the days before I could introduce children 8 and up to the brave and resourceful (if sometimes impulsive) Naima. By painting delicate and award-winning alpana patterns on her Bangladeshi home for special celebrations, this little girl has brought pride to her family, but what she really longs to do is help her father earn money. Each passing day her friend Saleem passes in his rickshaw, and each passing day also distances her from him, Naima's role as a young woman in her village becoming more pronounced and more frustrating. When she tries to maneuver her father's beautiful, newly-painted rickshaw, it appears she has brought rack and ruin to her family, possibly even causing her mother to sell a cherished bangle that has been passed down through generations. Dressed as a boy, she tries to create a new solution that will prevent further hardship, and in doing so is surprised to discover that new solutions are emerging, and from her own gender.

This book is beautifully and universally written, playing skillfully on all children's desires to be helpful to their families, and their natural propensities to rally against the unjust. Though there is some regional vocabulary, the writing is so sparkling clear that it can be comprehended in context, though a partially illustrated glossary is also included. Terse pacing makes for a perfectly cliffhanging read-aloud, and descriptive prowess brings every scene to life. Gracefully drawn charcoal spot illustrations that suggest the paper's texture are a perfect accent to the story. Use this realistic tale to springboard into discussions of whether boys and girls can really do the same things, and also as a way to introduce the very modern and important idea of microlending programs (a new economic model that earned Mohammed Yunus a recent Nobel Peace Prize), through which children will be delighted to discover they can make a huge difference in the world, even with a few coins.


Vanessa, Massachusetts, age 10

Thank you for letting me read these books. I felt so joyful that I just kept reading! You asked me what I thought about the books and I think they're great! Diary Of A Would Be Princess was a great book because it teaches girls how to be themselves. That's what Jillian James is trying to do but she thinks too much about being popular. She really thinks outside of the box. Rickshaw Girl just blew me away. The book made perfect sense. Everything you did to make the book good worked! And what I like about Rickshaw Girl is that it teaches girls a lesson. The lesson I figured out was that girls can do anything just like guys can and that's what Naima the main character in the story does. Naima is a girl that was trying to help her father fix his rickshaw after she crashed it! All the books are wonderful and Charlesbridge publishes the best books.

School Library Journal

Ten-year-old Naima longs to earn money to help her poor Bangladeshi family, but her talent in painting traditional patterns, or alpanas, is no use. While considering whether she could disguise herself as a boy and try to drive her father’s rickshaw, she wrecks the vehicle and its painted tin sides on a test-drive, threatening the family’s sole livelihood. Her solution is to steal away, disguised as a boy, to a repair shop and offer her services painting decorations on the rickshaws. She is surprised to find that the owner is a woman. When Naima reveals herself, she is hired on the condition that her father will keep bringing her for training at the shop, so that her paintings will help the business. The future looks bright for the girl and her family. Short chapters, well-delineated characters, soft black-line pastel illustrations, and a child-appropriate solution enrich this easy-to-read chapter book that would also appeal to less-able middle school readers. The rich back matter includes an informative glossary of Bangla words, plus a valuable author’s note that explains the process of microfinance and its results for poor women in rural markets.

Library Media Connection

Rickshaw Girl is a timely book that introduces the reader to the idea of micro loans. Naima lives in a Bangladesh village. If she were a boy she could help her father bring income to the family. One day as her father is resting, Naima tries to drive the family's rickshaw. It ends in a heap at the bottom of the hill. After the crash father has to work harder each day to make more money, but often people do not want to ride in his rickshaw because of the damaged condition. Naima comes up with a plan to help her family. With the help of her friend Saleem, she dresses up as a boy and heads to the neighboring village to see if she can get work at the rickshaw repair shop. As Naima arrives she is surprised to find that this shop is run by a woman. But Naima proves herself and gets to work to pay for the repairs of her father's rickshaw. This book is a good introduction to how small businesses can help families in poorer countries.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

In the rural Bangladesh village where ten-year-old Naima lives with her mother, father, and younger sister, there are few options for girls besides helping at home and creating alpanas, decorative patterns painted on pathways during holidays. Naima wishes there were some way she could provide financial assistance to her father, a bicycle rickshaw driver who puts in long hours trying to pay off his new rig, but her attempts to help drive the rickshaw result only in expensive damage. Naima then decides to offer her labor at the rickshaw painting shop in exchange for the repainting of her father's rickshaw; after she disguises herself in boys' clothing and walks an hour to the next village, she arrives at the rickshaw shop and finds to her surprise that the business's owner is a woman, who eventually aggress to take Naima on as an apprentice. Naima's engaging story is written in simple narrative and printed in large font, thus offering a multicultural tale for early or easily daunted readers. Her voice is true to her age, and her desire to help her family is convincingly portrayed; though may kids may wish the book had shown Naima successfully on the go in her apprenticeship, the point here is her acquisition of opportunity.

As detailed in an author's note, a central intent of this novel was to highlight the way microfinance has changed the role of women in rural Bangladesh, a topical message with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bangladesh microfinancer Muhammad Yunus. While this lesson may be largely lost on the intended readership, it's a point that could be expanded into a good discussion when using this short novel as a read-a-loud. Loosely composed black-and-white pastel-crayon sketches are sprinkled throughout the text, offering both literal interpretations of the story and examples of the patterned alpanas. An author's note and illustrated glossary of Bangla words are included.


The Horn Book

Ten-year-old Naima may win prizes for designing and painting alpanas, the traditional decorative patterns that women use to adorn homes in their small Bangladeshi village, but as her mother says, "Alpanas can't put rice on the table." Naima's parents can't afford school fees for both their daughters; now that it's her little sister's turn for schooling, disguising herself as a boy seems the only way for Naima to contribute much-needed earnings to her household. Naima's covert experiments at driving her father's rickshaw during his lunch breaks are met with disastrous results. Ultimately, though, Naima's recklessness leads to a solution that enables her to earn money with her talents -- no disguise necessary. Perkins depicts a rural Bangladesh on the verge of change, as evolving gender roles travel from big cities to small villages. In addition to capturing contemporary Bangladeshi culture, Perkins even connects the vibrant plot to the economic model of microfinance -- probably a first for an early chapter book! Black-and-white pastel drawings depict authentic alpana designs and also provide glimpses into Naima's dynamic world, underscoring the novel's accessible message about the intersections of tradition and transformation. A glossary and author's note are appended.

Lanuage Arts

Like many other Bangladeshi women and girls, Naima has a special talent for creating inventive alpanas--a traditional pattern used to decorate homes during celebrations. Her designs are considered to be the best in the village. Despite her talent, Naima sees no way it can help solve her dilemma--how to earn money to help her father pay off the loan that he used to buy a rickshaw. If only she were a boy, she could help, but in her society, gender roles are set--boys work and help their fathers, girls stay home and help their mothers. Naima doesn't let a small thing like being a girl get in the way of her trying to help her fmaily. She thinks that if she dresses up as a boy, she can take her father's rickshaw out for an hour or two while he rests, and the passengers will be none the wiser. Of course, plans go awry, and they do in a big way when Naima wrecks the rickshaw. Now her father is stressed even more because he has to earn money to repair the rickshaw. When her father takes the rickshaw in to be repaired, he leaves it at the shop, but does not get to speak to the repairman. When Naima comes to bargain with the shop owner to ask for a job, she is shocked to discover that the owner of the shop is a woman. She is also the "repairman." The woman was able to buy her father's shop through microfinancing from a women's bank. The idea of a self-employed woman is totally new to Naima (and her father). Perhaps being a female will not hinder her attempts to help her family financially, after all. She makes a deal with the owner to work at the rickshaw repair shop in exchange for repairs on her father's rickshaw. Naima is glad, for once, to be a girl. She could help through simple negotiations and an application of her talent for painting fine alpana patterns. This delightful novel is based on the author's time in Bangladesh. Jamie Hogan's accompanying line drawings help readers make connections with the novel's characters and setting. Includes a glossary of Bangla words, an explanation of how microfinancing helps many women in developing nations become self-sufficient, and authentication of the novel's alpana patterns. DLT

Multicultural Book Review

Rave reviews for this book from two very different little girls. Maggie, a quiet and intelligent girl, said the pace was quick and fun and the story was good. Outgoing, athletic Mira said she liked the main character, Naima, and thought the book ended too quickly.

The story is about a Bangladeshi Muslim girl of ten from a poor but loving family that ha just two girls, in a society where girls are considered to be a burden for their parents. Although Naima has a big heart, creative flair, and artistic talent, she seriously hurts her family while trying to help.

Perkins uses clear, engaging language to introduce the very different world of Bangladesh to young readers and also defines the concept of microfinance, a system of women within the society making small, affordable loans to other women. This is a highly recommended book for all libraries with young readers, for a glimpse of a strong girl who wants to make things right and, through a bit of luck and a changing world, eventually does.

Bureau County Republican

Simply and clearly written for a preteen audience, Naima's narrative provides an authentic view of life in contemporary Bangladesh, showing not only the difficulties but the positive changes that are taking place. Soft black and white charcoal drawings of Naima and her village draw readers into the story, while intricate alpana designs decorate the pages throughout the book. "Rickshaw Girl" transports preteens halfway around the world, where despite cultural differences, they can very easily identify with a determined young Bangladeshi girl named Naima.

Librarians' Choices

Mitali Perkins Rickshaw Girl is a chapter book for younger readers that interweaves family dynamics, the principles of microfinance, and the burgeoning power of women in contemporary Bangladesh. Ten-year-old protagonist Naima walks the fine line between childhood and the greater responsibilities and cultural expectations of young adulthood. When Naima's well-intentioned attempt to help the family income&mdashby dressing as a boy to pilot the family rickshaw&mdash ends in near-disaster, Naima is able to redeem herself with the help of a local woman, who encourages her artistic abilities.

The day-to-day life in a village in modern Bangladesh is presented matter-of-factly, with many details interesting to Western readers regarding meals, transportation, and clothing. Jamie Hogan's pencil illustrations are simple but help bring the story to life. The author's note at the end of the book makes it clear that Ms. Perkins is writing truthfully about her own heritage, and clarifies the principles of microfinance that have become so important for development in traditionally underdeveloped countries. This is fictionalized non-fiction at its best, and should appeal to a wide range of intermediate readers.


The Dragon Lode

In her village in Bangladesh, 10-year-old Naima is a talented artist, known for her prize-wining alpana designs. When she defies custom and her parents and drives her father's new bicycle rickshaw, Niama wrecks the shiny, beautifully painted cart. Determined to help her family, Naima dresses as a boy and offers to repaint rickshaws at a repair shop in exchange for work on her father's cart. After seeing her work, the shop owner, a woman, offers Naima a job as a rickshaw painter. This short novel is illustrated with black-and-white pastel drawings. With a likeable main character and will-paced story, it makes a good read-aloud. The cultural attitudes about gender roles expressed in the story should prompt lively class discussions.

Mother Reader

What a beautiful day we had here! After two days of rain and drizzle, the sky cleared. The temperature went up to seventy degrees, and the bright sun made it feel like summer. The orange and yellow leaves were brilliant against the cloudless blue sky. And I was soaking this all in from the the concrete porch of my house with a book in my hand (of course).

Then a UPS truck pulls up in front of my house. A package? For me? Yes indeedy. It's special delivery for MotherReader. Now, I don't get many books from authors or publishers. If I'm asked to look at a book, I generally do. Once in a while, I ask the author or publisher for a book - but only if I have some confidence that I'll like it.

In this case, it was a book I had requested - Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins. I had loved her book Monsoon Summer and had recommended it for my county's 2006 summer reading program. Monsoon Summer was such an interesting and engaging look at India through the eyes of an Americanized teenage girl. I loved the way the reader could get a feel for the problems of India, without the book feeling preachy. With the new take on another culture and the accessibility to younger teens, Monsoon Summer was a great choice for our summer reading list and continues to be a standard recommendation of mine.

So, when I opened today's package and found Rickshaw Girl, I did something I never do. I stopped reading the book I had out, mid-chapter - maybe even mid-sentence - and read this book. I was not disappointed.

Naima is a girl on the verge of heading out of the salwar kameez (long-sleeved tunics over cotton pants) and into a saree (yards of fabric wrapped around and over the shoulder), living in Bangladesh with her mother, father, and little sister. Her father drives a rickshaw to support the family, but without a son to help with the work, it's hard to make enough money to pay back the cost of the new rickshaw. Naima wants to help, but as a girl she isn't allowed. She does make lovely alpanas, the painted patterns done on the family's paths and thresholds - even winning a prize for the best alpana in her village on International Mother Language Day.

Knowing her family is in trouble, Naima tries to help. Unfortunately, she only succeeds in making things worse. But after pulling back into her domestic role, she finds that her drive, her mind, and her talents can push her toward success for herself and for her family.

Rickshaw Girl is written for a younger audience than Monsoon Summer, which did throw me for a few pages. I was expecting another Young Adult book. But after I got into the book, I really enjoyed the story. As an adult, I could certainly see where the plot was going, but I wasn't bothered by it. The strength of the book is in showing another culture without it feeling like a lesson. While Mitali includes a glossary in the back - with pictures - she relies on context and short descriptions in the story to keep the reader informed. She also has an author's note in the back about the importance of mini-loans in these developing rural areas, and the strong role that women are playing in the local economies.

I'm looking forward to giving it to my daughter to read, and perhaps even to her teacher to read to the class. For everyone else looking for a good book on South Asian culture and Girl Power, Bengal style, put Rickshaw Girl on your wish list for 2007.

Literary Safari

Whenever I visit India, I admire the colorful and intricate art on the back of three-wheeler auto rickshaws that populate the streets of Pune. They bring back memories of my school days - how I used to crowd into a tight space alongside a dozen other girls with plaits and pigtails in blue and white school uniform pinafores. Our lunch boxes and thermoses used to hang off the sides and we’d clutch each other as the driver hurtled the vehicle over speed bumps and puddles of mud. (Sort of like this amazing flickr photo.)

While I was on my daily rickshaw ride, I never thought about things such as how long or hard the driver had to work to generate his daily income, what would happen if he got into an accident, or was unable to work. I never considered his family - perhaps even his daughter - who might have been my age, but was unable to go to school or ride a rickshaw to get from one destination to another. What was life like for her?

I was a very different type of rickshaw girl than Naima, the girl in Mitali Perkins’s most recent middle-grade novel Rickshaw Girl.

Naima is around 12/13 years old and lives in rural Bangladesh. She is the best alpana painter in her village and wants to use her artistic talent to help earn money for her family. One of Naima’s frustrations is that unlike her best friend Saleem, she can’t help her father drive his rickshaw because she’s a girl. Not only that, but she can’t work outside the house and her family can no longer afford to pay her school fees. One day, while talking to Saleem ...

A Fuse #8 Production

Yes yes yes. Again I'm writing a review of a book that everyone and their mother has already seen. Trust me then that I wouldn't be writing this review AT ALL were it not for the fact that the book is entirely deserving of the healthy heapings of helpings of praise it receives. I may be last in line on this one, but I'll be the first to slip it proudly onto my library shelves.

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.

Notes On the Cover: Easy to approve of. A good example of Hogan's style, with a nice glimpse of an actual rickshaw being driven (possibly by Saleem) in the background. For some reason I've been especially taken with the shadow of Naima's arm. The shadows in general on this cover appeal to me. Kinda makes you wish the whole book itself was in color.

Curled Up with a Good Kid's Book

Ten-year-old Naima is very creative. Her beautiful patterned alpanas have won first prize on International Mother Language Day, and her paintings bring color to the clay walls inside her family's one-room hut. Naima wishes she could help her father earn money just as her friend Saleem does. But, as Saleem points out, "You're a girl. Girls stay home and help their mothers. Boys earn money and work with their fathers. That's just the way it is." Not willing to accept this reasoning, Naima finds a way to earn money for her family, put her talents to use, and learn a new trade. Naima's family is poor. Her dad works hard as a rickshaw driver from dawn until midnight. Her mother wears old saris, and her father is in need of a warm shawl. Naima wishes she was still in school, but there isn't enough money to send both sisters to school. With the help of Saleem, though, she does find a way to earn money for the family. Not only does this money help pay for the expensive mistake she made with her dad's rickshaw, but it also helps her mother recover something precious.

For everyone, growing up has its frustrations. Now that she's older, Naima doesn't like the fact she has to see Saleem in secret, and she's not looking forward to the day she has to wear a restricting sari. Her aunts have a poor opinion of her, and she even overhears her mother say, "If only one of our girls had been a boy." But Naima soon experiences a new kind of freedom and admiration. She meets a woman painter who is earning her own money and who is willing to help out Naima and her family.

Jamie Hogan has illustrated newspapers, magazines and children's books. Her gorgeous black-and-white illustrations in Rickshaw Girl are rendered in pastels on Canson Paper. Each of the thirteen short chapters starts with an authentic alpana design. The artwork continues with designs on the walls of the hut and on the panels of the rickshaws. The characters in the book dress in traditional clothing, and each piece is explained further in the glossary at the back of the book. The glossary consists of the fourteen Bangla words that appear italicized in the story, such as a-re, biryani, kurta, and tabla.

The illustrations help readers learn about Naima's culture and see further into her life. She's happy and at peace mixing the rice powder paint in preparation for her paintings, but when she gets frustrated with Saleem and his outlook, she sticks her tongue out at his back. There are many views of the hand-painted rickshaws in this story, and a few of the surrounding landscape. There is an illustration of a village center, and several illustrations show the various bushes and different types of trees that grow alongside the roads and in the yards. There is even an illustration of Naima's secret meeting in the banana grove. Naima's story was inspired by the girls and women the author met while living in Bangladesh. The culture, the language, and the artistic expressions of Bangladesh can been seen in all the characters that appear in Rickshaw Girl. This story reflects the changes taking place in Bangladesh. Microfinance is one of the ways women in Bangladesh are succeeding in their own business ventures. This effort brings hope and employment to so many who need it - just as it does for Naima and the woman painter in Rickshaw Girl. I highly recommend this book.


I don’t know if this book really qualifies for MotherReader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge; the books were supposed to be about fifth grade level or above. I’d estimate that the reading and interest level for this book woud be about second or third grade. Nevertheless, I don’t care. I read it, and I loved it. Your little girls (and boys) need to read this book. I’m going to add it to Betsy-Bee’s (age eight) summer reading list. Rickshaw Girl is a great book.

Naima is a ten year old village girl in Bangladesh, and she’s a talented artist. She’s already won one prize for her alpanas, decorative rock paintings. But Naima sees how hard her father works as a rickshaw driver because he has no sons to help him drive the rickshaw. Naima wants to do something to help out, but her ideas are sometimes counter-productive. How can a girl help the family financially when girls are only allowed to “stay home and help their mothers”?

The themes of making mistakes, and being forgiven, and trying to fix your mistakes are universal ones, and at the same time the sense of place in this simple story is strong. Children will get an understanding of what life is like in a small village in another part of the world. And they’ll appreciate the story of how Naima perseveres in her goals even after she has a near-disastrous accident.

The illustrations in the book by artist Jamie Hogan are wonderful, to, and certified as authentic by Mitali’s Bengali mother, Madhusree Bose. It would be fun to read this book aloud and then have the little girls create some of their own alpanas, or an approximation thereof.

For those of you who homeschool and use Sonlight, this book needs to be part of the Kindergarten level emphasis on world cultures. It would make a great read aloud book at that level, or it would be perfectly suited as a reader for second or third graders. In fact, I need to email the people at Sonlight and tell them about Rickshaw Girl. I think they’ll love it.

Book Dads

Rickshaw Girl is about a girl from Bangladesh who decides to help her father make money. Traditionally poor Bangladeshi children attend school for a couple of years and then leave to help their parents. Boys go out and make money; girls help their mothers with household tasks. However, Naima’s family only has two daughters and no sons, so there is no one to help her father, a rickshaw driver, earn enough money to pay for the new rickshaw he has purchased.

While this story is more about of Naima’s entrepreneurial schemes than her family relationships, the father is shown as encouraging, rather than discouraging, his daughter’s non-traditional goals. In fact, if I have any complaint about this book, it is that, despite being a fairly realistic portrait of poor life in an under-developed country, all of the men we meet are encouraging of women and girls doing non-traditional things. A more traditional adversary might have made given Naima’s story more depth.

Still, this is a fun story and gives a first-world reader some insights into third-world urban life without being didactic. Some things, like women-run micro banks, are mentioned tantalizingly in passing, giving an interested child ideas to investigate on their own. Written for the middle-grades, it is a short chapter book, which should appeal to reluctant readers with an interest in foreign countries. All the Bangladeshi words are explained and illustrated in a glossary at the back.

The illustrations throughout the book are wonderful. Part of the story deals with traditional Bangladeshi arts, and the illustrations really help to give you a sense of what their art is like. In addition, they are black-and-white line drawings which reach out of the page and demand to be colored. So, after your children have read and enjoyed the story, do let them get out their crayons and colored pencils and add their own touch to the book.

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Naima lives in Bangladesh with her parents and her younger sister. Her father owns a rickshaw; Naima's time at school is over because now it's her younger sister's turn. Naima is a talented alpana painter; but she longs to be able to help her father. Naima's friend, Saleem, can help his father by driving their family rickshaw to both earn extra money and give his father a rest. But Naima's family has only daughters, so her father struggles alone. What can Naima do?

I know what we are all thinking: forget traditional gender roles, Naima will drive the rickshaw!

Naima thinks that, too. But she's never driven one, has no experience, so promptly wrecks it; instead of helping her family, she has increased the financial burdens. While her parents are angry, it's an anger of puzzlement, of concern, of financial worry; but they are also loving parents, and they move on. When aunts start making an issue of it, Mother stands up for her daughter: "Everybody makes mistakes. She was only trying to help." Naima needs to contribute; and she decides that since she is a talented alpana painter, why not work for the rickshaw repair shop in exchange for them fixing her father's rickshaw? Once again, Naima is going against tradition; but this isn't as drastic as being out in public driving a rickshaw; plus, it's something that is founded on Naima's existing talent. This is the solution that ends up working (with a few twists I won't spoil). I liked this solution because Naima pushes against the gender boundaries of the culture but doesn't break them or trash them; it remains realistic to her society and her place in her world. Also, since Naima works within her culture, the book respects that culture; Naima's world is never shown as "other" or "less" because of these defined gender roles.

Rickshaw Girl is about tradition but it takes place in the present. Naima draws water from a well, her mother wears traditional dress, but there are also radios and a television. The solution also involves microfinance; or, banks loaning small sums of money to invest in ways to make more money, and how this helps women start small businesses and this assists the war against poverty. They are such small sums, and for people with no money, that traditional banks don't make these loans. Yet, they make a world of difference for the people who do benefit from them. (And may I say that I love a book that shows this in a way anyone can understand.)

Another thing I liked about this -- in addition to that Naima stretches the rules but doesn't trample on them -- is that this book is realistic about eduction versus art and trade as a means to make a living and be happy. The family can only afford school fees for one daughter; Naima's schooling is over. The idea of further schooling is not realistic; and the book doesn't hold that unrealistic answer out as the only answer. The answer for Naima creating a better life for herself and her family lies in her existing talents and in discovering a way to successfully market that talent.

Other good things: Hogan's black and white illustrations are old-fashioned, illustrating the story but also using designs at chapter headings to pull the reader into the story more fully. I was reminded of books I had read when I was a kid. While this is a great "window" to another culture, it is never didactic or textbooky and always remains a great story; there is a glossary to help out with unfamiliar words; and notes and acknowledgments to give further infomation about the story and the research by the author.

Gather Round the Table

Rickshaw Girl is a captivating story that brings the reader into a story about the eldest daughter of a family and her drive to use her talents to help per poverty stricken family earn more money, enabling her overworked father to rest more and her mother and sister can afford a much needed new outfit and schooling. The story shows Naima's challenge to break through her culture's stereotypes while giving the reader a brief glimpse of the Indian culture.

Info Dad

Rickshaw Girl reads much like a fairy tale, too, or like a legend drawn from Bangladesh, where India-born Mitali Perkins lived for a time and from which her ancestors came. Yet this is a thoroughly modern story, although one set in a part of the world with which most Americans have little familiarity. Like her earlier book, Monsoon Summer, this short novel is about the changing roles of girls and young women in parts of the world still very much bound by tradition. Monsoon Summer was set in India and had a long-distance romance (a very long distance: India to the United States) at its heart. Rickshaw Girl is simpler and in some ways more charming, with the straightforwardness and exotic setting combining to produce its fairy-tale quality. It is about a young girl named Naima who loves to create the traditional patterns that are painted in Bangladeshi homes for special occasions. The book is festooned with these alpanas and with other sensitively rendered drawings by Jamie Hogan. As for the story: despite Naima’s skill with designs, she is not permitted to earn money to help her family – this is rural Bangladesh, after all, where gender roles are fixed. How Naima finds a way to stay true to her culture while continuing to produce the art she loves – and finds a way to help her family after all – is the subject of the book. Perkins tells it believably, caringly and with sensitivity both to old traditions and to the modern forces that are bringing change, however slowly, to so many parts of the world.

Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Blog

Ten-year-old Naima lives in a rural Bangladeshi village with her mother, father, and younger sister. Being the older sister means she has more chores, more household responsibilities, and less time to play with her friend Saleem. Moreover, he's a boy-and at her age, it's not considered seemly to play with boys anymore. It's not much consolation that she's the best painter of alpanas--traditional patterns drawn in rice-powder paint-in her village. What good are alpanas? Naima wonders. They don't earn her any money to help her family pay for her father's new rickshaw, or to help her sister to go to school. Her father says a daughter is as good as a son, but she isn't allowed to work to help her family. So Naima hatches a plan: if a daughter is as good as a son, then surely she, like Saleem, could help her father by earning fares driving his rickshaw. One afternoon she decides to try her idea while her father is resting. But disaster ensues. She loses control of the rickshaw and it crashes into some bushes.

How can she make everything right again, and help her father earn the money to fix the rickshaw, when her only real talent is painting alpanas? I don't want to give away the ending to Mitali Perkins' charming middle-grade book Rickshaw Girl (upcoming Feb 2007), but the secret lies in the modernization of Bangladeshi society, more prominent roles for women in village life, and the idea of microfinance providing small loans to village residents. And the end is truly heartwarming and uplifting-I was cheering for Naima's pluck, her friend Saleem's loyalty, and, especially, her father's support of his daughter in a traditional society where the idea of women working outside the home is often greeted with suspicion.

Less and less often is this the case, fortunately. It reminded me of the fact that my own father, born in Pakistan, could have been equally traditional about the role of women. But, like Naima, I've been lucky to have a father who never made me feel as though there was anything I couldn't accomplish simply because I was female. I hope the idea of microfinance and microcredit spreads throughout the world to other needy societies, and that women around the world begin to experience the same kind of blossoming opportunities. Perkins' book will go a long way towards informing young readers-and their parents-of these possibilities.

I also want to add a quick word about the illustrations by Jamie Hogan, which are deceptively simple and sketch-like but are just as charming as the story, incorporating some traditional alpana designs. This would be a great addition to any collection of multicultural books.


Ten-year-old Naima lives in Bangladesh, where her father earns a meager living as a rickshaw driver, despite the many hours he works. With the best of intentions, Naima tries pedaling her father’s new rickshaw, determined to prove she can handle the job and help out. Instead, she accidentally crashes the vehicle. Burdened with guilt despite her family’s reassurances, Naima decides to turn to something she knows she can do—painting and design—-to help pay for the rickshaw repairs. Since it goes against her cultural traditions for a woman or girl to work for money, she takes the plan she had for pedaling the rickshaw--posing as a boy—-and puts it to a different use. Determined to convince the owner of the new rickshaw repair shop in the neighboring village to hire her to decorate rickshaws, Naima discovers—-to her astonishment-—that the owner is a woman. She opened her business with the support of a loan from the Woman’s Bank, and she offers Naima the opportunity to work—-as a girl-—and develop her talents. Mitali Perkins introduces Bangla culture and customs in the context of an appealing, child-centered story that also highlights changing attitudes and times. An author’s note provides additional information on microfinance—the system that has enabled small businesses throughout Bangladesh to start up and thrive, including many run by women.

Love To Read

In a world in which it is believed that men should do the hard labor while women stay in the kitchen, it is difficult for a young girl named Naima to follow the rules. Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins and Jamie Hogan, is a book about the Indian culture that is fascinating because the young, strong main character has a heart of gold and courage that most anyone doesn't always have. The beautiful art and the encouraging words of this story are what stick out most to me, and I would recommend it to anyone who needs just a little inspiration.

The Indian culture is one that I have some experience with. Still, I know my awareness of the culture is lacking and could be improved upon. The illustrations in this novel are very meaningful to me because they allow for me to see into this Indian world. Page 28 of the book shows a detailed drawing of Naima sticking out her tongue at her best friend. In the picture, the boy is driving off in a rickshaw. Never before had I even heard of a rickshaw, but seeing the extremely detailed picture combined with an authentic-looking Indian dress made me feel as though I were in the scene with them. I think this is very important for a story of a different culture because only a few people really know the traditions and ways of life. For someone like me really searching to understanding the different traditions of different people, I think the illustrations do a great job of allowing for that. In addition, I had never seen or heard of an alpana painting before. This beautiful outdoor artwork that the women take up is a tradition that keeps the landscape of homes up-to-date and catchy. One example of the work is shown on page 49 of the story. It was helpful for me to understand what sort of characteristics this art entails, and I only wished that I had half as much skill! Beyond the art, however, is the encouraging message this story leaves.

Naima lives in a classically male-dominated society, but when she realizes that she needs to help her family, she needs to move past the male domination. Naima takes her own risks (willing to and understanding that she might fail) in order to save her family. What is most important to her is the comfort of her father and the contentedness of her mother and sister. While Naima stumbles along the way (by nearly ruining her family's rickshaw), she realizes that she has the strength to make up for her own mistakes and bring honor and peace to her family. I admire Naima because she ventures off into the unknown with an open heart. She knows that she might fail again, but her love for her family is well worth that risk. I hope that many girls can be inspired by her. No one's life is laid out exactly for them. Anyone gets to choose their own path and decide what makes them most happy in the end. This book is a short story with a happy ending that I would read over and over when I need that inspiration.

The artwork in this story really helped me to become more involved with the words. I think with the two combined, this is a story that will reach out to many children. Some might not understand the message that is to get out of your comfort zone, and some might be too scared to do so, but Naima is living under very harsh circumstances and manages to make things work for herself. I think many of us can do the same with the right amount of smarts and courage. I think this book is important for two reasons: for its seemingly authentic cultural perspective as well as for its message that can reach out to girls all over the world. Not everything, even in America, is perfectly equal. There are improvements to be made, and if a girl feels empowered enough to be part of that change, many things can come of it. Naima is a shining example that change is well worth it. I hope her story reaches out to people just as much as it did for me!

Children's Books @ Suite 101

Mitali Perkins' book Rickshaw Girl is a children's novel set in Bangladesh, a small Asian country bordering India and Myanmar. Its main protagonist is Naima, a young girl whose one wish is to provide some financial relief to her poor family. Supporting characters include her parents and sister Rashida as well as best friend Saleem and the owner of the local rickshaw repair shop.

Young Rickshaw Girl Wants to Help Family

Ten-year-old Naima is the most talented artist in her village who is especially good at drawing alpana designs, geometric floral patterns made during celebrations and holidays. She even won a prize the year before for her beautiful artwork.

This year however, instead of re-entering the competition, Naima decides to find a way to somehow help out her family financially. She wishes she could work like her friend Saleem, who drives his father's rickshaw, a bicycle attached to a large seat used to carry passengers.

From this wish springs forth Naima's secret plan to disguise herself as a boy so that she can also drive her father's rickshaw. When Naima's scheme inevitably fails to work, this leads her to realize that she shouldn't really change herself after all just to work outside.

Rickshaw Girl Teaches The Importance of Caring For One's Family

One benefit for youngsters from reading this book is that it imparts a valuable lesson, that of always showing kindness and concern toward one's family. Naima embodies this concern well when she willingly chooses to give up her favorite hobby in order to allow her family's needs to come first.

In her childlike way Naima wishes to help her father take more breaks from work, to buy her mother a new silk sari, and to see her sister indulging in her favorite Bangladeshi sweets called roshogollah. Naima's sense of compassion for her poor family is thus apparent throughout the story. Her character can serve to teach young readers that charity should always begin at home.

Rickshaw Girl Teaches Readers About Bangladeshi Culture

The book's other benefit is that it provides young non-Bengali readers a peek into life in rural Bangladesh. As someone of Bengali descent, Perkins knows how to depict her characters' lives and culture in the most simple matter-of-fact way so that it comes off seeming more ordinary and familiar than just exotic and strange.

In her Author's Note, Perkins explains that she wants readers to discover that Bangladesh is more than just a poor densely populated country occasionally struck by cyclones. Since it is rare to find Bangladeshi characters, from poor backgrounds at that, in modern Western children's literature, Perkins understands that she has to write the best story possible introducing these characters' lives and culture to Western readers.

Perkins includes a helpful glossary of Bangladeshi words used throughout the novel and her book even contains some attractive illustrations of various cultural items referred to throughout such as the rickshaw, alpana designs, sari, lungi, etc.

Rickshaw Girl's Portrayal Of Bangladeshi Gender Roles Is Too Simplistic

One of the book's major flaws is that it doesn't provide a well-rounded picture of actual Bangladeshi gender roles. According to the book, poor Bangladeshi females are not allowed to work outside the home, which is not completely true.

Perkins does not reveal that while most Bangladeshi females are indeed expected to take care of the household, many of them do also work outside the home, including the poor.The majority of jobs taken on by poor Bangladeshi females are low-wage positions performed under exploitative conditions, such as farming and manual labor, factory work, street peddling, and domestic work.

Poor young girls Naima's age are also expected to work low-wage jobs to support their families, since child labor laws are hardly ever enforced in Bangladesh. So Naima could actually work, only it would involve some form of menial labor. Thus, instead of having Naima simply wishing to work, Perkins could have shown her wishing to work in another profession. Rickshaw driving is a predominantly male occupation that could be contrasted within the story's context, to what she would have most likely become, such as a maid.

Rickshaw Girl Touts The Concept Of Microcredit

Through her simple and engaging story, Perkins introduces young readers to the notion of microcredit, extremely small loans given to the poor in order to help them attain self-employment. Microcredit loans were first popularized by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, whose Grameen Bank is famous for giving out such loans to poor rural Bangladeshi women.

In the story, Perkins provides a realistic example of how microcredit loans function. While disguised as a boy, Naima discovers that the local rickshaw repair shop in her village is owned by a woman, who reopened her late father's shop after receiving a microcredit loan.

In her Author's Note Perkins expounds upon the virtues of microcredit; the one major drawback to her effusive praise of it, however, is that Perkins makes it seem as though it is the only workable solution towards combating developing nations' poverty.

It would have been better for her to point out that microcredit loans can only go so far towards reducing a nation's poverty. In her article, "Microcredit,microresults" (Left Business Observer, 1996)Nina Neff points out that what is actually necessary towards eradicating poverty is a politically accountable government that is serious about implementing comprehensive policies addressing job creation, education, training and social welfare. Perkins thus offers only a one-sided view of microcredit, without admitting that the program has its flaws.

Pros And Cons Of Rickshaw Girl

Rickshaw Girl teaches young readers an important lesson about the virtues of caring for one's family. The second benefit for youngsters is that they can learn certain aspects of Bangladeshi culture. The only problems with this book are that it misrepresents the reality of Bangladeshi gender roles and offers a one-sided view with regards to the concept of microcredit.

If parents and teachers are willing to discuss the book's shortcomings with their children, then Rickshaw Girl can provide satisfactory reading to youngsters. This book is suitable for readers aged 7-10. In addition, the book's publisher Charlesbridge has included a handy online Discussion and Activity Guide to go along with it.


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Learn more about microfinance and Dr. Muhammad Yunus, who shares the 2006 Noble Prize with the Grameen Bank "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below."


ISBN: 978-1-58089-308-4

ISBN: 978-1-58089-309-1

ISBN: 978-1-60734-507-7 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-140-6 PDF
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Ages: 7-10
Page count: 96
6 1/8 x 8 3/4

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