Title: Rickshaw Girl
Author: Mitali Perkins
Illustrator: Jamie Hogan
Year: 2008 (paperback)
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 4.3
Concepts: entrepreneurs, human resources, loans, microfinance, barter, scarcity
Review: 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 Without enough money to pay for school fees, her parents had already withdrawn Naima from school, and now her younger sister faced the same fate.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. Naima longed to help ease the family’s financial burden so he would not risk getting sick again from working such long hours. Perhaps they could then afford a few niceties, such as a new silk saree for Mother and candies for her sister.
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, leads her to a woman-owned business, and enables her to learn a new trade.
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.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children