This Indian import touts both cultural heritage and women’s rights.
Born just a few minutes apart, a 3 1/2-kilo girl named Sundari and a 500-kilo elephant calf named Lakshmi are raised as “twins.” Their fathers hold important positions in the king’s service: Sundari’s father is the chief mahout, or elephant trainer, and Lakshmi’s father, Drona, is the majestic bull that leads the Dussehra procession in Mysore. Sundari dreams of becoming a mahout like her father, but as a female, she is expected to become a palace dancer. In this folk tale–like story characterized by sophisticated vocabulary and beautifully patterned artwork, the Indian girl secretly practices being a mahout with her beloved elephant. When Drona becomes too ill to carry the howdah on his back and lead the procession and his sons are considered “disappointingly ordinary,” Sundari dares to recommend Lakshmi to take the old elephant’s place. And when a respected elder notes that Lakshmi hasn’t been trained to carry the howdah, he faces wrath from both Lakshmi’s father and the Raja when he suggests Sundari for the job. A creative queen intervenes, devising a plan to turn Sundari into the first female mahout. While some Indian terms can be gleaned from textual clues, adult intervention may be needed for Western readers.
An attractive and important read, particularly in light of current events in India. (Picture book. 6-9)