A rat learns to bargain in this picture book from India.
At first glance, this story starring Chooheram, a rat living on the Punjab plains, looks like a perfect match in the push for increased diversity. It contains Indian references—“roti,” “palanquin,” milking a buffalo—and the richly textured illustrations exude an authentic feel. It also reveals a value system out of whack with the Western mainstream. Chooheram, digging underground during a rainstorm, finds a dry root. He gives it to a man trying to light a fire to make roti for his hungry children. Grateful, the man gives Chooheram a roti. Wonderful! Readers are learning about generosity and helping others. After a few more trades with other people, Chooheram acquires a buffalo, which he then trades for a human bride. What? Did this story just imply that females are possessions? Chooheram, peremptorily, sends his bride to the city to sell plums, where, thankfully, her mother retrieves her. At the denouement, Chooheram vows “never again would he make a bargain. For a dry root, he felt, was so much better than a bride.” To be clear: the book’s design and illustrations are wonderful; even the writing has clever moments. But the implication that women and girls are goods to be traded goes effectively unquestioned, beyond the bride’s clear unhappiness with her new rat husband.
Steer clear of this one. (Picture book. 5-8)