In an evocative and powerful picture book, Ann Malaspina explains the world of Bangladesh in language that even young elementary students can understand.  And in the process, those students will learn about the transformative power of education.

The narrator, Yasmin, is a young girl who lives with her family in Dhaka.  She and her sister work all day breaking up bricks to be mixed into mortar.  Their father works as a rickshaw driver and their mother works cleaning houses.  The family used to live in the country, but their old home was destroyed by a cyclone.  They moved to the city in an effort to begin again, since they had nothing left.

Life in the city is also difficult.  With all members of the family working, they have enough for food, but not enough for the girls to go to school.  Yasmin desperately wants to learn to read so that she can make sense of all the signs and books that she sees around her. But she knows that her dream can’t happen without effort.  She begins to work extra hard at the brickyard, and her boss gives her some extra coins.  She keeps working to gain the extra bonuses so that she can get her prize—a picture book from one of the booksellers. 

When she and sister return home with the book, Yasmin shares it with her family.  The reverence they show for the book demonstrates just how important and valued such a thing is to this family.  As a result of the book, Yasmin’s parents shift their goals.  Now they too begin to work extra hard:  Abba begins an additional rickshaw route and Amma begins to make baskets to sell in the market.  Soon, they surprise Yasmin and her sister Mita with the best gift of all—a chance to go to school

The lush illustrations and the simple language of the book work well to convey both the desperation and the determination of this family. It depicts poverty without pity.  I strongly recommend this book for any parent or school library.  My experience is the children learn best by exploring how other children live in the world.  Not surprisingly, unless they are taught otherwise, they assume all children have the same sort of life experiences.  Because this book provides an important and valuable contrast, children will likely have many questions, which the author’s afterword can help the adults answer.