Values: Trust, Respect, Friendship, Love, Empathy, Responsibility.
I had been excited to read this book ever since I found out about it. Firstly, because I love an adventure book and find children are almost always invested in knowing how the adventure concludes; and secondly, because I lived and taught English in Sri Lanka and will always have a soft spot for the beautiful country and its generous people.
In this adventure, Chaya is our fiesty heroine and the story begins with her stealing the Queen's jewels from the royal palace. As the story develops, we see Chaya managing to outwit the palace prison guards to free her friend, who has been wrongly accused of stealing the jewels, and in the process enabling all of the prisoners to escape! As if this was not dramatic enough, Chaya and her friends ride on the King's elephant Ananda deep into the Sri Lankan jungle where they face bandits, leeches, jaguars and end up trying to overthrow the King himself...
This story has a Robin Hood-style theme because although Chaya may at first appear reckless and wild, the reader discovers that she only steals to make other people's lives better. She gives her treasures to families who need medical help or need their houses repairing, for example. This makes for an interesting discussion with children - is stealing always wrong? What if the motives are right? Does it still make the thief a bad person? I would discuss the Values of trust and respect at this point. Could you trust Chaya if she was your friend? How does she treat Nour and Neel in this story? Does she steal from them? It is also an important discussion around friendship. The BBC P4C videos 'What Makes Me, Me?' series discuss issues like this and the videos are suitable for both class and assembly times. I have used them with KS1 and KS2.
In the book, the King ends up being overthrown by his younger sister who returns and empathises with the local villagers who live their lives in fear of the King and his cruel punishments. Discussing empathy is an important factor when discussing leadership with children - are leaders people who control or people who empathise with their subjects? If your class use Class Dojo, at this point it could be useful to reference the Big Ideas videos where Mojo becomes the class leader but abuses his position and becomes very bossy an dominant. In the end, he loses his friends.
In the story, we also see the Value of love. We see Chaya realising how her thieving has led to her best friend being sentenced to death and her absolute drive to rescue him, even if this means she is executed herself. We also see how she saves Nour's life; the girl who she appears to despise at the start of the book, but who becomes a invaluable friend by the end. Chaya's father displays love too through the forgiveness he shows his daughter regardless of her crimes.
The Value of responsibility can also be opened up through this book; Chaya sees that the King has a responsibility to look after his people and when she sees people suffering, she decides to take matters into her own hands - even if it means stealing. Who has responsibility for the poorest in our societies? How is this different in England compared to other countries, such as Sri Lanka? Who has a global responsibility for the poorest on Earth?
I really like the way this book is set in Sri Lanka; it is not a book we see represented very often and having books set in different cultures and landscapes different to our own opens up a whole host of opportunities for discussion. One of the first schools I taught at had a relatively-large Sri Lankan population and I know they would have loved to see their own cultural background referenced in a class book. I also love how the main character, Chaya, is atypical in that she is a girl (not from a wealthy background) who is outspoken and values helping other over her own safety and the law. It is so important that children see themselves represented in different books and in different ways! I feel this book will do just that for many children.
If you would also like this on your Values bookshelf at home or in school, you can purchase your copy cheaply on Amazon or at many other bookshops. You can also follow the author, Nizrana Farook on Twitter: @NizRite
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