Kali and the Rat Snake written by Zai Whitaker and illustrated by Srividya Natarajan was one of the hardcover picture books Serena gave The Girl for Christmas. It came in a package of multicultural books, and The Girl and I have enjoyed reading books that take place in other countries and teach us a little bit about other cultures.
In Kali and the Rat Snake, we had a chance to visit a village in India. The main character, Kali, is proud that he belongs to the Irula tribe and that his father is one of the most famous snake catchers in his village. However, Kali feels like the other children in his class look down on him because he is an Irula and because of his father's profession. He trudges to school every day, not wanting to go to school, where he has no friends. He doesn't want to stand out, but it is hard to hide that he's a good student. The ways of his tribe make him different than the other students; for instance, he brings fried termites as a snack -- his favorite -- but he sits away from the other children for fear they will make fun of him. But when an unexpected visitor enters the classroom and wreaks havoc, Kali is not afraid to take action, and the results change his life.
Kali and the Rat Snake teaches children about acceptance, how they should embrace who they are and be willing to reach out to people different from themselves. Differences can make children feel uncomfortable, but if they are not afraid or arrogant, they can open themselves up to new experiences and find that despite these differences, everyone is really the same. Everyone longs for acceptance and desires friendship.
In addition to the beautiful lesson and the glimpse of a culture foreign to us, we enjoyed Kali and the Rat Snake for the illustrations. They are bright and vivid, and they really help to put you in the scene. My daughter was able to easily read the story by herself, but we read aloud together, alternating pages. The story captured our interest from the first page, and even though she was able to guess what would happen after reading only a few pages, we thought it was a great story and would recommend it to other young readers and their parents.
Here's what The Girl (age 9) had to say:
This book is about a kid named Kali who has no friends. His dad catches snakes. He hates school so he walks there slowly. I liked this book because it shows what other people's schools look like. All the children learned to be friends and don't make fun of other people. Other people should read this book.
Disclosure: We received Kali and the Rat Snake as a gift.