Monika Schroder, Author
Frances Foster Books, Fiction, 2010
Suitable for: Ages 10 -14 years
Themes: Indian boy wants to study math, Poverty, Child labor, Hindu culture
Award: 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year
Schroder has written a powerful, compelling and inspirational novel about twelve-year-old boy from India, who has a gift with numbers. Akash sees numbers as patterns in his head. He desperately wants to learn more from the village teacher, but he knows more than his teacher. Akash shares his dreams of applying for a scholarship to go to a city school with his Bapu (father). He is told that if the gods want him to have an education, he will. He prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, to grant his wish and to help him.
But, life deals Akash a blow when Bapu develops a fever and dies. His Dadima (grandmother) sends him to work in the landlord’s rock quarry to pay off the family debt. When Akash mathematically figures out that the landlord is charging interest on the loans, he realizes he will never pay off the family debt. Late one night he hops a train headed to New Delhi to pursue his dreams. He is now a street child rummaging for food and stealing to survive. He wonders if Saraswati has abandoned him. The streets of New Delhi hold unimaginable dangers, and temptations. Akash must find a way to make money to pay for a math tutor. His dreams of attending school present him with some difficult choices. He can follow a street-smart boy, Rohit, and earn a lot of money dishonestly. Or he can work with Ramesh, a kind elderly newspaper vendor, who sees something very special in Akash. He remembers his last conversation with Bapu before he dies. “What you desire is on its way.”
Monika Schroder, an elementary school teacher in New Delhi for seven years, really captures the essence of India — its color, heat, smells, beauty, poverty and child labor practices — through the eyes of a very determined orphaned boy. In an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book she estimates there are between 100,000 to 500,000 street children. Schroder also says about 80 percent of the people in India practice Hinduism. There also is a glossary of Hindu words. “A boy like Akash has a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India,” said Schroder. “Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck achieves his goal against all odds.”