I love the early hours when I drop off Minal to school. She always has new philosophies that she’s exploring, and we manage to cover a large terrain during our 12-minute drive.
Today, she asks me, “Ammi, is there a king in China?”
I respond with my standard question to her questions: “What do you think?”
She shakes her her head. “No.”
“Why do you think?”
“Because they have a president,” she says.
I lower the windows and a cool breeze blows through the car. Together, we observe the growing numbers of cars, buses and pedestrians along West Gray Street.
She pipes up again: “Why are there more poor people in Karachi than there are in Houston?”
“Hmm. Why do you think?”
This time she does not have a handy response. “Just tell me!”
We then talk about what “poverty” means and how we can identify who’s poor and who is not.
This time she has an answer: “People who are poor have sad faces. And their faces are also long.”
We have reached her school by now, and before she hops out of the car, she reads a passage from a Magic Tree House that she’s been reading. I don’t remember the details, but there’s something about how once in China scholars were valued, and then people stopped supporting their words and their learning.
Long after I’ve dropped her off, I find myself thinking about messages that are embedded in children’s books. It makes sense that the Magic Tree House series, published and widely read in the US, would underscore mainstream US readers’ views about China.
This conversation gets me thinking about another children’s book, a Newbery Medal winner that I recently purchased for Minal, but one I gave away after re-reading: Island of the Blue Dolphins centers around a young girl abandoned by her family on an island that’s invaded by enemies in a red ship (Russians). She’s ultimately saved by sailors on a ship with white sails (no surprise: Americans from California). The book was published in 1960. As a young child reading the text in Karachi, I didn’t quite digest why an indigenous girl would be shown as being “saved” by sailors on a white ship or what the red vs white conflict meant – even though I was raised in a politically aware family. But now, I certainly do understand. I would rather Minal read this book at a time in her life when we can talk about all aspects of the text.