The Girl Who Stole an Elephant is a very welcome story from Nizrana Farook. Chaya steals from the rich to help the poor. This seems to work quite well as a form of wealth redistribution until she gets caught. Chaya and her companions then have to prove the injustices of the situation and win their village over before they lose their heads.
This story is a fast-paced chase across a landscape which is full of the rich details of Sri Lanka, the author’s homeland. It has a cinematic feel to the action, Mission Impossible for feisty girls. ‘Coconut-flower decorations tied along strings came crashing down as she ran through them, wrapping themselves around her like a trap. She tore them off and kept running’. This debut is a real page-turner, brimming with action and immediately engaging. Nuance is gradually added to the characters, and the message of standing up to inequalities is gently conveyed. It reminded me of some of my other favourite KS2 novels involving fearless female leads and the theme of unfairness: Philip Pullman’s The Fireworkmaker’s Daughter, Liz Flanagan’s Dragon’s Daughter and Jasbinder Bilan’s Asha and the Spirit Bird. So Farook’s story follows in a fine tradition.
I would have a copy or two in the school library to recommend to readers who like a feisty protagonist who doesn’t know when to hold her tongue. If you want a Guided Reading text that shows children what a good page-turner feels like, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant will work well. In this story, we are also not in the realms of fantasy but the palaces and jungles of Sri Lanka, so it opens up another area of the world to readers.
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