Reviewed by Janine Kitson

by Uma Krishnaswami
Scholastic Australia, 2013

Book Uncle and Me is about a girl’s determination and courage to save a free lending library on the chaotic, broken pavements of an Indian city.

Yasmin, an avid reader, is devastated to learn that her friend, Book Uncle, has received an order to close his library unless he pays for a permit, which of course he cannot afford. With determination and courage Yasmin leads a campaign involving classmates, friends, family, and neighbours to write letters to candidates standing in the mayoral election demanding that they reverse the decision.

Beautifully written, it captures a child’s world viewpoint that attempts to make sense of friendship, bullying, family, politics and leadership.

Yasmin is a highly motivated, curious and intelligent child whose goal is to read one book a day. This passion motivates her to fight to save her beloved library. The book captures rich and idiosyncratic descriptions of the people who live in Yasmin’s block of apartments, and its neighbours such as the fruit sellers, the market stallholders, the school bus driver and the local election candidates.

Book Uncle and Me eloquently captures the rituals of childhood friendship. It is full of wisdom and gently explores how the tension between friends often has nothing to do with the friendship, but with other underlying issues such as family problems. It beautifully describes Yasmin’s insight into how often it is her own careless words that can do the most damage — and her maturity in realising that she has the power to control them.

The book celebrates the power of literacy. It describes the thrill and excitement that comes when active citizens fight for something they believe and affirms how one’s activism can inspire others to act. It shows how literacy is a key to freedom and empowerment.

It is a positive and affirming book that celebrates the act of reading. The book describes the complex nature of reading, which is an interactive exchange between the reader and the text and not about passively decoding a text. It affirms the richness of narrative texts that have multiple layers of meanings, and which cannot be categorised into simple text types.

It contains one of the best descriptions I have read for a long time about what good leadership is — “A true leader seeks to help those who are doing good” [page 89].

A charming, uplifting and inspiring book! Beautifully illustrated. A wonderful affirmation — that children do have the tenacity and power to create a better world!

Suitable for upper primary. Available for borrowing from Federation Library.

Janine Kitson teaches at West Ryde PS.