At today’s virtual Read Around the World book club meeting, we took a tour of the Sundarbans in West Bengal, India and discussed the book Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins!
Mitali Perkins was born in Kolkata, West Bengal, (also known as Calcutta), which is a few hours’ drive away from the Sunderbans region where this book is set. The Sunderbans is an amazing mangrove forest and is one of the only natural habitats for the Royal Bengal Tiger. In the book, a young boy named Neel is on the hunt for a threatened tiger cub, hoping to find her before poachers do. And unfortunately, his own father is on the other side of that hunt, working for the poacher. How it ends you’ll have to read to find out!
We started our meeting by converting our names into Bengali script, by typing them into this online dictionary: http://www.english-bangla.com/bntoen
I showed the kids some pictures of India and the many states and many languages spoken there:
Then we zoomed into the Sundarbans:
We learned a bit of Bangla, including words like Didi (sister), Baba (father), Neel (blue) and Sundari (beautiful).
We watched a video of people searching the rivers for weeks trying to find a tiger:
Here’s another great video of the animals in the Sundarbans:
We learned about how people prepare the Ilish fish that they catch there:
We even learned about some modern-day “Tiger boy”s (actually, they’re called “Tiger scouts”!) who travel from the Bangladeshi part of the Sundarbans to the Indian part to educate the villagers about the importance of limiting their fishing and hunting so as not to deprive tigers of all their food sources, and the importance of not cutting down the sundari trees that all of the ecosystem relies upon.
We also read a poem by Rabindranath Tagore:
In the book, the main character Neel loves Bangla and English poetry, and Tagore wrote both — he is generally considered one of the greatest writers to come out of India, and is revered throughout Bengal and Bangladesh. He did many good things for the people, including the creation of a school where everyone could study, whether male or female, Hindu or Christian, rich or poor. The school is called Shantiniketan, “Abode of Peace,” and here I’m linking to a documentary made in the 1940s that shows what students learned there.
Tagore also wrote one of India’s most popular protest songs, and I wanted to show that video but we were having audio difficulties:
Well, our next stop for Read Around the World is going to be Berlin, Germany! We’ll be reading Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kastner, and discussing the book on July 17th at 3 pm. This is a classic caper about a boy named Emil who gets robbed while on a train, and enlists the help of a large group of Berlin kids to try to track down the criminal and get his money back. If you like mystery/adventure stories, I think you’ll enjoy this one! It’s got a lot of fun humor in it, too.