cover image Premlata and the Festival of Lights

Premlata and the Festival of Lights

Rumer Godden. Greenwillow Books, $15 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15136-2

Nearly 60 years after publishing her first novel, Godden remains a master of the form. This brief but vibrant story describes a poor Indian girl who dreams up a plan to surprise her mother and rescue the family's celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Since her father died, seven-year-old Premlata must work, her brother Ravi has had to quit school in order to tend their water buffalo and her mother, Mamoni, has sold everything-even their precious ""deepa"" festival lights. The story progresses briskly, as Prem is reprimanded by a gruff housekeeper, Paru Didi. Nursing her wounds, she is discovered by the kindly landlord who owns most of the village, and he gives her a bag of rupees so that her mother can buy deepas. But Prem decides to hitch a ride to the fair three miles away to buy the deepas herself, and, bewitched by all the stalls, she can't help spending all the money on treats and presents for her family. Godden's intimate, firsthand knowledge of India ensures inclusion of resplendent details important to children-the creamy taste of the Indian ice cream called kulfi, the whirling speed of a carousel pony and the enormous jingling red tassels on Rajah, the elephant. Though the story is set in a distant place (and time, apparently), Prem's own actions are timeless. The narrative itself has an invitingly old-fashioned tone, with plenty of straightforward exposition and comfortably clear characterizations. This well-turned tale is almost a primer on how to convey the exotic in seemingly effortless fashion. Ages 7-up. (Mar.)