BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Book Title: Asha & the Spirit Bird (available here)
Author: Jasbinder Bilan
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication Date: February 2019
Most Suitable For: Years 4-7
Reviewed By: Caroline Wood (@seawoodwrites), Library Manager
Jasbinder Bilan's debut novel has the perfect cover – her writing is as rich and bright as the wonderful illustration. Asha's story braids courage, friendship and the power of family beliefs together into a great adventure across India.
When money from Asha's father, working in the city, suddenly stops without word and their farm comes under threat from moneylenders, Asha and best friend Jeevan set off to find out what has happened. Accompanied by what Asha believes is the spirit of her grandmother in the form of a lamagaia bird, they travel far into the mountains and beyond, facing all kinds of danger from both animals and humans.
Asha carries enormous faith and hope with her, making this a positive, uplifting read despite the fact that Bilan is not afraid to show some of the poverty and human cruelty that exists side by side with the soaring beauty of India and the kindness of the people Asha and Jeevan meet along the way. Asha's love and trust in her family is very warming, which makes this book a true stand-out against the current crop of struggling families in middle grade novels at the moment.
The text is peppered with Hindi words and phrases, with a glossary at the beginning to aid the reader, and the balance is just right – there is enough new vocabulary to intrigue an enthusiastic reader, but not so much as to put anyone off. The book would sit well as a class read alongside an RE topic of Hinduism, delving into the stories and beliefs of the faith; or a geography topic covering India.
I would recommend Asha & The Spirit Bird to challenge readers from Y4 upwards; children who've enjoyed Jess Butterworth's books will particularly appreciate the setting. A refreshing read for those who are looking for something a bit different; and I suspect the story will find firm fans amongst those who recognise their own family backgrounds, too.
Curriculum Links: Religious Education, Geography
Many thanks to the publisher for sending us a review copy of this book and to Caroline for reviewing it.