I am a big fan of books that represent different nuggets of cultures. As evidenced by my read aloud YouTube Channel, I specifically go seeking out stories that cross cultures and engage readers across differences (and similarities).
One such book is Three Wise Monkeys by Divya Kadam and Anita Jain.
As a kid, I was always familiar with Gandhiji ke teen bandar or Gandhiji’s three monkeys. To see that concept represented in a story book for kids was thrilling. Turns out the original idea, along with the monkeys, was carved on a gift given to Gandhi by a Japanese monk. Known as mizaru, kikazaru, and iwazaru; or known in English as ‘See no evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil’, these ideas were ingrained in young Indian minds as a way of life. In this book, the authors weave a series of mini-incidents that enable the monkeys to quietly insert themselves in the lives of people in the midst of doing something “evil” but who then catch themselves and self-correct their behaviors thanks to the monkeys’ stealthy interventions.
South Asian kids are underrepresented in children’s books. That’s a fact. Stories that represent aspects of Indian culture and/or values that are not related to festivals and religious celebrations are more alarmingly conspicuous by their absence. Books written by Indian authors on Indian themes for Indian kids (and of course, whoever else reads them) are an even rarer genre in terms of availability in the U.S. which is why this book is a welcome addition.
What I liked about this book:
In Three Wise Monkeys, authors Divya Kadam and Anita Jain take classic ideals and relate them to everyday plausible scenarios. In so doing, they are able to incorporate Gandhi’s lessons into relatable practices. I liked the watercolor illustrations and the simplicity of language. In general, the story keeps the readers’ interests and conveys meaningful messages. I especially liked the trivia and pieces of information on the three monkeys at the end of the book.
What gave me a little pause:
Needless to say, the authors have gone to wonderful lengths to simplify the concepts of See no evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil into something kids of this generation will understand and appreciate.
However, I found the rhyming to be forced at times. The tense of the sentences went from present to past suddenly and likewise, the structure of sentences appeared compromised for the sake of rhyming. For example, the opening sentences are, “Bapu is spinning cloth on a wheel, Kasturba Ma walked in with their meal.” I would think the second line should read, “Kasturba Ma walks in with their meal.” There are a few other minor areas like the above that stand out which made me have to read the book at least three times to completely grasp at the ideas as they were being explained and retold in the story.
Overall though, I enjoyed reading this book to my kids (6 and 4) because it was about concepts I had learned as a kid back in India. How applicable these concepts are to present-day lives is a different discussion altogether. I would much rather teach my kids that should they see, hear, or speak “evil” (how is “evil” being defined?), they do the right thing and either bring it to the attention of the right authorities or apologize for engaging in such actions/behaviors. In any case, I would certainly not encourage passively accepting “evil” by turning a blind eye, deaf ear, or muted lips. However, as general theories of goodness, ‘See no evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil’ may be good places to start for young kids.
Note: ThePhdMama received a complimentary copy of the book for the purposes of a review.