April 09, 2013

A girl torn between nations stands up for what’s right

By Gloria Whelan
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All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens, Gloria Whelan’s stand-alone sequel to Small Acts of Amazing Courage, chronicles the adventures of a British girl with Indian allegiances. Set in 1921, the story features 17-year-old Rosalind’s struggle to respect her British military father while staying true to her passion for Indian independence. Raised in India, Rosalind believes in the Indian hartal, the Congress Party’s movement of resistance, and secretly plays teacher to her own school of Indian boys while she is supposed to be studying English literature.

Rosalind manages to escape her father’s discovery of and retribution for these small subversive acts, but when her family is invited to meet the Prince of Wales in Calcutta, Rosalind may not be able to stifle her unpatriotic opinions about India’s oppression. Entrusted with a letter from Gandhi to the Prince of Wales by her friend Max, she must decide whether to risk punishment and the shaming of her family in order to show the prince the true struggles of India that exist under the glittering façade of wealthy maharajas and exotic gaming expeditions he sees on his trip.

India was given its independence from Britain in 1947, a quarter-century after the setting of the book. By exploring this early time in history, Whelan, winner of the National Book Award for her 2001 book Homeless Bird, sheds light on the long battle for Indian independence often overlooked in children’s history books. It is an eye-opening look at the troubling practices of racism and oppression so prevalent at the time, told through the eyes of an insightful and caring girl.

By choosing to trust her instincts of right and wrong, Rosalind sets a courageous example for children of all ages. All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens may spark conversation about injustices almost one hundred years ago in a far away nation. More importantly, it can get kids thinking about what injustices are accepted in society now and what they may be able to do to bring about their own small changes to the world.

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