Title: The Susu Pals! | Author: Richa Jha | Illustrator: Alicia Souza | Publication Date: December 25, 2013 | Publisher: Snuggle With Picture Books | Pages: 32 | Recommended Ages: 4+ | Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Summary: Rhea and Dia are two best pals. They are the I-braid-your-hair-you-braid-mine pals, the let us-match-our-underpants pals, and the just-us-forever-and-ever pals. Then Isha moves in next door. Do they become three best pals? The Susu Pals (or the wee wee pals) is a rollicking ride through the crazy zany friendship of two- errr three soul mates in India!
My Thoughts: Meet The Susu Pals: Rhea and Dia. They are best buddies and they do everything together. They play together; they match their undies (referred to as “chaddis” in the story); they want to marry the same prince; they braid each other’s hair; and they go to the bathroom together. This all changes, when Dia has a new classmate and next-door neighbor, Isha. As the friendship between Dia and Isha grows, Rhea begins to feel left out.
For Rhea, life is not the same without her best friend. However, Dia quickly discovers that Isha is quite different from Rhea and that she prefers her friendship with Rhea. But, both girls are in for a surprise when they discover a third friend with whom they discover they have so much in common.
This book was written by an Indian author, Richa Jha and features Indian characters and a few Indian words (“chaddis” = underwear; “susu” = wee-wee). Outside of this, the story features interactions typical of any young children. What occurs to Rhea and Dia happens all the time in elementary and middle school. At the beginning of the story, Rhea and Dia are best friends until a third girl enters the picture, Isha. The book brilliantly depicts Rhea’s feelings about this as she slowly loses her best friend. But, importantly, Dia seeks out Rhea later in the story, because she discovers that she does not have as much in common with her “new” friend Isha as she did with Rhea.
Further, the author adds another twist to the story as Dia and Rhea forge a friendship with a young boy (Shiva) who, it turns out, they have MUCH in common with. The little boy has been following the girls watching the events unfold from a distance, clearly wanting to play with the girls. In the end, the three all play together. Since my daughter has been little, I have always reinforced the notion that she should be playing with boys and girls. As a result, some of her best friends are boys. I love the underlying message that sharing common interests, not sharing a similar gender, is a basic requirement of friendship.
In the end, I thought the author did a great job in helping children understand how friendships are formed and maintained. As you know, I have a daughter and she has been in both Dia’s and Rhea’s shoes. I think it is important for girls to understand that they should form friendships with people with whom they share common interests and that loyalty is of utmost importance.
I loved the illustrations – they are so much fun! I love the style of the accompanying pictures and I love the variation of font size and style. There are also little “I Spy” elements as some of the animals depcited in the story share their random thoughts. As we were reading the story and looking at the pictures, we were wondering why there was a boy in many of the pictures, but it all comes together in the end. As I’ve read the story again a second time, I picked up on some of the nuances of the story and pictures that I hadn’t caught the first time around. It is cleverly written and illustrated.
My Bottom Line: The Susu Pals! is a picture book about friendship and loyalty by Indian author Richa Jha. The experience of best buddies Rhea and Dia mirrors what frequently happens in real life – a third person comes along and befriends one of the pair leaving one friend out. The underlying message of this book is that friendships are formed based on common interest and that loyalty and forgiveness are an important part of friendship. I highly recommend this picture book in elementary classrooms wishing to feature characters from a different culture and to generate discussions about relationship and friendship skills. Ages 4+
For the Record…My Kids’ Quick Thoughts
I hesitate to ask my two children their opinion about this book because, being the right age and the wrong gender (my son) and the right gender but the wrong age (my daughter) they are really not part of the target audience. That being said, they sometimes surprise me. Read on…
What my 6 year-old son thinks: I liked the book. I liked the part where the two best friends get back together because it was sad when they were not friends. I thought it was funny when the boy was just watching the girls play and then later in the story, he starts talking and the girls don’t know where the voice is coming from. I thought the matching of underwear was funny too. One last funny part is when Isha and Dia aren’t friends anymore and Dia calls her a cockroach and there’s a little picture of a cockroach that says “heh!”
What my 10 year-old daughter thinks: I liked the book and I thought it was funny. I thought it was funny that the boy is watching them without saying anything. I thought Dia was being mean to Rhea and I was happy that they made up and became friends again. When I was about six, I used to go to the bathroom with my friends but I don’t do that anymore. I do try to match clothes with my friends sometimes though. I think girls 5 to 7 years old would like this book.
* This book was provided to me by the author free-of-charge in exchange for our honest reviews. All opinions expressed are our own. The author is also participating in Book Promotion Services provided by MDBR.*
My Response to an Amazon Review of The Susu Pals!
Anyone who knows me well knows I become disturbed (to put it mildly) when I perceive an injustice. Sometimes, I run across something that just rubs me the wrong way. When I am approached to promote a book, it is not something I take lightly. I only want to promote books that I think are good. I turn down about half of the requests that are sent to me because I feel the book is not good enough (for a variety of reasons) for me to stand behind.
Part of my evaluation process involves reading the book (duh!), and when in doubt, I have one of my kids read it or I read it them. The other part involves seeking out what other people have to say about the book by perusing Amazon reviews, Goodreads reviews, or bloggers’ reviews in the blogosphere. When I see 1 or 2 star reviews, that really concerns me. I will look at those reviews carefully and sometimes, after reading the book myself, I will come to agree with the reviewer.
Before I go any further, I do want to acknowledge that I fully understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Amazon and Goodreads are public forums and anyone can post reviews and share their thoughts about a book. I get it. Here is the offending paragraph from a 2-Star Amazon review of The Susu Pals! that prompted my need to respond:
First and foremost, this book will have limited appeal based on the location it is read. Simply put, being in United States, I nor anyone I know of would read this to a child. The word “susu” means to urinate. The girls in this story match their underwear and go to the bathroom together, which is not normal in the country I live in. I understand that in India it may be accepted, but I am writing from my own standpoint in my own country.
Just recently, we were part of the first annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day – the purpose of which was to (and I quote) “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.” The Susu Pals! is about friendship, not “urinating”.
I don’t even know where to begin with this. Anyone who has a daughter will know that young girls LOVE to match clothing with their friends – right down to their underwear! Have you seen the trend for girls to match clothes with their American Girl dolls? Matchy-matchy is a pretty popular concept in Western cultures (see what my daughter says above).
Bathroom pals? Raise your hand if you are out with your girlfriends, you have to go to the bathroom, and you ask who wants to come with you? North American/Western culture depicts this over and over on TV and in the movies. Up until recently, if my son and daughter were playing together and one of them had to go to the bathroom, they would both go in together. Even my daughter says above that she used to go susu with her friends when she was younger.
Kids come up with all kinds of crazy things as ways of “bonding”. I unfortunately can’t share those here because I don’t want to embarrass my children, but seriously – children can be very creative! These things actually happen in REAL LIFE and there are far more important things to be concerned about!
To even suggest that these things are culture-specific is absolutely ridiculous. And further, to suggest that the story would have limited appeal because it is from a culture outside of the United States is disturbing and certainly goes against the goal of trying to expose children to different cultures. If anything (content-wise) raises an eyebrow, isn’t that a discussion point, at the very worst?
Really, this book is about friendship and it is really well done.
So, I was thinking … if the book had a different title and if the author had been American/Canadian (Western), would it have garnered the same review? Let’s say the book was entitled, “The Bathroom Buddies” and the author was Jane Smith; but everything else about the book stayed the same (text and illustrations). Would the reviewer have had the same reaction?
What Do You Think?
I would love for you to share your thoughts about this so please do consider leaving a comment below. Goodness knows I have far more to say about this!!