Book Review: The Conch Bearer
It isn’t often that you can read a story for kids and have it bring up insightful discussion topics with each turn of the page. The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is one of those books. This book is about a young boy who, through has magical adventures, learns lessons about life.
The main character, Anand, is an unlucky boy from an impoverished household. One day, a beggar, Abhaydatta, offers him a chance at adventure. Help protect a magical conch shell, he offers Anand, and return it to its home in the Himalayas. Nisha, an impetuous, young street girl, joins them, and this unlikely trio sets off on a life-changing journey.
The dangerous situations are entertaining, yet tame enough for younger kids, and parents need not worry about questionable behavior. The real strength of the book lies in the moral dilemmas interspersed throughout this story. For example, at the start, Anand must choose whether to follow the mysterious beggar or stay with his family. And later, when Abhaydatta disappears, Nisha and Anand must decide together whether to finish his quest on their own. Throughout the story, both children learn to trust themselves and each other. This creates excellent opportunities for parents to talk to their kids about morals and choices.
The book is set in modern-day India, which makes it very relatable for young readers. And the main characters, while earnest, are still mischievous enough not to be boring. Also, the main characters both come from poor backgrounds and this gives a nice glimpse – without condescension – into the lives and circumstances of those less fortunate.
The Conch Bearer is 265 pages long, ideal for an 8- to 9-year-old to read alone, or for an adult to read aloud to a child a couple of years younger. It’s a bit of a long read; there are eighteen chapters in the book, or in other words, approximately two weeks of bedtime reading. So snuggle up and get comfy!