Review: Mangoes, Mischief & More

“King Bheema was a kind and just ruler. Every day he held court at the palace. Rich or poor, tall or short, man or woman – anyone could walk in with a problem.” page 1

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy.
My edition Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2019.
MG fiction, 180 pages.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.4 (worth 3.0) .
NOTE: this is a compilation of two books:
> A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom (2010)
> A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice (2016)

Prince Veera and his best friend Suku decide to hold court and resolve disputes when his father King Bheema is not available in this collection of eight interconnected short stories.

Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friendship cover resized
Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy.

I came across this charming book looking for our next family read-alouds after we finished the Anna Hibiscus series.  Since there are only two volumes, the American publisher has decided to combine them into one book.  It was considerably cheaper to purchase the collected hardcover volume than to buy the two paperbacks separately, although I’m not sure how much that has to do with import costs.

Often with these sorts of combined volumes, it’s not obvious that this is a reissue rather than a continuation of the series (which can leave readers feeling cheated).  But Candlewick does a good job of showing that these two books are combined.  I also appreciated the way elements of both covers were mixed to make the cover for this book.

Prince Veera’s First Case

The setting and characters are introduced and a variety of case examples given.  Prince Veera’s first challenging case is that of a sweetshop owner who wishes to charge a poor man for smelling the sweets.  His resolution is unexpected but interesting.

Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friendship p12-13 resized
We see Prince Veera and Suku on page 12 and 13 of Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friends.

Who Stole the Laddus?

This case refers back to the previous one as the delicious smell of the sweets has left everyone wanting more.  Then one of King Bheema’s favorite laddus is stolen!  Veera calls on the God of Honesty and his own clever wit to track down the thief.

The Case of the Greedy Moneylender

This story is the most serious in this book although still lighthearted and even funny.  Prince Veera is missing his friend Suku and goes to visit his home only to find that he has been taken by a moneylender.  Together they work out a prank to teach the greedy man a lesson.

The Unfortunate Case

Prince Veera goes to the market incognito and encounters Dhuri, a famously unlucky man.  When the king hears about it, he wants to meet Dhuri too.  But the bad luck appears even before Dhuri arrives.  Will Prince Veera have the courage to stand up for what is right?

Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friendship back cover resized
The back cover of Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friendship shows both of the previous collection covers.

All’s Well with Mango Pickles

A year after the first book, Prince Veera and Suku have again persuaded the king to let them hold court in his absence.  First they deal with the case of a well sold without the water inside, then a more complicated case of missing jewelry and pickled mangoes that involves some taste-testing.

Freezing Lakes and Missing Crows

Suku and Prince Veera are tired of holding court, but they get excited when King Beema is on his way back with a special guest.  Alas, Raja Apoorva is full of strong opinions about crows and beggars.  It will take all of Prince Veera’s brainpower to find a polite way around his Granduncle’s requests, with Suku’s help.

What’s Fair?

Suku hears a rumor about a new guard at the king’s court who is taking money from the people King Beema tries to help.  He enlists Prince Veera to help test the accuracy of the story and find a fitting punishment.

Gray Elephants and Five Fools

Another disagreement between neighbors, this time involving Suku’s aunt, who is tasked with washing elephants until they turn white.  Prince Veera has his own challenge – to find five fools in the kingdom, but he only has three.  Can the boys solve these problems?

###

These aren’t exactly mysteries, although this book may appeal to mystery lovers as it did my family.  They are more in the line of wisdom tales, some clever and others focusing on honesty and other virtues.

As one might guess from the descriptions above, there are many cases of characters acting unscrupulously although justice always prevails.  More likely to be of concern to sensitive readers is the depiction of a vast class difference.  While Prince Veera and his father are active, engaged, and fairly compassionate rulers, there are clear delineations of class marked by birth.  Hard work and talent can raise one’s station, but some aspects do not change at all.  This definitely sparked some discussion.

Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friendship p28-29 resized
Veera goes undercover for sweets on pages 28 and 28 of Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship.

The book focuses mainly on men and boys.  Women are mentioned or speak in a few stories, but none would pass the Bechdel test.  That did not bother me as this particular demographic seems to skew heavily toward female protagonists, so a boy-centered story feels like it’s balancing out our elementary read-alouds.

The artwork is interesting and engaging, and I was especially pleased that the Prince was depicted as darker than Suku – a subtle blow to colorism.  It’s bold and simple enough to catch kids, but has more detail than initially meets the eye.

Hinduism is present but very lightly as cultural and contextual references.  I would have no hesitation using this in a secular classroom.  The setting is given as Himtuk, which I don’t think is a real place but given my ignorance of Indian geography could very well be.  Although a time frame isn’t indicated, the social structure and absence of electronics or machinery put this in the past.

Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friendship p40-41 resized
Pages 40 and 41 of Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales show a case where Prince Veera invokes the God of Honesty.

But today’s children will have a lot to learn from these practical wisdom tales.  I’d recommend this book for classroom or family read aloud or as a free reading choice.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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