RIVER NORTH — Amna Nasima is constantly making up short stories for her two nieces and nephew. She tells the stories on the spot while they do every day tasks like eat lunch, take baths and get ready to play outside.
The kids started asking Nasima to repeat certain stories, but she couldn’t always remember. So, she created a memorable, colorful story based off of her family roots and trips to Pakistan as a child.
That story is now available as a children’s book, “Tara the Rickshaw and the Tale of the Lost Kitten.” The book features a rickshaw, a three-wheeled motorized vehicle commonly used for transportation in Asia, who helps a lost kitten find its way home.
“My brother-in-law is from one area of South Asia and my family is from another part, but something in common are rickshaws,” Nasima said. “So, I wanted to take a common theme and just write a story where like all kids from Asia could relate and have something from a place that they’re also a part of.”
The pages are filled with bright colors and subtle nods to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. Some of the pages feature a young school girl in a blue uniform — which signifies the children who attend government schools and aren’t afforded the same privileges as those attending private schools.
“No one ever looks at those uniforms in a good light,” Nasima said, adding that representing those children in the book would help people see them in a positive way.
The book also pays homage to Edhi Land Ambulance Service, Pakistan’s largest ambulance system and the largest voluntary ambulance system in the world. Its founder, Abdul Sattar Edhi, who died in 2016, is considered a prominent Pakistani philanthropist. With the permission of Edhi’s son, Nasima included one of the organization’s ambulances driving down the road in the beginning of the story.
“I felt like it was important to show and focus on,” Nasima said.
And people have noticed those details. From the bountiful mango trees to the inclusion of ACF Animal Rescue, Pakistan’s largest animal rescue service, Nasima said she’s received messages from people who have connections to the different images.
She said she also hopes people will see Pakistan in a different light than what’s often portrayed on the news as a country with “bombings” and poverty.
“I think starting off by telling children that every place is different but no place is bad, is a really good way to start life,” Nasima said.
There’s also a glossary at the end identifying several Hindi words used throughout the book like ammi, which means mother, and chaiwala, which means a person who serves tea.
Nasima is hoping her story will become a permanent staple for families at home, exposing children to new cultures and serving as a representation for diverse children who don’t often see themselves in illustrated stories.
“When we talk about children’s books, should it be, ‘Jane has a doll and Peter had a ball?’ No, I don’t think it should be. I think there should be inclusivity and the different places that people go to have adventures and diversity with the people,” Nasima said.
“Tara the Rickshaw and the Tale of the Lost Kitten” is available to buy at taratherickshaw.com. The book can also be checked out from the Skokie Public Library.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: