Rama and the Demon King


Rama and the Demon King: An Ancient Tale from India, by Jessica Souhami

Reviewed by Susan Fry

Get ready for some culture.  Oh, and also for some Demon fighting!

The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India.  It was written in Sanskrit around the 4th century B.C., supposedly by a poet named Valmiki.  In its more than 50,000 lines, the poem explores the nature of parenthood, kingship, and marriage, among many, many, many other things.

Pretty heavy going for a five year old, right?

Not if you read Rama and the Demon King.  Souhami has managed to distill the poem down to its essence.  She’s also captured the reason the tale has survived for so long:  it’s a gripping story filled with demons, kidnappings, betrayal, and true love.  And a flying monkey king!

The hero, Rama, seems to have it all.  He’s a prince with a loving wife (Sita) and a loyal brother (Lakshman).  But then Rama’s stepmother persuades the king to banish Rama.  Rama, Sita, and Lakshman find themselves battling demons in the forest.  The biggest, baddest demon of them all is the ten-headed Ravana.  Ravana kidnaps Sita, and Rama asks the flying Monkey King, Hanuman, for help.  After a huge battle, Rama kills Ravana and saves Sita.

Souhami chooses simple words in short sentences.  But her descriptions are so clear and original they amplify the drama:  “A terrible battle began.  The demons tried all their evil tricks.”  Ravana didn’t just smile, he “smiled ten horrible smiles.”  Cliffhangers will keep kids turning pages eagerly until the end, when “Ravana was DEAD.”

Like the language, the illustrations are both beautiful and simple.  Blocky, stylized figures in warm yellows, oranges, and browns leap across spare, white pages.

Hopefully Souhami will tackle Paradise Lost next.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.

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