Small Acts of Amazing Courage

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Small Acts of Amazing Courage Book Poster Image
Feisty heroine provides eye-opening look at colonial India.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is an intriguing entry into what India was like in the aftermath of World War I, and a primer on Gandhi and India’s struggle to be free of British rule. It's a brief portrait of the times, and readers may want to find out more about colonialism, and particularly Indian society in the early 1900s.

Positive Messages

The story celebrates self-sufficiency and independent thinking, and challenges those who unquestionably accept dominant views. Racism and classism are presented as unfounded and ignorant.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Independent Rosalind repeatedly defies her parents and guardians, breaking rules and lying to them -- but she is acting with the conviction of her beliefs. Rosalind is empathetic and indomitable. Aunt Louise shows great strength in breaking free of her sister's grip. Several characters are portrayed unflatteringly as racist and classist.

Violence

There's little direct violence, but there are reference to the 1919 massacre at Amritsar; Indian rebels being tied to British cannons and "blown to bits"; children deliberately deformed and put to work as beggars; and concern for Rosalind's safety at the bazaar. None of it's gratuitous, and it's more than balanced by the message of nonviolent protest throughout.

Sex

There's no sexual content, but Rosalind's 15-year-old friend is married and becomes pregnant; at one point, Isha tells her making love is nothing like how it's portrayed in books.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Small Acts of Amazing Courage is a historical novel that unflinchingly portrays racist and classist attitudes in British India in the early 1900s -- both British disregard for the dignity of Indians, and upper-caste Indian treatment of lower-caste people. There's also a strong message about thinking for yourself, and not accepting unjust authority. This is an intriguing entry into what India was like in the aftermath of World War I, and a primer on Gandhi and India's struggle to be free of British rule. There's little direct violence, but there are references to the 1919 massacre at Amritsar, Indian rebels being tied to British cannons and "blown to bits," and children deliberately deformed and put to work as beggars.

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What's the story?

In 1919, Rosalind’s father returns from war to preside over his British family living in an Indian town. Freethinking Rosalind quickly finds herself at odds with her father's outdated views and enrages him by defying his order not to get involved with Indian affairs. After she rescues a baby from a life as an abused beggar, and sneaks off to hear Gandhi speak, her father sends her off to England to live with spinster aunts and attend a \"proper\" school. But the change of scenery doesn't chasten her, and she quickly sparks a domestic rebellion in her own family.

Is it any good?

In SMALL ACTS OF AMAZING COURAGE, Gloria Whelan provides informative look at England and India after World War I, capturing an important period in the history of both countries. Rosalind is a perfect character for telling that larger story, as she is dealing with her own ideas about independence at home.

Though often charming, the characters surrounding Rosalind remain two-dimensional. The plot makes a predictable march and the ending leaves the thorniest issues unresolved. There's some lovely writing, and readers will be impressed by Rosalind's perceptive reflections near the end of her story -- but this is mostly a history lesson dressed up in a coming-of-age tale. Nevertheless,it's likely to entice young readers to seek out more on Gandhi and the end of colonial authority in India.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about teen characters in historical novels. Why is a teen like Rosalind a good character for talking about the changes in India at the time?

  • Independent Rosalind repeatedly defies her parents and guardians, breaking rules and lying to them -- but she is acting with the conviction of her beliefs. Does this make her behavior OK?

  • How might the story be told differently from the perspective of Rosalind's mother, or Mrs. Nelson -- or if it were written as straight history instead of fiction?

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