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Asia - Indian

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Asia – Indian


Demi. 1997. One grain of rice: A mathematical folktale. New York: Scholastic Press.


Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture from


Summary: “A reward of one grain of rice doubles day by day into millions of grains of rice when a selfish raja is outwitted by a clever village girl” (CIP page, One grain of rice).


Type: realistic tale


Characters: The characters are flat, and they basically represent “good” and “evil.”  However, readers do see some character development in the Raja by the end of the story. The Raja is greedy and selfish until he is taught a lesson. The bright village girl somehow possesses an advanced knowledge of math. She is clever, fair, generous, and capable of teaching a lesson to someone of a higher class.


Setting: In her opening sentence, Demi tells us that the story takes place “Long ago in India” (unpaged). The long ago is reinforced by the use of elephants, camels, Brahma bulls, and other animals to transport the rice.


Plot: This is a “trickster tale” where Rani, a young girl with lowly status, outsmarts the high-ranking, older ruler. However, readers do not see the usual three incidents. Instead, the girl and Raja strike one bargain, and the audience sees the amazing, mathematical results of that deal throughout the story. In the end, Rani is kind to the Raja and does not punish him. She is satisfied when he learns his lesson and promises to behave fairly in the future.


Themes: The main theme is that a person’s greed can be hurtful to others and to the person; one should take only what one needs. Another theme is the amazing power of mathematics. A final theme is that a clever young person can outwit someone older, richer, and more powerful.


Other Observations – Classroom Use: This is a wonderful book to introduce when students are studying multiplication, exponents, square roots, and so forth.


Rating Considerations: Both the text and the illustrations are enjoyable and instructional.


Illustrations: The attractive, colorful, detailed Indian miniature paintings complement and expand the narrative. “For the illustrations in this book, Demi was inspired by the traditional Indian miniature paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She created the artwork using Chinese brushes and a variety of paints and inks” (CIP page). As Rani receives more and more rice, the illustrations become more impressive and more color-saturated with indigoes or continuous gold-leaf backgrounds.  Most impressive is the three-page fold-out of 256 elephants.