The Royal Rebel by Bali Rai is a retelling of the life of Sophia Duleep Singh, Royal Sikh Princess, god-daughter of Queen Victoria and suffragette. An extraordinary story told in an accessible, informative style this enlightening and important book is published by Barrington Stoke to coincide with South Asian Heritage Month.
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was born in 1876, the youngest daughter of the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab. When her father lost his empire and was exiled to England Sophia and her family lived in Suffolk where although the children experienced a privileged upbringing they also suffered tragedy and a sense of being ‘outsiders.’ Bali Rai tells Sophia’s story in three distinct sections, her childhood in England, her short return to India as a teenager, and her subsequent experiences as a young woman when she is back in England.
Sophia is only eight years old when we meet her and children will quickly become interested in her unusual family life with baboons and parrots in the extensive grounds of the family home and the descriptions of Sophia’s bond with her little brother, Eddie. However we quickly discover that all is not happy and secure in the family’s world. Mother is confined to her bedroom, unwell, and does not wish to spend time with her children and Father is slowly selling off the family’s valued possessions due to bankruptcy. Although Sophia is too young to fully understand the situation she does know that she does not want to leave the only home she has known and when the family embark on a trip back to India via Egypt the situation becomes worse for Sophia and her siblings.
Sophia is a fascinating and remarkable person and Bali Rai has presented her life in a way that will inspire and enlighten a young audience. The historic background to the British Empire and its relationship to India is presented in a factual and direct manner and it is through Sophia’s narration of the story and her conversations with her family and other contacts that we become aware of her sense of injustice. On her return to England in 1903 Sophia, now a young woman, says:
Sensitive to injustice to both her family and others Sophia resolves to do something to help and becomes involved in supporting the Indian sailors who have been abandoned in London caught between two cultures and countries. She subsequently becomes involved in the Suffragette movement and the rest of the book is devoted to following Sophia and the other women as they fight for what they believe is right and fair.
This is a remarkable story and shines a light on a woman who has, I think, not been the focus of previous historical works for children. Although a biography the narrative style holds an appeal that will tempt more to find about about this unsung heroine. This book would be a valuable addition to the school library or classroom as both an enjoyable read and one that could be used as part of the history curriculum.
Attractively presented with a stunning cover and vignettes throughout by Rachael Dean this has the added bonus of being suitable for dyslexic readers due to its design and editing. This has a suggested reading age of 8+. At just over 130 pages this would also be appealing to confident readers looking for a quick read or for class teachers as a read aloud.
I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for my review copy. The Royal Rebel was published on 15th July and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website where you can also read a preview of the first chapter. I found the information contained on the Historic Royal Palaces website about Princess Sophia interesting and enjoyed seeing photos of both her and her family. She has rather come to life in my mind now and I think this book will prompt children to find out more about her too.
If you are looking for another book about a lesser known historical figure I can recommend Race to the Frozen North: The Matthew Henson Story by Catherine Johnson also published by Barrington Stoke.