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Book Review: 'I Need to Pee' by Neha Singh, Illustrated by Meenal Singh and Erik Egerup

April 19, 2018

As soon as my daughter and I read I Need to Pee by Neha Singh, the questions trickled in at a steady pace (pun intended of course.) There is no way to read this adorable and important little picture book without feeling the need to lift the lid (there we go again) on everything about it that's unconventional and forbidden. Also, my daughter is 8 years old and loves bathroom humor, so the book found a steady fan in her immediately.

Published by Penguin, I Need to Pee is a liberating and charming picture book about a girl named Rahi, a girl who my daughter pronounces to be "my age, around 8." Rahi loves yummy drinks like coconut water and juices. Much to her mother's chagrin, she doesn't hold back on the liquid diet even when she's traveling on the train, the bus, or the plane. This means that she needs to pee quite often.

To Pee or Not to Pee

The book begins when Rahi, her brother Tanay and their mother travel to Meghalaya. Their mother's sister lives there and it's a very long journey. The book sees Rahi and her family travel by train to Guwahati. On the way, she drinks tons of juices and uses the loo pretty often. The final leg of the journey is on board a bus to Shillong and on that journey too, Rahi is forced to take a tinkle outside the bus.

During her journey to Meghalaya, Rahi has other adventures. She steamrolls a turbaned guard at a five-star-hotel into letting her use the loo, much to the manager's anger. She also one-ups a woman at a public toilet counter who tries to get her to pay Rs. 20 instead of the customary Rs. 5 fare.

A Familiar Journey

Any parent who's traveled with a child on an Indian train or a bus will immediately identify all those little quirks, fancies and fights that happen when a child needs to take a pee during the journey. Public train loos aren't fun, and like Rahi does in the book, our kids end up scrunching their noses and holding their breaths for as long as they can because the loos are stuffy and smell pretty "stinky," as Rahi puts it.

In the book, Rahi's mom is so fed up with Rahi's need to drink as much as she likes (and make trips to the loo) that she tells Rahi that she can drink no more. Rahi then takes out her self-authored 'Book of Important Quotes' and reads solemnly, "Every child should be allowed to drink water whenever they want." It should be noted that this Book has some true gems, the most empowering one being the quote Rahi reads out loud during the bus ride. When she wants to pee during a bus journey but the driver refuses, she reads from the book, "Bus drivers must stop the bus when little girls want to pee." The bus driver freezes and stops the bus at once. The passengers dart daggers at our little heroine but she doesn't care, and rightly so.

An Empowering Little Picture Book

I Need to Pee is a liberating little book for boys and girls. Take for example the illustration of little Rahi crouched on the Indian toilet on a train, looking through the hole in the Indian toilet and seeing the earth moving so fast under her. Or the picture of her having to stop the bus to take a tinkle on a long journey. Or even the delightful illustration of Rahi sitting on a safe toilet, her shorts pulled down, contemplating the longest she can count to when peeing (her record is thirty-five, by the way). It is not everyday that we have picture books that are honest about our bodies and the honest-to-goodness compulsories of life, such as visiting the loo.

As soon as we finished reading it, my daughter wanted to read the book again. Each reading brought with it new questions. For instance, there is one page that shows Rahi feeling extremely wary in a public toilet, with the window panes broken and the possibility of peeping Toms. My daughter pointed to the peeping Tom in the picture (possibly a figment of Rahi's imagination) and asked me a dozen times why it was bothering Rahi. It was interesting to see her continuously confront her own inhibitions through the book and get comfortable with asking questions about privacy and intrusion.

A Dry Toilet in Meghalaya

We also loved how Rahi finds comfort in the dry toilet at her aunt's place in Meghalaya. "When you are done, you just cover it with mud that is kept in a bucket. It's so much fun using a shovel to pick up the mud. I love the smell of the mud as it hits the floor."

Children of a certain age love bathroom humour, maybe because on some level, they are curious about things that we adults don't want to discuss but really should. I Need to Pee does this with such narrative flair that it becomes part of normal conversation in the most fun and intuitive way.

The Pictures Tell Their Own Stories

You know that the illustrator has done a great job if the pictures tell stories of their own, parallel to the written narrative. We loved the illustrations for I Need to Pee by Meenal Singh and Erik Egerup. They are bold, funny, classy, subtle, 'out there' and cool, all at once. The picture of the 'gud-agud-a-gud-agud-a' of the train is so life-like in the colors that the illustrators use, and the tone of the drawing. It feels so familiar.

I should also tell you that your kids will get their jollies from this book in many ways. As soon as I finished reading this book to my daughter and went to the kitchen to cook, my daughter yelled 'I need to pee!" I jumped, as any mum does, upon hearing those words. My daughter gave a toothy grin and told me, "I was talking about the book."

Buy this book now! 

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About the author:
I am a mum to an 8-year-old daughter. I edit and write for Toka Parent. I am a journalist and an education writer who also consults with different schools in India.