I am sure everyone has read the story as a child. It has been a great pleasure for me to read the story with my own daughter and look at the wonderful pictures by Valentine Kurdov. In every story, there is at least one watercolor and several black and white pictures.
Here you can see Rikki talking to the birds and exploring the garden. You can feel alertness and energy of the little strong animal who enjoys life and movement.
Mongoose and cobra are exotic creatures for a Russian artist, and I think Kurdov had to consult biology books, photos, and maybe went to the zoo. He did an excellent job; the animals look very recognizable and alive. Of course Kurdov was an excellent artist - look at the single cobra at the picture on the right, it is like a hieroglyph. A sign which means danger. And the mongoose is so touching and human like, standing in front of the snake, talking to her in the picture on the left. Rikki looks somewhat vulnerable, he is still a very young mongoose, and the snake is adult and strong. But the mongoose has lots of dignity. Look at the rhythm of the picture - it is flowing clockwise, moving endlessly, full of inner energy. It reminds me of Oriental miniatures.
Here you can see Rikki killing a tiny but deadly Karait amidst lavish exotic plants, and then Rikki is talking to Chuchundra, the musk-rat, who is afraid of everything and everyone. My mother said: "Poor Chuchundra! She is weeping! And look at Rikki, he is strong and agile! With his strong jaws full of sharp teeth, he is just like our Belgian Shepherd Dog!" Indeed, Rikki looks a bit like my Malinois.
The story tells a lot about what courage is. Courage is not to be afraid of anything; it is about being able to fight despite your fear and clear understanding of the greatness of the danger. Kipling tells several times of Rikki being frightened or concerned. The little beast, with all his fierceness, wants to live and recognizes the risks, but fights nonetheless because this is what mongooses are for. Once he is set on the target, he does not go back. He actually cannot let go of the snake for he then would be killed by the large and strong enemy.
If somehow you have missed this book in reading to your children, I very highly recommend it. It is a really good book which teaches good things. And it is also lovely and amusing.