Salaam, A Muslim American Boy’s Story, by Tricia Brown describes Imran’s typical American boy’s life; celebrating birthdays, going to school, playing...moreSalaam, A Muslim American Boy’s Story, by Tricia Brown describes Imran’s typical American boy’s life; celebrating birthdays, going to school, playing with friends, dreaming of being a rock star. Brown also describes Imran’s activities as a member of the Muslim faith; his mom wears a hijab, his family fasts for Ramadan and prays on Eid-al-Fitr. The story tries to dispel the misunderstandings that people may have about the Muslim faith and members of the religion by explaining Islam as a religion of peace, describing the Muslim holidays and activities in simple, easy to understand terms and depicting a rather ordinary family who happens to be Muslim. The books is illustrated with black and white photographs which depict Imran and his family living a typical American life, gathering for meals around the table, baking in the kitchen, playing in the back yard. I noted that, although the photos are obviously meant to simulate candid shots, some of the photos appear overly posed, which detracts from the sincere feel of the narrative. I found the author’s note to be a bit odd as well. Brown states that the book took thee years to make and felt that delays in publishing were experienced because of society’s misconceptions about Muslims.
I live in a neighborhood that is very ethnically diverse; my children have classmates and friends of many faiths and cultural backgrounds. My five-year old daughter looked at this book and said, “Oh, that’s just like Samira.” For her, no misunderstandings were being dispelled, this book only served to provide more facts about the religion of some of her friends. I have to wonder, though, how such a book would be accepted in a non-diverse community. As they say in the theater business, “but would it play in Peoria?” (less)
In Snow in Jerusalem, by Deborah da Costa, a snow-white cat shuttles between the Jewish Quarter and the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The ca...moreIn Snow in Jerusalem, by Deborah da Costa, a snow-white cat shuttles between the Jewish Quarter and the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The cat is being fed and cared for by boys - one from each side of the city. One day they both see her and follow her into the Armenian Quarter of the city. An argument ensues – whose cat is this after all? When they discover she has a litter of kittens, they acknowledge that it is too dangerous for the kittens to be left on the streets, “they could be killed by mean dogs or bad people.” So the boys decide to each take two kittens and let the mother cat continue crossing through the city to care for them at each boy’s house. Didn’t the author read the tale of King Solomon and the baby? Splitting the babies in half is not a good solution; the poor mother cat is still left on the streets to fend off mean dogs and bad people. The text hints at friendship between the boys once the kittens have been divied up, but it seems as unrealistic as snow falling in Jerusalem. (I know it’s meant to be a parable full of hope for peace, but it’s all a bit of a stretch for me). The illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright ad Ying-Hwa Hu are lovely though. (less)
My Father’s Shop by author/illustrator Satomi Ichikawa, is set in a Morroccon rug shop, where Mustafa’s father sells rugs to tourists. One day finds a...moreMy Father’s Shop by author/illustrator Satomi Ichikawa, is set in a Morroccon rug shop, where Mustafa’s father sells rugs to tourists. One day finds a beautiful but damaged rug in his father’s shop. Mustafa’s father agreed to give him the damaged rug (since it could not be sold) if Mustafa would learn some foreign phrases to help sell rugs to the tourists. As Mustafa runs through the marketplace showing off his new possession, the rug attracts the attention of a rooster, who follows Mustafa and begins to crow, encouraged by Mustafa’s call of “Kho Kho Hou Houuu!” the rooster’s sound in Morocco. This gets the attention of several foreign tourists who offer to Mustafa the sound the rooster makes in their countries: Co-co-ri-co in French, Qui-qui-ri-qui in Spanish, Cock-a-doodle-doo in English and Koke-ko-kooo in Japanese. All the tourists follow Mustafa and the rooster back the rug shop, for presumably a profitable day in rug sales. This is a cute and enjoyable story, but without much depth or description of Moroccan culture – in fact, it somewhat like the experience a one-day tourist might have of a Moroccan marketplace – walk through, see some sights, drink some tea, take a few pictures, buy a souvenir rug. The illustrations of the marketplace provide a little bit more, and it is interesting to see Ichikawa’s illustrations depicting the mix of tourists with native Moroccans.
I am reminded somewhat of Linda Sue Park’s book for pre-schoolers, Mung Mung; A Fold Out Book of Animal Sounds, which asks children to guess the animal by the sound it makes (in a language other than English). (less)
A Toronto newspaper printed an article about a tailor in Calcutta, who worked six days a week, and, on the seventh, used his few spare coins to purcha...moreA Toronto newspaper printed an article about a tailor in Calcutta, who worked six days a week, and, on the seventh, used his few spare coins to purchase birds at the marketplace, only to set them free. Her interest piqued, author Veronika Martenova Charles made arrangements to meet this man. Through a translator she learned that his bird-freeing ritual was an act of self-healing following a tragic accident that took the lives of his family. The Birdman is a true story, and the text is accompanied by an author’s note complete with photographs of the birdman, Noor Nobi, as well as a photo of the newspaper article that was the genesis of the story, a page from the author’s journal, and a photo of the author (in “Prague, long ago”) sitting with her grandmother and the family sewing machine. It is a sweet and touching tale, told in a simple and unembellished style. The artwork, however, is all embellishment, and couldn’t be more amazing. It is as if Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and M.C. Escher meet for tea in Calcutta, and decided to illustrate this book. Annouchka Gravel Galouchko and Stephan Daigle have truly made The Birdman visually awesome.(less)
Everything about Kali and the Rat Snake feels different, not American. The book sent me running to the internet for lessons in geography, ethnography...moreEverything about Kali and the Rat Snake feels different, not American. The book sent me running to the internet for lessons in geography, ethnography and children’s book publishing. It was written by Zai Whitaker,and illustrated by Srividya Natarajan; both live in India. It was published by Kane/Miller, a small American children's book publisher that specializes in children's picture books that originated in other countries. The main character is a little boy from the Irula tribal people of India’s southern mountain areas. Traditionally, people from this tribe were employed as snake and rat catchers, but today few can earn a living wage through this trade. In the story, Kali is a good student, who wishes he didn’t have to be a student at all. Although he is embarrassed by his snake catching father and his fried termite lunch, his own snake catching skills make him the hero of the class when a rat snake literally drops by one afternoon. As different as the book felt to me, I don’t think children would have any trouble connecting to Kali, his worries about being accepted by his classmates, and his joy at discovering that his natural abilities make him the most popular boy in school.(less)