Thursday, April 17, 2008

MY FRIEND JAMAL


STORY & PHOTOGRAPHY: ANNA MCQUINN
ARTWORK: BEN FREY
AGE GRP: 4-7 YRS.

The book is a boy’s narration of his culturally diverse yet completely uncomplicated friendship with another boy his age. In other words it is a celebration of an unadulterated friendship that oversteps borders, religion and culture.

Our little narrator, Joseph, introduces to us readers, his friend Jamal of Somali origin, however, born in the same hospital as him, the same month! After sharing with us the staples of their friendship built on activities and interests that are typical to boys their age, Joseph lets us into more unexpected specifics. This includes Jamal being a Muslim, Jamal’s dietary restrictions (both cultural and health-related) and an analysis of Jamal’s household - how pasta is served with banana toppings and how his family dines on the floor, more like a picnic! In fact, something that, in my opinion, felt very real and down-to-earth were these lines –

Sometimes I go to Jamal’s house.
It smells different from ours because his mom cooks with special spices.

Isn’t it true that something as simple and different as this can actually be acknowledged and reasoned out by the innocent mind? And books that carry such thoughts, I believe, can provoke and aid open healthy discussions of complex issues of the real world with a growing child.

Marching on, the pages are filled with fun and precious details of their likes and dislikes, commonalities and differences, - about superhero games, basketball teams and automobile preferences, all sure to score a three-pointer with any male child! Joseph then narrates more about the prayer routine he witnesses at Jamal’s, the Koran in Arabic that his friend talks about and the war and fighting in Somalia from which the family fled. What catches the reader’s attention is the non-judgmental and intrigued tone with which the small boy speaks. In fact, everything that revolves around Jamal with whom Joseph shares his life is probably diametrically in contrast to his own settled Christian life and yet he nonchalantly accepts Jamal and his family.

This book can be an ideal pick for discussing cross-cultural friendships with children. The details though raw are real and gentle. The author Anna McQuinn was raised in Ireland and now lives in England adding titles like Lola at the library and Wanda’s washing machine to her credit. The illustrations are a combination of photography and art – bold, colorful and explicit, just as the front cover indicates.

A wonderful work that showcases how children adjust and adapt to strikingly contrasting cultural canvases while holding on to their own individualistic identities, something that nature and puerility seem to take care of.

1 comment:

Praba said...

Interesting cross-cultural pick - a much needed one to teach and expose children to early on, particularly during these troubled times... Thank you for a neat review!

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