Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Masai and I

Masai and I - Saffron Tree Book Review
Author: Virginia Kroll
Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter

Publisher: Aladdin
Ages: 4-8

Image source: SimonSchuster

Wake up, brush, shower, dress, eat, go to school, read, write, come home, play, eat, brush, sleep.
And repeat...

It is the same thing every day again and again and again, complains my 5 year old. I agree. Our routine is mundane, especially since we have acclimatized to the many pieces of luxury at our disposal and adopted to a lifestyle around them. It helps once in a while to step into a simpler world for a different perspective, a world that is yet untouched by the complexities and mechanics of modern living.

Masai and I takes us to East Africa, to introduce to us the lifestyle of the Masai, the semi-nomadic tribe who live in parts of Kenya and Tanzania. We discover how they eat, sleep, dress, travel, in contrast to that of a typical urban American family. The author, Virginia Kroll, paints these pictures of contrasts through the voice of Linda, a 10 year old living in Some City, USA. When Linda learns about the Masai at school, she feels some sort of kinship with their ethnicity, and wonders how her life might be if she were living among the tribe.

In contrast to city living, where neighbors might share common walls but rarely exchange a greeting, the Masai live in clusters of huts surrounding a kraal (a cattle enclosure) with the African Savannah for the backyard. No one is a stranger, neighbors are practically family.

There are many more contrasts, some that are complex to explain, some that are amusing. In a Masai family, the men and women eat in separate groups; Masai kids don't own an assortment of brand name footwear, they mostly run bare feet. Mode of transportation is by foot and walking several miles is a way of life, not an event to train for. The Masai kid has no use for pocket money to buy candy. If he craved something sweet, he would gather sticks to create a fire, smoke the bees away from their hive, and take their fresh, sweet, and might I add, unpasteurized, unadulterated, honey.

Some of the contrasts were shockers. Particularly, when we saw the Linda's brother walking the plains, water pitcher in hand, to collect the day's supply from the nearest waterhole. It was a moment of truth for my five year old, one of those moments where he pauses and refuses to proceed further till he has wrapped his head around the impossibility. For someone who has unlimited running water at the turn of his fingers, it was an awakening to realize that some
families have to spend entire days on rationed water. I do hope it has instilled the concept of 'Don't waste water' in a way my lecturing tone cannot communicate.

As for the illustrations, both the layout and execution are brilliant. The whole book takes place in Linda's mind, so on one side is her reality, the other her dream. While the differences are day and night the transition is seamless, and elements from one drift in to another. Such as the page with an East African honey guide gliding over skyscrapers. Sometimes the boundaries are so transparent, like the way Linda's pale brown carpet on one side turns into the golden brown of
Serengeti plains on the other.

Despite the sky and earth differences in everyday life, Linda is certain of one thing. Africa or America, the kinship and the love, and the bond within family across generations would be as strong as it is today. Regardless of where she lives, Linda is confident, she would still look the same, be the same person.

Masai and I is a window to life in another world; opening this window taught us respect for simplicity and a renewed appreciation for what we have.


artnavy said...

lovely ... i used to imagine being with the Gods must be crazy kids when I was little...what a moving story!

sandhya said...

Wonderful the way you have brought out the separateness yet the seamlessness of the two lifestyles.
And Linda's imagining herself to be there is not so strange, is it? Who has not seen a child imagining herself/himself to be someone else somewhere else? Or a grown-up for that matter? We just don't admit to it.

utbtkids said...

K's mom, this CROCUS I am doing an experiment. I read the post from top to bottom and then read the author f the post very last. It has been helpful for me to identify personal styles.

When I read, "walking several miles is a way of life, not an event to train for", I knew that this was your work.

No, I don't retain anything from the CROCUS category assignment emails. The only thing I registered was 23, 24, 25 are the days my posts go live and I get my act together by 20th :)

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Brilliant pick !! Just what was needed here !

@UTBT : I have been doing the exact same thing of identifying the author by reading the posts :) I think I am familiar with yours, poppy, tharini, meera, rajini and to some extend satish's style ... K's mom .. I miss her regular dose, didn't guess her on this post :(

Meera Sriram said...

This book so reminds me of a book we read recently called "The Chalk Doll" by Charlotte Pomerantz( which a mother shares details of her chilldhood in Jamaica - walking on "mango heels", mango pits stuck to heels and playing with handmade rag dolls, in contrast to the store-bought dolls the little girl enjoys in the U.S! She even compares the birthdays, the celebrations (or the lack of them rather).

Very glad that you brought this subject to crocus KM:)Wonderful!

Praba Ram said...

hmm...the personal elements surrounding your five year old, could instantly relate to many things, including the lecturing tone.

The contrasting/juxtaposing style of narration - would love to see how the author brings it in.

Virginia Kroll's Sweet Magnolia is one I have been eyeing. Will check both out soon, and let you know how they are received here.

Through an engaging review, you have introduced a beautiful book with a nice ecological theme...a topic very close to my heart. Thanks, KM!

ranjani.sathish said...

KM, this is a wonderful subject to share with our kids and you have written it so well. I like the way you weave your personal stories into the review. Can so relate to the water problem, being understood by your kid on seeing the pics in the book !

For Sooraj, to explain about the water problems I did not have to go as far as Africa or for that matter even our remote Indian villages, where it is truly an ordeal.

I just told him my own childhood stories in Chennai where we had to stand with a pot on the road waiting for the water tanker to arrive or carry the small "kudams" from the hand pumps on my hip to fetch the drinking water ! I can never forget the water problems that we had in the small apt back then. Somehow this made Sooraj aware that water is a luxury and should not be wasted. He is the drill master in our house now, going around with a cane if he sees anyone wasting water :-)

Anusha said...

@Art: glad that Anush liked the book!

@Sandhya: you said it! everyone dreams, Virginia Kroll just has used that dream to educate about a new culture.

@utbt & CA: cool experiment. hope you had an overall high success rate :)

@Meera: looked for that book immediately after your comment, thanks!

@Praba: narration flows naturally, like a conversation Linda is having with us, interspersed with her escapades into Masai.

@Ranjani: :) Anyone who's lived in Chennai for a certain time can relate well to the water woes! My son's heard that story from me too, however, this picture in the book, seeing another kid carrying water for the family had a greater impact on him. That and, your storytelling, I bet, makes the Chennai image come alive :)

Poppins said...

Goosebumpy review K's mom.

I can see in my mind's eye Kodi pausing at the water point in the story, asking multiple questions, not proceeding further or if proceeding then turning back the pages to come back to that point. :-)

Reading with my children is the MOST amazing thing I have done as a parent. It's a learning lesson, a window to a completely different point of view!

@Ranjani: Bangalore was not any better off. I remember the borewell and pumping too. But strangely I never found it bothersome then, just a way of life. Children accept reality easily. That's how it is in a village in East Africa as well I suppose!

Choxbox said...

A tad late but nevertheless - awesome review Anusha. Wish you'd do more.

Choxbox said...

Awesome review of an awesome book Anusha.

The contrasts though did not seem that sharp to us, given that we see people queueing up to fill water on the roadside taps etc.
It did trigger a declaration from the 6-yr old about how everyone's granny loves them, no matter where and how they live :)

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