My local library is displaying books about Islam in the wake of the recent immigration ban. I found today’s featured book there. It also appears on a helpful list of children’s books, Refugees Welcome Here, published recently by Horn Book.
Without further ado, today’s Perfect Picture Book:
Title: Deep in the Sahara
Written By: Kelly Cunnane
Illustrated By: Hoda Hadadi
Publisher/date: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House)/2013
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: Islam; clothing; Mauritania; family; growing up; Sahara
Deep in the Sahara, sky yellow with heat,
rippled dunes slide and scorpions scuttle.
In a pale pink house the shape of a tall cake,
you watch Mama’s malafa
flutter as she prays.
More than all the stars in a desert sky,
You want a malafa so you can be beautiful too.
Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim girl dreams of wearing the malafa garment worn by the women in her Mauritanian village.
Links to Resources:
- Learn about Mauritania
- Discover the Sahara Desert and the oasis villages within it
- Learn more about Islamic dress (note: this is geared towards adults or older kids)
Why I Like this Book:
Deep in the Sahara is a lovely, non-didactic introduction to Islamic practices in a part of the world Americans typically know little about. It also helps answer the question of why women wear clothing that partially or totally covers their hair and/or faces. I appreciate the desire of young Lalla to emulate the women she admires in her village, and I think Ms. Cunnane does a wonderful job explaining this. Written in lovely, poetic language, Deep in the Sahara provides a glimpse into village life as well. A glossary of the Hassaniya words (an oral dialect of Arabic) that are sprinkled through the text is included.
Hadadi’s bright, collaged images upend the stereotype of dark, drab Islamic female dress, and showcase each woman’s individuality. As noted in several reviews, Deep in the Sahara is an important introduction to Islamic practices for young children, that highlights the regional differences in the Muslim world.
A Note about Craft:
Ms. Cunnane wrote Deep in the Sahara after she lived and taught in Mauritania. She refers to the main character, Lalla, in the second person, thus helping young readers empathize with Lalla’s quest to don the malafa. By doing so, I think she also broadens the appeal of this book to include children in Mauritania and perhaps other Muslim countries.
The issue of who can tell a person’s story rages within the Kidlit world. Kelly Cunnane is a caucasian American, writing about a practice and region to which she is an outsider. To her credit, she includes an author’s note about her preconceptions about covering, ie, wearing a veil or other head/face-covering item of clothing and how her perceptions changed after living in Mauritania. She also thanks many native Mauritanians for sharing “wonderful stories” and explaining their religion.
The editors at Schwartz & Wade Books chose Hoda Hadadi, an Iranian illustrator who resides in Tehran, to illustrate Deep in the Sahara. While also an outsider to Mauritania, according to the short bio on the book jacket, Ms. Hadadi has worn a head scarf since childhood, and so, presumably, understands Lalla’s desire to emulate her mother and other women.
Among other accolades, Deep in the Sahara received a Kirkus starred review and was a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2013.
See an interesting review on a site that only reviews children’s books about Africa (a good site to keep bookmarked!).
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!