Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Rubina has been invited to her first birthday party. She is SO EXCITED...until her mother, Ami, says she has to take her fussy little sister Sana along. Ami just doesn't understand how birthday parties work! It's not much fun with Sana along, but the worst thing happens after they get home with their party favors. A long time later, it's Sana's turn to be invited...and now Ami says she has to take the littlest sister, Maryam, along. What will Rubina do?

There are several reasons this is an outstanding story. First, it's a universal theme that children will recognize and understand, although it's not one often seen in picture books. The absolute, helpless anger at an adult who just doesn't understand is so, so perfect. I think every child will recognize that frustration and every adult can remember a time when they felt those emotions. The clash between siblings, the older child who feels the younger one is getting away with everything, and Rubina's struggle to decide whether or not she'll help Sana, are all sympathetically and realistically portrayed. Finally, I was glad to see the realistic consequences of Sana's attendance at the party - Rubina doesn't get any invitations "for a really long time." Contrary to all those happy multicultural books, where a student from another culture is first mocked for their strangeness, and then accepted without difficulty....Khan says it like it is; kids are the ultimate conformists and they don't generally like different. Rubina's fellow students don't become fascinated by Pakistani family structure, they don't flock around her begging to know about her family; they avoid her. Rubina has to learn how to reconcile the different cultures she is part of - her family and her school - on her own.

Sometimes I'm a fan of Sophie Blackall's art and sometimes I'm not. Here, I definitely am. The energy and movement of her round-faced children, their excited, angry, hurt, happy expressions, and the changing perspectives are the perfect complement to Khan's text.

Verdict: A beautifully nuanced story with elements that will resonate with a wide range of children of different ages and experiences. The basic plot will draw in younger children in a storytime atmosphere, but this book is also an excellent story to give to older elementary children. Recommended for children dealing with different cultures at home and at school, for children with siblings, and for anyone who's ever been frustrated that someone just doesn't understand.

ISBN: 9780670062874; Published March 2010 by Viking; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library


Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

This was my Cybils nominee in the pb category, Jennifer. You're so right about Ami--so frustrating. The ending is just perfect, though.

Jennifer said...

I guess I have a lot of child-like desire for fairness still inside me - some of these sibling themed books I've been reading make me so mad! I side with the older sibling every time (-:)