Title: Deep in the Sahara
Author: Kelly Cunnane
Illustrator: Hoda Hadadi
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
Word Count: 521
Top 10 Element: Patterns
Awards: A Junior Library Guild Selection
I am participating in Picture Books 14:14, a challenge created by Christie of Write Wild that encourages bloggers to review 14 picture books in 14 days, starting on Feb. 14th.
Deep in the Sahara is an immersive picture book told in second person, placing you, the reader, as young Lalla, a Muslim girl living in Mauritania in west Africa. During the course of the book, Lalla explores why she wants to wear the malafa like her mother and relatives.
Analysis: PatternsThe language in this brief picture book is lovely and rhythmic, and the second-person point-of-view is unique and unexpected. The patterning of the language matches the patterning of the story and helps reinforce the character's journey (and ours) to understanding the malafa and all it represents.
Each time, Lalla sees a different person in her malafa and expresses her wish in a lyrical way. The first one is, "More than all the stars in the sky, you want a malafa so you can be beautiful too." But then Lalla's request is rebuffed, as her mother tells her, "'Lalla, a malafa is for more than beauty.'"
For each pair of two-page spreads, the verbal patterning continues. The malafa is for more than being mysterious, the malafa is for more than being like a lady, and so forth. It is only when Lalla requests a malafa so that she can pray like her mother does the pattern stop with a powerful one-line, two-page spread. "Mama stops and looks at you." Only then is Lalla's questioning and understanding rewarded.
Second-person, present tense narration is tough to pull off and generally rare in literature, but I think that it works well in this book because most of us readers know as little about the malafa and its importance in west African Muslim communities than does Lalla. Through her eyes and through the patterning of the text, we all learn an important lesson.
Want more picture book analyses? Click here to read my other posts for Picture Books 14:14 or check out these other great posts for the Picture Book 14:14 Challenge going on the rest of this month.