Deep in the Sahara

Overview

"Poetic language, attractive illustrations and a positive message about Islam, without any didacticism: a wonderful combination," declares Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. But it is not until Lalla realizes that a malafa is not just worn to ...

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Deep in the Sahara

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Overview

"Poetic language, attractive illustrations and a positive message about Islam, without any didacticism: a wonderful combination," declares Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. But it is not until Lalla realizes that a malafa is not just worn to show a woman's beauty and mystery or to honor tradition—a malafa for faith—that Lalla's mother agrees to slip a long cloth as blue as the ink in the Koran over Lalla's head, under her arm, and round and round her body. Then together, they pray.

An author's note and glossary are included in the back of the book.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Sarah Harrison Smith
This lovely-to-look-at book, illustrated by a noted Iranian artist, offers a perspective that is sometimes forgotten in the debate over traditional Muslim dress.
Publishers Weekly
★ 09/09/2013
Cunnane (Chirchir Is Singing) introduces a Mauritanian girl who’s fascinated with the malafa, the veil the women in her family wear. The second-person narration (“you watch Mama’s malafa flutter as she prays”) presents the veil as desirable rather than confining and describes the girl’s wish to wear it so she can be beautiful, like her mother, or mysterious, like her sister. Her relatives reject these superficial reasons. It’s not until the girl shows she understands the malafa as a sign of Muslim belief (“Mama... more than all the dates in an oasis, I want a malafa so I can pray like you do”) that Mama gives the girl one of her own. The warm, affirming portrait of Islam (“A malafa is for faith”) makes this a valuable resource for both Muslim audiences and a broader readership interested in potentially unfamiliar customs and observances of faith. In Iranian artist Hodadi’s U.S. debut, her round-faced characters and affectionate scenes of Mauritanian family life (drinking tea on cushions, carrying trays of goods to market) keep the atmosphere friendly and lighthearted throughout. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2013:
"Poetic language, attractive illustrations and a positive message about Islam, without any didacticism: a wonderful combination.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, September 9, 2013:
"The warm, affirming portrait of Islam makes this a valuable resource for both Muslim audiences and a broader readership interested in potentially unfamiliar customs and observances of faith."

Starred Review, School Library Journal, November 2013:
“This book incorporates authentic cultural details in both the poetic text and the evocative illustrations… [A] lovely original story.”

Starred Review, Booklist, November 15, 2013:
"The women, all individualized, exude true warmth, and readers will feel a quiet satisfaction when Lalla joins them. A special offering."

Children's Literature - Leona Illig
Lalla is a little girl who lives in the West African country of Mauritania. She would like to prove to everyone that she has grown up, and one way to do that is to wear the beautiful malafas that the older girls wear. The malafa is a garment some Muslim women wear to cover their clothing and their heads when they go out in public. But Lalla does not understand that while the malafa is beautiful and mysterious, it is much more than that. Only when she realizes that the malafa represents a cultural tradition, and plays a part in the Islamic faith of her people, is she truly ready to accept the responsibility of wearing this important garment. In general, Western writers have a difficult time portraying Islamic culture and religion. Fortunately, this author and illustrator have done an excellent job of providing an accurate, positive view of a basic feature of Islamic life. Some of the Islamic concepts are left intentionally vague, probably to avoid perplexing some readers, but parents and teachers can fill in the blanks for children who desire more explanation. There are a few lines of text accompanying each illustration, as well as some end rhymes and a refrain that is both soothing and musical. The illustrations are large with brilliant colors, and do an excellent job of evoking life in the Sahara. The back of the book contains an author’s note explaining how she came to write this story, as well as a glossary of words in the Hassaniya language of Mauritania. Parents and teachers who wish to give children a positive introduction to Islam and Muslim women will find this a valuable and rewarding book. Reviewer: Leona Illig AGERANGE: Ages 4 to 8.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-01
Lalla, a little Mauritanian girl, gets her heart's desire when she shows her mother that her faith is important to her. Lalla sees her mother, her big sister, Selma, her cousin Aisha, her grandmother and all the other women in her West African town all wrapped in malafa, the colorful veils that wrap from head to toe. She wants to look beautiful and grown-up too, but each female family member tells her that wearing the malafa is more important than beauty, mystery, being a mature woman and even tradition. When Lalla figures out for herself that the malafa is central to the religious practice of Muslim women in her region, then her mother joyously wraps her in "a malafa / as blue as the Sahara sky / as blue as the ink in the Koran / as blue as a stranger's eye." The author notes that she changed her opinion regarding the wearing of veils for religious reasons when she lived in Mauritania and wrote this book to share the joy she observed. The collage illustrations done by an Iranian artist show the colorful cloths of "lime and mango," the beautiful women wearing the veils in different ways and the details of the houses. Poetic language, attractive illustrations and a positive message about Islam, without any didacticism: a wonderful combination. (Picture book. 5-7)
School Library Journal
★ 11/01/2013
Gr 2–4—"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." Mama cautions Lalla that a malafa is for more than beauty. The pattern continues as Lalla envies her sister's sense of mystery, the market ladies' femininity, and her grandmother's air of ancient tradition until she gets a malafa of her own, "as blue as the ink in the Koran" so she can take her place beside her mother for the evening prayer. Cunnane has a strong connection to Africa, having lived in both Kenya and Mauritania, the setting of this lovely original story. Like For You Are a Kenyan Child (S & S, 2006), this book incorporates authentic cultural details in both the poetic text and the evocative illustrations. Local Hassaniya words, for example, appear naturally in the text, and are helpfully defined in a glossary. Cut-paper collage illustrations feature boys in turbans, men hurrying to prayers, and women dressed in brightly colored swaths of cloth, enlivening the browns, greens, and adobe brick of the desert background. An author's note acknowledges that she'd believed the wearing of the veil was repressive to women until she understood it was a "relaxed and colorful expression of…faith and culture." Perhaps this upbeat picture book about a mother welcoming her daughter into their community of faith will engender a more positive attitude toward women who choose traditional dress in the modern world.—Toby Rajput, National Louis University, Skokie, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375870347
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 216,843
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.10 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

KELLY CUNNANE received the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award for her picture book For You Are a Kenyan Child, which the New York Times described as "entrancing . . . [an] inviting introduction to a different culture." Her book Chirchir Is Singing was an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book. Kelly has lived and taught in Kenya and Mauritania and currently lives in Beals, Maine.

HODA HADADI is a children's books illustrator living and working in Tehran, Iran. She has illustrated more than forty books for children and has won numerous international prizes, including the New Horizons Bologna Ragazzi Award and the Grand Prix of Belgrade. This is her first U.S. picture book.  

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