My Name Was Hussein

My Name Was Hussein

5.0 1
by Hristo Kyuchukov, Allan Eitzen

Boyds Mills Press publishes a wide range of high-quality fiction and nonfiction picture books, chapter books, novels, and nonfictionSee more details below

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Boyds Mills Press publishes a wide range of high-quality fiction and nonfiction picture books, chapter books, novels, and nonfiction

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Newcomer Kyuchukov's picture-book biography does not chronicle the life of Saddam Hussein, but rather his own life (as he explains in an endnote), as a boy born to a "Roma family" in India ("Some call us Gypsies," he writes) and living in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the troublesome themes presented here imply an audience considerably older than that addressed by the simplistic language. Young Hussein is Muslim and describes Ramadan in a cursory way, as well as the women's application of henna color to their hands for holidays. Eitzen's (Alphabestiary) illustrations depict traditional meals and dress, but without any reference in the text, children will not understand their significance. In the narrator's family, Hussein is a name passed down to all of the men ("In Arabic, it means handsome"). Their idyllic life is disrupted when an army arrives "with tanks, cannons, guns, and dogs," sporting uniforms, barricading the mosques and forcing Hussein, his family and neighbors to choose Christian names ("Now I have a new identity card.... It says my name is Harry.... My name was Hussein"). These dark events go unexplained in the narrative, which unspools in fits and starts; and readers never really get to know the narrator or his family. The book raises more questions than can be answered in the afterword (which explains that war came to Bulgaria in the mid-1980s), and Hussein's story could be doubly confusing to children in light of recent events in the Middle East. Ages 8-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Hussein lives in Bulgaria in a Roma community. The Roma people came to Bulgaria from India and have long suffered discrimination. Young Hussein talks of celebrating Muslim holidays with his family, when his mother and grandmother make special foods and his father gives the children new clothes. Then suddenly soldiers close the village and no one is allowed to leave. Hussein's parents are ordered to take new Christian names. They follow orders, but Hussein wants everyone to know that "my name was Hussein." The author's note explains that he was a Roma forced to change his name under the communist government of Bulgaria in the 1980s. The story is a reminder that discrimination takes many forms in many countries and it is not just a problem of the past. Allan Eitzen uses color dramatically in his simple line drawings to convey the joy of a holiday gathering and the stark horror of the soldiers' visit. Hussein's huge dark eyes are alternately soft and smiling, haunted and scared. It is a touching story told very simply so that even young children can understand and talk about what happens when people do not tolerate difference. 2004, Boyds Mills, Ages 5 to 8.
—Karen Leggett
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 3-Based on the author's life, this picture book traces the experiences of a young Roma boy who lives in Bulgaria. Hussein introduces readers to the blend of many cultures and traditions that his family has incorporated over the centuries: the henna hand painting from India, the observance of Muslim religious ceremonies, and an Arabic name passed down through generations. When communist soldiers arrive in their village, their freedom is curtailed. Hussein and his brother miss the celebrations they were used to, but the greatest indignity is being forced to adopt "Christian names." The illustrations provide a variety of interesting viewpoints and reveal the sadness in Hussein's eyes as his life changes in the wake of the purge. The pen-and-ink outlines are softened by gray-toned washes that, combined with soft watercolor hues, evoke an old-world landscape. For children who have always lived with freedom, this poignant story provides a glimpse at what life is like for many ethnic minorities. It also offers youngsters the opportunity to make their own decisions about prejudice when the young narrator, bringing the tale full circle, asks at the end, "What would you call me?"-Laurie Edwards, West Shore School District, Camp Hill, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What appears to be a standard I-am-Roma-and-this-is-how-we-live story takes a dramatic turn halfway through, packing a substantial wallop. "My name was Hussein," begins this small, big-eyed boy, staring directly at the reader, before he explains how his Roma family lives in Bulgaria and practices Islam. Line-and-watercolor illustrations feature greens and browns and a liberal use of white negative space as they show Hussein and his family happily celebrating Ramadan. The text is simple and ingenuous, giving the whole an almost unbearably naive air-until "one day everything changed. The army came with tanks, cannons, guns, and dogs," and two tanks rumble in from the left and right, framing the village at gunpoint. It appears that in the mid-1980s, as war raged through Serbia, Bulgaria quietly practiced some ethnic cleansing of its own and forced its ethnic minorities to adopt Christian names. "Now I have a new identity card, too. It says my name is Harry. . . . My name was Hussein." The directness of the narrative underscores Hussein's emotional upheaval and turns an entirely pedestrian tale into a significant and very personal chronicle. An author's note provides historical context. (Picture book. 7-12)

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Product Details

Highlights Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.28(w) x 10.26(h) x 0.38(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

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