Deep in the Sahara
By Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Schwarz & Wade Books, 2013
Picture book, Ages 4-8
ISBN: 0375870342 / 978-0375870347
Honors: Junior Library Guild Selection * Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
Set in Mauritania, West Africa, Deep in the Sahara explores how multiple generations of family can help us grow in faith and in understanding of ourselves and the world. In a graceful story of growing up, author Kelly Cunnane and illustrator Hoda Hadai explore a young Muslim girl’s desire to emulate the women around her by wearing a traditional veil, but first, she must come to understand its meaning.
Lalla wants to wear a malafa. She sees Mama and her sister, Selma, wearing colorful, expressive veils and wants to be just like them. Cousin Aisha wears one, too, but she says Lalla is too young—just a child. From Grandmother, Lalla learns that a malafa stands for far more than beauty or mystery, and even more than old tradition.
The experience of girls learning from the women around them transcends country or culture or religious tradition. The story made me remember how, as a five-year-old, I begged to sit in “big church” with my Grammy and Aunt Mary instead of going to Sunday School.
With Deep in the Sahara, the author and illustrator transport readers across the globe to West Africa and, once there, make us feel right at home in Lalla’s family. This is a beautiful book in every way. Back matter includes an author’s note and a glossary of included Hassaniya language (a dialect of Arabic) . – Gigi
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