Author: Jeannie Baker
Illustrator: Jeannie Baker
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9780763648480 (US)
Themes: Story, Life, Family, People from different countries, Life in Australia, Life in Morocco, Connection, difference, humanity, culture
“This innovative picture book is comprised of two parts
designed to be read simultaneously – one from the
left, the other from the right. Page by page, we
experience a day in the lives of two boys and their
families – one from inner city Sydney, Australia and the
other from a small, remote village in Morocco, North Africa.
These worlds couldn’t be further apart, yet with the
showing of the parallel lives of the two families, we
see a simple truth. We see that in the context of
strikingly different lifestyles, remotely different
countries, landscapes, differences of clothing and all.
The families are essentially the same. They care for
each other, they need to belong, to be loved by their
loved ones and be a part of their community.
The simple truth is that even with all these differences
we are all the same. We are the mirror of each other.”
There are few books that you can call an “experience.” It’s hard to design something that is hard to define except through groans of appreciation and sighs of awe and wonder. This is something that Jeannie Baker seems to be able to do over and over again, her work a tightrope walk between the realms of art, fantasy and children’s literature, to call her work “merely” a picture book is to completely and utterly understate the importance and beauty of her work.
And you’d know this if you ever put your hands on any of her books.
And I think you’d pee your pants if that book you put your hands on was Mirror.
That’s how stunningly beautiful it is.
I’m actually wondering if it’d destroy the concept if i were to frame the book with pages side by side around the house…
Mirror opens up and the first thing you notice is that it’s actually two stories printed side by side, one on the left and the other on the right of the book, both opening from the centre.
The stories mirror one another, one is the story of a young boy and his family as he lives and goes through their day in Sydney, Australia, the other follows the day in the life of a young boy in Morocco, as you read the story and explore the illustrations you are able to explore each boys stories and wonder in awe at the world that each boy lives in.
Readers will be able to see similarities in the stories to their own lives and daily rituals while seeing in both (admittedly probably more in the story in Morocco) rituals, sights and activities that are very different to the days, towns, families and community that they are used to. the boys lives, told parallel to one another show each family preparing for the day ahead, each family heading off to work, to school, whether that involves eating breakfast at a table or milking a cow and collecting eggs.
The visual nature of this book is so overwhelming and effective that it’s told without words, after all they’re not really needed, each page turn invites you into a different place and time, meeting new people and seeing new things, when reading this to a young child I’d be surprised if each page doesn’t take you over five minutes to explore thoroughly, and I’d also be surprised that you don’t notice new things each time you re-visit the stories.
There’s a couple of times where the stories cross over, in particular you notice that the Moroccan father travels to town to sell a beautifully woven carpet rug, and that during the day the father and son in Sydney buy the very same rug to take home for their home. This particular tool and interaction works really well to speak to the way that we’re all connected to one another somehow, and it encourages me to ask how many people buy rugs from shops that can track back their products to a certain locality, how many of the things that we buy, that are a part of our lives can be tracked back to someone else’s story, or do we mostly buy mass produced items? If the answer is the latter then this book may actually encourage you to do more exploration into the things that you buy, do you know where things come from, who’s stories we are all individually connected to, and how much better things may be if we could track everything back to a person and their family rather than a mass corporation or sweatshop?
This book is anything but simple, it’s astonishingly beautiful, awe inspiring, moving, bright, different, new, inspired…
The only picture book that I think I can place next to it as a timeless and stunning example of the possibilities of children’s literature and picture books is “My Place” by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins.
I’ll be heading to the Melbourne exhibit of Mirror at the Melbourne Museum from the 5th of November 2010 through to the 13th of February 2011
You can see the exhibition over 2011 and 2012 across Australia, see Jeannies website for details.