Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

Lalla wants to wear a malafa, just like all the girls and women in her Mauritania, West African village.  She says would like to wear a malafa so she can be beautiful like her mother, but her mother tells her that a malafa is for more than just beauty.

Lalla's sister looks mysterious in her malafa, but she tells Lalla that a malafa is for more than just mystery.

When she tells cousin Aisha she would like to wear a colorful malafa to be a lady, again she is told that a malafa is for more than just being a lady.

And Grandmother tells her a malafa is for more than just tradition, when Lalla approaches her.

When Lalla looks around her and sees the men going to pray in mosques, and the women praying in quiet places, she tells her mother that she wants to wear a malafa so she can pray just like her mother.  To her surprise, her mother brings out a beautiful blue malafa and wraps Lalla in it, just like all the girls and women in the village wear theirs.

Slowly, mother and daughter ascend the stairs and Lalla tells her mother that she knows was a malafa is for - it is for faith.

Deep in the Sahara is a lovely story about a young girl (and young readers) learning to understand and appreciate this very important aspect of her Muslim religion.  In her Author's Note, Kelly Cunnane writes that before she went to live in Mauritainia, she had viewed wearing the veil as repressive, an idea that I think many non-Muslims have.  But she said, once there she realized that it was a positive expression of Islam and she changed her way of thinking about wearing a malafa.  This book is an expression of what Cunnane discovered.  It certainly reflects the colorful, confident ease with which the women wear their malafas, but shows the importance of understanding just why a girl would chose to do so.

The lovely, colorful college illustrations by Hoda Hadadi, an Iranian artist, adds so much in showing the reader a strong, supportive community and close family relationships that exist in this part of the world.  I particularly like the was she showed the different ways women might express themselves in the color and pattern choices of their malafas.

Be sure to read the Author's Note and look at the small glossary of Arabic words used throughout the story.   This is a book that will go far in increasing our understanding of the Islamic religion.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. Wow, this book looks great! Can I add to my Middle Eastern books for kids list with a link back to you?

    1. Of course you can add it to your Middle Eastern books for kids. It was a very interesting story and something kids should all know about regardless of their religion.

  2. oh wow, this sounds like a really good book. There's such awful push against the veil in places like Quebec. Thanks for writing this!

  3. This sounds like such a wonderful book. I'd love to find it for my daughter. I love to share books about other cultures with her. This sounds like a positive and beautiful story that celebrates a piece of traditional culture without making it "exotic" or "strange."

    Thanks for linking up to the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  4. Another great find Alex. I am glad you shared it on KidLit Blog Hop. Its nice that author chose to include some language notes at the back. It would be good for kids to also see the differences in the language structures.
    -Reshama @ Stackingbooks

  5. Very, very interesting book! I think it is very timely with the undercurrent of feelings people in North America have toward people who practice the Muslim religion. I think this is a good one for kids and parents alike! Great recommendation! Thank you for joining us in the Kid Lit Blog Hop.


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