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Himani Bannerji
Toronto, Sister Vision Press, 1991. 80pp, galley, $7.95
ISBN 0-920813-86-0

Grades 4 to 6/Ages 9 to 11

Reviewed by Dave Jenkinson.

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

A didactically delivered theme completely overwhelms plot and character in this badly written book about South Asian children's encounters with racism in Canada. When Surindar Singh's grandfather returns from a visit to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, he brings a set of picture postcards that thirteen-year-old Surindar takes to school to share with friends Samir, Sujata and John. Bob, a school bully, asks to see the pictures, and Surindar's refusal leads to a fight in which Bob's clothing is torn. Bob threatens to "fix" the trio via his cousin, who is a member of the Klu [sic] Klux Klan, which has opened an office near the children's Toronto neighbourhood.

With the conflict established, the plot meanders about as the children try to learn more about the Klan, encounter a racially concerned teacher - Stephen (aka Steve) Stephenson, have another fight with Bob, and participate in an anti-racism rally. The story sputters to a conclusion with the children's inviting some of their new "rally" friends to the Singh's family restaurant for dinner.

In a manner reminiscent of the didactic juvenile titles of the nineteenth century. Coloured Pictures children repeatedly ask questions so that all-knowing adults can provide answers. Bannerji's writing is both stilted and filled with trite expressions. Run-on sentences abound, and an abundance of antecedent-less pronouns hamper reading. While words such as "gurudwara" and "barfis" reinforce the book's cultural setting, their use without a context to provide clues to their meaning makes them inaccessible to most readers. Characterization remains shallow because Bannerji uses a con­stantly shifting point of view to tell the story.

Fiction also requires factual accuracy. Describing the Klan's Canadian activi­ties, teacher Steve says, "in the thirties there were a hundred thousand mem­bers of the Klan in Saskatchewan." The Canadian Encyclopedia's Ku Klux Klan entry, however, places the organiza­tion's maximum Saskatchewan mem­bership at 40,000.

Middle schools wishing a quality title that explores the experiences and difficulties of South Asian children in Canada are directed to Nazeen Sadiq's Camels Can Make You Homesick and Other Stories.

Dave Jenkinson. University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Man.
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