CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 28 . . . . March 25, 2016
In a nameless South Asian city, the electricity in Maya's apartment goes out. Many of the buildings that she and her sari-clad mother see from the balcony are also in darkness. A power outage is obviously a regular occurrence, but with Papa gone (dead? We are never told), the loss of light seems threatening.
Maya remembers how Papa's stories used to make the dark night better, and Mama tries to soothe her daughter by repeating the tale of a monsoon rain that feeds a young banyan tree:
This should be a story to calm Maya's fears, but the little girl cannot sleep, or can she? Is it her imagination or a dream that calls up pictures from the story? The tiger is stalking some prey, and the elephant's huge feet make the ground tremble. This all makes the night more scary until she remembers the ending of Papa's story. The tiger is only rubbing its fur on the tree to ease an itch; the noise from the monkeys is not cackling, but laughter. And the elephant is dancing.
The sequence of events has a folktale quality, and the vocabulary is a rich one. Ontario illustrator Elly MacKay (of Butterfly Park and If You Hold a Seed) calls her cut-paper art "paper theatre". Here, her rich tropical hues and sinuous lines take us to the heart of Maya's dream jungle. The horizontal format encourages the reader to fully take in the images.
As in folklore, it all comes right in the end, with Maya tucked up in her mother's arms, dreaming anew. Would that every third-world child's story of shortage and uncertainty has such a comforting ending.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children's librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.
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