Going to Mecca


Written by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Valentina Cavallini
Frances Lincoln, 2012.

Ages: 5+

Going to Mecca opens with the image of a family getting ready for a trip to Saudi Arabia, where they will be performing the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that is considered one of the pillars of the Islamic faith. We see the youngest of the three children waving goodbye to his parents and siblings. Still a baby, and not yet ready for the journey his family is about to embark on, he is staying with grandma.

Focusing on one family’s experience, Going to Mecca brings to life, with spare and evocative language, the long days of walking, the crowds (“…the city swells with pilgrims from all lands. From city and steppe, from island and desert, they all congregate…”), as well as all the places and sacred rituals of the Hajj, which for many Muslims is a once in a lifetime experience.

Cavallinni’s collage/mixed media illustrations convey the pilgrim crowd’s immensity and diversity in gorgeous high-angle perspectives—tens of thousands of people in all directions, different groups merging into one big river of humans.

The meaning of each of the sites visited and rites performed during the pilgrimage is explained in an end note that also offers highlights on the history of Mecca to help put the Hajj into context for those who may be learning about it for the first time. While the end notes are very helpful, the book might also have benefitted from a preface (at least in the case of non-Muslim readers, who may need a second reading, as it is, to fully absorb and appreciate it). Admittedly, this is a very small quibble with an otherwise beautiful, relevant and well-executed book.

Going to Mecca is a great introduction to the meaning and reality of the Hajj to Muslims. Non-Muslim children and adults alike will learn a great deal from it, and Muslim readers of any age will rejoice in seeing such a crucial element of their faith portrayed so beautifully and respectfully.


Interviews Index

Here’s an index of my interviews with publishers, editors, authors, illustrators and others in the book world.

Editors & Publishers:

Denise Johnstone-Burt – Walker Books, UK (September 2011)

Kate O’Sullivan – Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, US (September 2011)

Geeta Dharmarajan – Katha Books, India (November 2010)

Manisha Chaudhry – Pratham Books, India (October 2010)

Radhika Menon and Sandhya Rao – Tulika Books, India (October 2010)

Patricia Aldana – Groundwood Books, Canada (April 2010)

Jason Low – Lee & Low Books, US (April 2010)

Tessa Strickland – Barefoot Books, UK (March 2010)

Sheila Barry – Kids Can Press, US (March 2010)

Dana Goldberg – Children’s Book Press, US (February 2010)

Authors & Illustrators:

Lucia Gonzalez (February 2010)

Lynne Barasch (February 2010)

Grace Lin (February 2010)

Kashmira Sheth (October 2010)

Mitali Perkins (August 2010)

Matt Ottley, Rukhsana Khan, Jennifer Cervantes, Charles R. Smith Jr. and Kashmira Sheth(June 2010)

Carla M. Pacis (October 2009)

Frances and Ginger Park (April 2009)

Katie Smith Milway (February 2009)

Elisa Kleven (February 2009)

Deborah Ellis ,(December 2008)

Susan L. Roth (December 2008)

Pam Munõz Ryan (Sep 2008)

Linda Sue Park (May 2008)

Felicia Hoshino (January 2008)

Ann Martin Bowler (November 2007)

Amada Irma Pérez (September 2007)

Alan Gratz (July 2007)

Rose Kent (May 2007)

Ann Love & Jane Drake (March 2007)

Larry Loyie (January 2007)

Cynthia Chin-Lee (November 2006)

René Colato Laínez (September 2006)

Amelia Lau Carling (September 2006)

Linda Sue Park (June 2006)

Uma Krishnaswami (May 2006)

Pat Mora (April 2006)

Andrea Cheng (February 2006)

Yuyi Morales (October 2005)

Others in the book world:

Chris Bradshaw – Founder, African Library Project (September 2010)

Maya Ajmera  Founder, The Global Fund for Children (December 2009)

Julie Kline – Chair, Americas Book Award (June 2009)

Susan C. Griffith – Chair, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (June 2009)

Dora Ho – Chair, Asian Pacific American Literary Award (APALA) (June 2009)

Rose Zertuche-Treviño – Youth Services Librarian, Huston Public Library (September 2008)

Miranda Doyle – Librarian, Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Middle School (July 2007)

Starry River of the Sky

StarryRiverOfTheSkyWritten and illustrated by Grace Lin,
Little, Brown, 2012.

Ages: 8-12

Grace Lin’s new middle-grade fantasy, Starry River of the Sky, is a gem every bit as compelling as its companion, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and cut from the same bedrock too: it masterfully weaves Chinese folklore into a richly textured yarn about magic, unexpected connections and the power of stories to shape our lives.

When Rendi, after running away from home in anger, finds a job as a helper at an Inn, he finds the small, in-the-middle-of-nowhere village of Clear Sky and its inhabitants mysteriously odd and out of sorts. For starters, the moon seems to be missing. Then there is Peiyi, the innkeeper’s daughter, whom he loves to tease and whose brother has disappeared; an unhappy neighbor who argues all the time; Mr. Shan, who seems confused about his pet; and finally, Madame Chang, a mysterious and beautiful woman with a gift for storytelling.

While cursing his past and planning his escape from the village, Rendi is both captivated and haunted by Madame Chang’s stories, as well as by the stories the others around him start sharing. Instead of giving him answers, though, these tales seem to leave him with even more questions. Could these people and what they are revealing possibly be related to the missing moon and to the disappearance of Peiyi’s brother? Could they even be related to his own story?

The realism of the characters blended with familiar folktales (which appear in a different font, to differentiate them from the rest of the narrative) and well-placed fantastical elements allows readers to feel magically connected to Rendi and the world of Clear Sky. As the stories within the story start transforming the characters’ lives, we follow Rendi’s journey from anger and confusion toward compassion and understanding, and—reluctantly, at first—toward what he knows in his heart he must do.

With stunning full-color page illustrations sprinkled throughout, Starry River of the Sky is a beautiful, quiet, rich, and memorable book. Heartfully and skillfully executed, it is thoroughly enchanting––and a find at any age!