Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

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Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

jamal

My initial thoughts of this 32 page Islamic fiction, fable-style book, is that it needed to be tested on children, lots and lots of children.  It should have been read aloud to catch all the grammar, syntax, and diction errors, and young readers and listeners should have been asked what they learned or understood from the story, BEFORE, being published.  The message is sweet, the illustrations cute, but it feels unrefined and reads underdeveloped: pictures and concepts are not enough to carry a book if the writing is poor.

I have looked forward to obtaining the book since its launch, so as soon as it was available from a US stockist (@crescentmoonstore), I didn’t even hesitate to purchase it.  I knew the book was available for free online as a read aloud on YouTube, but because I truly love supporting Muslim authors and publishers, I wanted to wait until I had a physical copy in my hand.  These opinions are my own, all my reviews are.  I mean no malicious will to anyone, I’ve spent my money on something, and once I’ve done so, I am completely justified to have an opinion.  You don’t have to like it, or agree with it, but it isn’t personal.  I’ve given reasonings for my opinions, and I stand by them.

Jamal the Giant isn’t necessarily mean, but he is careless, young, and selfish.  He scares the animals in the woods, destroys their homes, ruins farmers’ crops, and steals from the village.  One night, he wants to steal some juice and in the process overhears the community members discussing how different he is from his kind parents, and that he must be forced to leave.  He tries to mend his ways before he is driven from his home, but to no avail.  Unsure how to fix things, it is the advice of a tiny mouse that sets his reform in motion and conveys the message from the Quran, surah 11 ayat 114, “Good deeds cancel out bad deeds.  This is a reminder for the mindful.” He learns he must apologize, make amends and be kind.

The message is accurate, but I have some concerns at how it is conveyed.  Why was the responsibility on the giant to learn how to behave.  Yes if he knew better, he should do better, but it is made clear that he is the last of his kind and his parents died when he was really young.  If the villagers aren’t going to try and teach him, who is?  It isn’t necessarily victim blaming, but if you don’t know better, and have no one to teach you, you definitely are a victim of neglect in some ways.  To have them going from enabling him out of a promise to his parents to threatening to kick him out from his home, is a little abrupt.

Story-wise there are some points that gave me pause.  Why is there an owl flying off in the daytime, sure there are some diurnal owls, but most kids are taught owls are nocturnal, why not change it to a woodland bird that is active in the day, don’t confuse kids.  It doesn’t specify a timeframe that the story takes place in, but it feels like a fable with talking animals a giant and a clear message.  There is a baker, a farmer, an imam, a greengrocery, it is all very quaint, but then the imam is holding a cell-phone, wait what? I do appreciate that the farmer is female though, and that some of the women cover and some do not, it seems representative.

I’m curious who taught the giant to read, and how come he writes his “s” backwards, there seems to be a bit of disjointedness to the upbringing of the giant, his age, even in giant terms.  A lot it seems the author assumes the reader knows about giants or their stereotypes perhaps, because the book doesn’t address them, and the result isn’t a fun moral story, but one that seems to miss things.

The little mouse teaching the big giant, carries some Lion and the Mouse-Aesop fable vibes, but really it is the proof-reading of the book that is disappointing.  When you read it aloud, commas are abundantly missing (even in the online reading pauses are placed where commas are not written).  Why is the B in Baker capitalized, and if it is the Baker’s house, as in last name is Baker, then an apostrophe is missing.  Many of the lines are just awkward and halting, even if not particularly erroneous.  The diction is questionable at times, Jamal “always” thinks about that day at the lake, woah, doesn’t reflect on it, but it haunts him “always.”  Jamal “‘really’ didn’t have to steal,” seems to imply he was justified in stealing a little, this should be a black and white issue in a children’s book, no?

There are questions at the end of the book, and a whole page of information about the author and illustrator as well.  In a case like this I don’t know if the publisher didn’t do justice to the author’s work, or if the author should have refined it more, before coming to the publisher, but it is unfortunate because clearly a lot of effort went in to the illustrations and promoting of the book.

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