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Pickle Me This

July 18, 2012

Our Best Book of the Library Haul: Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall is the story of a young girl who is eager to fit at school, but who must also conform to her mother’s cultural expectations. When Rubina is invited to a birthday party, her mother sees no reason why her younger sister Sana can’t go too, even though Rubina protests that everyone will think it’s strange her sister comes. And she’s right, they do. When a while later, Sana is invited to a birthday party of her own and is expected to take along their smallest sister, Rubina overcomes the temptation for revenge and steps in to set their mother right

I’ve read this book five times today, at Harriet’s request, and I’m not sure what draws her to it exactly– she’s a bit too young to get it, and I think she’s mostly entranced by the idea of lollipops. And perhaps there is some attraction to the power struggles between the sisters in the book, the squabbling over sharing that she engages in herself with her own friends. I think both of us are also in love with Sophie Blackall’s illustrations, and the fact that two spreads are maps on which we trace our fingers to follow Rubina’s walk home from school, and the sisters’ dash around the furniture.

Big Red Lollipop defies picture book convention in so many ways. Significant time passes in this book, a good year or so. There are clear instances of injustice taking place in the text, no matter how petty, and it’s frustrating to encounter this as a reader. The characters are of an Asian-immigrant background, but the background is not the point of the story. Here is a book in which an Asian-Canadian child can see herself reflected, and in which my daughter can see people who look different than she is–a reflection of the community we live in. In which the parent is both honoured, but also shown as a person who can learn from her children. It is a picture book with the depth of a novel.


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