There are moments when you feel privileged to be holding a book in your hands. Jeannie Baker’s Mirror is one of those books which provide you with that honor. A rare find which revolutionizes the experience of flipping through the pages of a book with its capacity to go beyond the boundaries of what a children’s book ‘should’ appear like and introducing an experience that as far as I know would be very difficult to emulate or portray through iPad or Kindle. Once again, I marvel at our inspired idea of dedicating the months of March and April to featuring wordless picture books: “When Words are not Enough.”
Author’s Introduction. The book begins with a short introduction that communicates the concept behind Mirror:
There are two boys and two families in this book. One family lives in a city in Australia and one lives in Morocco, North Africa. The lives of the two boys and their families look very different from each other and they are different. But some things connect them… just as some things are the same for all families no matter where they live.
That alone, I believe, is powerful enough to convince anyone to get a hold of this beautiful wordless book. Mirror is literally made up of two parts/sections that are meant to be read simultaneously. The same introduction cited above has an Arabic counterpart on the right-hand side of the book.
Evening and Morning Rituals. Similar to Jan Ormerod’s wordless classics Sunshine and Moonlight which we also reviewed here – this book takes us on a wordless journey of bedtime and morning rituals as ingeniously portrayed in both parts of the world – the same moon shining over them wherever they may be.
Desert and Dry land Mirrored with Cityscapes, Cars, and Airplanes. It is indeed very striking that as the family in Sydney hops onto their car on their way to run an errand in the supermarket, the same father and child in Morocco also hop onto their donkey to make a long silent journey through the desert to sell their wares.
As the family in Sydney struggles with early morning traffic and takes for granted the airplanes flying close to the highways – we are taken to a journey across barren plains, the overwhelming browns occasionally dotted with valleys of greens – a world that is totally unlike that which we may be familiar with.
Nuclear and Extended Homes and the Beauty that is Cultural Diversity. What struck me as well as I was immersing myself in Baker’s artwork is that it highlights how largely nuclear the structure of the family in Sydney is. In Morocco, we have the patriarch and two sets of grandmothers in the home (or possibly an aunt), whereas the family in Sydney has the mother and father and the two children.
A social studies teacher would have a field day just engaging the students on how the cultural diversity is communicated through the art work in this book. One could also discuss rituals during meal times and may be asked which family life they might want to have a taste of, given the choice.
I am also particularly taken with the notion of transnational identities and how the world is being made even smaller with technology and Facebook being an entire country with its internet denizens as citizens. This is even more evident with this boy’s use of the computer and all the wonders (and horrors) it could bring – especially as one connects to the world wide web.
Collages in Children’s Books. This is the first time that I came across this medium/style of illustration in children’s literature and my jaw literally dropped seeing how painstaking, how meticulous, how unbelievably beautiful (can’t think of any other hyperbole to describe my extreme state of being) each page is. I could just imagine the amount of time it took Jeannie Baker to finish each book. She shared a bit about her process here and she noted that in some books (such as Where the Forest meets the Sea) it takes her two-three years to finish creating all the collages. She also observed that “Not surprisingly, the actual artwork is distinctively different from what you see in my books” (source here).
In Mirror, Baker describes her creative process:
The pictures started as drawings. Using these drawings as a guide, collages were made. The collages were constructed layer by layer on a wooden baseboard using a combination of natural and artificial materials such as sand, earth, clay, paints, vegetation, paper, fabric, wool, tin and plastic. The natural materials were preserved and fresh colouring added. The completed collages were then photographed to be reproduced as you see here.
Author’s Endnotes and Reflections. I liked how Jeannie Baker shared with her readers the idea for the book. She related that Mirror was a product of her delight in travelling to a country very different from hers:
At that time, in my own country, there was much political poisoning of attitudes towards foreigners and foreignness. But travelling alone in remote Morocco, a woman ‘stranger’ myself, I was met with much friendliness and generosity from ‘strangers.’ The idea for the book was right there: that outward appearances may be very different but the inner person of a ‘stranger’ may not be a stranger at all. Like each other, we live to be loved by family and friends, and be part of a larger family, a community. Inwardly we are so alike, it could be each other we see when we look in a mirror.
Sydney and the Valley of Roses. I was privileged to have a two-week stay in Sydney July of last year to attend and present in two international conferences (International Arts Conference in Sydney College of the Arts, and Asia Pacific Conference on Giftedness at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Center). Several of the photos I have taken during the event (which also showcases Sydney’s architecture and trees) could be found here and here. I particularly enjoyed watching live performances/concerts in QVB on my way to the MRT station. Here are also some pictures that I took while in Sydney that I wish to share with you. Enjoy!
Since I have not visited Morocco yet (too bad Mary’s trip did not push through, I would have looked forward to her posting a few photos), I surfed the web to find Baker’s inspiration for this book, the Valley of Roses in Southern Morocco and here are some of the images that I found. Truly beautiful.
Teacher Resources and Possible Links. As I was looking for possible resources that I can recommend for this book, I discovered that there were quite a number of them so I had to be pretty discerning. This one is a PDF downloadable file that Walker Books (publisher of Mirror) has prepared for teachers/educators. It provides an extensive discussion guide on how the book can be used to talk about environment, cultural studies, humanities, and activities to enhance English skills. Quite comprehensive, really. In Corinne’s monthly post of events for April, she shared this link that details the traveling exhibition of Mirror across different museums, arts centres, and regional libraries in Australia dating from August of 2010 to January 2013. If you’re in the area, you should definitely check this one out.
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Mirror by Jeannie Baker. Published by Walker Books Ltd London, 2010. Book project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australian Council for the Arts. Book borrowed from the community library.