Review of the Day: My Father's Shop
I first saw this Kane/Miller publication on Anne Boles Levy's site Book Buds. It looked interesting enough, but I figured she'd covered all the essential information about the title. Then Kane/Miller sent me the book personally, and I took a closer gander at it. All in all, this is a rather nice picture book, and one that should really get more attention. As shown here...
No matter what your culture, creed, or standard of living, there is one creature in this world that draws universal ire and attention. The tourist. Many of us find ourselves becoming that dreaded beast at least once in our lifetimes, but there aren’t that many picture books that go so far as to comment on them. Enter in, “My Father’s Shop”, by Satomi Ichikawa. Written by a Japanese born Parisian resident about a Moroccan bazaar, this is one of those international picture books with particularly good credentials. It’s even nicer that the story is an interesting one as well.
Mustafa spends the day working in his father’s carpet shop. Because of the nature of his job (a Moroccan marketplace) Mustafa’s dad must know a variety of different languages with which to communicate with tourists. One day, the boy finds a rug with a big hole in the center. When Mustafa pleads to keep it for his very own, his father agrees but on the condition that his son learn some foreign phrases. This lasts for a little while, but the boy quickly becomes bored and shoots off into the nearby marketplace. There he finds himself followed by a rooster. Suddenly all the tourists and locals are telling the boy what their culture teaches that the rooster says. In England it’s “Cock-a-doodle-doo”, while in Spain it’s, “Qui-qui-ri-qui”. Mustafa runs home to tell his father all about the many languages he’s learned and inadvertently leads the tourists to his father’s stall where they do some mighty fine business.
On the bookflap we learn that author/illustrator Satomi Ichikawa, “never attended art school”. Remarkable? That doesn’t even begin to cover it. In terms of basic drawing skills the book's sheer variety of rugs, including countless different patterns, colors, and weaves, is enough to take your breath away. Even if you’ve never felt inclined towards even buying a rug, you might not mind giving Mustafa’s dad some business. She’s also particularly good at the visual gag. When Mustafa walks out into the wider world with his new rug draped over his head, part of the reason the rooster starts following him probably has to do with the fact that the bird is the exact same bright yellow and green colors as the rug. But while Ichikawa is good at your average floor covering, she’s just as adept at people. The characters in “My Father’s Shop” practically leap off of the pages. Kids reading this book will be able to locate each additional character from page to page. The closest picture book I’ve seen that even comes close to rivaling this kind of sheer character driven market/crowd scenes would have to be Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations for, “The Fortune Tellers”. Actually, the two books would probably pair together rather well too.
The writing, for the most part, is not bad. Oddly, I was unable to locate the name of the translator. This book, you see, was originally published in France. Whoever did the translating, therefore, did a passable if not extraordinary job of it. The text avoids the herky-jerkiness some children’s book translations fall prey to. At the same time, though, it wouldn’t really make that good a readaloud. I think that because the story is as strong as it is and the plot so interesting, this title would do particularly well one-one-one with a child. Not so much with the bigger groups.
One of the criticisms I’ve seen lobbed at this book in the past was the idea that this is a book that relies heavily on stereotypes. You know. What your average Japanese, British, French, Spanish tourists act and look like. For example, in this story the Japanese are shown to be all about getting just the right camera angle as they snap pictures of Mustafa and his rooster. The English, on the other hand, all wear neckerchiefs and the father looks positively Australian in his khaki gear. None of this really disturbed me, though. After all, tourists are stereotypical critters. They hop from country to country staying just long enough to shoot some pictures, buy some goods and services, and then leave. If you were a rug seller in Morocco you’d probably see only one side of them as well. The nice thing about this book is that everybody is able to communicate with one another by coming up with a different onomatopoeia-ish word for the same birdcall. And, in doing so, they are able to reach a kind of common ground in this book. So well done there.
Truth be told, in my limited knowledge of children’s literature overseas, the only other kids book I could think of that contained a carpet salesman was Diana Wynne Jones’s, “Castle In the Sky”. However, that title is far too mature to couple with this slight and jovial picture book. About once every two weeks I (a children’s librarian) am approached by parents or teachers looking for what they call, “multicultural picture books”. Until now I’ve gone with things like, “Throw Your Tooth On the Roof”, and books of that nature. Now I can proudly hold up, “My Father’s Shop”, as one of the lovelier new books of the year and a wonderful glimpse into the day-to-day life of your average Moroccan carpet salesman.