Review of the Day: Mama's Saris
I guess I never really realized that it was a universal instinct. You are born. You grow a little older. And then one day your raid your mother’s closet, trying on her dresses, shoes, scarfs, and so on for the sole purpose of becoming, if only for a little while, older. I remember trying on my mom’s wedding dress once, in all its frilly early 70s lace glory, and I was not a child usually prone to “playing dress up” as it were. Imagine then if you had a mother that wore clothes that had names like Zardosi, Banarasi, and Kalamkari. Pooja Makhijani has taken a very simple concept and has expanded it to encompass the whole wide world. With simple language and just the right words, she conveys better than anyone what it can mean to a daughter to find herself made into the image of her mom.
A small girl is about to celebrate her seventh birthday and you know what that means. Time for Mama to pull out the suitcase of saris she always stores carefully under her bed for special occasions. On this day in particular she lets her daughter pick out which sari to wear. Will it be the black chiffon one that “shimmers like the nighttime sky”? Or how about the blue with the gold flowers that dance along its border? No, nothing but the brilliant orange, “with edges that look like they have been dipped in red paint”, worn on the day when our little girl was first brought home from the hospital will do. Only, it’s not enough. The girl wants to finally wear a sari of her own, and this time, because it’s her birthday, she’s finally getting her wish. She is swathed in blue, bangled to match, and then in the final crowning touch is given the kiss of beautiful glittery bindi right in the center of her forehead. And when asked what she thinks, the kid answers in delight, “I think I look like you!”
There’s an awfully helpful Author’s Note at the beginning of the book that provides quite a bit of sari-related information for people who, like myself, haven’t been initiated into the world of Kantha and the like. Says Ms. Makhijani, “I wrote Mama’s Saris after realizing that my own fascination with my mother’s fancy clothes was not unique. It seemed as if each of my female friends, regardless of ethnicity or age, remembers being captivated by her mother’s grown-up clothes.” True nuff. Extra points for the rather nice Glossary of terms, also at the front of the book, that defines everything from what a didi is to chaniya choli, alongside pronunciations. As for the text itself, it really does convey the yearning many a little girl feels towards becoming as glamorous as her mother. Add in the extra delight of dress-up and you’ve got yourself a book that speaks to all kids of all persuasions.
Now sometimes the stars align in just the right way to allow a first-time picture book author like Ms. Makhijani to be paired with just the right illustrator. What this book required was an artist that could match the author’s eloquent ode to the sari in a realistic fashion. A messy illustrator or representational one working primarily in the realm of splotches and blots would not have done this book any justice at all. Elena Gomez is no newcomer to the world of picture book illustration, but she has yet to be recognized fully. And in the case of "Mama's Sari", she proves herself to be especially good at repeating vibrant patterns in this story, and everything from the bedspread to the saris to the wallpaper is reproduced here magnificently. I also enjoyed the moments when the narrator would discuss a moment from the past and Gomez would accommodate by showing the characters from that moment as snapshots lovingly framed and fallen against a multitude of glorious fabrics. Interestingly enough the artist’s figures are far more natural when they aren’t side-views of faces. Sometimes a shot from the side will look a little forced or unnatural. It rarely happens, however, and she makes up for these with pictures like the magnificent view of the girl’s mother smiling in her vibrant orange and red sari, as her daughter pouts over her left shoulder, simultaneously entranced and envious.
All in all, a soft and sweet little book. Written with love and illustrated with obvious care, it definitely is a keeper through and through. Consider adding it to your own collection should you feel you need to beef up your mother/daughter selection. A perfect Mother’s Day gift, to say the least.
On shelves May 2007.