REVIEW: Malaika’s Surprise

Malaika’s Surprise
Author: Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrator: Irene Luxbacher
Groundwood Books
Ages 3-8

This book is special in that it takes a universal tale of big sibling woe, and uses that to expose kids to several worlds that might be outside their own.

This is the third in the Malaika’s series of books, following the Caribbean-born title character, Malaika, her mother, and her White, French-Canadian father and step-sister Adèle.

It’s the end of summer and Malaika and her sister Adèle are playing carnival with colorful costumes, lots of dancing, and even more giggles. 

There’s a new girl in the neighborhood, and an even bigger surprise, a new baby on the way. The first incites, curiosity in Malaika, the second bit of news, apprehension.

What will it be like when the baby come?
Will Mummy forget about me?

School starts and Malaika is delighted to see the new neighborhood girl is in her class.

She come from a far place, just like me.
She talk a different talk too.
Her name is Malayka M.
Why is she crying?
I tell her it will be okay

Malaika and Malayka become good friends. Soon it is Malaika’s birthday and Grandma is here!

When Grandma come, she bring love 
and sunshine, cards from my friends back 
home and even my peacock carnival 

But even Grandma can not make up for Malaika’s feeling of being put aside, as her birthday celebrations are derailed when Mummy has to be rushed to the hospital to deliver the baby, ruining Malaika’s birthday party.

…but the doubles Grandma make are 
cold, and the cake crush up in my bag.
It don’t feel like my birthday.
I miss Mummy.

It is Malayka’s thoughtful special card that soothes Malaika’s tears.

The card have my brown and pink family. 
She even draw a baby.
“Famille,” she say, and other words in her different talk as 
she point to a big red heart in the picture. She hold my hand and
say, “All okay.”

The book ends with Malaika visiting her new brother in the hospital and the family welcoming their new addition at home, Malaika converted to her big-sister role.

I think of all the things I will teach him.  
I know he will love carnival and soca.
I kiss his little face.

This book is a well-written, beautifully illustrated, and heartwarming story about a little girl afraid about yet another change in her very young life. How wonderfully banal. To young readers, the diversity in the book will hopefully come across as passe, almost an afterthought, to the central story that every kid who has dealt with the arrival of a new disruptive sibling can relate to. 

But as adult readers, I hope we know that’s not the case. This book is special in that it takes a universal tale of big sibling woe, and uses that to expose kids to several worlds that might be outside their own.

The use of English, Patois, Arabic, and French is seamless, woven into the fabric of the story – as colorful and beautiful as the carnival costumes Malaika and her sister wear. It’s a song that any immigrant kid will instantly recognize.

And hopefully, few White kids will balk at.

Malaika’s Surprise (Support an Independent Bookstore)
Malaika’s Surprise (Amazon)*

More books for this Age Group can be found here.

My thanks to Groundwood Books for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.

Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.

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