Deep in the Sahara

written by Kelly Cunnane
illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

Ages: birth-8 years (approximately grades preschool – 2)

A young girl, Lalla, who lives in Eastern Africa, wants more than anything to wear a malafa like the women she sees all around her in her daily life. Lalla believes that the traditional Muslim head covering will make her look beautiful, mysterious, grown up, and regal. As the women around her explain that a malafa is more than something worn to change how others view you, Lalla’s desire to wear a malafa only grows stronger and stronger. It isn’t until Lalla tells her mother at the evening call to prayer that she wants to wear a malafa to show her faith and pray with everyone that, finally, for the right reasons, does she want and get one.

This lyrical, enchanting story portrays the wish of so many children: to grow up and be like the adults around them as soon as possible. The malafa, as shared by Cuannane in the author’s note, is a veil that Muslim women wear to adhere to the modesty and earnestness of their internal faith, not an external ornament or show of oppression as many might mistake it to be. Hadadi’s paper collage illustrations capture the narration’s passion, and the malafa’s beauty so perfectly that readers might spend more time gazing at the art than reading the simple-yet-powerful story about growing up. Earning multiple starred reviews from professional review journals (such as Booklist and Publisher's Weekly), Deep in the Sahara is best suited for ages birth to eight years old, and would entice readers who enjoy the works of Patricia Polacco (especially The Keeping Quilt and The Blessing Cup) or Allen Say (especially Tea with Milk), who want to learn more about East African cultures, or who might be trying to grow up too quickly.

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