Last month I read an author interview at one of my favourite book blogs, Saffron Tree. It was with an author/illustrator I had not previously heard of, James Rumford, but I was so excited by the sound of his work that I immediately tracked down what books of his I could. The first one to arrive through our library system was Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta 1325-1354 and in a rather fortuitous way, this awe-inspiring book was just perfect to accompany our postcard swap activities.
At first glance, James Rumford’s inspiration for Traveling Man might not seem an obvious one for a picture book – this book is essentially a biography of Ibn Battuta, a deeply religious Muslim who lived in the 14th century. However, if you were to pass over this book in the library or book shop both your children and you would miss out on an exquisitely beautiful and dream-inspiring story that I think deserves to be read by anyone, young or old, who is interested in exploration, travelling and different cultures around the world.
Ibn Battuta spent almost 30 years travelling from his birthplace in Morocco to China and back, exploring parts of Russia, Persia and eastern Africa along the way. James Rumford tells of his adventures and journeys using rich, vivid and evocative language. For example, of Ibn Battuta’s childhood he writes:
On maps, he would trace his finger along scarlet roads to reach the vermilion stars that marked the great cities of the world. on hot afternoons, in an imaginary boat, he would cross cool, peacock-colored seas to the eastern edge of the earth and sail fearlessly into the Ocean of Ignorance.
Additionally, Battuta’s tale is peppered with pithy epithets about travelling, such as “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
Rumford’s illustrations match his text perfectly in their boldness and powerful sense of place. Each double page spread is a mixture of illuminated manuscript (with lots of Arabic script in gold), map (with sentences from the story winding their way across the page as if following a meandering road), and tableau, showing images of Battuta in far flung locations on his journey.
To my shame, I think this is the first book I’ve read to M with a Muslim protagonist – it’s great to have a fantastic story with an amazing character who just happens to be Muslim (recommendations for more books like this would be much appreciated!) I would say that kids slightly older than mine would probably get the most out of this book as the language is quite demanding for a 5 year old, but M still really enjoyed it. Her favourite aspect of the book was the text weaving its way across the page as if on its own journey.
In the spirit of travelling the globe like Ibn battuta M, J and I marked out our our wall map the countries from where participants are sending postcards as part of the International Postcard Swap for Families. We made little flags using toothpicks and white label stickers (these were simply folded around the toothpicks).
Had I had more time and patience it had been my intention to help the girls draw the flags of participating countries on the bare flags, but instead we used the stickers in the Flags of the world sticker book by Chez Picthall. Although this was very convenient, and probably (I have to admit it!) made it more fun for the girls as they adore stickers, and drawing all the flags would perhaps have turned into something more like a chore, the stickers weren’t actually very sticky (a common problem I find with books like these). That said, the book is currently on offer on Amazon for £2.99 and at that price I do think it’s worth the money – you get 2 complete sets of the flags of the world, one slightly larger than the other, plus a poster of all the flags and some introductory information about each continent. Flags not associated with countries are also briefly mentioned.
Most importantly, the girls had lots of fun with the stickers, and M became very proud of her knowledge of flags across the world. Indeed, when our first postcard arrived last week, she was able to recognise the Canadian flag precisely because of the little flags we had created.
We stuck our flags on to the wall map in the right place using pieces of blue tack. It was really exciting to see the spread of participants and to think about all the postcards that are crossing the world spreading bit of joy and some book recommendations!
After completing our flag-bedecked map we created our postcards to send to our own swap partners. J finished off the cards she had already started by adding images from 3 of her favourite books – The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, the Frog books by Max Velthuijs (a Dutch author who has been widely translated), and the Dikkie Dik books by Jet Boeke (unfortunately only available in Dutch – they really deserve to be translated!) No! We didn’t cut up books but used a mixture of stickers and cut-up wrapping paper and old comics.
M signed the cards and then I added a postcard from me with images of our town on it and everything was put into envelopes with some of our favourite stamps on. Although the whole process was a lot of fun, J was particularly delighted to actually post them in the letter box!
Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta 1325-1354: *** (3 stars)
Here’s some of the music we enjoyed whilst we worked our way across the globe:
As for music from around the world specifically for children, if you don’t know about the record label Putumayo Kids you’ve a treat in store. They produce CDs of music from all over the globe and their compilations are generally excellent. A really great way to introduce your kids to world music
Here are some other reference links and projects that could pair nicely with Traveling Man:
Here are some links to posts about their postcards from other families taking part in the swap – enjoy!
If you’d like to help me improve things for a future postcard swap, I’d be grateful if you could answer 4 quick questions about the swap (you do not need to have taken part in the swap to answer the questions): Click here for the postcard swap survey.
What are your favourite pictures books about exploring the world? Where in the world would you like to explore if money, time and other commitments permitted?