Indulge me: Have a quick brainstorm about picture books you know for young kids which explore what it feels like to be different?
[Go on! Play the game!]
Of those you’ve come up with, how many are about emotions rather than physical characteristics?
How many of them feature humans rather than animals?
How many of them have a boy lead character rather than a girl?
[I came up with very few, and even then I needed help from the ever resourceful and generous Letterbox Library. Between us we came up with Oliver by Birgitta Sif, Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer and Alex T Smith, Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes but that was pretty much it.]
So when Made by Raffi written by Craig Pomranz, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (@madgiemadge) appeared in my hands for the first time I sat up and noticed; it’s about a boy who feels he doesn’t quite fit in, for instead of football, his passion is knitting and sewing.
Although he’s a curious and generous kid, he feels sidelined at school. Unlike most of his classmates, he doesn’t like noise and rough play. But thanks to a supportive teacher he discovers a new passion – making his own clothes. When it is time for the school play could this new skill help him gain the respect of his peers? Without giving the game away, the ending is upbeat, but also authentic. This isn’t a sugar-coated story. (For the really interesting background to the story, take a look at this article).
This book deserves to be in every school and read in every family for a whole plethora of reasons. It’s bold, tackling gender issues that many adults might skirt around: I love Pomranz daring to use the word “girly“, and it certainly helped us talk about how being a girl interested in ‘boys’ things’ is often more accepted by society than a boy interested in ‘girls’ things’. It’s big hearted; not just the warm, loving family Raffi is part of, but also his supportive school. It shows all sorts of children playing together, with different skin colours and different physical abilities, as well as different interests. It’s a joyously inclusive book, which tackles big themes gently and playfully.
Margaret Chamberlain’s illustrations are delightful. She uses colour very cleverly to portray moods and to mirror how much more interesting – indeed colourful – the world is for a diverse range of characters; wouldn’t the world be a dull grey place if we all liked only the same things?
A book about loneliness, respect, difference, and learning to trust your instincts even when it means you don’t follow the crowd, Made by Raffi is a vital, delightful and unusual book I urge you to share.
M and J were recently shown how to knit by their Grandma, and reading Made by Raffi offered the ideal opportunity to practice their recently acquired skills. (Here are some Youtube tutorials we found helpful to refresh our memories of what Granny had taught us: Casting on, knit stitch, casting off.
Having a ball of wool with lots of different colours on it was an effective tool in motivating the kids; each child would knit one or two colours and then hand the needles and ball over to the other. It gave them easy targets to aim for, and I’m sure this is partly why they completed a long scarf far more quickly than I was expecting.
Whilst knitting we’ve been listening to:
Other activities which would go well with reading Made by Raffi include:
Other picture /illustrated books which feature knitting include:
If you like the sound of Made by Raffi and are anywhere near Edinburgh in August, don’t miss the chance to meet author Craig Pomranz talking about his book as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers.