I fell in love with Jeannie Baker’s cleverly constructed new book, Mirror, the moment I opened it up and saw two separately bound stories facing me: the one on the left side began with English text, the one on the right with Arabic. In straightforward language, the first page explains the premise of this ingenious book: “There are two boys and two families in this book. One family lives in a city in Australia and one lives in Morocco, North Africa. The lives of the two boys and their families look very different from each other and they are different. But some things connect them… ”
When you begin flipping the pages, you’ll see a diagram that explains the two stories are designed to be read side by side. The Australian or Western story goes from left to right (the way you read English) and the Moroccan story goes from right to left (the way you read Arabic). Except for the first page, there are no words—but what’s happening is very clear. Baker’s intricate collages (made of paper, clay, sand, fabric, plastic, etc.) show two families waking up while it’s still dark outside and going about their morning routine (among other things, the Australian mom feeds her baby and the pet cat; the Moroccan mother says her prayers and finishes weaving a rug). Then the boys in each family accompany their father on an errand (the Australian boy drives into the city with his dad to go to the hardware store; the Moroccan boy and his father travel through the desert on a donkey to get to a village bazaar). After picking up supplies at the hardware store, the Australian boy and his father make one more stop—at a rug store. At the bazaar, the Moroccan dad sells the rug that the mother made and buys something covered in a brown paper box. Back at home, the two families do their evening chores and eat dinner (the Australian family orders takeout; the Moroccan family members make their meal from scratch and feed their donkey and other animals). After dinner, the two families enjoy their major purchase of the day. For the Australians, it’s a hand-woven rug (perhaps the very one that the Moroccan mother made). For the Moroccans, it’s a computer (remember the brown box from the bazaar?).
Children ages 6 to 8 will enjoy comparing the two stories in Mirror. Packed with details, they reveal fascinating differences in the way these two families live. But being able to see the pictures side by side also highlights the similarities and is sure to spark some thoughtful questions and discussion. In the end, readers will be reminded that families all over the world have a lot in common—sharing meals, helping out with chores, enjoying each other’s company. In her endnote, Baker writes: “Like each other, we live to be loved by family and friends, and be part of a larger family, a community. Inwardly we are so alike, it could be each other we see when we look in a mirror.”
Are you familiar with Jeannie Baker’s Mirror? What do you think of it? Can you suggest other books with a similar message?