I teach in a small school located in the downtown east side of Vancouver. It is a multicultural school with many different languages and cultures represented. My students are thrilled when a new student arrives at our school. They are excited to welcome a new friend and enthused about learning something new from someone new. As the teacher in the room, I am aware of how rich the learning is when a child from another country arrives. When this child has limited or no English skills, the learning is almost the most rich. It is then that we must be the most gracious, the most open, the most creative. Everything becomes about communication and connection.
This beautiful book – My Two Blankets written by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (published in Australia in 2014 by Little Hare Books and in North America in 2015 by HMH books for Young Readers) – portrays the reality of moving to a new country from the perspective of a young girl brand new to a place of strange words and new experiences.
Cartwheel comes to a new country with her Auntie. They have come to be safe but everything is different. She doesn’t understand the strange words spoken or many of the things she observes. She wraps herself in a metaphorical blanket of home, of comfort, of known. When a little girl reaches out in friendship, Cartwheel is drawn to her smile and her persistent offerings of language and friendship. Soon the new strange language sounds softer and full of possibility.
In the story, where Cartwheel has moved from and where she arrives is never clarified. This could be the story of any child moving to a new place to escape war or conflict. It becomes a story for all of us.
I love the illustrations of Freya Blackwood – the loose lines, the strong imagery, her use of colour. Author Irena Kobald was inspired to write this book because of a friendship between her own daughter and a Sudanese child. Both author and illustrator live in Australia.
This would be a fantastic read aloud in primary/early intermediate classrooms.
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