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- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

6.29.2013

Going to Mecca (2011)

Written by Na'ima B. Robert

Illustrated by Valentina Cavallini

Collage and mixed media

Set in ITC Usherwood

Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Dress with a pilgrim as he stands barefoot.
A sheet round his shoulders, another round his waist.
Now he is the same as thousands of others.
No riches or status to tell them apart.

I thought that was a good and important way for the author to begin this book. It takes an alien experience and puts it in a light I can grasp, even admire. No riches or status to tell them apart. All religious expressions should be able to boast the same.

We see the family before the donning of the sheets. reading in their home, chasing taxis in the rain. But once the sheets are donned, the illustrator presents us with an amazing double-page spread with hundreds and hundreds of seemingly individually crafted people massing around the mysterious Black Stone. I don't know if it was digital trickery or if she actually cut out and arranged them all, but it is really amazing to see.

The following pages also present dozens and dozens of individual people, all different. She really spent a long time choosing skin-tones, it's hard to find any two people who have exactly the same shade of skin.

Stand with the pilgrims as they face the Ka'bah,
Head bare, feet in sandals,
With thousands of others.
Strangers, sisters,
Strangers, brothers
They stand and then move
Like a great swirling sea 

I like that repitition of the words "strangers" here. They are all strangers, all sisters, all strangers, all brothers. So much commonality, yet the Black Stone, sitting massive and silent, for me evokes the black monolith from 2001, and seems an impenetrably primal icon, yet it evokes such seeming joy from its adherents, not lessened as we follow them back home, back to their lives.


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