Written and Illustrated by Dana Salim
“Why can’t we all be the same?” asks young Yousuf of his father as they lay upon the carpet of their home, assembling Legos together one afternoon. “Maybe if we all looked the same and enjoyed the same things, everyone would be nice to each other!”
His father agrees that the world would indeed be a far better place if everyone was exactly the same in every way, and they then resume their Lego-construction in silence.
No, just kidding. In actuality, his father entreats Yousuf to close his young eyes and play the Time Travel game with him! In this new, alternate dream reality, Yousuf has now traveled to a time period in which talking baboons serve as boat captains and large, magical birds can be summoned by shouting, “Kalabazooo!”
It’s not immediately apparent how this fantasy world can address Yousuf’s questions about individuality… but Yousuf doesn’t look like he minds much, as he bounces around a mysterious island filled with lush valleys and beautiful flowers and…. ugly, thorny weeds?!
“What’s going on? Why is it getting dark and cold?” Yousuf shivers in fear as dark storm clouds move in, threatening to destroy this paradise. As darkness enshrouds the land, up from the earth twist the weeds… grotesque tentacles covered in long, sharp spikes. They seem to have a mind and sinister purpose of their own.
“The Weeds have come to scare off each Flower!” Yousuf’s father explains, as the child recoils in fear. “They hate those different, and they have such power!”
Yousuf must find within himself the power to ward off these terrible Weeds, protect the beauty of the Flowers, and in so doing, learns a lesson about the importance of individuality and in being different.
The illustrations are colorful and expressive… the feel of the book seems to me to be inspired by Dora the Explorer. Any child who responds to that style of cartoon animation will undoubtedly enjoy Yousuf’s journey on the island, and I liked the sudden shift in tone when the weeds sprung out and everything instantly becomes quite foreboding. There’s a clear progression from one event to the next, but is suffused with the dream-logic of a child’s imagination.
The story ends with three quotes, each poignant in of themselves, but the juxtaposition of their sources are in of themselves furthering of the book’s themes:
“None of you shall become a true believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself. – Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things. – Mother Teresa
“The good man is the friend of all living things.” – Mahatma Gandhi