My Two Blankets might be my favorite picture book of the year. In this heart-warming tale, Irena Kobald has taken the tried and true story of a new kid on the block and created a fresh and original multicultural story of Cartwheel who moves from Sudan to Australia. In addition, the combination of warm watercolors and oils provides an inviting atmosphere.
An immigrant herself to Australia, author Irena Kobald is not a stranger to how lost and lonely one feels in a new land. In addition, being a teacher of aboriginal children in the Australian outback communities, most of whom use English as a fifth language, Kobald is also well-acquainted with how freakish one feels when surrounded by those speaking unfamiliar languages. No doubt drawing on those feelings, as well as being inspired by a friendship that developed between her daughter and a Sudanese girl, Kobald has written an endearing story that has been enriched by the use of a metaphor. When Cartwheel arrives in her strange new country, she finds security in a metaphorical blanket made up of her own words and the memories of her old world. Later, after a girl in a park smiles and waves at her, Cartwheel weaves the new words given to her into a second blanket of origami shapes. This is the perfect format for turning a tried and true story into a fresh and original one that will encourage young and old alike to think about immigrants and friendship.
Just as arresting is the artwork, which successfully depicts the essence of Cartwheel’s emotions. Illustrations of Cartwheel and her blanket are always the colors of brown and orange and gold, as well as being in oil. The girl in the park and her origami words are always blue and green and pink and yellow, as well as being in watercolor. In addition, the illustrator Freya Blackwood notes that that when Cartwheel explored her new home, the experience of no one speaking like her felt like a cold waterfall of strange sounds, and Blackwood originally intended this ‘waterfall’ to be thick with symbols that represented words. However, in her drafts, she just showed this as a messy scrawl, and the scrawl seemed to work better than lots of symbols. Another reviewer also observed that the use of pigeons in the park and origami-shaped birds reminded her of freedom. As you can see, the artwork itself provides a rich experience too.
Given that diversity is at the heart of this sweet tale, I initially felt taken back by the fact that the poetic text never directly states which country Cartweel came from or moved to. The attire of both Cartwheel and her mom might suggest Africa as their homeland, as might the images in Cartwheel’s metaphorical blanket. We’re also told that war came to Cartwheel’s country. Beyond these clues, however, the only reason I know the story takes place in Sudan is that this country is specified in the reviews. As for where Cartwheel moved to, the buildings and mode of transportation suggest a city. No location is given, however, not even of a region or country. Critics aren’t of any help here either. While I presumed Australia, given that this is where both author and illustrator live, the reality is we’re never told. At first, I thought this omission a mistake, because I would have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about these landscapes. Upon further reflection, I decided that the omission is genius. As a universal story of refugees and friendship, My Two Blankets is all the more accessible to everyone.
Besides being a simply beautiful story, My Two Blankets also lends itself to educational opportunities. Teachers might talk about the use of metaphor. Furthermore, for those classrooms with the time, students could create their own metaphorical blankets of a time when they moved from one place to another. My Two Blankets is a delightful import from Australia that should find a treasured spot on your shelves.
My rating? Read it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?