CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 20. . . .January 28th, 2010.
Raffi's New Friend. (First Novels).
Sylvain Meunier. Illustrated by Elisabeth Eudes-Pascal. Translated by Sarah Cummins.
Halifax, NS: Formac, 2010.
64 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $5.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (hc.), $4.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-0-88780-933-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88780-935-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-88780-937-8 (ebook).
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Meghan Radomske.
*** / 4
The girl was small and slim, but also quick and agile. She slipped free of the hands trying to pull off her headscarf. From far away, it might have looked like a game. Up close, you could see the tears in her eyes.
Raffi McCaffrey gripped his metal crutches. He wished he could turn them into weapons. He would aim them at the bullies and paralyzing rays would knock them to the ground.
In Raffi's New Friend, a companion novel to Raffi's Island Adventure, Raffi's Animal Rescue, and Raffi's for the Birds, French Canadian author Sylvain Meunier reintroduces Raffi McCaffrey, a young boy with sickle-cell anemia who loves birds. In the latest tale, translated from French by Sarah Cummins, Raffi and his best friend Carlito notice a new girl at school when she darts out of the way of the three grade-eight bullies trying to remove her headscarf. Raffi commiserates with the girl - he is used to being teased as a result of the blood condition that leaves him weak and defenseless at times.
When Raffi and Carlito venture out one day to find the mourning doves that Raffi enjoys observing, they discover the new girl, Fatima, singing softly to the doves and crying big fat tears. After Raffi and Carlito are introduced to Fatima's family, they discover that Fatima's tears are a result of her missing father. He had returned to their home country to pick up Fatima's grandmother and had yet to return after a war broke out there. Everything comes to a head the day after a storm when the three children set out to make sure the doves' nests survived, only to encounter the bully Frank and his two sidekicks. The sudden surprise arrival of Fatima's beloved father leads to a joyful ending, even though they discover that the birds' nests and eggs were destroyed by the storm. A final scene shows Fatima's father addressing the school about war, discussing how the act of harming others can be stemmed when children are still at a young age.
Illustrations by Elisabeth Eudes-Pascal bring many of the scenes to life, helping early readers to understand the plot points and to identify the multicultural characters. The bullies are portrayed as stereotypically evil in the illustrations, yet Meunier's closing sentiments encourage readers to consider the reasons behind their behaviour. A large, clear font combined with double-spacing and good use of white space also help to make this book a good choice for young readers.
The conflict between Raffi, Carlito, Fatima and the bullies will certainly appeal to boys as Carlito and Frank actually engage in fisticuffs and Raffi defends himself verbally in an impressive display of fearlessness. Meunier also demonstrates a touch of romance. Carlito is enamored with Fatima, simultaneously acting dumbstruck and awe-stricken by her presence while playing the role of the gallant knight. Many young readers will relate to this depiction of a first crush.
Meunier touches on a number of important themes in this book, including bullying, immigration, war, differences of race and health, prejudice, friendship, and love. By revealing that Fatima's decision to wear a headscarf is far from what we expected, Meunier suggests that we reconsider our assumptions-our initial judgments as to why people behave and act in certain ways may be completely incorrect. Meunier also draws an analogy between harmful acts committed in childhood and the wars of men. By raising kind, open-minded children and showing them love, Meunier suggests that parents may be able to reduce the threat of war. Raffi's New Friend is a heartfelt, enjoyable story about making friends, overcoming challenges, and facing adversity head-on.
Meghan Radomske is a recent graduate of the Master of Library and Information Studies Program at the University of British Columbia.
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