Book Review: Mustafa
By: Marie-Louise Gay
Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
Simple, elegant, and deeply child-centered, this is the story of how Mustafa, a child refugee from an unnamed country in crisis, finds a friend in his new home. The country he arrives in is unnamed as well. The setting is urban, offering the relief of a green park safe enough for a child to venture into on his own. The delight of this book lies in its close adherence to its small hero’s perspective, both in the choice of words and in the finely rendered multi-media illustrations. The new world is so different from the one Mustafa has left, and there is so much here that seems incomprehensible. Slowly, his terrible experiences of war and brokenness find expression when he draws in the sand. Drawings become the vehicle as well for the first overture of friendship from a girl who is only named on the very last two-page spread. At first Mustafa hesitates to respond and that, too, is perfectly pitched. Every detail is placed with painstaking intention, leaving plenty of room for interpretation by a child reader. It seems no coincidence that music is an element of both Mustafa’s initial invisibility, his foreignness, and his ultimate recognition. Clear, simple dialogue, repetition, and a child’s eye for the small details of setting lead cumulatively from confusion and distrust to the healing warmth of friendship. Gay manages to shine a loving light on many facets of a new immigrant’s experience—not only on how children cope with the traumas of displacement but also where the ingredients of comfort might be found.
Children’s Literature is a division of CLCD, LLC.