Malaika’s Winter Carnival

Title: Malaika’s Winter Carnival
Author: Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrator: Irene Luxbacher
Published By: Groundwood Books, 2017

It’s winter here in Canada and, honestly (in Ontario, anyway), it’s been a pretty good one. Not too much snow, not too cold to go outside, no sense of your face physically freezing as you open the door…yes, altogether, it’s been a decent winter.

That said, it’s only January, and there’s some bad weather scheduled for Thursday and we have all of February and most of March to get through as well, so let’s not assume anything. Winter could sneak up and dump a meter of snow on us any day now. Winter is wily like that.

In celebration of the season, I’m going to review a book given to me by Alydia, one of my dearest, oldest friends (oldest in that we’ve known each other since we were 14, not as in ‘she’s ancient’). It’s a book written by Nadia Hohn, a friend of hers!

I think the take-home lesson here is that everyone knows everyone and writers make excellent friends.*

The book is all about a little girl named Malaika. She lives in the Caribbean with her grandma (the text doesn’t specify which country, but I was thinking Jamaica, based on some of the language used and the foods referenced). The story starts with Malaika’s mom returning from Canada. She brought along two people with her: Mr. Frederic, and his daughter Adele. They explain to Malaika that soon they’ll be a family: her mom is marrying Mr. Frederic!

Malaika is, understandably, not thrilled about this turn of events. Everything she knows, the life she loves, her caring grandma are all in the Caribbean. But she has to leave everyone behind to go to Canada and start a new life, in her new family. It’s a lot to process.

When she reaches Canada (Quebec, to be specific), it’s wintertime and it is cold. Not only does Malaika have to navigate a totally new country with a totally new language (French) and a completely different school system, she has to do it all in the coldest part of the year. It’s too much.

Malaika hates it. Again, understandably.

Things come to a head when the family goes to the winter carnival and it’s nothing like the kind of carnivals Malaika has been to. Luckily, Malaika’s mom realizes what her daughter needs: a visit with Grandma (via FaceTime).

I don’t want to give away the ending, but it wraps up the story nicely and lets us know that Malaika is going to be okay.

The art is extremely colourful and detailed. Malaika is adorable and Ms. Luxbacher really captured her facial expressions perfectly. Especially when Malaika was at school — you can feel how lonely and upset she is.

I really enjoyed this story — it dealt with immigration from a child’s point of view (the story is told in the first person, by Malaika), which isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of in picture books. Malaika is an excellent character and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

Jess’ Rating: Five stars!

*As long as you’re okay with us using things you’ve said and stories you’ve told us in future works. And also, we’re kind of introverted and need time to recharge after hanging out. But beyond that? Writers are great friendship material.

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