Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Specifics Reveal the Universal

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Krömer, offers children a window into Pakistani culture and craftsmanship through a story of one family's experience of Basant.

Interior image from King for a Day
Basant began as a Hindu celebration that "marked... the beginning of warm weather," according to the author. Its focus on vibrant kites in sunny skies could easily bring 4th of July celebrations to mind. The author doesn't explain the rules of the kite-flying contest at the center of Basant; we understand them through narrator Malik's careful guidance of his kite, Falcon, and its weaving in and out of the other kites' strings in order to bring them down. Readers watch Malik make the kite, and quickly realize that this is not his first time. He's an experienced kitemaker and navigator, and his perch on his building's rooftop gives him an excellent vantage point.

Christiane Krömer portrays Malik in a wheelchair, though Rukhsana Khan does not mention this in the text, and readers see that Malik is master of his kite. His sister helps launch it, and his brother collects the kites that Malik brings down, but Malik is the craftsman and strategist of Falcon's path.

The characters' dress and the architecture may appear a bit exotic to children, but the kite-flying sport quickly creates a point of identification with Malik and his siblings. Into the contest, early on, arrives a bully who lives nearby and launches his giant kite (which Malik nicknames Goliath) from street level. The bully has back-up kites galore and eagerly attempts to amass the prize kites of others. This tug-of-war between Malik and the bully lies at the core of the book, and it's a situation every child will recognize. A satisfying ending brings justice for all.

At the end of the day, we see the hero savor his well-earned victory, alone, as sunlight departs and the stars come out. Krömer's final image captures the peace that hard work and a clear conscience brings.

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