Big Red Lollipop, by Rukhsana Kahn and illustrated by Sophie Blackall has rightfully received accolades such as the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text and The New York Times top 10 illustrated books of 2010. It is a relatable story that focuses on a sibling relationship that ensues after a cultural misunderstanding has taken place. The story begins as a Mother, having immigrated to the United States from Pakistan, does not understand the tradition of birthday parties. She tells her eldest daughter that she will have to take her younger sister to the birthday party to which she has been invited, and the story evolves from there. This cultural misunderstanding could be used as a window within a classroom for those unfamiliar with the fact that other cultures do not celebrate birthdays in the same way Americans do.
To further the window that the author and illustrator of this book have so brilliantly created, the artistic aspects of this story in terms of both illustrations and page set up are phenomenal. For teachers and librarians, it would translate well when being used under a document camera for students in a library or classroom setting. The way the author has crafted this book is appropriate for the genre of realistic fiction. The characters are relatable, as the story focuses on young children. The topic of a birthday party is suitable for a first grade reader, and something that students of an American background would most likely connect to with ease, and may have even had similar experiences to the main character of receiving an invitation from someone in their class. The settings depicted between school, the young student’s home, and the birthday party are all portrayed respectfully and beautifully illustrated.
In terms of social representation, this book is well done. The main characters represent Pakistani culture and are dressed as such, and the main problem within the plot arises from a cultural misunderstanding, which could be an invaluable lesson for younger learners, particularly if they are within a more homogeneous environment. Even though the main issue arises from this misunderstanding, the culture is still represented in a respectful manner and the themes that the book allows children access to are cross-cultural making them universal.
The author’s purpose comes across clearly as the story progresses and the themes begin to develop. It is a multicultural story, in that it portrays universal themes by demonstrating the negative qualities that are associated with greed and temptation. The media format fits this well as the author and illustrator have chosen to focus on portraying the relationships between the children and how they are strained due to the lack of sharing the lollipop. Circle imagery that ties together the motif of the lollipop representing something much bigger than itself is also present throughout the story and was an excellent choice to make the story line and illustrations cohesive throughout.
Reading stories of this nature is particularly important for children today within a politically charged time. They will consistently need to be reminded that all people, no matter their background, need to be treated fairly and with respect. They will need to be educated as to how to solve a cultural misunderstanding in the most humane way possible. Portraying those who have immigrated to this country in an inclusive and positive light is paramount as our students are being exposed to so much propaganda that may influence them in ways that are not as favorable to all populations. To connect with this theme in class, students could read other books about families that have immigrated to the United States and how that has impacted them. Rukhsana has a multitude of books that could be added to this type of genre study. Even though she does not mention this book directly, it is so eloquently stated that we need stories like this when Grace Cornell Gonzales states within the text Rethinking Multicultural Education, “if we want to provide literature that helps children understand their world better and realize that they are not alone in the ways they feel and the problems they face, it is important to critically analyze children’s books about immigration” (p. 257). This book comes highly recommended for parents, librarians, teachers, and anyone who wants to send a wonderful message to the younger generation!