March 26, 2021

Malaika's Surprise

Written by Nadia L. Hohn
Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
March 2021
Though Malaika is eager to invite a new little girl to play with her and her stepsister Adèle, she's not too sure about another new little one who is going to be born to her mother and Papa Frédéric around the time of Malaika's birthday. But, as the saying goes, the only thing about life is its unpredictability.

From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
At school, she meets the new little girl, Malayka M., whose sadness is put aside by Malaika's friendship and kindness.
From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
When the day of Malaika's birthday comes, it's filled with much celebration, but most special is the arrival of her Grandma who brings Malaika's peacock carnival costume (introduced in Malaika's Costume, 2016) from Trinidad. Malaika is excited to wear it to school for her party to which she is bringing doubles (I had to find the recipe for this) and cake but she is  disappointed when she learns that her Mummy, Grandma and Papa Frédéric now will not be able to attend as they rush to the hospital for the birth.

From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
But, just because things don't go as planned doesn't mean that the day won't be special and full of surprises, both expected and unexpected.

Nadia L. Hohn who has given us three stories of Malaika, first dealing with her separation from her mother who had immigrated to Canada (Malaika's Costume, 2016) and then when she joins her mother and new stepfather and stepsister in Canada (Malaika's Winter Carnival, 2017) before Malaika's Surprise which brings new familial changes for the little girl. Regardless of the tenuous nature of Malaika's circumstances–missing her mother, living with her Grandma, adapting to a new country and new family–Nadia L. Hohn always embeds a permanence of caring family to scaffold Malaika's new realities. Even as the text changes from one rich in the island dialect, spoken so lovingly by her Grandma, to one melding English with the French of Papa Frédéric and Adèle, Malaika has adapted, showing resilience and openness to her new circumstances. Her empathy, so evident with Malayka M., helps her to appreciate that her new baby brother may bring change but it is change she can live with and even rejoice in.

Artist Irene Luxbacher, who has illustrated all three Malaika books, uses a blend of gouache, soft pastels and found papers to create wonderfully exuberant artwork that is as joyous as a Carnival, resplendent in colours and textures of celebration. In Malaika's Surprise, there is much to celebrate: a birthday or two, a new friend, a visit from a cherished grandmother, and a growing family. Like a Carnival setting, you won't know where to look first: at the costumes, the children's artwork, the expressive faces, the clothing, or the rooms' decors. It all invites the reader in to observe Malaika's life and learn how to be kind and adaptable.
From Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn, illus. by Irene Luxbacher
Much of our lives, like Malaika's, involves change and a newness of circumstances. But what  Malaika's Surprise demonstrates is that, though newness and change can be stressful because of the anticipation of the unknown, the reality is often not as bad as expected, especially with the knowledge that others care.

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