Made by Raffi
Review by Kim Higginson, Information Management Specialist, MHF
Craig Pomranz, Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (2016), Frances Lincoln, UK
This book bursts with colour, creativity and the main character's contagious enthusiasm. Raffi feels different from the other boys in his class as he doesn't like noise or rough play. My 9-year-old son doesn't participate in combative team sports at his school; he, like Raffi, seeks out a gentler crowd. When Raffi seeks solace and is looking for a peaceful spot in the playground he comes across a teacher knitting.
Raffi is drawn to the colours of the scarf she's knitting and the endless possibilities this skill would allow in terms of expressing his creativity. The teacher offers to teach him to knit and so his journey of self-discovery begins and he uses his new passion, flair and creativity to bring colour and style to the school play – and wins much admiration along the way.
Besides the obvious theme of breaking out of gender roles, I also enjoyed the associated themes. Raffi is incredibly curious and shows real grit sticking with learning a tricky new skill. In the positive psychology field there is a state known as flow, where one is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus and enjoyment in the process of an activity. You feel like Raffi achieves this as he is totally absorbed and knits everywhere and every chance he can and, most importantly, this also buffers him from a few taunts. He learns to trust his instincts and he starts to see value in being different. I think us adults can learn a lot from kids’ enthusiasm and hunger for the new.
From the start you meet Raffi’s parents and dog, and we know straight away he is loved and cared for. Raffi asks his mum many questions including if he is strange for feeling different and because he likes to knit, sew and sing. His mother uses a wonderfully affirmative phrase that lets him know comparison is futile and that his own opinion of himself is what is most important, with “No I think you are very Raffi”. Following on with a question of her own, “Why, is something going on at school?”
This section is also valuable for parents, giving them an opportunity to broach a conversation, prompts that may encourage their child to open up and highlights the importance of affirming their child’s strengths. It did also make me think we should all look out for those kids in our communities that do not have such loving support, without these feeling different as Raffi did, would be a much more isolating experience.
Lastly, Raffi is a wonderfully thoughtful soul, contributing to the school play and making gifts for his family. I think kids seeing these behaviours and emotional literacy skills portrayed in a positive light is great, for example Raffi showing affection for his parents, striking up an inquisitive conversation with the teacher, working through his emotions with his mother and thinking of ways he can contribute.
I really enjoyed this book as it affirms diversity and would be an asset on every school and home bookshelf. It adds much value to our Pink Shirt Day kids’ book feature (click on Quick Lists and select 'Book reviews – kids'), that highlights useful books for education professionals and caregivers that explore topics like anxiety, bullying, feeling different and resiliency.