MTYT: Daniel and Ismail

By Susan Corapi, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL, and Deanna Day, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Last week, Susan and Deanna looked at Lubna and Pebble to begin this month’s theme of Crossing Borders. This week, they provide their takes for another OIB book which focuses on interactions between people of different backgrounds and cultures in Juan Pablo Iglesias’s Daniel and Ismail.

SUSAN: This book from Chile fascinated me! Written originally in Spanish and translated into three languages (English, Hebrew and Arabic), the story describes the meeting of two boys in a park, each with a new soccer ball (they share a birthday) and scarf that represents their Jewish or Palestinian cultures. After playing together for hours, dark descends and they each grab a ball and a scarf and head home. Unbeknownst to them, they take each other’s scarves, one a tallit and the other a keffiyeh. The parents in each home are angry and tell stories about the “other,” giving Daniel and Ismail nightmares. But the next day they meet again, and get down to what is important, playing, sharing their common love for soccer, and getting to know each other.

This book fits our border-crossing theme well because not only does the story talk about crossing cultural and social borders, the book also crosses linguistic and book design borders. The book orientation follows the Hebrew and Arabic page turns, and starts from the “back” (for us). I think about reading this book to children in a library or classroom, and how, just with page turns, they are invited to imagine what it is like to speak and read a different language. I did wonder how Daniel and Ismail communicated so I searched for answers about how Israelis and Palestinians communicate with each other. Interestingly, English is often a common language. It made me wonder about how realistic the story is. Daniel and Ismail seem oblivious to their differences. Would two boys from different linguistic backgrounds, find each other and play without realizing the cultural borders they are crossing? I think kids do focus on commonalities more than differences, so I want to think this story could take place! Thoughts?

I particularly enjoyed the black and white illustrations for the two characters utilizing different shapes–triangle noses, circular ears and cheeks, dots for eyes and lines for eyebrows and mouths. Plus, the exaggerated long and skinny limbs are childlike. But my absolutely favorite part of the illustrations are the background colors. Did you notice that when Daniel is talking the background is green and a blue background highlights Ismail? When the two boys play together at the park the background colors become warm: yellow and orange. When the boys return home with their wrong birthday presents–tallit and keffiyeh–the background colors return to blue and green.

The next day when they meet back at the park to exchange the shawl and scarf the background returns to yellow. The dialogue on this page honestly states: “It is difficult to be you!” / “Not more than being you!” / “If you know what my people / say about your people!” / “And what my people say / about yours!” I hope that Israelis and Palestinians are communicating and playing together as this picturebook portrays, yet as a classroom teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, my Israeli and Palestinian students in fifth grade refused to play together at recess. One novel we received, Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer (Penguin, 2019), brings different cultures together through play–specifically the production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. For example, Shirli plays the Jewish mother which helps her connect to her Jewish heritage and helps her learn more about her grandfather. Ben, who plays her husband, the cutest and most popular boy in the school, is trying to get into character as the Russian Jewish father.

WOW, so many things to think about! I had not noticed the change in background colors with Daniel and Ismail, so of course I had to go back and look. I am so glad you noticed that. It reminds me of the way Chris Raschka uses that same method of communicating via background colors in Yo? Yes! (1989), another great story of crossing borders centered on kids meeting and making friends. You mentioned Broken Strings, another title that talks about crossing cultural borders. I had not thought about it as a “border” book, but it is. Whereas Daniel and Ismail naturally connect (celebrating the ability to play together and ignore differences) the characters in Broken Strings have to work hard to cross the cultural divide between Russian Jewish life in the late 1800’s and their life in New Jersey in 2002. Ben, the Gentile, along with the rest of the cast works to grasp the Russian Jewish culture of Fiddler on the Roof by interviewing Shirli’s grandfather (a Holocaust survivor from Poland whose grandmother survived the programs).

One other point of comparison between the two stories is the way that the characters react to violent conflict. The parents in Daniel and Ismail describe how awful the “other” is, citing atrocities and trying to convince the boys to avoid each other. In contrast, the schoolmates in Broken Strings are able to focus on the personality and character of their Muslim classmate Mohammed even when the culture is generally denigrating Muslims following 9/11. Currently we have books that address border crossings that would have helped your 5th grade students develop empathy. The “refugee crisis” was not as well published when you and I were teaching in public schools. So I am curious how you handled the situation on the playground.

The playground monitor let the boys play separately because there were many other groups of children who played together. Since there was peace between the students we let it stay that way. I remember that year my 5th graders read and discussed The Breadwinner (Ellis, 2000) and we had very interesting discussions about the Taliban and Afghan people and the injustices that occurred.

Title: Daniel and Ismail.
Author: Juan Pablo Iglesias
Illustrator: Alex Peris.
Translator: Ilan Stavans, Eliezer Nowodworski, Frieda Press-Danieli, and Randa Sayegh.
ISBN: 9781632061560
Publisher: Restless Books
PubDate: August 20, 2019

Throughout February 2020, Susan and Deanna give their take on books focused on narratives that cross borders. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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