WOW Review Volume 5, Issue 3


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A Song for Jamela
Written by Niki Daly
Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2009, 36 pp
ISBN: 978-1845078713

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Daly has created another adventurous day for Jamela that young readers can enjoy. Similar to the other picture books in this series, Jamela is bored and her mother recommends working at her Aunt Beauty’s hair salon to keep her occupied. Jamela’s Gogo (grandmother) packs her lunch while she finds a beautiful dress to wear on her outing. Jamela’s mother encourages her to “stay out of trouble” while working in the salon. Jamela is able to stay out of trouble until an Afro-Idol from her favorite TV show comes into the salon for a hair appointment. Afro-Idol Miss Bambi Chaka Chaka is popular and everyone in the hair salon, especially Jameela, is very excited to see her in person. Everything is going fine until she is tasked with killing an annoying fly in the salon. Jamela is trying her best to kill the fly when she inadvertently swats her Aunt Beauty’s bottom where the fly has landed. This causes a huge commotion and Aunt Beauty accidently shaves part of Miss Bambi Chaka Chaka’s head. Jamela gives her Aunt Beauty the idea to cover the bald spot with flowers. Oblivious to what has happened to her hair, Miss Bambi Chaka Chaka wakes from her nap to a head full of flowers. She loves the new “hairstyle” that Jamela helps create with the accent of the sunflowers. As an act of appreciation to Jamela, Miss Bambi Chaka Chaka gives her free tickets to a live performance of Afro Idol. Jamela is overjoyed to attend Miss Chaka Chaka’s concert.

As author and illustrator, Niki Daly has authored many books that reflect life in South Africa post-apartheid for readers. Inspired by Maurice Sendak’s work, he is the recipient of the IBBY Honor Award for illustration and British Arts Council Illustration Award among other honors. Insiders are pleased with the subtle messages of change to the country of South Africa as portrayed in this book, as well as in other books, post-apartheid. Daley’s work is culturally authentic in A Song for Jamela as he gives a glimpse into contemporary South Africa. He resides in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. This experience of living among a thriving hairdressing salon industry, as captured in this energetic book, gives credence to the authenticity of South African culture as depicted in this book. As a White South African, he believes that books should highlight similarities as opposed to differences. Furthermore, he invites others into South Africa’s culture by showing the closeness of family as mother, grandmother, and Aunt Beauty all play strong roles throughout the book. The strong sense of family is a theme at the heart of the book and affirms an identity of African culture: that it takes a village to raise a child.

In addition, the strong illustrations of the beautiful clothes with distinct patterns teach readers that members of this culture have a deep affection for their personal appearances. A Song for Jamela reveals to the readers a sense of community that bonds the people of South Africa. In A Song for Jamela, a contemporary way of life (i.e., TV, booming hair salon business, style of clothing) contrasts with typical stereotypes of Africa as an uncivilized and impoverished community of people. Students will finish the book with a deeper understanding of the values, beliefs, and practices of a multidimensional and rich South African culture. Readers will also walk away with a sense of “sameness” as opposed to “otherness” with the characters.

Naturally, this book might be read alongside other Niki Daly Jamela stories such as: Happy Birthday, Jamela (2007), Where’s Jamela? (2004), or Jamela’s Dress (1999). Daly has created other African characters and contexts in picture books that might be considered along with Jamela and her family. These include: The Herd Boy (2012), Pretty Salma (2007), Ruby Sings the Blues (2005) and Once Upon a Time (2003).

Shauntelle Modeste, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

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