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Going to Mecca - Na'ima B. Robert, Valentina Cavallini This is the second book on Islam in these past weeks of reviewing informational books. The Haj is a good celebratory topic for a picture book, and Robert provides enough details of the journey and the experience of Mecca to make for a fairly factual presentation that most people have not heard or seen before.

Following one family from London to Mecca gives the narrative a personal thread, as they join the vast throng of pilgrims. Cavallini did a good job of giving the family distinct features so that we could pick them out of the crowd on each page.

Cavallini's collage style is super close to the style so popular in protestant Christianity for the past fifty to sixty years--modern and stylized, but with the cut-out feel of stained glass. The textures and patterns of the cloth and paper she chooses make it interesting to look at, because evoking texture is a kind of visual inference that is fun to play around with--to 'read'.

Because the book chooses to focus on the complete journey of the Haj, there are some excellent narrative moments that are left unexplored. One of the best pages was the one at the As-Safaa, where the little girl is visualizing a thought bubble about Hajar. It would be great to see a thorough treatment of episodes like these where the connection to the mythic stories (i.e., orienting the soul) could be drawn out. Come to think of it, there's not much like this for the Judeo-Christian myth stories either...

I just have to note it's interesting that young people's books on Islam have increased in demand when there really aren't many books about world religions with higher representation in the English-speaking populations of the US and GB (you don't see picture books about the Camino Santiago, or the Mormon Pioneers outside of the religious publishing houses and retailers). The history and cultural issues of the past decade have made Islam a topic of wider interest. I read that the Islamic population in the US has doubled in the past decade, and one spokesman attributed this simply to the repeated mention Islam gets in the press, whether it is good or ill. People are curious!