Title: My Two Blankets
Author: Irena Kobald
Illustrator: Freya Blackwood
Publisher: Little Hare (2014)
Language: English / from Australia
The place where I grew up in Australia is a mid-sized city, not particularly close to the sea but also not considered to be in the outback. It was almost overwhelmingly white when I grew up there. I believe it was a missed opportunity of mine that the kids I grew up with (mostly) looked the same and read the same kinds of Eurocentric books. In those days we would beat up soap flakes for the Christmas tree to reenact a "traditional" Christmas with a snow covered tree and a baked meal in the middle of the mid-simmer day. Christmas cards featured snowy Christmas scenes with golden-haired children presumably singing "Jingle Bells" as they dashed through the snow on their sleigh. In the middle of a drought-parched summer, it was really interesting that we all needed to believe that we harkened after our collective European roots. We really all were dreaming of a white Christmas - even those of us who had never seen snow.
These days my town has become much more multicultural due (in part) to an influx of refugees from Sudan. Not all of our white residents have been welcoming to the newcomers, but I really like to think that Australians on the whole are willing to give people at least a "fair go" - the benefit of the doubt. Others in the town, like my friend who is herself a reverse refugee of sorts (she moved back home from Fukushima in Japan after the earthquake with her two small children), work actively in the area to make sure our most vulnerable new residents are made feel welcomed in the community. I asked my friend what Christmas present she could recommend me to buy myself from my hometown, and she recommended this book.
The author, originally from Austria and an immigrant to Australia (and my hometown), wrote this book about a real-life encounter she witnessed in a local park when her daughter befriended a girl from Sudan. The story is simple - the two little girls spend time together in the park while the girl from Sudan learns English. At home, the girl curls up under her "blanket" (a metaphor for her life experiences and language). As her English language develops, she has two blankets - her old one and the new one, woven from new experiences and words as she collects them.
Two colour palettes are used deliberately throughout the book, and you can see them right on the cover above. The "old blanket" from Sudan and all things Sudanese are painted in rich red tones, warm and dark and familiar. The "new blanket" colours (everything from the new land) are fresh, cold, pale or dull blues and grays. In this way you can feel how foreign and unfamiliar the new land is to the young girl. When she makes a "new blanket" from her new experiences and knowledge, she is not replacing the "old blanket". Rather, she now has two blankets and a wealth of life experiences that she can call her own.
My hometown in Australia is probably gearing up for another summer Christmas right now. The old designs of Christmas firs and snow probably still decorate some Christmas cards, while on others Summer Santa is surfing on his surfboard while his kangaroos loll on the beach drinking a beer. Australia is finding its own identity around Christmas, but it is also finding ways to include residents for whom Christmas itself is not as familiar. Whatever your views this season, it is to be hoped that the love in your heart (the love that starts with two children in the park) is the most important thing.
An Australian who lived in Japan with my bicultural family now living in the USA, I believe that there are more different realities than there are books to be written.