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My Father's Shop

by Satomi Ichikawa

            My Father's Shop tells the story of a young boy, Mustafa, who helps his father selling carpets in his shop:  "When foreign tourists come into the shop, my father says, 'Bienvenue,' and we unfold the carpets for them to see."  One day, much to his father's dismay, Mustafa finds a small, red, gold, and green carpet that is lovely except for a hole in the center.  The hole is perfectly placed and is the perfect size for Mustafa to peep through with one eye.  Mustafa asks his father if he can keep the carpet and, "since no one will buy it," his father gives Mustafa the carpet.  In exchange for the carpet, however, father extracts a promise from Mustafa to learn some foreign words, so that Mustafa can help with customers.  Mustafa agrees.
Mustafa is thrilled with the carpet, but he is not so thrilled with learning foreign words.  During the lesson, Mustafa is bored and seizes the first opportunity to sneak out of the shop.  With the carpet over his head, peeping through the hole, the engaging little boy makes his way around the market, showing all the shop owners his new carpet.
            Suddenly, a rooster - similarly clothed in red, gold and greenish feathers - crows and begins to follow the carpet-clad Mustafa.  His friends ask, "Is that your new rooster, Mustafa? . . . tell him to sing."  Mustafa crows, Moroccan style:  "Kho Kho Hou Houuu!!"  The rooster crows back.
            A passing French boy says, "That's not how roosters sound at home!  In France they say, 'Co-co-ri-co'!"  A Spanish couple adds their version:  "Qui-qui-ri-qui!"  An English family and a Japanese family tell their versions of crowing.  Mustafa runs happily back to the shop, followed by the rooster.  He has important news for his father.  "Daddy!  Daddy!  I know lots of foreign words!  I can speak rooster in five languages!"  His father is happy, because not only has Mustafa learned words in other languages, but he has "brought all the tourists" to his father's shop as well.
            Author and illustrator Satomi Ichikawa grew up in Japan but immigrated to Paris when she was in her 20s.  When she first went to Paris, Ichikawa said that she "felt at home right away" and there "discovered true freedom of spirit."  She explains further that "Although [she] is Japanese, [her] drawings are more European, because [her] awakening happened" in Europe.[i]
            A look at Ichikawa's work finds a remarkable diversity.  She writes and illustrates children's books set in France (e.g., La La Rose, set in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris)[ii] as beautifully as she does stories set in Africa (e.g., The First Bear in Africa),[iii] Puerto Rico (Isabela's Ribbons),[iv] Guatemala (My Pig Amarillo),[v] or, in this case, Morocco.  Ichikawa has an appreciation for other cultures and has an uncanny ability to see them through the eyes of children.
            The text of My Father's Shop is told in the first person narrative, and Ichikawa aptly describes the world as Mustafa sees it:  ". . . we offer the tourists mint tea . . . I didn't care about the hole. . . . Oh, how boring! [about the language lesson]."  Ichikawa's most childlike pronouncement comes when Mustafa returns to the shop:  "Daddy! . . . I can speak rooster in five languages!"
            Ichikawa's illustrations capture the child's world just as well.  The first illustration - a two-page spread - balances text in one corner with Mustafa and his father displaying carpets in the opposite corner.  There is no free space; the bulk of the two pages is filled with intricately designed carpets of every imaginable design.  A teapot, probably filled with fragrant mint tea, sits on a tray atop folded rugs.  A wall, washed with warm yellows and golds, forms the background for the text.
             Playfulness is accurately captured as well, when Ichikawa shows Mustafa enjoying the carpet.  Hands, eyes, and feet all take a turn through the hole.  Mustafa rolls up in and rolls on the carpet, shoes flying off as he somersaults.  The rooster's color, echoing as it does the color of the rug atop Mustafa, is a masterful touch.
            With a setting in Morocco and Ichikawa's penchant for detail, there are many cultural markers in the illustrations and text.  Both Mustafa and his father have traditional Moroccan attire.  Their rugs, vibrantly or delicately hued, appear as if woven in Morocco.  The market where Mustafa meets his friends and the rooster is alive with people and wares such as one might see in an outdoor market in Morocco - baskets, foods, and animals such as goats.  The tourists wear attire appropriate for their country of origin.
            Kirkus Reviews calls the tale "a joyous story that brings people from different cultures together." [vi]  This is indeed true.  Child readers will recognize the joys Ichikawa portrays, and adults, too, will feel a common bond.  Ichikawa's understanding of children and their innocent joy in life shines brilliantly through her text and watercolor illustrations.
[i] Contemporary Authors Online. 2004. s.v. "Satomi Ichikawa."
[ii] Ichikawa, Satomi. 2004. La La Rose. New York: Philomel.
[iii] Ichikawa, Satomi. 2004. The first bear in Africa. New York: Philomel.
[iv] Ichikawa, Satomi. 1995. Isabela's Ribbons. New York: Philomel.
[v] Ichikawa, Satomi. 2003. My Pig Amarillo. New York: Philomel.
[vi] Review of My Father's Shop. 2006. Kirkus Reviews 74 (6): 292.
Ichikawa, Satomi. 2006. My father's shop. La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller. Originally published by l'ecole des loisirs, Paris, 2004. ISBN: 1-929132-99-9
This review was written for a graduate course in Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University, International Literature for Children and Young Adults.

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