Amma’s Sari written by Sandhya Parappukkaran and illustrated by Michelle Pereira is the second collaboration by these two very talented creators who also produced the multi award-winning book, The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name, a CBCA 2022 Notable and also shortlisted for the CBCA 2022 Award for New Illustrator. Amma’s Sari is a powerful story told from the perspective of six year old Shreya, a second generation migrant as she attempts to reconcile her conflicting feelings and struggles about her Mother’s sari. At home, the sari her mother wears is a source of immense comfort, utter beauty and sheer joy for Shreya, yet when she is out with her mother, Shreya is acutely aware of the attention the sari seems to attract, making her feel uncomfortable and leads her to question her mother about it. Her Amma’s responses highlight the deep connection to culture, place and the nostalgia that the sari represents. It is so much more than a garment, it is profoundly connected to memories and identity and these provide a sense of belonging. This book is a glorious celebration of cultural heritage, family connection and learning to appreciate the strengths and beauty in difference.
This story begins with Shreya waking, excited for the first glimpse of her mother’s sari for the day, with its almost magical qualities. The text coupled with the illustrations evokes a sensation where the reader can almost feel the Sari, ever so soft and smooth and can see the pure pleasure it brings both of them. Amma wears her exquisite Sari with such pride, yet when they leave their home together Shreya shrinks and her anxiety levels rise as she feels piercing eyes and unwanted attention on them because of the sari. Shreya does not understand why her Amma wears this when it causes people to stop, stare and whisper. Her mother explains to her that “my sari is a memory of love” and recounts some of these cherished memories from her childhood. The story continues exploring the beautiful moments of connection and happiness at home, for example mother and daughter enjoying a blissful time as they cook traditional foods together. Sandhya uses similes when describing the sari which bring it to life, make it memorable and empower the reader to relate as you can actually sense the comfort this sari brings Shreya. Through the use of these similes Shreya’s feelings become crystalised in the reader’s mind.
Another outing takes place and all those uneasy and uncomfortable feelings return and rise up in Shreya, she is distracted and focused on the reaction of others all while her mother proceeds with supreme confidence, a figure of strength and showing not only Shreya, but the world she believes in herself. Shreya’s mother is secure, content and is defined by so much more than what she wears; she is defined by her strengths. She is not concerned with other people’s reaction or opinions.
A shopping trip together sees Shreya enjoy some freedom apart from her Mother while she has permission to enjoy a ride at the shops. Shreya initially appreciates no one noticing her and soaks up the feeling of blending into the crowd. It’s not until a disaster is narrowly avoided that the very thing Shreya has longed for, her Amma to not stand out and to not look different, that she desperately yearns for all the sari provides her – the familiarity, the warmth, love and comfort. In this moment of fear and panic she is searching for her Amma’s sari and it is in this moment that she comes to not only learn, but truly appreciate the beauty that exists in difference.
Michelle Pereira’s exquisite and vibrant illustrations often feature Amma’s sari taking centre stage within the pages as it gracefully swirls though their house and out in the community, free and bold not confined in any way. The layout of the pages is so creative with the text intertwining with the illustrations in varied ways adding interest and meaning to the narrative. The illustrations are a feast for the reader’s senses as you are transported back to Amma’s childhood. The details stimulate your taste buds and you also feel like you can hear the hearty laughter ringing from the pages as Shreya and her mother enjoy such quality time together. There are a cast of culturally and racially diverse characters included in the illustrations which adds to the richness of the story and the celebration of difference and diversity. This book is brimming with inspiration for important conversations and has a wealth of visual literacy opportunities as students read the pictures and unpack the stories within them.