The Boy Who Tried To Shrink His Name by Sandhya Parappukkaran, illustrated by Michelle Pereira and published by Bright Light an imprint of Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, is a 2022 CBCA Notable and is also shortlisted for the 2022 CBCA Award for New Illustrator. This is an uplifting and beautiful story, told from the perspective of a young South East Asian boy and is about celebrating cultural heritage and individuality. This book is about not shrinking down in an attempt to fit in and appreciating the beauty in difference as well as the power of a person’s name which connects people not only to their identity, but family and cultural heritage.

The young boy in this story, Zimdalamashkermishkada, is on the precipice of change as he is about to start at a new school. This new beginning heightens his anxiousness about his extremely long name, that no one can seem to pronounce and which he is often asked to repeat. It draws unwanted attention and this causes all sorts of knots and twists to slither around and unravel in his tummy. He wishes he could shrink his name and try as he does, this quest to do so eludes him as his name “springs back to life like a scared pufferfish at sea”.

Zimdalamashkermishkada finds a friend in Elly. They practise tricks on their skate boards after school and Elly enjoys spending time with Zimdalamashkermishkada and his mother in their home where she helps to create sumptuous dishes, including soft ada where Elly and Zimdalamashkermishkada appreciate picking banana leaves from the family tree to use to hold parcels of rice flour dough, sprinkled with a coconut and crumbled palm sugar mixture.

After much practise at the skate park Zimdalamashkermishkada proudly masters a trick he has been working on and with this he also learns the lesson that with practise what once seems unachievable can be accomplished. As their friendship blossoms, Zimdalamashkermishkada’s pride in his name grows and he no longer feels the need to shrink his name as he proudly and confidently embraces his full and long name.

Sandhya Parappukkaran’s writing is a joy to read. Her lyrical writing is brimming with poetic turns of phrase with metaphors and similes used to engage the reader. These graphic descriptions help the reader to develop empathy for how Zimdalamashkermishkada feels about his name.

Michelle Pereira’s engaging and evocative illustrations have a retro quality to them. They have been created with a limited colour palette and enrich the text as well as stimulate the senses. The aromas of the curry almost feel like they waft from the page. The orange ball of string first seen on the cover and then throughout the book is a graphic metaphor to represent Zimdalamashkermishkada’s feelings, concerns and doubts about his name. This string takes on different forms throughout the story that are highly symbolic of Zimdalamashkermishkada’s journey and reflect his feelings.

Zimdalamashkermishkada takes the reader on a journey of discovery, acceptance, self-love and belonging. Along the way there are feasts to be enjoyed, lessons to be learnt and epiphanous moments to be had.

Sandhya and Michelle have joined forces again to create a second picture book, Amma’s Sari. A review for Amma’s Sari can be found on the Reading Opens Doors blog here.

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