Monday, January 13, 2020

Review - The Big Buna Bash

The Big Buna Bash
by Sara C. Arnold
illustrated by Roberta Malasomma
Date: 2020
Publisher: Brandylane Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When Almaz makes a mistake in school, she's really embarrassed! Other kids tease her because they don't understand her Ethiopian culture. How can she use her family's traditions to make friends? She needs to host a BIG BUNA BASH!

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

While I do appreciate what this book was trying to do, I don't think it really works. The description of the buna party and its cultural significance is all fine. My issues with this have more to do with cultural appropriation and the obvious Western bias of the author.

When Almaz calls out an answer in class (she does not make a mistake; I don't know why the synopsis even says that), she's ridiculed by the ignorant students. So she decides to host a buna party to give them a taste of one aspect of her Ethiopian culture. At first, the other kids don't seem interested, but after Almaz explains it to them, they decide to come to the party. Everyone has a great time, and we find out that Almaz's name means "diamond" (that's random, but whatever).

The problems started early for me when roll-call was happening and Almaz wishes she had a "regular" name. She's been at the school for under a month, so she's either been acculturated mind-blowingly quickly, or this is the author's bias peeking through.

Then the teacher wants everyone to come up with words that contain the "oo" sound. Almaz comes up with "buna" (which is apparently her "mistake"; I'm still not sure why). Some kids at the back of the room begin to laugh at her (she calls them "dorky boys"; I guess teaching kids not to call each other names is beyond the scope of this book), and she gets embarrassed. Things don't get any better as the day goes on. At lunch, some boys mock her by making baboon noises under the table. (They're not called out for their racism, either. That seems like a weird thing not to address in a children's book about acceptance.)

At the party, the first thing one of the guests asks is if Almaz's mother can braid her hair. Then the kids alternately disparage the tradition of buna and gush over it (which may be a fairly realistic reaction from antsy kids, but it's kind of confusing in a picture book).

The illustrations are really not my cup of tea (or... coffee?). Although they're bright and colourful, I would've preferred to see something that had a more Ethiopian flair. There's also little consistency when it comes to proportions; in some illustrations, the characters look top-heavy with their huge heads... but in other pictures, the body-head ratio looks more normal.

I did learn a little bit about buna, so that's something. I just wish that the story and illustrations had been stronger to go along with the interesting topic. (And it would've been nice if it hadn't felt like I was reading a non-Ethiopian's idea of an Ethiopian child's story.)

Thank you to NetGalley and Brandylane Publishers for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

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