This ingenuous book is, in fact, two books designed to be read side by side. One side depicts a day in the life of a boy and his family in Sydney, Australia; the other portrays a day in the life of a Moroccan boy and his family. The only real text in the book comes in the form of an introduction, written in both English and Arabic. The story therefore relies on the illustrations, a series of intricate collages, Jeannie Baker’s trademark medium.
The story is about differences and similarities and these themes bind the two books together. As the Sydney boy and his father set off on a journey, Baker’s collages portray a typical urban landscape: busy streets, high rise buildings and roadwork. But various features mark the place as distinctly Australian, including the harbour, its iconic bridge, and a huge Qantas jet. And where do the boy and his father end up? At the hardware store, of course. But, they also stop at Magic Carpets, an old-fashioned carpet shop, where they purchase a beautiful Moroccan rug.
Meanwhile, in Morocco, it is a different story. Or is it? The family sit down together for breakfast, just as the Sydney family do. And the Moroccan boy and his father set off on a journey that mirrors the Australian one. But the dusty landscape, with its Berbers and donkeys, is in stark contrast to Sydney. There is no hardware store here, but a local market instead, where traders ply their wares. And yet, there are signs that the modern world is encroaching, with TV sets and computer hardware being sold alongside bags of colourful spices.
The Moroccan rug features on every spread, but it is not until the father unrolls it at market that we realise it resembles the rug the Australian family have bought. For me, this realisation was one of the most beautiful moments of the book. We see how the two stories are woven together by the colourful handiwork. But so much else links them too: family meals, household chores, teapots – the tiny details. And as the stories progressed, I had an overriding sense that each family was looking for what the other takes for granted: the simple pleasures of life without technology for one, and the excitement of a new computer for the other. But, above all of this, the story places emphasis on family togetherness – an ageless concept that knows no boundaries.
Mirror by Jeannie Baker (Walker Books Ltd, 2010)
Jeannie Baker is the author/illustrator of a number of award-winning books, including Where the Forest Meets the Sea, Window, and Mirror. She uses unique mixed-media collages to illustrate her work, often incorporating materials that feature in her stories. Originally from the UK, she moved to Australia in 1975.
Baker’s website provides some fascinating insights into her time in Morocco, where she developed the concept for Mirror: http://www.jeanniebaker.com/focus/mirror-extracts-from-my-journey/