Amai and the Banyan Tree is a bilingual picture book in English and Urdu that focuses on the importance of trees in our environment. It is a fictional title, featuring talking trees, a bird that can transform into a shooting star and two young children; however, geographical and scientific information is integrated into the storyline.
As followers of my Facebook page know well, I have six titles to share with you on the Pakistan leg of our picture book journey. Yes, six! I was going to review all the titles in a two-part blog, but I’ve fallen at the first hurdle. In fact, we’re now looking at a three-part blog, with separate posts for two lovely picture books sourced from Oxford University Press (OUP) in Pakistan. The first title is this one, recommended by Aisha Esbhani, a teenager and book enthusiast from Karachi who is reading her way around the world.
Amai and the Banyan Tree is a bilingual picture book in English and Urdu. Each page starts with text in English, followed by the Urdu translation underneath. The story features three main characters, who we are introduced to at the beginning. Amai or ‘mother’ is a magical bird of light who can turn into a shooting star and take children on adventures all around the world. The young boy Ali would like to be a scientist and Seema, the young girl, wants to be a doctor (yay!)
The story’s main focus is on the importance of trees in our environment. The trigger comes from a fourth character, Ma Banyan, a tearful tree who urges Amai to show the children the impact of flooding in Pakistan. On their whistle-stop journey, Ali and Seema see a river that has swept up everything in its raging current and trees being cut down to make way for roads. High above the earth, they witness greenhouse gases; back on terra firma (or not, as the case may be), they see the role of trees in stabilising the ground and refilling the water table.
The story is told in the third person and is an interesting blend of fiction and non-fiction elements. There is action and movement on every page as Amai zooms back to the past, out to the atmosphere and deep underground with the children. We also share Ali and Seema’s observations of their surroundings and Amai’s explanations to them. Factual commentary from the author is also woven into the story providing additional information to the reader about the greenhouse effect, for example, or different soil layers. I particularly liked the subtle call to action at the end of the story where Ali and Seema ask Ma Banyan what they can do to help. Any ideas what she might have suggested to them?!
The artwork features vibrant colours, stylised elements and cartoon-style characters. Ali and Seema, are a very likeable, expressive pair who I think will appeal to many readers. I love the stylised waves and streaks of rain in the ‘angry river’ spread and the trail of sparkles Amai leaves in her wake. I also enjoyed the detail provided in the illustrations to support the text, such as the banyan trees with their extensive root systems pushing down into clearly defined layers of soil.
Amai and the Banyan Tree is a spirited read with a clear environmental message about the importance of trees in our modern world.
Amai and the Banyan Tree by Fauzia Aziz Minallah (Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 2012)
Fauzia Aziz Minallah is an artist, author and animator. She has written seven children’s picture books and has a passion for sharing art and literature with children. In 2002, she founded the charity Funkor Childart Center in Islamabad, which organises workshops and events for underprivileged children who have little opportunity to experience art and reading.
You can read more about Fauzia Minallah, her work and her 16kg multi-coloured scarf of peace in this 2017 interview by Roger Tagholm for Publishing Perspectives.