AACHOOO! Poor Haroun. He can’t stand the scent of jasmine. It makes him sneeze and prevents him from sleeping. The problem is Haroun lives in Damascus and there is jasmine everywhere! Fortunately, he’s a crafty kind of cat and he knows what to do. Yup, he goes and creates a stinky scent to cover the sweet jasmine smell! But the resident Jasmine Spirit is not impressed. Try as he might, Haroun cannot escape the magical jasmine stems she sends his way!
The Jasmine Sneeze is hugely entertaining read from start to finish. And Haroun the cat is definitely a key part of this. As a reader, you can’t help laughing at his misfortunes and mishaps: the sneezing, the unexpected outcome of creating a stink in his neighbourhood, the Jasmine Spirit’s clever spell, and Haroun’s inability to rid himself of the jasmine that haunts his days and nights. If you are feeling desperately sorry for him, don’t! He does eventually realise what he needs to do to resolve the situation. I’ll say no more.
The humour is enhanced by the lively storyline and flow of the text, which is liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks. And the illustrations are sublime! In one double spread, Haroun sits mournful and cross-eyed in a cold-water fountain, while the cheeky Jasmine Spirit hides a gleeful tee-hee behind her hands on the opposite page. In another, he appears hypnotised (just his head peers down from the top of the page) a series of concentric rings swirling around both eyes, while a trail of jasmine traces a border around the spread.
And there’s so much more to the illustrations, too: beautiful arched doors and windows, chequered paving slabs, intricate flower designs in a glorious palette of reds, blues, yellows and greens. Haroun’s Damascus is a stunning place. It is so refreshing – and so important – to see the city painted in such a positive light in this story, both in words and images. When I think of Damascus or Syria (and I have not visited either), I do not tend to think of crafty cats, vibrant colour and the scent of jasmine. Now I have read The Jasmine Sneeze, I think I will.
The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan (Lantana Publishing, 2016)
Nadine Kaadan is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator. She has published over 15 books inspired by her Syrian cultural heritage, including two in English with Lantana Publishing (The Jasmine Sneeze and Tomorrow). She was born in Damascus, Syria and now lives in the UK.
Tomorrow (translated from the original Arabic by the author) shows the impact of war on a young boy and his family. Yazan longs to go to the park, but like many children around him, the world outside has changed and he has to stay at home.