by Aanyah Abdullah & Shaila Abdullah
Loving Healing Press 1/1/2014
Age 6 to 8 30 pages
“A simple tale of love and friendship to warm your heart. This is the tale of a little girl who forms a close bond with a child with cerebral palsy. The girl finds that through her art, she can reach her special friend Suhana.”
“My friend Suhana is like no other girl I know.”
Suhana has Cerebral Palsy or CP for short. She is a quiet girl who moves little and depends upon others for all her needs. Despite all her limitations, Suhana can communicate. It takes someone special to understand all of Suhana and her needs. The narrator, an unnamed little girl, is trying to be that someone special for Suhana. The young girl, a budding artist, tries to use her art with Suhana. She uses different colors to symbolize Suhana’s various moods. Red equates being upset, blue is calm and pink is love. The young girl rocks Suhana in her arms and shows her the pictures she draws. Both girls are seven-years-old, which is not lost on the young girl.
My Friend Suhana is a sweet homage to a young girl with cerebral palsy from a young girl who tries to be her friend. As narrator, the young girl tells us about Suhana and their relationship. The young narrator displays a great deal of empathy for Suhana, a girl her own age. Suhana’s mother tries to help the young girl understand her daughter. The young narrator volunteers with Suhana each week–
“But for one hour each week I get a chance to rock her in my arms and imagine that she is my special friend!”
What the young girl fails to realize is that she needs not imagine. Suhana is her special friend and she is Suhana’s special friend. Volunteering at the special needs class, the young narrator begins to understand Suhana through her own art, probably more than Suhana understands what the young artist is trying to say. The young volunteer does not say if she has helped Suhana make her own art, but that would be a great step to take.
As a story, My Friend Suhana falls quite short. The protagonist is the young narrator, telling her own story, but there is no antagonist, unless you consider CP. A teacher tells the narrator that her art can help ease anxiety in others, so the girl starts giving her art to her friends. What changes does this make? Do these kids find relief and does this help the protagonist grow? The narrator is seven-years-old, as was the author when she co-authored this book. She relates her experiences well, but for what reason. What is the story? Where is the conflict that will change her? Who is the protagonist?
Rather than go into craft, conflicts, and all that stuff the young writer may not grasp, but a story needs, I would rather say this is a fine attempt for a first book. Putting oneself out there with kids who are so extremely different from yourself is difficult. Then telling the world about it, trying to relate what a great kid Suhana is, turns a hill into a mountain and this young author climbs that mountain gracefully and with much empathy. Aanyah is a great kid.
She realistically explains Suhana’s reactions to things she does not like, “she clenches her fists,” and when happy, “she waves her legs and arms wildly.” When Suhana bumps her head she, “screams unhappily . . . tired from crying, she fell asleep.” For seven years of age, this young girl is extremely observant and insightful. Everything the young narrator mentions about Suhana, I have seen repeated many times by kids with CP I have worked with. It takes a special individual with great empathy and patience to help these kids, even more to be a friend. Which is why I would rather exult the young author’s ability to work with others, her empathy, her patience, and her art, which she uses to help others.
My Friend Suhana is not a story. It is a loving tribute to a special friend and as such can be very helpful for other kids to read. Mainstreamed schools are a great place for this work to be available. Volunteer centers that allow kids to help, is another. Obviously, places with cerebral palsy patients are great places for this work, but any place with young children as clients that allows children to volunteer can benefit from having the volunteers read this young writer’s first work. My Friend Suhana may not be a “story,” but it has a lot of heart.
MY FRIEND SUHANA. Text copyright © 2014 by Aanyah & Shaia Abdullah. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Shaila Abdullah. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Loving Healing Press, Ann Arbor, MI.
Learn more about My Friend Suhana HERE.