With the moon still high in the sky, a young Moroccan boy gets out of bed, turns his face to Mecca and begins to pray. The same moon shines over an Australian suburb, where a boy sleeps until morning. By the time he wakes up for breakfast, the Moroccan boy has long since finished eating and is riding to town with his father.
Page by wordless page, the boys’ lives unfold—literally—in parallel. Mirror is designed to read as two books placed side by side: pages on the left flip open (from left to right) to tell the Australian boy’s story, and pages on the right (which open from right to left) contain the Moroccan story.
The differences are obvious—the Australian boy and his father drive to the city to visit a hardware store, fighting traffic all the way, while the Moroccan family rides a donkey through the countryside, past desert rock and green irrigated fields. But the families are also connected: both boys have a younger sibling who wears a yellow sweater; both eat bread (store-bought vs. homemade) and milk (bottled vs. freshly-squeezed-from-a-cow) for breakfast. When the Moroccan family reaches town, they sell a homemade carpet to a trader, earning enough money to buy a computer. On the facing page, the Australians purchase what looks like the exact same carpet from a store called “Magic Carpets.” The storeowner is a dead ringer for the trader who bought the carpet from the Moroccans, so perhaps the Moroccan boy’s story happened first, chronologically speaking.
Baker’s artistry boggled the mind. Each illustration is a collage built from tiny scraps of paper, cloth, tin, plastic, sand and clays. The materials usually match what they’re trying to depict: jeans are cut from scraps of denim, the Moroccan countryside looks like painted clay. The Sydney skyline must have taken months to build: every strut and window has been cut from paper or plastic, and on top of that she’s pasted hundreds of cardboard cars. I suspect she wove the carpet out of embroidery thread—a dizzying feat indeed.
I spent a considerable amount of time wondering which boy was happier. There’s nothing to suggest that either kid is unhappy, but in the beginning I felt sorry for the Moroccan boy who had to wake up so early that he fell asleep during breakfast. Still, I’d rather travel through the beautiful Moroccan countryside than crawl through Sydney traffic (no doubt I’d feel different if I had to make a multi-hour trip every time I needed to buy something). There’s a gentle message here about the divide between haves and have-nots—the Australian father owns a laptop, while the Moroccan weavers sell a valuable carpet (no doubt worth weeks of labor) for a clunky, old-fashioned computer (the cynical part of me wonders if it isn’t some recycled cast-off from America). And yet, we also see how technology (or stuff in general) divides people: breakfast with the Australians is a hurried affair. The father surfs the web, the kid plays with plastic dinosaurs, the mother spoons food into the toddler’s mouth. They’re not even looking at each other. But the Moroccan family (two parents, two kids and three grandparents) talks and smiles through their meal. Even the sleeping boy is part of the family circle—he has his head in his grandmother’s lap, and her hand is on his arm.
But in the end, it’s the similarities that stand out. Mirror is about two boys who go on father-and-son outings and return with something for the entire family. After dinner, the Moroccan family gathers around the computer and uses what looks like the Internet to display a picture of the globe. In Australia, the family unrolls their new carpet and relaxes in front of the fireplace. The boy shows off his newest creation: a drawing of the family sitting on a flying carpet, soaring over a Middle-Eastern desert. With those images, the boys’ lives are forever connected, and I imagine them meeting in the future, perhaps in college; maybe the Moroccan boy will visit the Australian boy’s home and see that carpet lying in their living room.
In her author’s note, Baker writes that
The idea for this book came from my delight traveling in a country very different from my own. At the time, in my own country, there was much political poisoning of attitudes toward foreigners and foreigness. But traveling alone in remote Morocco, a woman “stranger” myself, I was met with much friendliness and generosity from “strangers…”
A delightful book. And a great reminder that what appears to be “the other” may be more a reflection of ourselves.