Jamela’s Dress – Niki Daly

POINTS: 6 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 points
Variety of characters: 2 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

I love this book. I’m going to admit that I have a bit of bias, because it’s set in South Africa, and so I had a massive nostalgia homesick thing going on when I read it. But it’s pretty great even setting that aside.

It passes the Bechdel with flying colours – there are several named female characters who have conversations with each other about things that are not men. And as you can tell from the title and cover, this book is about a little black girl in her community. So far from the usual thing we’ve seen with a couple of faces in a crowd, this book is way above the bar we’ve set.

And, on top of all that, it’s a really great story. Jamela’s mother buys some fabric to make a dress for her friend Thelma’s wedding. Jamela falls in love with the fabric and ends up making off with it through the town, wrapped around her like a dress. In the process she ruins it, of course, and her Mama is understandably upset. Luckily Archie took pictures, and his picture of “Kwela Jamela, African Queen” wins a competition and he very kindly uses his winnings to replace the fabric. There’s even enough to make Jamela a dress of her own.

I’m very slightly put off by the deus ex machina resolution of this windfall of cash, but apart from that it is a great little story about how easy it is to do the wrong thing and accidentally cause real hurt to someone you love. “Even Jamela was cross with Jamela.”

The illustrations are gorgeous, the story is lovely, plus it shows black people living their lives like, you know, normal people (who woulda thunk), and not in any way with the ikky tokenism we sometimes see in kids’ books. So points all round! Read this to your kids.

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