The Roses in My Carpets
written by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Ronald Himmler
(Holiday House, 1998)
A young Afghan boy shares his life and dreams for the future with us in The Roses in My Carpets, a beautiful, thought-provoking picture book set in a refugee camp in Pakistan. He doesn’t like school but loves the afternoons he spends weaving carpets from brightly colored threads that all hold special meaning for him: although “Everything in the camp is a dirty brown, so I do not use brown anywhere on my carpets.”
One day his work is interrupted by the shocking news that his sister has been badly hurt. He runs to the hospital. His mother is already there, too distraught to think rationally. Our young narrator takes charge, sending his mother home while he waits for news at the hospital. Fortunately, this being a children’s story, the news is good – which in turn allows for a breathing space that alters the nightmare of conflict he describes at the beginning of the book: that night his dreams open up to allow a tiny space out of danger for him and his beloved family.
Reading a story that includes issues of conflict and hurt needs plenty of thinking and discussion space around it, but Rukhsana Khan has written this story so deftly that children will be comforted by the ending. This wonderful book includes a lot of incidental detail, such as the muezzin calling people to prayer and the boy’s musings about his overseas sponsor. Particularly convincing is the way the boy and his mother can hardly eat at the end of the day, after their terrible fright; and also the reality depicted of a boy who is very mature, who has had to grow up too quickly and take adult responsibilities on his shoulders. The attention to detail also carries over into the fine ilustrations; and young readers, and perhaps adults too, may be particularly struck by the mud buildings in the refugee camp.