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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Jenny Robson
Age Range: 12+
Why on earth is the new boy at school wearing a balaclava? And how come the teachers don't make him take it off? These are some of the questions the children from Colliery Primary School are constantly asking as it becomes the sole topic of conversation. They are intrigued: coming up with all sorts of theories as to why, which range from – 'cos his ears are big', his hair fell out, his mum said it was winter, because he's a famous footballer hiding from his fans', he has a terrible scar or is some alien life form – but every single one is wrong.
The narrator Doogle and his best friend Duminsani are known as the Do Dudes and along with bosy Cherise they try to think up ingenious ways of getting Tommy, aka the Balaclava Boy, to either take off his balaclava or tell them why he is wearing it. Whatever they do, nothing works. One day when school bullies from an older class pin Tommy down and try to rip the balaclava off his head his classmates run to his rescue. Now it is all about protecting Tommy and respecting his space.
South African writer Jenny Robson has written a funny, heart-warming story about being different and fitting in. The language is accessible, using informal colloquial English because the narrator Doogal thinks and speaks in this way. Everyone has an aka. Their head teacher Mr Rasool is known as Mr Mosi, (short for Mosi-oa-Tunga, another name for Victoria falls), because he is always in tears, Mrs Modise is the Germolene Queen because she looks after first aid, their teacher Miss Venter is known as the Dragon Lady – she has a habit of repeating herself and when exasperated patting her chest which results in clouds of white (Lilly of the Valley) talcum powder flying up from her blouse. Robson also has moments of wonderful descriptive prose so suited to the narrator – "Plan C was going like a Boeing. Purring like a Porsche! Racing like a Lamborghini in fifth gear".
Balaclava Boy is complimented by the amusing black and white artwork of Sandy Mitchell. This is an ideal book for any child experiencing the difficulties associated with starting at a new school as well as demonstrating tolerance and friendship.