Described as a joyful celebration of the spiritual practice of Ramadan, The Month that Makes the Year fills an important gap in the contemporary Australian picture book landscape. Such books offer resonance and recognition for diverse readers, who can see aspects of their lives depicted on the page. At the same time, wider audiences are invited to celebrate and understand new cultural experiences. Importantly, Inda Ahmad Zahri is writing from the heart, drawing on her own childhood growing up as a practising Muslim in Malaysia.
The story is told through the eyes of Deenie, a young girl who is progressively introduced to Ramadan by her family. Some elements of the experience are already familiar to her, being celebrated widely and at all ages. Deenie knows that Ramadan begins with the sighting of a new crescent moon and a shout of ‘Ramadan Mubarak!’, for example. Other concepts are more challenging for children, and therefore newer experiences for Deenie. Practices of daily fasting, self-discipline and mindful reflection throughout the month are understandably tricky for children. Deenie is gently and sensitively guided into these routines, taking the reader with her on the learning journey.
The text layout provides highlighted keywords, which could usefully be drawn out as a reading or research list; a glossary is also provided at the back. Whilst the focus is on understanding the specific practices of Ramadan, the story also highlights a range of behaviours valued across cultural boundaries, such as kindness, gratitude and community. The illustrations work well to dispel myths around what Muslims ‘look like’, with diverse appearances, dress codes and lifestyles depicted.
The colour palette is warm, with a traditional picture book aesthetic that will appeal to very young readers and those preferring a conventional narrative to some of the more ‘meta’ or experimental illustration styles on the market. The cover design is reminiscent of the many Christmas books that flood the stores each year, evoking a magical vision of love, hope and family connection. It makes sense that non-Christian readers should have examples of this style of celebratory, seasonal book to add to their libraries.
The Month that Makes a Year will make a wonderful gift for young readers who participate in Ramadan, as well as a timely introduction to the practice for all readers. Teachers and carers may need to scaffold discussions of some elements of the story, particularly around fasting, to facilitate comprehension of the difference between a spiritual discipline and a punishment.