'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 8 October 2021

Review: The Boy Who Tried To Shrink His Name

There are books that accommodate tales of cultural diversity and those that address a child’s need to fit in. 

The Boy Who Tried To Shrink His Name is a picture book that does both with consummate ease and accuracy. 

In the melting pot of cross-culturalism that is Australia, it is worrying that feelings of inappropriateness and inadequacy still prevail in schoolyard playgrounds. 

Fortunately Zimdalamashkermishkada’s tale provides a soothing and uplifting conduit of understanding.

Yes, that is Zim’s full first name and he’s not super proud of it. In fact, he’d rather not own it all. It’s cumbersome and longer that a ball of yarn. Zim (as he wishes it were), mentally attempts to shrink his name, every day, every way he can, but its sheer extent and complexity refuse to be diminished. He begs his mother for help but gently implores him to ‘Give people a chance to say it right.’

Zim’s confusion of embarrassment and ashamedness intensifies after he has to buddy up with Elly for a class exercise but instead of the ridicule he expects, Elly regards him as a mate; someone she can tutor in the find art of skateboarding. As their friendship blossoms over southern Indian sweet treats  and sporting prowess, Zimdalamashkermishkada allows his name to slowly unfurl to its full glorious size and in doing so, soars confidently around not only the skating rink but his neighbourhood and his own heart.

Debut children’s author, Sandhya Parappukkaran has created a tale through which themes of belonging, place, and self-identity weave. Deftly told in first person, this story pays quiet yet powerful homage to just one of the many incredible cultures that fill our children’s classrooms and reminds us of the capacity of young children to overlook the banalities of difference like hard-to-say-names in favour of what should be the key ingredients to any childhood: fun, friendship and … feasting!

Michelle Pereira’s retro-esque illustrations employ a superbly limited colour palate of both bold strokes and flecked detail from the clothbound cover to the elegant endpapers. We know this story takes place in urban Australia thanks to a well position kookaburra however the scents of other shores perfume these pages as well thanks to images of simmering curries and swaying coconut trees. I love how Zimdalamashkermishkada’s tangled self-doubts, depicted as his convoluted errant orange shoelaces lead both us and him on a journey of discovery and acknowledgment.  

The Boy Who Tried To Shrink His Name is a delicious juxtaposition of acceptance, assimilation and self-awareness that is the perfect fit for classroom and bedroom reading. And don’t worry about the pronunciation! Both text and pictures will give you all the confidence you need to embrace Zimdalamashkermishkada, as well.

Title: The Boy Who Tried To Shrink His Name
Author: Sandhya Parappukkaran
Illustrator: Michelle Pereira
Publisher: Bright Light, $24.99
Publication Date: August 2021
Format: Hardcover
For ages: 4 – 8
Type: Picture Book