________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 24 . . . . February 24, 2012


Waiting for the Owl’s Call. (Tales of the World).

Gloria Whelan. Illustrated by Pascal Milelli.
Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2009.
32 pp., hardcover, $21.50.
ISBN 978-1-58536-418-3.

Subject Headings:
Weavers-Afghanistan-Juvenile literature.
Girls-Afghanistan-Social life and customs-Juvenile literature.
Turkmen-Social life and customs-Juvenile literature.
Rugs, Turkmen-Social aspects-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Linda Ludke.

***½ /4



We tie the knots. We clip the wool with a knife shaped like a new moon. The shaggy knots are sheared until the rug is smooth. It will take us many months to make our rug. When it if finished I will part with an old friend. The pattern I have woven in my head and in my heart is my own to keep.

At the end of the day my back aches. Like the backs of my mother and my grandmother, one day my own back will wilt and bend like a plucked flower. My fingers stumble as they tie the knots. The pattern I weave in my head is gone.

I am waiting for the owl. At last I hear his call The call tells us we are finished with the loom.

In this latest “Tales of the World” offering from Sleeping Bear Press, an eight-year-old Turkmenistan girl describes her life. Living in Afghanistan, Zulviya and her family survive by weaving rugs – “we belong to the loom”. Working from sunrise until the “owl calls” at night, Zulviya suffers from bleeding fingers, numb legs and an aching back from hours of sitting. She has never attended school because it would be a two day walk from her village. She wonders if students have to take their loom with them to school.

internal art      Despite her sad situation, Zulviya has a resilient spirit. She is proud of the rugs she and her family create and the artistry involved. To ease the repetitiveness of her job, she makes a game of trying to “tie a knot for every beat of [her] heart.” As another escape, she dreams up new patterns using colours from her world: yellow like the thrush that sings in the almond tree; purple like the mulberries she’s forbidden to eat because the juice could stain her fingers; and brown like the walnuts her brothers collect to make rug dye.

      Pascal Milelli’s beautiful oil paintings have an impressionistic quality. They convey the warmth and closeness of Zuviya’s family. The traditional rugs have rich, vibrant colours as do the Afghanistan landscape scenes.

      Gloria Whelan’s poetic language is deeply affecting. The shadow of the loom hovers over the beds “like a dark ghost.” Zulviya knows her life will follow the same path as her mother and grandmother and great-grandmothers, but she has internal strength: “My hands belong to the loom but the pattern in my head is my own.”

      Waiting for the Owl’s Call is a poignant story of child labour. An author’s note provides more information about organizations, such as RugMark, that are working to end the exploitation of children in the carpet industry.

Highly Recommended.

Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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