Reviewed by Elisabet Risberg, translated from Swedish by Shaun Whiteside
Written by Syrian author Raw’ah Sunbul
Illustrated by Gazan Palestinian artist Baraa Awoor
Published by Jabal Amman
Picture book for all ages
This is the story of Damdum, who lives with his grandmother in a little cabin high up in the vault of the sky. Damdum’s grandmother is a cloud-maker who sees to it that the clouds roll out into the sky every day. Damdum, meanwhile, spends all day drawing.
One day, something strange happens. Damdum has had her lunch — three crunchy stars and a rainbow shake — and she has thanked her grandmother for the meal, brushed her teeth, and lay down to sleep when she clearly hears someone talking in a loud voice. Who could it be? The only people living in the cabin were her and her grandmother! Damdum gets out of bed and goes to see where the voice is coming from. It leads her to the kitchen, beside the door to Grandmother’s cloud factory. Now she can scarcely hear…
Oh, we’re so bored, what can we do, it’s sooo boring……
You might imagine that Damdum would be scared, and that she might run to wake her grandmother, but Damdum isn’t scared at all. Instead, she pinches her nose, and a pair of wings spring out of her back. Now, she can open the door and fly right into the cloud factory. The little clouds are rolling about on the table, wailing.
We all look the same, there’s nothing we can do but roll around, we’re so bored!
Damdum thinks and thinks. Is there nothing she can do to help the clouds? Since she’s good at drawing, mightn’t she be able to “draw clouds” and give them all different faces? She grabs a spoon and tells the clouds about her plan. At first, they’re frightened. Won’t it hurt? And wouldn’t it be better, in the end, for all the little clouds just to go on rolling around as they were? But Damdum shows them all of her grandma’s flowers, with all their different shapes and fragrances, and assures them that differences aren’t dangerous at all, and that it really won’t hurt.
The clouds come round to the idea, and soon a cloud-rabbit is hopping after a cloud-carrot, and a cloud-owl is flying up into a cloud-tree! Damdum carves the clouds into elephants and whales and bleating sheep, and they all play and laugh together.
All of a sudden, the door to the cloud factory opens, and in comes Grandma, who wonders what’s happening in her factory in the middle of the night. When she sees Damdum’s clouds she laughs and exclaims:
What wonderful clouds, Damdum! From now on you can join me in the factory every day!
Since that day clouds of all possible shapes have appeared in the sky, there’s no more sighing and wailing and Damdum isn’t lonely anymore.
The author Ra’wah Sunbul is from Syria and, as far as I can tell, this is her first book for little children. She has already written a book for slightly older children, The Girl Who Carried Her Home Around With Her, which addresses issues of identity and exile. She has also written for adults.
Baraa Alawoor is a well-known illustrator from Gaza. Her illustrations have appeared in many children’s books in the Arab-speaking world. In 2020, she won the Etisalat Award in the category of illustrator of the year for the excellent book The Monster and Me. She was also one of the winners of the 2022 Mahmoud Kahlil Award. She has a page on behance.net where you can see more of her wonderful illustrations.