Winner of this year’s South Asian Book Award from the South Asia National Outreach Consortium [SANOC], Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw‘s latest is a whimsical, delightful exploration of friendship, family, and cultures … on opposite sides of the world.
Elliot, who lives in an American city, paints a picture that his teacher mails across the oceans, which connects him to Kailash who calls an Indian village home. Picture by picture, letter by letter, the two boys learn how alike they are … even as their sameness might also be their differences. Both live with their families: Elliot with his parents and baby sister, and Kailash with his parents and siblings, and 18 additional near and dear relatives. Both have pets: Kailash has a whole menagerie of farm animals including cows, goats, and chickens, while Elliot’s got a dachshund and fish to care for. Elliot takes a yellow school bus through city streets, while Kailash travels on a bicycle-pulled wagon … both go to and fro surrounded by friends. Elliot’s favorite class is art, Kailash’s is yoga … both because in each they “can be anything.”
As the faraway picture pals get to know each other, they easily become “best friends … even though we live in two different worlds. … Or do we?” “Same, same but different,” the phrase repeats throughout the book as the two boys grow closer together … until finally, they are “Different, different but the SAME.”
Kostecki-Shaw, as she writes on her website, learned the popular phrase, “Same, same. But different,” used for comparing different cultures, while she was traveling in Southeast Asia. She stopped at the Sunshine School in Bhaktapur, Nepal, where she organized an art exchange between the students and her American friends, which then inspired her to write this book. You can see some of those original cultural exchanges by clicking here, and some of Kostecki-Shaw’s own travel sketches by clicking here.
With nary a virtual hint in sight, Kostecki-Shaw’s splendid book is a welcome anachronistic throwback in our hyper-techno world. The concept of a pen-pal in the age of instant gratification will surely need some explaining for today’s youngest readers. Kostecki-Shaw’s colorful, gorgeous, humorous images (just marvel at Elliot’s smiling face behind the fishbowl as his zebra-striped fish purses its lips in anticipation of the incoming meal!) are especially striking, and filled with so many intricate, interesting, inviting details that demand pause to explore and enjoy. Go ahead, turn off your electronics, grab a cuddle with your kid(s), and indulge in a same, same but different adventure!