When Zimdalamashkermishkada starts a new school, he knows he’s got to do something about his long name. When no amount of shrinking, folding or crumpling works, he simply settles for Zim – but deep down, it doesn’t feel right. It’s not until a new friend sees him for who he truly is that Zimdalamashkermishkada finds the confidence to step boldly into his long name.
This award-winning picture book, The Boy Who Tried To Shrink His Name, by Sandhya Parappukkaran & Michelle Pereira, left me with a big, wide-open smile when I reached the end. Winner of the CBCA 2022 award for new illustrators, Michelle Pereira’s illustrations are drawn in vintage style and colours, a base of greens against tones of pink, which are calming, and yet, filled with movement and emotion. You must stop and take time to enjoy and understand the relationship between text and illustration in every picture book and this is a master example.
Clever combination of imagery in the text and illustrations, creates a warm and uplifting tale about celebrating who you are and never shrinking yourself down to fit in. The shrinking of Zimdalamashkermishkada’s name is connected to how he feels about himself; it is as if he is folding himself into boxes and crumpling himself up into a tight ball. But no matter how hard he tries, his name always bursts back into the world.
When his friend Elly calls him, Zim, he finally feels this is it, this is the answer – he has his pesky, unwieldy name under control. But when he asks his mum if he can use the name, Zim, she tells him he is named him for beautiful and important reasons, and she asks him to, ‘Give people a chance to say it right.’
Gradually, as Zimdalamashkermishkada develops his courage, little by little, he begins to practice unfolding his name, until it is fully fledged. The illustrations show the crumpled up name as being like, ‘long shoelaces’ and as he becomes more comfortable with his name, and himself, these ‘shoelaces’ gradually become the parts of a bird, who once whole, takes joyous flight.
Our names are a very important part of who we are. Names hold deeply personal, familial, cultural and historical links and threads. They represent our identities, the communities in which we belong, our relationships and connections, and our place in the world. Taking time to learn someone’s name, especially when it is vastly different to your own, is a sign of respect. It shows you see that person and you understand the importance of making connections with those who have different experiences to your own.
This book is a wonderful read for any age and an important story to encourage children to be bold and stand up for who they are. It will take pride of place in my growing library of wonderful Australian picture books.