Back in 2009, my friend Suzanne, who teaches English (among other things!) met with me and our conversation invariably meandered to books. She just about gushed over The Day of Ahmed’s Secret written by the late Florence Parry Heide and her daughter, Judith Heide Gilliland. Of course, I needed very little encouragement to hunt the book down!
Before I talk about this book, I MUST talk about the illustrator, who is one of my favourites – Ted Lewin. I can’t draw or paint for toffee, but I have always longed for the ability because of amazingly talented artists like him. Ted Lewin has illustrated numerous books that my kids and I enjoy. He has an inimitable style that gives the stories warmth and life. His watercolours are remarkably detailed and in this book, he and the authors expertly capture the sights, smells and sounds of the markets and busy streets of Cairo.
Every single time I read a book he has illustrated, I feel as if I were looking at a photograph! I’ve discovered the secret to his realistic and vibrant pictures – he uses his friends and neighbours and their kids as subjects and directs them to ‘act’ out the story while he photographs them in the studio!
The Day of Ahmed’s Secret is about young Ahmed who rides through the streets of Cairo to deliver cylinders of butane gas (it is for cooking) to his father’s customers. He has a secret to tell his family, but it must keep till the evening for he has his job to do first. Ahmed seems rather young for such hard work (he looks no more than 10 or 11), but he does it patiently (there is not a hint of complaint from him) and quite obviously, out of a sense of love and duty for his family. We sense how mature he is in his quiet introspective nature and in how he understands why he has to grow up quickly to help ease his father’s burden.
As Ahmed weaves in and out of the city, we meet various characters – the food vendor who always has a word for him, the rose water man, the customers and all the folks who make up the hustle and bustle of Cairo that he is a part of. He reflects on how old the city is and talks of the desert in almost sentimental terms. Through it all, we are constantly reminded of the secret he is carrying.
I could talk about all kinds of learning points like Egypt, deserts, pyramids and what not, but I prefer to just bask in the gorgeousness of this book 🙂
When Ahmed finally returns to the warmth and comfort of home, he finally divulges his surprise. It is worth the wait – I was so proud of him and felt like thumping his back!