Book Review: One Shadow on the Wall

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It’s rare to find a work of contemporary, realistic middle grade fiction that gives my kids a glimpse into a whole different world. Leah Henderson‘s One Shadow on the Wall is such a book.

Set in Senegal, it’s the story of Mor, an eleven-year-old orphan. He’s determined to keep the promise he made to his dying father: to take care of his two younger sisters. It won’t be easy, though. His aunt wants to take the siblings to the city and split them up. His father’s former employer doesn’t have a job for him. And a gang of older boys threatens him at every turn. Luckily, he has his sisters, his neighbors in the village, and the spirits of his parents on his side.

This book is one that rewards your patience. I read it aloud to Larrabee, and it took us several chapters to get hooked by the story. But overall, we found it to be both engaging and eventful.

Henderson paints a vivid picture of Mor’s village–the colors, the foods, the sounds. And she immerses us in Mor’s daily life, which is so different from Larrabee’s. Mor lives with his sisters and a goat in a one-room hut. He works all summer to feed his family and to save money for his sister’s school tuition. He hardly ever has time to play soccer with his friends–and when he does, they play with a ball made out of plastic bags. His nine-year sister owns just one book and has to fetch water from the well and cook the family’s meals.

While we were reading, Larrabee and I thought often of our friend Rachael who served in the Peace Corps in Senegal. We plan to lend her our copy and ask her how to pronounce all the Wolof words. And then we’ll say, “Jërëjëf (thank you)!”

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