Reviews /

Champ

Authored by Payam Ebrahimi
Illustrated by Reza Dalvand
Published by Greystone Books,Canada

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Two of Iran’s most celebrated creators (Payam Ebrahimi and Reza Dalvand, writer and illustrator respectively), bring us Champ, the story of the Moleskis, a family of sporting champions. It is a story of Abtin, who is born into this family. And it is a story of self-belief and independence. It is brilliant.

We are introduced to Abtin on the first double-page spread. He is a small, wiry figure, worriedly looking up at a range of portraits of Moleski champions: weightlifters, tennis players, wrestlers…they have seen and conquered it all. Their impressive achievements hog the reader’s attention, sprawling across the two pages and shunting Abtin into a corner. It is a shame that they don’t look too happy about their wins though. Every portrait is a frown, a grimace that might suggest winning things doesn’t always bring happiness.

We learn that Abtin isn’t that bothered about sport at all, much less winning, but the biggest source of shame for the rest of Moleski family is that Abtin doesn’t have the mole above his upper lip like the rest of his family. Is he a true Moleski at all? Reza Dalvand’s illustrations use a largely monochromatic palette, save for father’s permanently red face, with many of the family members peering down in disgust from their frames. This would be brilliant book to explore with children, ripe for discussion about size, position and colour and how they impact our reading of a story.

Abtin is clearly happy in his own skin. He paints pictures of flowers instead of lifting weights; he slides down the banister instead of exercising his legs; he is surrounded by Moleskis who peer down at him in every sense, yet still he goes on dancing to his own tune. However, he has a heart, and he loves his family. He worries about their constant unhappiness – what can he do to help? He thinks, and thinks, and thinks…and the ending is just perfect – an absolute celebration of joy, of refusing to conform, of being yourself. It would be interesting to see whether children think Abtin is right to not listen to his family – is it ok to go against the grain? – or whether his acts of self-expression are to be lauded.

I see myself using this book for years to come, whether just to share an excellent story or to look more deeply at societal demands and expectations. Independent readers across Key Stage 2 would revel in the illustrations and the dark humour used throughout. A book to treasure!