Kamal’s Kes by Baljinder Kaur (2021).
This picture book absolutely blooms, like the flower of the main character’s name and the ones that grace her comb, hair, and surroundings in the pages.
Kes (kay-s) in Panjabi means hair. And this story is about Kamal’s hair.
It blossoms with honesty about Kamal’s feelings about her hair, her difficult but ultimately welcoming feelings. It blossoms with a captivating blend of text and design. It blossoms with evocative artwork, with colors that reflect the earth and flowers. It blossoms with imagination. And it blossoms with a journey toward self-love that kids need to experience.
Like every offering from independent publisher, Saffron Press, it’s made with so much intentionality (and I know from being friends with the founder how much intentionality goes into everything Saffron Press does, truly). From Baljinder Kaur’s dedication (“For every being who inspires me to strive for better”) and lotus endpapers to the gorgeous cover’s mix of gloss and matte and FSC-assured paper to that wonderful journal page at the back, “A letter to mySelf” for kids to reflect and write on, Kamal’s Kes is imbued with care for books and for those who read them.
Kid readers will recognize themselves in the story as they, too, either face or anticipate the prospect of growing up. Of changing. Of journeying into a different state from childhood and how jarring and painful that can be, especially when they don’t feel accepted for who they are as they change.
Once a source of pleasure and admiration, as it grows and appears elsewhere, Kamal’s hair becomes a sore spot. An unruly thing. A burden she wants to rid herself of because of “the stares” she receives. She begins to see herself in a distorted, disconnected way.
I love how Kamal’s portrayed as a monster, wild thing-esque. The portrayal reflects, to me, the way we feel when we’re lost in the suffering of rejection—from others, from ourselves. The middle of the book is a tumble of color and composition toward this next striking spread that puts us right there with Kamal in her desperation, her separation from herself, a painful place to be.
But Kamal is not there forever. She experiences hope. Acceptance. Self-love. The joy of being her.
“I am beautiful, Kamal whispered, and she dug her toes deeper into the earth, decorating herself with wisdom older than the sun.”
Kamal’s Kes is an incredibly joyful, hopeful, loving gift for children to embrace themselves and, like the earth and flowers, truly bloom.
Big thanks to Saffron Press for interior images!
I’m so thrilled that Baljinder Kaur, the incredible artist and author-illustrator of Kamal’s Kes!!, is here to share a companion craft for this picture book. It was so kind of her to answer my approach with a yes to the idea of creating something! And that something is is fitting, meaningful, lovely. I hope you and yours will make one too.
Over to Baljinder!
The word Kamal also means lotus flower and has great spiritual significance in Sikh thought as a metaphor for an aspiring state of being. Just as the lotus floats and blooms amidst the murky waters, so can our being in the murkiness of our worlds. In this craft we’ll be making our own lotus flowers to celebrate Kamal’s own blooming in the story. These paper flowers can be used as decoration and serve as a reminder that we can all bloom and rise in our own unique and beautiful ways.
Thank you, Baljinder, for this book and this wonderful companion craft!!
Baljinder Kaur is an illustrator nestled in the middle of England, UK. She is passionate about the power of children’s books and their ability to transcend barriers and transform our social landscapes. She enjoys exploring through themes of the fantastical, the allegorical and the enchantingly ordinary. Her work often, and intimately reflects through the lens of a Panjabi and Sikh diaspora existence.
As a child of immigrants, she’s keen to share stories that help us to connect deeper; stories that celebrate our differences as well as our wonderfully interconnected nature.
Baljinder recently graduated with distinction from Cambridge School of Art with a Masters degree in Children’s Book Illustration. She was also awarded the 2022 CSACBI Illustration for Older Fiction Prize. Her work has been published by Penguin Random House, Saffron Press and Mighty Khalsa.
Follow Baljinder Kaur on Instagram.
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