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Smile! by Geraldine McCaughrean
Published by Oxford University Press, 2004

Flash, a professional photographer, is rescued from the wreckage of his plane by brother and sister, Olu and Sutira. They bring him back to their remote desert village where he soon discovers that their people have never seen a photograph. He has managed to salvage a polaroid camera from the crash with ten shots left and decides to share the “great magic” of photography with the villagers but which ten shots to take?

Flash finds he enjoys playing the magic maker of pictures and snaps the village cow, a group of young warriors, Finchow, the village beauty, who to Flash’s western eyes is anything but, a dying child and other scenes of village life. As he takes these photographs, making his fair share of funny mistakes on the way, his cultural prejudices begin to fall away.

All too soon just one shot remains and Flash is surprised to find himself sad at the thought of leaving the village and its people. He is touched when the village elder requests that the last shot be a picture of Flash himself, but just as he is about to take his final photograph, a dog grabs the camera and Flash, giving chase, is lead back to the crash site where his rescuers are waiting for him. They tell him that he must have imagined the village as there is nothing but desert and landmines in that area.

This book is suitable for 9-12 year olds, although the black and white renderings of the ten photographs make it accessible to even younger readers, as does the simple language and the short length of the book. And such is the engaging story that its important themes of tolerance, common humanity and cultural appreciation are not forced in any way.

A “thoughtful and luminous tale of cultural differences” The Guardian

Geraldine McCaughrean is one of twenty authors featured in the Clare County Library Children’s Summer Reading Challenge 2005. Ask in your local branch library for details.

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