“Made by Raffi” is a joyous children’s book written by Craig Pomranz and illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. Young Raffi knows he is different from his peers. The other kids love rough play, tumbling around and yelling at each other. Unlike them, Raffi can’t stand roughness and noise. He doesn’t yell. He wears brightly colored clothes. He has long hair. He gets teased constantly — because he’s different.
Then one day as he sits by himself, he spots a teacher who is knitting a beautiful scarf. He realizes immediately that this activity is for him. It seems to be MADE for him. And he is made for knitting specifically and design generally. He is amazingly talented. But the teasing continues unabated.
In a key episode, Raffi asks his mom, “Do you think I’m…girly?” And she answers, with wisdom and love, “No, Raffi. I think you are very…Raffi.” Later his teacher announces that there will soon be a school play featuring a prince and princess. Raffi decides right then and there that he will make a beautiful royal cape for the prince. And he does — in record time.
When his classmates see his work, they are awed and astounded, and he becomes a newly minted hero. They all want him to make clothes for them, and he is more than happy to oblige; and with his mom’s encouragement and help, every single item he produces is clearly and proudly labelled, “Made by Raffi.”
This lovely piece of work is a paean to acceptance, love, diversity, and joy. Raffi’s parents as well as Raffi himself have smiles on their faces from beginning to end; the teacher who instructs Raffi in the art of knitting is a Latina. His classmates — the ones who learn to idolize him — come in all shapes, colors, sized and ethnicities. They are their own veritable Rainbow Coalition.
What a beautiful, relevant, inspiring, and even liberating reading experience this short novel could prove to be for children of all ages who recognize that they are different. Its message is loud and clear: be strong in the face of adversity; be accepting of others; and, most of all, be yourself. That is surely one important pathway to success and happiness. Young children love this book even if they don’t understand everything implied in its message. First and second graders to whom we read the story actually applauded at the end — a first during a read-aloud.
Finally, we should all be aware of the unique value of this small book for all children who are or may be members of the LGBTQ community. Inspiring, indeed.
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