I’m delighted to be rounding out the Llama Out Loud tour!
Annabelle Sami is a welcome and strong contender in younger middle grade writing, Littlefae and I adore her Agent Zaiba series but Llama Out Loud! showcases her talent in writing range as it is a very different style and voice to Agent Zaiba with zany comedic styling but it still has the underlying warmth of the growth of self and celebrating the experience of young British Asian children whilst appealing to all readers.
Yasmin doesn’t speak. She doesn’t really need nor want to with such a loud and bossy family, and no one to talk to at school.
But on her tenth birthday everything changes when a bedraggled stuffed llama comes to life and well and truly stuffs up her life with his naughty behaviour and pranks.
Can Yasmin hold everything together long enough to avoid getting sent to Pakistan with her strict grandmother for the summer, dodge the new boy at school who seems to want to be her friend and win the checkers tournament at the Old People’s group she volunteers for?
Llama Out Loud is a very cheeky book with naughty pranks and antics but is also a deep and insightful story into the importance of communication, honesty and commitment to openness on many levels but especially within families who have settled into ruts of behaviour.
It is important to note that Llama Out Loud! has elements of pastiche, a dash of Dahlian characterisation and a hint of oddball French comedies but is equally a really powerful tool for empathy through humour.
Now of course it’s important that children realise that not all British-Pakistani children will in reality have families exactly like Yasmin’s, for indeed they appear awful at first! However, through the extreme there may be flavours and hints of people to recognise whether it be a shopping obsessed auntie who wants to dress you up, a family member WHOTALKSINSHOUT, a henpecked Male member who insists he is in charge and so forth and indeed some children of other heritages may recognise these too. The idea of a mirror and a window for child readers is so important, especially for British Pakistani children to see hajibs and abayas in their books, and a protagonist who looks like them but who is far more complicated than being a good quiet girl with ambitious parents.
Indeed the illustration work by Allen Fatimaharan is exciting, vivid and full of movement. I especially appreciated the use of comic strip as a tool throughout for Yasmin to explore her imagination, emotions and how she wishes to be. It’s a really clever way to see how she is changing as she progresses from drawing what she never dare to actually do, to cataloguing her real botched attempts to rid herself of Levi the Llama. This subtle shift is a beautiful sign of the undercurrent of change happening in Yasmin’s mindset.
For Yasmin, she is a good, clever hardworking girl but, she isn’t really happy or fulfilled for selective mutism is the way she has avoided making meaningful conversation, confronting conflict and issues and indeed forging links with people. Through the humour we see a crippling anxiety and deep sadness that I hope children read through and see how Yasmin has been bullied and silenced by her raucous demanding family and equally isolated by her peers for her difference fuelling the fear she has of making friends who may reject her again. Yasmin is stuck and frustrated and equally afraid to become unstuck.
Ezra’s differences sit as an opposite to Yasmin, his ADHD means he is loud, gets both hyperinterested in things and darts from interest to interest and has less filter than neurotypical children which can be challenging, and indeed Yasmin finds that he wobbles her ‘safe’ world- but he is kind and offers a window to Yasmin as he is open and honest about his own struggles and this is partly because he has supportive thoughtful parents who have raised him in a way that does not make his differences a weakness or flaw- as Yasmin points out his parents sound really nice when Ezra said they insist he must ask if Yasmin is happy for him to go to OLD with her.
Ok Levi is going to be Marmite for some readers. Whilst some children will find the brash Cockney geezer Llama and is naughty rude pranks hysterically fun, some will be mortified! Littlefae is not fond of characters who are deliberately rude or mean or get others into trouble so she was rather frustrated with this naughty Llama much like Yasmin is throughout the book.
However, by the end of the book you can see that there is some immersion therapy level reasoning to Levi’s antics! Levi pushes and prods and provokes Yasmin’s comfort zone to stand up for herself, and at times you may well heartily dislike Levi and his antics especially when they upset Yasmin.
I felt so much for this girl belittled and bullied by her family, alienated and taunted by school peers over the course of the novel have her safe places such as OLD and her best behaved status removed making her whole world come crashing down around her by the misbehaviour of a talking stuffed Llama.
But we realise that despite her protestations, Yasmin’s world wasn’t alright nor ‘healthy’ before Levi and although the process is messy and uncomfortable as all radical change is, unfortunately her life needed something explosive to change it.
I found it a powerful theme to explore Yasmin’s selective mutism especially because she felt there was no point in talking to her family, they just wouldn’t listen. But there is a duality to this as they hadn’t taught her how to talk and share her feelings either in turn as her family as a whole lacked communication skills, whether that be to stand up for themselves (as with her father against his sisters) or to openly communicate love and affection as Yasmin’s anger at her family means she misses the way her parents feel they are expressing love and supporting of her interests for Yasmin interprets them as ‘hot housing’ her intellect rather than attempts to warm her heart.
There is a solid and valuable lesson behind the humour and pranks, that it is important to communicate effectively and honestly with those you love.
Llama Out Loud is such an entertaining book; sometimes in a cheeky how many times can we get the word ‘bum’ on this page; sometimes in that car crash sort of ‘can’t not look’ way.
But I equally hope that it opens hearts and minds to children with selective mutism as not weird, just waiting to find their voice but also for readers to check in with themselves and their family for communication breakdown and whether they need to, like Yasmin, light up their dashboard to indicate to loved ones there’s something wrong with their engine.
Please check out the other stops on this marvellous tour, and thank you so much to Egmont for including and inviting me.
Llama out Loud by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan is published by Egmont.