Do you remember your first day of school? The potent mix of excitement laced with the anxiety of an experience that can set the tone for years to come? In My Name Is Saajin Singh, author Kuljinder Kaur Brar finds a new twist on the “shrinking violet syndrome” that will resonate with many readers.
Saajin Singh is a happy-go-lucky Sikh boy who knows something is off when his teacher mispronounces his first name. Like many of us, he attempts to ride out the embarrassment with rationalizations. “Saajin went red in his cheeks, shrugged his shoulders, and raised his hand, ‘Here.’ ”
Racism can be insidious, manifesting itself in small ways that have a larger impact for racialized groups. The pronunciation of one’s name is the symbolic tip of the iceberg, and Brar’s story serves a critical purpose of encouraging children to be assertive at an early age.
Samrath Kaur’s illustrations are colourful and complement the story well. Young readers will easily recognize the emotional and mental states of the characters.
Just like the heroine in Yangsook Choi’s classic The Name Jar, Saajin is on a journey of cultural self-discovery. He’s learning to question norms while being conscious of his emotions. As with The Name Jar, the text of My Name Is Saajin Singh is a little too verbose in places and could be pared down without losing any meaning. For instance, several pages are devoted to correcting Saajin’s misperception that “Grown-ups don’t make mistakes!” Kids are often well aware that adults make mistakes. Saajin knows his name is being pronounced incorrectly; he tolerates it because people-pleasing is a hallmark of those who want to fit in.
When you love your name, you’ll love yourself. And children who are treated with care are able to maintain healthy boundaries throughout life.
My Name Is Saajin Singh is an inspired effort that teaches empathy. It also reflects the experiences of many children: perhaps the next generation will get people’s names – and much more – right.