My Friend Maya – A Critical Review by Jiantee Jagessar

Nov 10, 2021

“My Friend Maya” is a children’s book written by Kiran Shines, published by tellwel 2020; and illustrated by Floyd Ryan Yamyamin. On the cover page is a beautiful picture with a circular logo proclaiming “Consciousness for Children and their Parents”. In this review, I will ambitiously look at the parameters of the book and then examine the author’s rationale for undertaking such a daunting, challenging, daring responsibility, that of explaining what is Maya; and that, too, to children.

The cover page is glossy with bright uplifting color illustration having two pairs of eyes looking out of a wavy sort of cloudy mysterious purple background with a white base. And the heroine of the story, Sunny, is depicted in eastern clothes, huge eyes looking upwards and seemingly already talking to you with her hands expressively outstretched.

There are 14 pages not including the front and back cover and inset page. The pages are organized so each page has a beautiful full- length brilliantly colored painting on the left with the dialogues on the right. The conversations themselves come only from the heroine Sunny. Not having the pages numbered makes it difficult to write a review when referencing different features.

Sunny introduces herself right away on the first page as loving to play outdoors and is actually with her friends in the playground. She lets us know that Maya is her playmate and friend.

The dialogues on each page are around three lines of caption; sometimes the print runs horizontally and at other times vertically.

Maya never speaks directly; her words are always retold by Sunny in captions coming out from her head.

The first half of the book deals with the child’s, Sunny’s confused, foggy, riotous world of thoughts, memories, emotions. Sunny says of that Maya makes her think about her child-world experiences, her emotions and memories and ask the type of questions that children always have a deep sense of curiosity about. For instance, Maya, she wants to know why her favorite food is chocolate, why her parents are sad sometimes and then angry another time. Feelings, emotions, memories, thoughts are the things that pre-occupy the growing child’s active mind, and active imagination.

Then suddenly by about the middle of the book, understanding comes. Sunny has come to learn that she does not have to be confused about her thoughts and emotions. She is now beginning to sort out her experiences real or imagined and not only make sense out of her bewilderment, but to become an observer of not only herself and those around her. She can sit quietly, accept her thoughts, memories, opinions etc. She learns to focus and meditate.

By the end we see repeated many times: I can meditate, I can focus on my heart. She even learns she can decide how she wants to think about the things that perplex her in the world of the “unique” experiences she is meeting and clashing with for the first time in her life. has learned to become confident in her ability to quell her tumultuous mend.

So, in this children’s work, we have here a description by Kiran of a small girl’s journey from questioning to understanding and accepting; calming down and becoming “wise”. If this is the effect Maya has on Sunny, we should all welcome this book, My Friend Maya and indeed make Maya our friend. So, what now?

In the foreword, Kiran states that her rationale for writing “My Friend Maya” 1) is part of a consciousness raising series and 2) is meant for children and their parents. The wisdom of this idea will come to light as we continue our examination of what lies ahead in her book.

Kiran feels that she was motivated by her own parents who studied the scientific disciplines and were also well ground in eastern and western philosophies which she was exposed to as a child. She feels strongly that as a result of her parents’ teachings and molding, she came to understand her own life and learned coping mechanisms to deal with her problems calmly and competently.

Did Kiran succeed in her quest to explain Maya? In my opinion, there were many innuendos referring to the concept of Maya that assumes we, the readers, already know what Maya is without opening up the idea and concepts on Maya itself. Since Kiran does not identify clearly who is Sunny’s friend, Maya, either in the illustrations or descriptions, people may be tempted to think that Maya could possibly even have been an imaginary friend. I am left holding the stick thinking that Maya, the friend, is as illusive as the concept itself. I have to capitalize Maya in order to keep my computer from highlighting it as an error if don’t capitalize all the time.

Kiran subsumes that we will somehow make the leap that Maya was the teacher showing Sunny how to deal with her large life questions. There is also the other big leap from the questioning stage (in 6 pages) to the sudden big idea on how to still her stormy her emotions and thoughts and to come to a calm, confident place. Kiran seemed to be in too much of a hurry to get to the philosophy part which weighs more heavily in her work compared to the part about the child’s fogginess about growing up.

Even though Sunny’s age is not revealed, she looks around 5-6 years old in the illustrations. The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a “human being below the age of 18, unless national laws recognize an earlier age of majority”. I think that the writer, Kiran Shines, should identify what age group she has in mind for her book. She is straining our imagination by asking us to believe that such a young child can show such maturity at that age. This may be a book for the parents in the first place rather than their children. There are, however, many features that will appeal to the young mind. The bright colorful illustrations are very attractive and may inspire a child to want to express her emotions and work out tumultuous feelings through drawings.

For the more optimistic, enthusiastic parent reader, repeating the right words to a young child of observing one’s thoughts, accepting them, accepting that it is OK to have thoughts and to learn to focus on the heart and meditating may not have immediate rewards but may prove to be more meaningful later on life.

A child’s life can be very rocky. Children deal with things like bullying, being different color, race, culture, and being shunned in the playground due to things like autism, ADHD, difficult home life, even being too bright. Teachers may even exacerbate children’s problems. The techniques that Kiran illustrated have been adopted at various in some countries to help children deal with problems at school.

In the modern, developed world that we live in nowadays, stress levels are very high and people complain about being lonely, having nobody to talk to or listen to. It is such a huge problem with heavy societal costs in terms of mental health and well being. Many are the wise men or swamis, self realized men and women who garner tremendous followings throughout the Western developed world seeking to help us cope with these issues. Ironically, they rarely if ever, attempt to tackle Maya; but on the other hand, they do teach things like mindfulness, meditation, yoga and so on. They leave Maya alone, instead showing how to deal with the effects of Maya. Much as Kiran herself did in the end.

The big question is, would I recommend this book, My Friend, Maya? And for whom? I sincerely believe it is a very worthy attempt and we should be grateful to Kiran (and her parents) for taking on the monumental task of explaining what is Maya, so we can understand Maya at whatever level we can, how Maya affects our life, how we can befriend Maya and how we can harness that understanding to calm our restless, stressful lives.

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