Tag Archives: brooklyn

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh

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Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh

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The book may seem to be a lighthearted diverse read about a little girl comparing a beach in America to those of Iran, BUT there is also some pretty charged portrayals about gender divided beaches, religious police, and hijab.  I’m not saying this own voice book is exaggerating or saying anything that isn’t true, but it is an oddly belittling perspective to slip into a brightly illustrated children’s book with the words “ice cream” in the title.  The 40 page book for ages 4-8 is not one I would recommend for its negative undertones and dismissal of understanding another culture.

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Rashin’s first trip to a beach in America has her and her family getting ready to go to Coney Island.   She remembers past trips to the Caspian Sea in Iran.  Trips where they would wake up early, her mom would prepare halim and they would drive through the countryside stopping for a picnic lunch.  Often her best friend Azadeh would come along and they would listen to Persian music and share kebabs.  On this trip they are going on the subway and there is diversity and music and excitement too.

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The next few pages detail and depict the curtain that would divide the women’s side of the beach from the men’s.  While the words say how fun the women’s side is and that even the ice cream vendor is a woman and the beach goers can remove their covers and get a tan, the inclusion of the Islamic guards with their aggressive faces and full black abayas and hijabs, is a stark contrast to the happy faces throughout the other pages.

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Rashin then recalls one trip where little boys poked holes on the men’s side to look at the female’s side. While it might be taken as silly to children, there is a lot to unpack with such “peeping,” the concept of respect and of covering.  It then seems to make the whole situation seem ridiculous by having the women covering themselves with umbrellas, newspapers and whatever they can find.

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When Rashin finally gets to Coney Island, the ice cream stall doesn’t have saffron ice cream and another little girl suggests she try chocolate crunch, she concedes and discovers it is pretty good, and the beginning of a new friendship is implied.  She then asks the girl about the rules of the beach and the accompanying illustration has the Islamic police seeming to try and stop the fun.

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It is natural to compare new things to those that we know, but this book has a very strong negative, judgmental tone to what could have simply been presented as different without the criticism.  The author is the illustrator as well, so there wasn’t a divide in continuity.  I appreciate that there is a visibly Muslim family at Coney Island, but it seems too little, in a book very aggressively passing opinion on a religion and how it is “enforced.”

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I find it rather disappointing that Scholastic chose to publish such an angry book masked in smiling characters and a trip to the beach.  It may be how life is in Iran, but I don’t know that a children’s book is the platform to air grievances without explanation.  This book does nothing to open dialogue and acceptance, it definitely would cause more harm than good.

A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

IMG_1514Based on the release date of this book (August), I preordered it in the Spring with the Peg+Cat book thinking they were both about Eid al-Adha.  Oops.  As someone who reads a lot, I really need to learn how to read.  This book is not about Eid al-Adha, it actually mentions Ramadan, but just as a context point, so rather than wait til next Ramadan to post the review, I though, lets do it now and celebrate how much we all have in common and build bridges of friendship across religious lines during this blessed month of Thul Hija.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, Moses and Mohammed live on opposite ends of the same street.  One day they accompany their moms to a store in the middle of the street, and when the boys start touching things they shouldn’t their mothers’ reprimands reveal their shared nickname, Mo/Moe.  

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The boys then pause to look at each other and notice the same dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin, and shy smile.  Add in to the mix that one of them has a bouncy ball, and the boys become quick friends, while their mothers shop.

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The boys hope to see each other again, but don’t.  Weeks pass, and the Feldman family is busy getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and the Hassan family is preparing for Ramadan.  Another chance meeting happens at the park, and the boys are thrilled.  The mom’s are seen chatting and then, the boys are missing, and the moms are panicked.  They are found playing in the dirt, but the relief from the moms, bonds the families who plan an evening picnic together.

The book concludes with the boys in their own homes looking at the same moon and wishing each other a blessed Ramadan and Happy New Year to themselves.

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The book reminds me a lot of Yaffa and Fatimah, Shalom, Salaam, in the way the two characters, one of Jewish faith, and one of Muslim, occupy the same environment and come to know and appreciate one another as friends.

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The illustrations are by the same artist that illustrated Hena Khan’s color and shape books, and they are vivid and fun.  I’ve read the book a few times, and flipped through it a few more times just to marvel at the pictures and the world of these two sweet families.

A great book, that I hope to use in an interfaith story time when the opportunity arises!

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Sidenote, the shop keeper is the nicest one ever, he gives the boys taffy, and warm falafel, and doesn’t scold them.  The book mentions a few foods and at the end of the book there is a factual paragraph about the holiday and a recipe to try.  There is also an Author Note and Illustrator Note at the end of the 48  page book.  The book would be perfect for 5-8 year olds, but younger kids and older kids will enjoy the book as well.