This lovely 27 page book is a story infused with love, culture, and olive oil. The hardbound, large thick pages are richly illustrated as the text, perfect for ages preschool to second grade, tell of the olive harvesting season in Palestine. The story is framed between a young girl learning about the past from her grandma’s memories and enjoying the olive oil sent by her uncles from their homeland. The story is warm and informative and does not discuss politics or conflict. There is a key hanging on a map of Palestine in the illustrations, but nothing in the text.
Young Reema watches her Sitti make hummus. When a drop of olive oil slips down the side of the bottle and Sitti wipes it up and rubs it in Reema’s hair. Reema wants to know how olive oil, zeit zaytoun, can be used in such different ways. As Reema is reminded of how far the oil has traveled and recalls that her Sitti never buys olive oil at the store, the two settle in for Sitti to tell Reema some of her memories about the harvest on her ancestral land.
Olive harvesting season comes at the end of the year and the families gather to pick the olives and fill the buckets before climbing ladders and catch the falling olives on blankets. The elders sort them, and at the end of the day they eat and drink tea and coffee and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
They tell stories to pass on to the next generation just like Sitti is doing to Reema, because the olives keep the families together. Sitti hopes one day Reema will go to Palestine and play among her family’s trees.
I wish there was a bit more detail about the hummus, it seems to imply that the garbanzo beans are whole and not smooshed or blended, also when it lists the other things Sitti’s grandparents would do with the olives, the list is olive oil, olive soap and olives for eating. I would imagine there are more things to do with the olives, even perhaps detailing the way the olives for eating are pickled, or preserved, or prepared would have been nice.
There is a glossary of a few terms at the end. There is nothing religious in the text, but many of the women wear hijab in the illustrations.
Overall this book is well done and serves an important point in showing a culture that is rich and full, aside from conflict and politics. It is a sweet story between a grandmother and her granddaughter and shows how stories, traditions, and food help pass on culture and heritage.
I was excited to hear that another Rick Riordan/ Rick Riordan Presents books featured a Muslim character and was anxious to see how the multi god genre would account for Islamic tenants. But I was completely giddy (that’s putting it mildly), when I found out that Sarwat Chadda is aka Joshua Khan, author of the Shadow Magic Series and that this book has practicing Muslim Characters front and center. In his own words, “it has taken be twelve years and eleven books to get around to writing a Muslim tale.” That isn’t to say that it is Islamic fiction, there is gay romance that is there if you want to see it and has been confirmed by the author outside of the book, there are numerous fake gods in Mesopotamian mythologies, there is death and violence, but it is fun, oh so fun. It has salat, and going to the mosque, and an imam, and saying surahs and discussing jihad an nafs, and sadaqa and it says the shahada in Arabic and English, it presents Muslims authentically in their words and actions, and it isn’t just the characters’ backstories it is who they are and how they see the world. The book is an AR 4.5 with 383 pages and like all Rick Riordan books, full of humor, sentiment, family, growth, and ancient mythology.
Sikander “Sik” Aziz is 13 and when not at school is at his family’s NYC deli working away. The son of Iraqi immigrants, he is dedicated to helping his family especially since his older brother Muhammed, Mo, has passed away. Mo’s lifelong friend Daoud has moved in to Mo’s old room and helps out in the deli, but is really an aspiring actor who does anything to get out of work. When the book opens, Sik and Mo are closing up when the deli is attacked by rat faced men demanding to know where it is. Sik has no idea what they are talking about and the two demons tear apart the family restaurant until a mysterious girl appears and sends them and their stream of insects, disease and destruction from the deli.
The next day at school Sik’s injuries are healing remarkably quick and he and the new girl, Belet, find themselves getting sent to the principal’s office together. When he learns that Belet’s mom is Ishtar, goddess of love and war, or rather passion, and was the girl at the deli, he can no longer deny that the tales Mo used to tell him about Gilgamesh, Enkido, Nergal, Kasusu, and Mesopotamian mythology are very real.
As Sik, Belet, Ishtar, Daoud, and an army of cats, Lamassu, learn that the plague god Nergal is behind what is going on and that he plans to destroy Manhattan, it is up to them to stop the destruction, save Sik’s parents who are in the hospital, and ultimately the world.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The book was written before Covid 19 and the idea of a plague or pandemic was not yet on everyone’s mind, but when it was published in 2021 it sure become that much more relatable and close to home. I love that some of the reactions of the characters and community to being around infected people and the backlash was so accurate to what we have all seen since 2020.
The way that the oneness of Allah swt and the multi fake gods is reconciled is that the Mesopotamian cast are old and powerful, but not ALL-powerful, as Ishtar tells Sik, someone had to create us. She also says that today people might call them something else. It seems to leave open the idea that they have abilities and because of their abilities people worshipped them and the name stuck, not that they are creators or even claim to be. The concept of being between alive and dead is explored when Sik visits Kurnugi, he asks where Muhammad Ali is and Mo tells him he isn’t there, he went straight to Jannah. It might not be a clear explanation, but it at least hints that Muslims in real life have a different view than the mythological one being explored.
I love the snark, and the humor, it flows so well and incorporates pop culture with ancient references very smoothly. I love that they say InshaAllah and AllahuAkbar and when Sik is presumed dead at one point and awakens he can’t go to the mosque because they are having his janaza and it would be awkward. I love that there is a glossary that denotes if words are Arabic, Islamic, or Mesopotamian. Muslim kids reading this will feel so seen and proud to be openly Muslim and inspired that they too can be heroes.
Mythology, fighting, death, the use of the term badass. Daoud and Mo’s relationship. Daoud and Mo became friends in 5th grade and when Sik sees some photos of his brother that Daoud had taken, he says that he sees love. When Sik and Mo are reunited in Kurnugi, Mo hints that there is more to the friendship, it is subtle. In online interviews Chadda says they were in a romantic relationship. It is not explored or heavily detailed. The only other romance mentioned is that Gilgamesh in his prime refused Ishtar.
I think fans of Rick Riordan already know that there is going to mythological characters, creatures, battles and violence and a character or two that are LGBTQ+, some possible romantic angst between main characters, death, and unfaithful flirty gods. This book is much “cleaner” than most, so 4th graders and up that are fans, will be fine reading this.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t know if I could do this as a book club selection. The romance is minor, but once you sense it and know it is there, it is a factor. I don’t know if it would have to be discussed and how an Islamic school would want me to handle it, because both Mo and Daoud are practicing Muslims. I think the book does a sufficient job of not committing shirk and shirk like messages with the mythology, but as always with these types of books it is a judgement call if the children (and their parents) can understand where the lines of fiction are and where they stand.
I’m not sure what I expected this book to be, I just knew I wanted to get my hands on it, but I’m fairly certain, that even if I would have had some expectations, they would have been no where near how well done this 40 page book for four to eight year olds is overall. It is unapologetically American-Palestinian Muslim in an inclusive funny delightful way, that only an OWN voice book can be. There have been some great picture books lately that are authentic, yet mainstream, and this book pushes that standard just a little bit higher as it normalizes jummah, halal food, dabke, hijab, with familiar threads of street food, spunky little sisters, untied shoelaces, tradition, and excitement. The story has a twist and some intentionally misleading foreshadowing, that give the book depth and added fun. Readers of all backgrounds will relate to this book and find something that they can relate to, as they laugh and marvel at Musa’s infectious enthusiasm for hot dogs.
Musa Ahmed Abdul Aziz Moustafa Abdel Salam, aka Musa, loves Fridays. His family heads to the masjid for Jummah prayer and then home for a special Jummah treat. Lately, they’ve had molokhia, that stayed in their teeth for a week, kufte kabobs that were better for soccer playing than eating, riz bi haleeb with lost dentures, and prelicked jelly beans. Alhumdulillah, this week is Musa’s turn to pick, and he is picking his favorite: halal hot dogs with Salam sauce.
They head to the mosque dancing dabke as they leave their house with smiling faces. The khutbah is long though, and during salat his stomach is roaring! Afterward he is off, but Seedi has to help Maryam find her red shoes in a sea of red shoes and mama is chatting with friends.
Dad gives in and lets Musa go get the hot dogs alone. As he heads to the stall with the best hotdogs: the perfect amount of hot, chewy, juicy hot dog goodness, he passes all sorts of foods being eaten. There is falafel and bao and tacos and samosas and churros, but he is determined to get hot dogs, even though the line is really long.
He sees friends in line, and firefighters, and even his school principal. Everyone loves hot dogs, even birds and squirrels. Finally he buys a whole bag full with special Salam sauce and races home to share with everyone. But uh oh, it doesn’t go as planned, and I’m not about to spoil it, so get yourself a copy like I did from http://www.crescentmoonstore.com or your library, and maybe don’t read it while you are fasting, because you will be craving hot dogs, mmmmmm nom nom nom.
There is an Author’s Note at the end that details her kids’ influence on the story and explains that a portion of the proceeds go to UNRWA USA, a non profit that helps Palestinian refugees. There is a glossary of Arabic Words and Terms, and a section explaining Halal Laws.
The book shows the mom in hijab outside the home, and uncovered within the home. There are diverse skin colors among the Muslim and non Muslim characters in the book, as well as a variety of ages depicted. Seedi wears a keffiyah on Jummah, but different clothes on different days. The illustrations are wonderful and descriptive and do a lot to compliment the story by setting a relatable and diverse-positive visual.
As a partially brown person who enjoys camping and does it frequently, I have been anxiously waiting to get my hands on this beautiful 40 page, kindergarten to fourth grade picture book. So, trust me, I’ve read it multiple times to myself, to my children, and even to a Muslim storytime group to try and figure out why I like it, but, unfortunately, really don’t love it. Ultimately, I think it is because there is just too much going on.
Everything about this book is wonderful: the idea to encourage brown people to go camping, to highlight that time in the wilderness is for everyone and doesn’t have to look a certain way, that bullying and micro aggressions are oppressive, that immigrants have diverse and full lives in their home countries and work hard when they come to America, that culture and language and food and music is diverse, yet universal, that learning new skills and trying hard things makes you a super hero, that dad’s can cook and mom’s can be great fire starters and critter catchers, truly it is all so powerful and affirming, it is just a lot for one book.
It could easily be a three book series with just the information and layered themes presented, and I really wish it was spread out. If you are a 4th grade desi kid who has been camping or desperately wants to go camping this book is a great glimpse to mirror your place in the hobby without compromising your unique spin on it, but I think for anyone not in that demographic, many of the little celebrations, messages, themes, and cultural nuggets will simply be lost.
I wanted to hear the campfire stories and jokes, and laugh at the lyrics being belted out, not just told about them. I wanted to feel Fatima’s accomplishment at helping set up the tent and maybe see her struggle and rebound, not just be told she suggested reading the directions. The book has a ton of industry praise and personally came with a lot of expectation for me, so perhaps I’m overly critical, but kids in my storytime were struggling to stay focused when they couldn’t relate to the cultural touchstones being tossed out, they didn’t get the “not being good at math stereotype,” they needed the non text pictures to be explained to grasp their impact on the story, and they wanted to know why of all the Islamic things a Muslim family could do while camping, halal bacon was the only Islamic reference and came with precious little contextual defining.
The story starts with a Fatima and aapa waiting to be picked up after a terrible week of school to go camping for the first time. The Khazi family has immigrated from India and their father has told them that camping is an American pastime. During the week Fatima has been teased for her pronunciation and lunch, had her hair pulled and done poorly on a math test. But when her parent’s pull up with a packed car and the girls jump in to enjoy samosa and Bollywood songs, the weekend holds promise.
When they get to the campsite, Fatima and her dad tackle the setting up of the tent. Dad cannot seem to figure it out, and after the week she has had, Fatima is scared to help, but after a while she suggests looking at the directions and it seems that does the trick. The family enjoys shami kabab and rotis from home for dinner, before the girls climb in the tent.
A spider on the outside of the tent is magnified inside, and has the girls terrified it is a monster. Mom, the ever brave lizard and scorpion disposer in India reassures them that it is nothing and sends them off to brush their teeth before settling in for the night.
The next morning mom shows the girl the small spider keeping the mosquitos out and they all share a laugh while dad is cooking anda and roti on a gas grill. He calls the girls to come out in urdu to attempt a campfire to cook the halal beef bacon on like other American’s do. Dad and Fatima can’t get it to light, so mom, who is from a smaller town in India has to show them how it is done. Along the way Fatima looks at the other campers and is annoyed that they aren’t having trouble and that her family always is so different. The other families it is worth noting are white.
The Khazi family then starts to pack up and then they go for a hike, play in water and when the time to leave comes Fatima is sad. She doesn’t want to go back to the life they live where they are different and teased and her parents have to work two jobs each. But aapa suggests she share her fun at show and tell, and the family reassures her that they will be back.
The book ends with Fatima telling her class she is a superhero because she can build fires and tents and isn’t afraid of spider monsters. There is no glossary to define the urdu words used and spoken, but there is a reference at the end about the author’s @brownpeoplecamping initiative.
I think the book is rather remarkable and ground breaking because of its subject matter. The illustrations are wonderful, and the book a great reminder that camping and being outdoors is for all. I just wish it focused on a theme or two and highlighted them for this Indian American Muslim Family with relate-ability for other types of minority groups. The book set its own standard in what it wanted to achieve and convey, and sadly I think it missed the mark.
Technically this book is adult fiction because the protagonist is 24 years old, but the halal rom-com is so sweet and considering the YA options that exist in the same genre, I think high school juniors and senior would do better to dive in to this light, enjoyable, albeit predictable, read over so many of the other options out there. I read the 368 page book in two days, I was hooked and impressed with the strength of all the female characters, the step away from all the stereotypical tropes and the smooth writing style. The book is for everyone and while packaged as a light read, there are some themes of immigration, family, choice, and OWN voice realizations that are presented and explored in a thoughtful and impactful manner.
Hana Khan’s mother owns and operates Three Sisters Biriyani Poutine in Toronto, there are not three sisters, biriyani poutine is not on the menu and business is bad, really bad. The 15 year old restaurant that Hana named when she was nine is struggling even though it is the only halal option in the close-knit, diverse, golden crescent community. When news hits that a new upscale halal restaurant is opening a few doors down, Hana chooses to ignore that the business was struggling and instead blames the new proprietors. They are wealthy, corporate and insufferable. Well, the dad is anyway, the son Aydin, he isn’t so easily defined.
Hana balances shifts at the restaurant, her internship at Radio Toronto and her own anonymous brown girl podcast. Hana, real name Hanaan, comes from a supportive and close family. Her dad was injured in a serious car accident, her older sister is pregnant, and her cousin from India along with a cousin-aunt have just arrived under suspicious circumstances.
As the new restaurant gets closer to opening, Hana finds herself stooping to all new lows to sabotage their success. Encouraged by an anonymous podcast listener who she has been chatting with for quite a while, and inspired by her rebel cousin-aunt, Hana is determined to secure a permanent job in radio, save her family restaurant, and destroy the competition. But, an attack downtown draws attention to growing Islamophobia and forces Aydin and Hana to work together.
In a fictional story where everyone knows everyone both in India and Toronto, crazy family members are endearing and loyal, it is no surprise that the main characters are more connected than they think. As Hana finds her strength to carry on amidst change, she also figures out what direction to focus her energy, her talents, and voice.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I absolutely love the writing. I was invested in many of the characters, not just the protagonist, and absolutely cheered as she gave a nod to so many assumptions so that she could move past them: forced marriage, hijab, acceptable professions, inclusion, etc.. The family is all about choice and not getting hung up on stereotypes show the power that OWN voices have in telling stories that resonate with everyone. The book is full of religion, from waking up for fajr, to listening to the khutbah at jumah, going to the masjid to find peace, and believing in destiny. It is not a preachy book by any means, but the characters are Muslim inside and out. The traditional family does not pressure Hana to get married, her sister’s marriage was a love one. She is often alone with her male cousin or brother in law, or best friend Yusuf. She knows who she is and her family trusts her.
I love the food, the insight of immigrants and family. I was particularly moved by her articulation of being told by outsiders what it means to be Muslim in Canada, or an immigrant and then not being listened to when pushed back upon. Her challenging a teacher on what the fourth pillar of Islam is and not being heard, resonated profoundly.
Within the first 100 pages or so the reader figures out who everyone is and how they are connected, save one surprise, but it is like watching a favorite movie, you keep going because it is fun, and enjoyable and the point isn’t to figure it out, but to enjoy the ride.
There are relationship threads, but nothing more detailed than a hand touch after a funeral. Her best friend Yusuf marries their best friend Lily an Agnostic, knowing that both families are against it. There is music and racist talk and vandalism.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The high school book club usually tries to include a halal romance novel for the loyal participants that clamor for it in the group and I plan to suggest this one to them. For as light and straightforward as the book is, there is a lot to discuss when the surface is peeled back. There would be lot to explore from her podcast, internship experience, and her hate crime experience, that the romance part will be seen as simply a vessel to more profound issues to explore.
This lyrical journey through Palestine’s major cities, shares historical facts, geographical information, cultural richness, and love for a homeland that will inspire and educate all readers. There is a lot of information pressed in to 32 pages and at times the rhyming text, illustrations, and maps are powerful, and at other times overwhelming. The 8.5 x 11 horizontal paperback bound book needs to be bigger to hold all that the pages contain, and hard back to hold up to the details that need to be poured over to be appreciated. The content about the names and places in Palestine is priceless and well done, but I really wanted to love the book a bit more than I ended up feeling for it. I think trying to make it all rhyme was just a bit too much for my liking, but I would buy this book again in a heartbeat to share with my children. Even though we are not Palestinian, I think all Muslims have a piece of Palestine in our hearts and feel a deep need to celebrate the culture, fight for their freedom, and demand a quality of life that they are brutally being denied by their oppressors.
The book starts out at bedtime with a little girl, Saamideh asking her baba what her name means. He explains to her that it means “one who is patient, persistent and one who perseveres.” She is named this because she is Palestinian, he explains and then he shows her the key to their ancestral home in Palestine. He asks her to close her eyes and imagine a white dove, named Salam, taking her on tonight’s journey.
Salam and Samamidah prepare to journey across Palestine’s mountains, hills, deserts, and plains. They start in Areeha, one of the oldest cities in the world, and one one of the lowest points on Earth.
They journey next to Al-Quds, the capital. They see the old city, Al-Aqsa, and more, before heading off to Nablus, Yafa, Haifa and the Akka. Learning about the cities, the food, and the history of each.
They learn about the dabkah, and the weaving in Gaza and head to Bait Lahem too. They learn about glass blowing in Al-Khalil at the Ibrabhimi Mosque, and finally they conclude their journey with the little girl dreaming of flying around the world to use her key and open people’s hearts and minds.
She proudly exclaims her love of Palestine and her and her baba pray that one day they will be able to return. Saamidah then asks her baba why they are refugees, and he promises to save that conversation for tomorrow’s beditme story.
The book concludes with a list of the city names in Arabic, trasliterated in English, and then the English names. It then has discussion questions at the end.
The book is not outwardly political, nor critical. It is a celebration of a people, a culture, and land. Happy Reading!
This 32 page picture book for preschool and up is silly and fun. There is nothing Islamic in the text or illustrations by this Muslim author, but there is Arab culture as it mentions molokhiya and zaatar. The large 8.5 x 11 hardback book is wonderfully illustrated with detail, color and expression. The playful font and text makes reading it fun and enjoyable for little ones, who will get the message, and laugh along the way.
Noura loves watermelon. She eats it in the morning and in the afternoon and in the evening too. At dinner she doesn’t want to eat her chicken, rice and molokhiya, she just wants watermelon.
That night after dinner she sneaks to the kitchen, sees a huge watermelon on the table, and decides to take it up to her room to enjoy all by herself. She puts the watermelon under her bed, and dreams wonderful watermelon dreams.
The watermelon gets bigger and bigger, and there is a door! She goes inside the watermelon and eats until her hearts content. But as she gets bigger, the watermelon gets smaller. She is trapped and her tummy is hurting.
Her mother rushes in to find a watermelon under the bed and Noura screaming from a bad dream. Resolved to deal with the magic watermelon in the morning, Noura goes back to sleep having learned her lesson (without being reprimanded), and happily eats her breakfast of a fried egg and zaatar.
The book concludes with some information about watermelons and info about molokhiya and zaatar.
This 40 page celebration of diversity within the label “brown” is a sweet and powerful book that shows how the color of our skin is beautiful and perfect while at the same time making it clear that who we are and what we can be is not defined by our appearance. The book shows adorably illustrated brown children finding strength in different cultures, clothing, religions, languages and dreams, which will hopefully empower children everywhere (and of all colors) to take labels that may have negative connotations and turn them in to positive affirmations of identity and strength. There isn’t a story with a plot, but with the regular inclusion of a girl with a scarf on, and the mention of a mosque, I thought to highlight it. The book is perfect for preschool and up.
The book starts with a little girl identifying herself as brown, beautiful and being perfect. It then stretches to her being love, friendship and happiness.
From there it branches out to a whole cast of kids identifying the variety of things they can be, from a writer to an electrician to a prime minister. the same kids then do and make and work on things before identifying where they come from and what languages they speak.
The kids all have different hair on their heads and faces and even no hair at all. They live in different dwellings, they like to do different things.
Brown people are not a monolith, the kids show that they eat different foods in different ways, that they wear different clothes.
People with brown skin are roommates and teachers and friends and classmates. Some go to temple or church, others a mosque or shrine, some not at all.
The book ends with a close up of three smiling faces proclaiming, “I am brown. I am amazing. I am You.”
I’m sure people will argue that if you switch out white for brown the book would be deemed racist, and you are correct it would be. But as a group that is marginalized as “other” and often the darker brown you are with in the brown subset moves you “value” and “worth” down, makes a book celebrating the strength and beauty of “brown” so necessary and heart warming. I personally am the lightest “brown” imaginable being only half Pakistani. So, believe me I have privilege in the desi community, but I don’t find this book offensive at all. I’ve read this book at least a dozen times and my impressions alternate between beaming with pride and tears that so many beautiful people feel less than because of skin color and yes, anger too, that people are MADE to feel less than. May we all be more inclusive, more loving, and more open to the diversity of the human being. Ameen.
This 40 page true story about Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel of Aleppo aka the Cat Man shows how one person can make a difference even in the middle of a war. The amount of text on the page, the topic covered, and the detailed illustrations will most appeal to second graders and up, but younger kids, particularly those that love animals, will enjoy the story as well.
Alaa loves his city: the markets, the foods, the people. When war comes, he doesn’t flee, he keeps working as an ambulance driver. He has a big heart. His sees destroyed neighborhoods where everyone has left, except for the cats. There is no one to feed them and give them water, and Alaa feels for them.
After his shift he buys meat, and feeds over a dozen cats. He does this everyday and soon a dozen turns in to fifty and he realizes that he can no longer care for the cats alone. He needs a place for them.
Word spreads and volunteers and donations start pouring in. He purchases a building with a shaded courtyard and soon cats are everywhere. When people leave Aleppo they bring their beloved cats to him, and even other animals start arriving. Alaa even builds a playground for the children and digs a well so everyone can have fresh water.
The book is pretty straightforward and steady, it doesn’t have much emotion for such a powerful true story, but it will still hit the mark in inspiring children to show kindness and compassion for animals and others.
There are notes from each other and the illustrator at the end that share light on their connection to the story and the situation in Syria. There is nothing religious in the book other than a few females in hijab.
This fabulously fresh and honest book told in alternating OWN voices shows how two seemingly different 6th grade girls discover how much they have in common as they learn about themselves and their families along the way. Sarah is a Muslim Pakistani-American, and Elizabeth is Jewish and has an English immigrant mom, the two come together over food, family stress, discrimination, and middle school social drama to form a solid friendship. But fear not, it isn’t easy and the book will keep upper elementary/ early middle school girls hooked. Not sure if boys will be as drawn to it, but if they can get over the brief mention of having a period, they too will enjoy the story. The 336 page book shows how much we have in common, and how hard fitting in can be for everyone.
Sarah is starting a new school, a public one, having been at a small Islamic school prior to 6th grade. She is not happy about it and to top it off, her mother is teaching an after-school cooking class at the school that she is required to attend. Hoping to sit in the back drawing and go unnoticed, she finds she can’t sit quiet when her classmates start giving her mom a hard time. Unaware of why she had to leave her previous school, and tired of her mom needing her help with her catering business, Sara also has to help her mom study for her citizenship test, handle two little brothers, deal with no friends at school and not being able to celebrate Halloween.
Elizabeth loves cooking. Her mother does not. She is excited to learn Pakistani food at the cooking club even if her best friend thinks they shouldn’t be learning things from “them.” Elizabeth is admittedly nerdy, and struggling with a life-long friend finding others to spend time with, her life at home is difficult too. Her dad is always traveling for work, and her mom is depressed with the recent passing of her mother in England, to the point of not really functioning. With Elizabeth doing the cooking at home, and trying to get her mom to study for her citizenship test, Jewish holidays and obligations get neglected, and Elizabeth not knowing how to help her new Muslim friend handle racism, is spiraling herself.
When the two girls decide to give each other a chance they find they might be able to be more than just cooking partners, but it seems like one of them always does something to mess it up. Either saying something hurtful, getting defensive, or not sticking up for each other. The girls get their mom’s together to study for their test, but it isn’t so easy for the girls, who are hesitant to trust one another.
An upcoming cooking competition, offers the girls a chance to make a cross cultural fusion dish that can wow the judges, help Sarah’s family’s financial situation, prove to the school that diversity is a good thing, and hopefully give the two girls a solid friendship.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love how authentic it sounds and feels and how it doesn’t focus on boys or crushes, but on friendship between two girls at an awkward point in their lives and the family stresses they are experiencing. The book is for all readers and does a great job of not going overboard with what the girls face. I love how tolerant they have to learn to be with one another and that they have to learn to drop their defensive guards.
I read the book in two settings and didn’t want to put it down, it has enough pull that you really want to see where the book is going and are happy to overlook the slight repetitiveness of them stressing about the competition, but doing nothing but talking about the stress. Really the competition doesn’t even seem that important at the end, but considering everything going on, that to me is exactly as it should be.
I love the rich culture of Pakistan, England, Islam, and Judaism that seep in and never get preachy or dogmatic, but get celebrated and experienced. This is why OWN voice books are so beautiful and powerful. Admittedly, Elizabeth’s family is not super religious, but a few more similarities would have been nice. Yes her brothers are eating pepperoni Hot Pockets, but a shout out about halal/kosher marshmallows would have really rung true for so many of us that stock up at Passover.
I also love how the side characters have substance and aren’t just used as a foil to show something about the main characters. They get a little flesh on their own, and that enhances the richness of the story. Seeing that they have their own struggles to overcome as well shows how none of us have it all together, and that we are all capable of improving ourselves.
The girls meet during school hours when Elizabeth lies about her period starting to get out of class. Sarah mentions that hers has already started. Elizabeth mentions that her Jewish grandmother is visiting her son and his husband, nothing more is said, just that. There are some derogatory things said about Sarah and being Muslim and Pakistani, but really mild.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I want to find a way to do this book for a middle school book club. I’ve already told my 13 year- old daughter it is required summer reading. The Muslims have diversity within themselves, some wear hijab, Sarah does not. The book is so relatable and the personas sound the age for their views and struggles and perspective. The financial stress, the mental illness, the immigrant experience, the racism, the politics, are all wonderfully woven together, and the food, well, there is a reason I didn’t recommend this book at the beginning of Ramadan, you are welcome. Happy Reading.