Tag Archives: holidays

A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

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A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

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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.

SYNOPSIS:

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.

FLAGS:

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.

 

My Name was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov illustrated by Allan Eitzen

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My Name was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov illustrated by Allan Eitzen

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It isn’t often that a 32 page AR 2.4 picture book will haunt you after you read the last page.  Especially a book with short simple sentences, that is poorly organized and reads like two separate nearly disjointed stories, but alas this book has stayed with me for months and upon rereading it to write this review, the images and empathy and reflections stirred have not lessened.  This is an important book to read, to think about, and to return to sporadically as your children and their understanding of the larger world grows and evolves.

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Hussein is a Roma, or a gypsy living in a small village in Bulgaria.  Their ancestors migrated many years ago from India and they are Muslim.  Hussein and his family love Ramadan and the delicious smells of food and warmth of grandparents and family all year round, but particularly during the blessed month.  

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Eid is the best, with family and fun and new clothes.  Hussein loves his life and his name.  It was his grandfather’s name and his grandfather’s grandfather’s name.  But then one day all that changes.

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Tanks and soldiers with guns come to their village and close that mosque and tear up their identity cards and tell all the minorities that they must choose Christian names and give up their culture and identities.

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Hussein and his family do not want to give up Islam and their names and their traditions, but they don’t know what to do.  Feeling like they have no choice they change their names and Hussein asks the reader at the end if you would call him Hussein or Harry?  

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The last page of the book is an author’s note, and tells that this is based on his own life story.  That in the 1980s Bulgarian minorities were forced to change their identities.  That more than one million Muslims, including Roma, Turks and other minorities were forced to choose Christian names and that until he was 22 years old, his name was Hussein.

The illustrations are illuminating to the images that the simple words discuss.  Truly they are a powerful and integral part of the story.  The women wear hijab and the use of color to set the tone is spot on.  The book is hardbound and the 8×10 size allow the pictures to be enjoyed fully.

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The book published in 2004, was not easy to find which is unfortunate as it really sheds light on a recent history not known in the US at all, and one that should be known and remembered.  The first part of the book reads like a Ramadan story detailing iftaar and Eid and how Ramadan is celebrated by this culture, but the second half goes back to Ramadan and how it is different with the soldiers and the pressure to give up who they are.  There aren’t a lot of details about who the soldiers are or why they have come or what they are going to do to the Romas, but the fact that in recent history and this was what people were faced with, should be a powerful reminder to us all at how fragile this world is and make us appreciate that we aren’t forced to make such a decision.

 

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.