Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron (9781773213750)
Salma and her mother moved to Vancouver from Syria together. Salma’s father is still in Syria and planning to join them soon. Mama seems worried and tired all the time now, not smiling the way she did in the refugee camp with her friends. Salma tries many things to get her mother to smile or even laugh, but nothing seems to work. She heads to the Welcome Center and her teacher has her think about the last time she saw her mother happy. Salma realizes that it may be Syrian food that her mother is missing, since the last time she smiled she had been carrying a bowl of foul shami. So Salma decides that she will make her mother foul shami to bring back her happiness. Salma must figure out how to take the recipe in Arabic and get others to understand what she needs. She realizes that she can draw the various vegetables and ingredients and show them to the people at the supermarket. With her ingredients, now she must do the cooking, but not without plenty of help from others at the Welcome Center who are missing delicacies from their own lands too.
So often picture books depict the end of a family’s story as leaving the refugee camp. It is a pleasure to see a picture book grapple with how it feels to have come to a new country as a refugee and having your family still separated. The clear connection of food and culture is beautifully depicted here. Salma’s enthusiasm for her solution to her mother’s sadness and worry is moving, giving her something to focus on and actually do to help. The difficulty of the recipe and its many steps serves as a great challenge for Salma, and one that will bring her community together to help.
The illustrations have borders and geometric shapes that echo the tiles of Syria and Damascus. The color palettes change as the emotions on the page change, with blues showing the worry and concern and merry yellows flooding the pages with community and hope.
A marvelous look at food, family and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Annick Press.
Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780544785816)
Ethan finds it really hard to wait for the maple sap to start running in the late winter. He knows the signs of the time approaching. It’s when he doesn’t have maple syrup for pancakes or oatmeal. His father explains that the days have to get warmer for the syrup to run as well as the nights getting shorter. Ethan thinks he notices it changing, but sometimes gets too eager like not wearing his winter coat anymore. When Ethan’s tooth gets loose, his father tells him that it should fall out around the same time as the sap starts running. Now Ethan has two things to wait for, but one that he can perhaps make happen a bit faster by wiggling it. Still, it takes some time for his tooth to loosen and for the weather to change. Then one day, it’s finally time both for maple syrup and for his tooth to fall out.
Schmidt and Stickney have created a classic tale about patience and waiting for things to happen. Ethan is wonderfully impatient and yet also able to wait, though not really without asking again and again about it. As the darkness refuses to lessen and the days refuse to warm, readers will understand his anticipation. The use of breakfasts to mark a lack of syrup is clever and homey, just to add even more warmth and love to the book. It’s great to see a book with a caretaker father which is not about the lack of a mother or being in a unique family. It’s particularly wonderful to see such a skillful and loving dad.
Karas’ illustrations capture the dark days of winter, the snow that refuses to disappear, and the slow process of the arrival of early spring. The darkness lurks against the warm yellow of the interior of the home, offering real contrast as the pages turn.
A sweet but not syrupy picture book about fathers, patience and food. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho (9781534440098)
Second-grader Mindy Kim and her father moved from California to Florida where Mindy has to go to a mostly-Caucasian school. On her first day, Mindy opens her lunch of seaweed, kimchi, rolled eggs and rice. It catches the attention of the other kids at her table, who don’t recognize any of it. The second day of school, Mindy can’t ask for a different lunch because the toaster had caught fire and distracted her father. She plans though to not get laughed at again, make a new friend, and convince her father to get a puppy. When Sally asks to try some of Mindy’s seaweed at lunch, Mindy is very surprised. Soon everyone is trying them. So Mindy has a new idea and has her father buy lots more seaweed snacks. As she creates her own snack trading ring, Mindy and her friend decide to start charging money for snacks rather than trading them. She soon finds out that she’s broken a school rule!
Lee has written an early chapter book that is marvelously accessible for young readers and also grapples with being different from your classmates. Mindy is also dealing with the death of her mother, something that is poignantly shown in her time at home with her father and with her babysitter after school. The use of seaweed snacks as a gateway into an illicit snack ring is clever and delightful.
The illustrations inside the book offer breaks in the text for new readers. They are done with a wry sense of humor that is evident in the art and work well with the story that also has a lot of funny moments.
A diverse and delicious early chapter book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin Books.
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780763689773)
Celebrate the New Year in Haitian style with this picture book. It shares the tradition of making New Year’s soup that honors freedom and the end of slavery in Haiti. The soup is made every year by Haitians around the world and this year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle to make it. They turn on Haitian kompa music that sets the beat for their cooking. Herbs are ground in a mortar and pestle with meat then added. A boiled pumpkin is skinned by Belle. More ingredients are added to the pot after being chopped up. Then Ti Gran shares the story of Freedom Soup with Belle and the story of Haitians fighting for their own freedom from slavery. Soon family members come to celebrate freedom and the new year together, feasting on the soup that celebrates their history and traditions.
Charles’ writing has so many wonderful moments inside it. From Ti Gran telling Belle that she has “a heart made for cooking” to her descriptions of Ti Gran’s “dark-sky eyes” and the “pumpkiny-garlic smell” of the soup cooking. She takes the rhythm of the music and reflects that in her words too, so that one can almost hear it playing. The warmth of the kitchen, the beauty of generations working together, and the spirit of freedom all play across these pages.
The illustrations pick up the rhythms of the text and the music with Belle’s braids flying to the beat and her feet moving across the floor. Her sharp edges next to the soft curves of her grandmother make a visual music of their own.
This is a delicious picture book worth celebrating. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
What’s Your Favorite Food? by Eric Carle and Friends (9781250295149)
I am a big fan of Eric Carle’s “What’s Your Favorite” series. In these picture books, a variety of illustrators explore the answer to the question posed by the title. So in this book, it’s all about favorite foods! Children will see their own favorites on the page, like Matthew Cordell’s love of pizza or Laurie Keller’s imaginative look at where french fries come from. There are also plenty of more diverse foods included like Dan Santat’s favorite ramen or Karen Katz’s lovely matzo balls.
Each turn of the page enters the reader into a new illustrator’s answer to the title question. The result is a beautiful whirlwind of a book where the reader moves quickly between answers and into new visual treats. This works particularly well with the subject of food and has the feeling of visiting that person’s house or table and then turning to the next delicious offering. The illustrations are varied and marvelous, each one a tribute to the illustrator who made it and done in their signature style.
A delicious treat of a book. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Company.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (9781626727465)
Told in a repeating format explaining all of the things that fry bread is, this picture book celebrates an iconic food in Native American families. Fry bread may be first and foremost a food, but it is also about family. In this picture book, a diverse Native family comes together to make fry bread together. Children of all ages participate in forming the bread and then listen together as it fries in the pan. Fry bread looks different depending on how long you fry it, tastes different depending on the recipe and the cook. It brings families together to celebrate their heritage, but also to realize where fry bread came from and how it relates to the massacres of Native peoples in the United States.
This picture book is about far more than a delicious family treat. Maillard looks at its connection to our nation’s history, the damage caused by the European invasion, and what fry bread means today. Much of the real detail of this is in the Author’s Note at the end of the book, but even the briefer read-aloud part of the book offers this connection to children. The nuance of a food being both celebratory and yet also indicative of what happened to an entire people, is an important one. This is a celebration that Native Americans have survived and live on, continuing to gather, eat and celebrate.
The illustrations of this book are so warm and merry. They show a diverse group of family members gathering to cook together. There are all sorts of skin tones, hair and ages represented here, the air tinged with love and connection around them.
A beautiful and inclusive picture book that takes a deep look at food, family and history. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (9781534411333)
Amy can do a lot of things like brush her teeth and tie her shoes. But the one thing she can’t do is make the perfect bao, a steamed dumpling. So she sets out one day to make the perfect bao. It’s an all-day effort by her entire family. Her father makes the bao dough, and Amy helps him pound the dough and let it rise. Her mother makes the filling, and Amy helps her too. Then everyone sits down at the table to form the bao, including Amy’s grandmother. When things don’t go right for Amy, everyone offers her advice on how to do it. That’s when Amy realizes that the dough has been cut for adult hands. When her grandmother cuts the dough into smaller pieces for Amy, suddenly she too can make perfect bao! In the end though, all of the bao, perfect or not, taste delicious.
Zhang takes the universal story of a young person not being as good at something as they want to be and wraps it in a delicious bao package. Readers are invited into Amy’s Chinese-American home and she leads readers through the process of making bao. The frustrations of learning and perfecting a process are openly shared. The discovery that Amy makes that solves the problem is nicely portrayed as well and I appreciate that the child is the one who realizes her own solution.
The art by Chua is wonderfully bright and vivacious. Amy is shown as an optimist throughout, even as she is trying to brush her teeth and tie her shoes at the same time. The backgrounds in the illustrations suit the mood of the moment, moving from gold to orange to blue.
A tasty treat of a book that will leave readers hungry for more. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.
Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel (9781643439556)
Priya lives with her family in the United States. Her’s is the only house in her neighborhood where an Indian family lives. Priya loves to help her grandmother make rotli for dinner when she gets home. As they make the flatbread, her Babi Ba tells her about India’s spice markets, the architecture, the noises of the traffic, and the monsoon rains. Their house has marigolds strung over the door just like those in India. Priya longs to see India for herself. When winter comes, Babi Ba doesn’t hang marigolds outside any more. Priya has an idea and soon her entire class is helping her make paper marigolds as she tells them about India.
Patel, who is Indian-American, tells a story that focuses on a family’s continued connection to their heritage while living in the United States. Priya is proud of her Indian heritage, loving to hear stories about India and its sounds and sights. Still, there is a sense of distance between her own heritage and the society around her, one that can be bridged by sharing stories. The art in the book is rich will the colors of spices. Deep greens and warm pinks add to the color palette too.
A celebration of Indian heritage and the strength of family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (9781250312853)
Deja and Josie are completing their last night working at the Pumpkin Patch before they leave for college. The two have worked at the Succotash Hut together, perfecting the stirring technique. Josie has won most valuable employee every year but one and is definitely in the running again. He’s also had a huge crush on a girl who works at the pie stand, so it’s Deja’s mission on their last night to get him to actually speak to her for the first time. So the two of them leave the Succotash Hut and head out to find his crush. But it won’t be easy to find her and their quest takes them on a full tour of the Pumpkin Patch complete with delicious snacks like Freeto Pie, S’mores and candy apples.
These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together. They take the Midwestern pumpkin patch experience of corn mazes, picking pumpkins, and treats and turn it into a quest for love that is charming and enticing. It’s very rare to find a teen book that is this seasonal. When you read this one though, you can almost smell the cinnamon autumnal scents on a breeze.
The two main characters are wonderful. They have a clear chemistry on the page. Deja is bisexual, having dated several of the other workers at the Patch over the years. Josie is marvelously shy except with Deja with whom he really shows his personality. The entire book is a delight of a read thanks to these two characters who are such a joy to spend time with.
A tremendous graphic novel that I dare you not to “fall” for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.