My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey (9780763694944)
The author tells the story of growing up in Iran at her grandmother’s side. Mina followed her grandmother everywhere. She woke with her at dawn when they prayed together. They bought bread from the delivery boy every morning by lowering baskets from their third-floor window. Mina’s best friend lived next door and their grandmothers were best friends too. The grandmothers prayed for one another to go to heaven at their respective mosque and church. Mina’s grandmother sewed all of her own chadors which Mina used to create a rocket ship when she draped them over the table. When her grandmother fasted for Ramadan, Mina was too little to fast for an entire day. So she joined her grandmother in eating at dawn and then after dusk too in addition to her regular meals. The love the two have for one another shines in this picture book.
Javaherbin opens the world of Iran to readers in the United States. Her memories of spending time with her grandmother are filled with moments of real connection, of quality time spent together side-by-side, of support and of true adoration for one another. The moments are beautifully small and everyday, showing how love is built throughout our lives, not in grand gestures but in the smallest ones.
The illustrations by Yankey are done in mixed media. They incorporate textiles and patterns. The warm glow on every page invites readers into a loving home. The illustrations are delicate and filled with details.
A beautiful look at the love of grandmother and grandchild. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (9780525552963)
Darius can’t seem to fit in anywhere. He is teased at school for being fat and Muslim. He’s never really had a friend. His father doesn’t approve of anything he does and often seems ashamed that Darius is his son. Darius is nothing like his younger sister who is adorable, outgoing and speaks flawless Farsi. So when Darius and his family take their first-ever trip to Iran to see his ailing grandfather, Darius wonders if anything will be different there. There he finally gets to meet his grandparents. His grandfather is intimidating, still watering his trees from up on his roof and driving at breakneck speeds. At the same time, he also gets lost sometimes and has outbursts of temper. Darius’ grandmother is pure love and kindness, creating meals and sharing tea. So when Darius meets Sohrab, a boy from the neighborhood, they cautiously make friends. There are bumps along the way, penis jokes taken too far, but soon they are fast friends who share a special spot overlooking Yazd. When tragedy strikes Sohrab’s family though, Darius is unsure how to help and ends up driving a wedge in their friendship that may not be able to be mended.
This book entirely stole my heart. I enjoyed Darius himself from the very beginning as he struggled with American teenage culture. However, the book truly begins when they get to Iran. It is there that Darius blossoms, but slowly and naturally. The entire book clicks together, beautifully depicting Yazd, carefully leading readers through new experiences and new foods, and celebrating the culture of Iran.
In many ways this book is a love letter to the city of Yazd and Iran itself, but it is also deeply about Darius and his growth as he finds a best friend and a place he fits. There are profound statements here about depression, stress to fit in and the sudden magic of discovering what true friendship is. There is also great humor, struggles to be understood and to understand, cultural issues and family tensions and joy. It’s complicated, just like every good novel should be.
Come fall in love with Darius and Iran at the same time in this amazing debut novel. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.
Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin (9781338150520)
Rashin tells a story from her own childhood when she traveled for the first time to an American beach. She remembers beach trips when her family used to live in Iran. They took a car, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. In America, the subway will take them to Coney Island. In Iran, there were strict beach rules. Women and girls swam separately from the men and boys. Her favorite memory was a day when little boys peeped into the women’s section and the ensuing chaos. In America, even the ice cream flavors are different, but Rashin may have discovered a new favorite with the help of another little girl. At Coney Island, the rules at the beach are less clear, but a new friend is quickly made.
The interplay between the two cultures is lovingly depicted, neither better or worse, just very different from one another. There are universal joys like cold ice cream, sand and waves. At the same time, the two beaches and cultures are shown with their own personality and uniqueness. The illustrations add to the sense of joy with their bright colors and smiling people. While the focus is not on religion, it is an inherent part of the illustrations and the story.
A grand example of why diverse books are so important, this book tells the author’s own story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Two Parrots by Rashin Kheiriyeh
Inspired by a tale by Rumi, this picture book takes an allegorical look at imprisonment and freedom. A Persian merchant receives a parrot as a present and places him in a golden cage. When the merchant heads out on a trip to India, he asks the parrot what gift he can bring back. The parrot asks him to find his parrot friend and explain that the parrot would love to see him but is unable to due to his cage. The merchant does as is asked and when he tells the parrot of his friend in the cage, the parrot falls down dead. The merchant returns home to his parrot and has to tell him about the death of his friend. At which point the parrot in the cage falls down dead too. The merchant lifts the dead bird out of the cage and the bird promptly comes back to life and flies out the window to freedom. The merchant is forced to admit the importance of freedom to living things. Now he enjoys the beauty of the parrots free in his garden, uncaged.
This is not a straight-forward picture book, rather it is a moral and ethical tale that unwinds in a more traditional way for the reader. It is a book that is best discussed with others who may see different aspects and different views in the story. Many children may not have experienced this sort of story before, one that is not difficult in terms of vocabulary but instead presents a more challenging subject in an allegorical way. Welcome to Rumi!
The art in the picture book is done by a young artist from Iran who has illustrated over 45 books for children. His work is bright colored and full of texture. The various papers used in his art have different textures and the colors are so strong and vibrant. They have a great mix of quirky modern and traditional style.
A delightful mix of traditional and modern storytelling, this picture book will get readers discussing and thinking about freedom and civil rights. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
This debut novel from an Iranian-American author takes a look at what it is like to be a teen lesbian in Iran. Sahar loves her friend Nasrin intensely. They have been friends since childhood and Sahar has loved her since she was six. They steal kisses when their parents are not around and long to be able to plan their lives together. But in a country where women can be arrested and beaten for showing their elbows in public, their love is not allowed. When Nasrin is betrothed to a young doctor, Sahar desperately looks for a solution that would allow them to be together. She discovers that in Iran, you can have a sex change if you declare yourself to be transgendered and be considered fully the opposite sex. So Sahar sets out to do just that, become a man so that she can marry Nasrin. As Sahar’s plan develops, she has to make some serious choices, ones that will affect her for the rest of her life.
Farizan’s writing is clear and beautiful. She adroitly shows the society of Iran, its treatment of women, the fear of the police, and the danger that the characters are living with. The portrayal of their love is tender and exploratory, as it begins to crumble, one can see Sahar’s love for Nasrin remain even when their closeness begins to evaporate under the stress of the upcoming wedding and Sahar’s desperation to find a solution.
Throughout the book, there is a sense of longing, of yearning for freedom, for love, for one another. It is a book filled with choices where nothing is right due to the society around them. Yet through it all, Sahar shines. She is a wonderful character who is strong, smart and unstoppable.
This book depicts in life in Iran but also offers a diverse look at GLBTQ issues in the Middle East. With a piercingly strong heroine, it is a powerful pick for public library collections. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Algonquin Young Readers.