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.
Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (9780062881687)
Efren’s family works hard all day to provide for him and his younger twin siblings, Mia and Max. Efren’s mother, Ama, really holds the family together, creating delicious meals from leftovers every day. He thinks of her as “Soperwoman” because of the delicious sopes she makes. When Ama is seized by ICE and deported, it falls to Efren to watch his younger siblings, getting them ready in the morning, to bed at night, and trying to distract them from missing Ama. Efren’s father is working two jobs and not sleeping at all, just to send money to his mother in order to get her back into the U.S. As Efren’s school work and friendships start to suffer from the pressure he is under and his worry for his entire family, he looks for ways to make sure that his little brother and sister still feel loved, the way his mother would want them to.
Cisneros has created an ownvoices novel for middle graders that grapples with the state of immigration in the United States. The book is timely, speaking directly to situations that children across our country face every day if their parents are undocumented. The level of fear and dread that ICE has for these families, the danger of being deported, and the risks of returning to their families is all captured here,
Efren is a marvelous protagonist. He is smart and has a huge heart as well as an astounding amount of patience towards his little brother and sister. Living in real poverty, his only wish is for his family to be whole, not for a phone, a bigger TV or anything but having his mother back.
A gripping and rich look at the impact of current immigration policies on children of undocumented families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.
Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (9781534461833)
Told in the first person, this picture book celebrates adults in children’s lives who take on the role of mother even if they aren’t related to the child. The little girl in this book lives with Mama Rose. Their relationship is never clarified as foster parent or relative, making it a picture book that will speak to children living in a variety of circumstances. Mama Rose does everything a mother does. She combs the little girl’s hair, get her to school, teaches her skills like making a bed or dribbling a basketball. Mama Rose encourages the little girl to dream and to know that she has potential. She also has rules like finishing your vegetables before you get dessert and doing chores like cleaning your room. Mama Rose is home and there is plenty of love to go around between them both.
With a repeating refrain and writing that is simple and accessible, Duncan shows that it is not actually being a biological mother that matters but instead being a mother figure for a child whatever the relationship. In her author note, Duncan speaks to the long tradition of fictive kin that dates back to the times of slavery and the broken families that resulted from the brutality. In the story itself, the focus is on love and support for a child and what that looks like every day.
Barlow’s watercolor illustrations show a clear connection between Mama Rose and the little girl. Filled with color, they capture the many moments that make up a relationship of parent and child.
An important book that embraces different kinds of families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor (9780062796783)
Lydia was with her mother as she died and soon after is moving to rural Connecticut to live with her Aunt Brat, her wife and their elderly landlord. Lydia brings with her a box of the goddesses that she and her mother created together as they faced the good and bad in their life. She keeps them hidden from Aunt Brat and everyone at her new home, looking for a private place to hang them in honor of her mother. On the weekend after Lydia moves in, the family also adopts a big yellow dog. Lydia isn’t a dog person, having never lived with one, particularly one this large and untrained. Still, Lydia pitches in to help, something that she does a lot with a chirpy voice that doesn’t seem to belong to her. It helps her also cover up secrets like the growing hole in her wall, a tag that might help them find the yellow dog’s new owner, and even a secret of Aunt Brat’s about baby goats.
Connor’s books are always surprising in the best way. She takes very interesting characters and throws them together here in a new family with a new dog and plenty to hide. The result is a book that untangles itself slowly, revealing new truths and interesting hiding places along the way. The setting of rural Connecticut plays a large role in the story, inviting readers to explore the hills and valleys filled with farms and fields.
The characters, both human and dog, are exceptionally well drawn. No secondary character is left without a deeper story, and this is done without crowding the main story out. Still, it is Lydia’s story and she is far more than a tragic orphan who has lost her mother. Instead, she is resilient and hard working, willing to always pitch in to help. As she literally grapples with having a new dog in her life, she is also working on new human friends, fitting into a new family, and finding her way forward with new people to love.
Full of dogs, warmth and love, this is another great read from a talented author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
Saturday by Oge Mora (9780316431279)
Saturday is Ava’s favorite day. It’s the day of the week that her mother doesn’t have to work and where they spend special time together. On Saturdays, they go to storytime at the library, have their hair done at the salon, and have a picnic in the park. And this Saturday, they were also planning to go to a puppet show that night. So off they set. But when they got to the library, the storytime was cancelled. Leaving the hair salon, their hair got splashed and ruined. The park was too crowded and loud for their regular picnic. Finally, when they got to the show, Ava’s mother had lost the tickets. Their Saturday was ruined! Wasn’t it?
Mora has written a picture book about the joys of busy families spending time together, even if things don’t quite go as planned. Both Ava and her mother are disappointed with each failure of their plans, but they are also resilient and optimistic about things turning around. When it all goes wrong, it is Ava who lifts up her mother’s spirits, explaining that it’s all about spending time together.
In her bright illustrations of an urban setting, Mora captures the hustle and bustle, the hurry to do something special. As a result, she also shows the love of this African-American mother and daughter as they help one another cope with disappointment. The illustrations are bold, colorful and celebratory.
Another winner from a gifted artist and storyteller. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan (9781368015905)
Aleeya lives with her mother in their Malaysian village. She loves spending time with her Mommy, and the two of them do everything together. Mommy also features heavily in Aleeya’s dreams which are filled with flowers and dancing. The two of them plan to always be together like this. But then Mommy gets sick and has to stay in bed. Aleeya is lost without her, but steadily starts to realize that she can be at her mother’s side, just in a different way.
This picture book brings diversity in multiple ways. There is the Malaysian setting that is richly depicted with animals and activity. The family is Muslim and prayers and head-wear are depicted. Then you have the mother get ill. While she does recover by the end of the book, it is rare that you see a mother get bedridden in a picture book and the impact of that loss explored. Here it is fully shown and Aleeya’s response is brave and loving.
The illustrations are rich and filled with color and touching moments between mother and child. Their relationship is at the center of the text and the illustrations. It is not a surprise that the illustrations are captivating, since this is a book in the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase. The talent here really shines.
A lovely look at the impact of a mother, whether she can get out of bed or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina (9781536201314)
The first book in this series won the Pura Belpre Author Award in 2017. This second book continues to use the author’s own childhood in Bogota, Colombia as inspiration. Juana’s life is wonderful. She has her dog, Lucas, and her mother. But lately, her mother has been making some changes. Her hair is different and she has a boyfriend. Luis is nice and kind to Juana, but it’s a lot of change to deal with. When the two decide to get married and move to a new home, Juana is brokenhearted. But even though things are changing, some things will always be true, like how much Juana is loved.
Medina shares how traumatic major life changes can be to children without minimizing their emotional strain. At the same time, Juana is a resilient child, who is constantly facing life with an inherent optimism that pays off. Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.
Throughout this early chapter book, Spanish words are sprinkled in a way that makes sense to English-speaking readers. The setting is used nicely in the story and factors heavily into the illustrations which are friendly and have a warm cartoon feel.
Another winner from Medina! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Great Job, Mom! by Holman Wang (9780735264083)
The co-creator of Cozy Classics returns with a felted family. The three-person family has a mom who almost a hero for her children. As the story progresses, she is given different jobs in the family. She is a carpenter when she repairs things. She’s a general when the troops get marched to bed. She is a doctor when the children are sick. She’s an actor when they pretend together. This charmer of a picture book offers a glimpse of the many roles that mothers play in families, celebrating their myriad skills.
Wang’s text is simple and straight forward. Done in rhymes, they have a jaunty rhythm that makes the book great to share aloud. But the real winner here are the illustrations that life the book to new heights. At the end of the book, the process for creating the felted characters and their scenes is shown, not taking away any of the immense skill that Wang has as an illustrator. The small touches and the lifelike characters are delightful, making each image worth looking at closely.
A celebration of mothers, this picture book is a joy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662835)
In her second novel, Acevedo cements her place as a master author for teen readers. Emoni’s life has not been easy, getting pregnant as a freshman in high school was not part of her plan. Now as a senior, her life is filled with work, caring for her daughter, and taking care of her Abuela. There is room too for her love of cooking, but not enough room for big dreams for her future. When a culinary class is offered for the first time at her school, Emoni hesitates to apply even though she longs to. The class includes a trip to Spain, which Emoni knows she will not be able to afford, nor could she leave her daughter or ask that of her grandmother. Still, she signs up for the class. It’s not easy, learning to not improvise in the kitchen but follow the rules and recipes. She can’t add the small touches that make her cooking magic. As Emoni opens herself up to new experiences, her life begins to open in other ways too, allowing herself to find romance and new connections.
In this novel, Acevedo gifts us with a story in prose where you can see her skill as a poet shining through often, taking words and making them dazzling. The fierceness of her first book is still here, with some of the short chapters taking on issues like racism and poverty. The entire work is such an incredible read. Emoni takes up a place in your heart and mind, insisting on being heard and believed.
The portrayal of a young mother who is ferociously caring and loving of her daughter, is something not seem often in our society. Emoni stands as a character speaking for women, a teen caring not only for her daughter but also standing alongside her grandmother as they care for one another. Throughout the book, there is a strong sense of community and extended family that are supportive of Emoni and her dreams.
A stellar and important read, let’s hope this one wins more awards and attention for Acevedo. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.