[Monday Reading] Portrayal of Children Im/migrants from Syria and Egypt in 2020 Picturebooks


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

We are on the look-out for books with the following themes:

  1. Stories of exile and movement from one place to another – either by choice or by circumstance

  2. Narratives on im/migrants, belonging and exclusion

  3. Tales of people who are in transition and displaced from their homes

  4. Stories of seeking refuge and sanctuary and finding forever homes

  5. Narratives of loss and dispossession


The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Aya Khalil Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan
Published by Tilbury House Publishers (2020)
ISBN: 9780884487548 (ISBN10: 0884487547) Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Kanzi is a young Egyptian American poet. The first few pages reveal how it can be somewhat challenging for Kanzi to navigate between her strong ethnic roots established in her home to the largely White American classroom she also belongs to. Kanzi secretly wished her father would pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her instead of a kofta sandwich; she also turns the radio volume of the Arabic radio channel down as she and her mother are near her school.

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It does not help, of course, that she had a classmate who made fun of her mother calling her “habibti” in the school halls to hand her the lunchbox she has forgotten in the car. I love being able to read words of endearment that are very common here in the United Arab Emirates where we presently live.

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I especially appreciated the way the 3rd grade teacher handled the growing racial tension in her classroom – and even reached out to Kanzi’s mother to serve as a cultural broker of sorts, as the entire class made a project out of transforming their American names into Arabic.

While it can be argued that the resolution in the story seemed too neat, I felt the good intentions conveyed in the development of the narrative. I especially enjoyed reading Kanzi’s love letter to her parents in the end: a heartfelt message that I encourage educators to share with the culturally and linguistically diverse students in their classrooms.

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Salma The Syrian Chef [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Danny Ramadan Illustrated by Anna Bron
Published by Annick Press (2020)
ISBN: 9781773213750 Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Salma and her mother had just moved to Vancouver – a place Salma pronounces as “Fankoufer” and her Mama pronounces as “Vandourar.” Salma’s papa is still back in Syria and her mother has been increasingly quiet and stressed with the job interviews that go nowhere and the English classes she needed to attend.

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Salma, in all her exuberance and joy, will have none of her mother’s pensive mood – and so she thought of a way to make Mama laugh again.

Salma can’t bring Papa here sooner.

She can’t rebuild their old home.

But suddenly, she knows what to do.

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With the help of her new friends from the Welcome Center, Salma will make foul shami! While I confess to not having tasted this dish yet, I was very moved by how the entire community in this small center came together to find all the ingredients Salma needed to hear her mother’s laughter once again.

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The pages are brimming with movement, dynamism, and Salma’s infectious enthusiasm. Sadly, not everything goes well for our Syrian chef, and she naturally experienced a great deal of frustration in the making of this Syrian dish.

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Whether or not Salma the Syrian chef succeeds in making Mama smile once again, I shall leave for you to discover. While this may seem like another story that can fit well in the food, festivals, fashion theme, I find that there are layers to the narrative that go beyond just a surface level exploration of the refugee experience. There is depth of emotion here and a quick sense of agency and boundless joy in Salma that will not be easily forgotten.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 53/54 out of target 100

May 31, 2021 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal