PPBF – Salma the Syrian Chef

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been cooking, and eating, way too much these past few holiday weeks. But while I was visiting my daughter recently, I perused her copy of The Immigrant Cookbook, which has inspired me to try some healthy, new-to-me recipes. After reading today’s Perfect Picture Book, I think I’ve found another new recipe to ring in the new decade, too.

Title: Salma the Syrian Chef

Written By: Danny Ramadan

Illustrated By: Anna Bron

Publisher/Date: Annick Press/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: cooking, recipe, Syria, refugees, home

Opening:

Salma watches the Vancouver rain from her apartment window in the Welcome Center. It’s different than the sunny days back in Syria.

She still can’t pronounce “Vancouver,” but her friends tell her that her ways of saying it are more fun.

Brief Synopsis: To cheer up her mother, Salma, a young Syrian refugee living in Vancouver, Canada, decides to make a beloved Syrian dish with the help of friends from the Welcome Center.

Links to Resources:

  • Do you have a favorite food that reminds you of a special place or person? With the help of an adult, try preparing it for family or friends;
  • Salma prepares foul shami (pronounced “fool shammy”), fava beans prepared in the style eaten in Damascus, Syria. Check out the recipe;
  • Salma originally lived in Damascus, Syria; learn more about this ancient city.

Why I Like this Book:

In Salma the Syrian Chef, Salma, a young Syrian refugee, notices that her mother has stopped smiling. After numerous attempts to cheer her mother up and make their adopted city of Vancouver feel more like home, including drawing pictures, telling jokes, and jumping out from a hiding spot to surprise Mama, Salma thinks about what may be making her Mama sad: they no longer are in their home, and Papa isn’t with them. Salma realizes that she can’t change either of those by herself, but she can make Mama a favorite food from home.

I love how Salma realizes that her Mama is sad, that she determines to cheer her up, and that she understands that a favorite food from home can brighten someone’s day. As a young child, though, Salma isn’t able to shop and cook by herself. Other adults and children at an immigrant Welcome Center rally to help her, showing how important a new community can be to help refugees and other immigrants resettle.

I think children reading Salma the Syrian Chef will enjoy this story, will empathize with children, like Salma, who are struggling to resettle in a foreign land, and will learn that small actions, like cooking a favorite recipe or helping someone else do so, will, like raindrops in a puddle, spread through a community to cheer everyone.

Bron’s soft palette of beiges and browns from the Syrian desert and the grays and blues of often-rainy Vancouver effectively show the dichotomy of these two places. I especially enjoyed the tiled frames that appear on most spreads.

A Note about Craft:

In Salma the Syrian Chef, Ramadan presents a classic, kid-friendly problem for the main character, Salma: cheering up her mother who is sad to be away from home and so far from Salma’s Papa. The solution, cooking her Mama’s favorite dish, isn’t something that Salma can do by herself, however, as she needs help finding the recipe, sourcing some of the ingredients, and chopping vegetables. Although a picture book main character should solve her or his own problem, by presenting a solution that requires community involvement, I think Ramadan adds an important layer to this story and strengthens its impact.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

8 responses to “PPBF – Salma the Syrian Chef

  1. What a thoughtful and beautiful story. I love that Salma wants to lift her mother’s spirits by cooking the foods she likes — but to involve the community at the table is really special! Thanks for sharing today!

  2. Community and food! Certainly something we all miss very much – I’m in!

  3. In the real world, I do think there are times when children need the help of others to do what they want to do. And in this case, having the idea to cheer her mother up in a very specific way feels like agency, and then asking for help to do it also feels like agency. So many times kids don’t do things because they don’t know how or afraid to ask for help to do something they want to do. I’m thinking that this is an important way to show how kids can find allies to help them do what they want to do, too. What do you think?

    • I like the way you analyzed this story, Jilanne. I agree, knowing when to ask for help is an important skill to learn. Had Salma managed to create the entire dish herself, this would have been a very different story, with important takeaways about friendship and community lost.

  4. I love that Salma not only cheers up her Mom, but starts to develop “new roots” and a community in Vancouver. I also really enjoy a story set in Vancouver – as I am in Seattle and the PNW needs more PB stories :-).

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