Salma the Syrian Chef

Annick. Mar. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781773213750.
K-Gr 2–Salma lives with her mother in a refugee center in Canada, hoping her father will join them. Salma misses her father and the life in Syria, and struggles seeing how unhappy her mother is. Determined to hear her mother laugh again, Salma tries to cheer her up with silly drawings and jokes, “but all she gets is Mama’s sad smile, full of love but empty of joy.” Remembering the last time she saw her mother happy, Salma decides to surprise her by making foul shami, a Syrian meal her family shared in their lost home. Salma seeks the help of many other people in the refugee camp to find a recipe, translate the foods, shop, and prepare the meal, showcasing the things all the immigrants have in common as well as the variety and uniqueness of the cultures. Despite all the help, Salma doesn’t have the right spices to finish her dish, and her frustration opens a floodgate for all her feelings of displacement and sadness. The meal, of course, delights her mother, and their friends at the camp join them with the missing ingredients. The charming illustrations are notably framed by Syrian mosaic patterns, providing a beautiful framework for the story. Realistically, the happy ending is limited to the connection with her mother and a dream of continued happiness with their new community; no easy answers about the future are provided.
VERDICT Truthful, hopeful, and relatable; a first purchase.

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