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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Salma the Syrian Chef, story by Danny Ramadan and art by Anna Bron. Annick Press, 2020. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"Back at the Welcome Center, Salma organizes her vegetables on the kitchen table. "My mama won't be laughing at all if I use a knife," Salma tells Amir and Malek, who came together from Lebanon. "Can you help me chop these vegetables?" She blushes when Malek kisses away Amir's onion tears. The three of them giggle ... until Salma realizes she forgot the spices."

There is such a sense of camaraderie when people get together to make a meal. Parents and children, aspiring chefs, food lovers, partners, friends - all can find a common bond in creating something delicious to eat.

Salma and her mother are living without Papa after a move to Vancouver from Damascus. They are lonely for him, and for their homeland. Mama works hard to learn English and find a job. She is always tired and so sad. Salma misses her smiles and does her best to brighten Mama's days. Nothing works.

In talks with new friends at the Welcome Center, Salma decides that making Mama a familiar meal might help. With assistance from Jad, a center translator, she is able to find a recipe for foul shami. The Syrian recipe brings another set of problems. Salma does not know how to translate the Syrain words to English in order to get the ingredients she will need.

Using her crayons she is able to draw pictures that will help her get the groceries needed to make Mama a very special meal. Ayesha provides company for the shopping trip, Malek and Amir help with prepping the vegetables, and Granny Donya provides understanding for Salma's sadness over leaving her home and having to learn a new language in a brand new setting. Oh, and she has some sumac, a missing spice for Salma's recipe.

"Look at those beautiful flowers and all those blossoming trees."
Granny Donya points out the window. "This home might be
different from everything we know, but it's beautiful in its own ways."

Salma takes a deep breath, filled with the smell of sumac and rain.
Her anger escapes a little, like water droplets flying off her hands
when she shakes them dry."

Do all of Salma's efforts work to cheer her Mama? Yes, they do!

The warm colors and patterns used for the illustrations help to create a feeling of community, culture and support, just what is needed when refugees find a new home. 

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