Reviewed by Hadeal Salamah
Salma and her mother are Syrian Muslim refugees living at the Welcome Center for new immigrants in Vancouver, Canada. They both miss home and hope that one day soon Salma’s papa will be able to join them. Mama’s long days are filled with English classes and job interviews. Her fatigue and sadness, juxtaposed to Salma’s youthful joy and hope are viscerally heart-wrenching and the reader feels deeply for Salma in her efforts to make her Mama smile, let alone elicit a happy laugh. Salma attempts a joke but Mama only responds with a “sad smile, full of love, but empty of joy.”
Encouraged by Nancy, assumed to be a Welcome Center employee or coordinator, Salma draws back on her good memories. Though Salma realizes that she can’t bring her Papa to be with them sooner, or rebuild their own home in Damascus, there is something she can do to make her Mama happy.
Salma wants to make her mother’s favorite dish, foul shami, but doesn’t have the recipe. Jad, the Jordanian translator helps find a recipe for her, but Salma realizes that she doesn’t know the English names of the vegetables she will need. Creatively, she finds a way to get around the language barrier by drawing pictures of the ingredients she needs. With the encouragement and help of other friends at the Welcome Center — Amir and Malek, a couple from Lebanon; Granny Donya, an older Iranian woman who wears a headscarf, and Ayesha, wearing a pink headscarf and jeans, Salma gets most of the ingredients for the recipe. It’s implied that Ayesha is Somali as she brings Salma home-baked Somalian sweets. Continue reading.
Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan
Published by ANNICK PRESS on 2020
Genres: Immigration and Emigration
Reading Level: Grade K, Grades 1-2
Review Source: Hijabi Librarians
Publisher's Synopsis: Newcomer Salma and friends cook up a heartwarming dish to cheer up Mama.
All Salma wants is to make her mama smile again. Between English classes, job interviews, and missing Papa back in Syria, Mama always seems busy or sad. A homemade Syrian meal might cheer her up, but Salma doesn't know the recipe, or what to call the vegetables in English, or where to find the right spices! Luckily, the staff and other newcomers in her Welcome Home are happy to lend a hand — and a sprinkle of sumac.
With creativity, determination, and charm, Salma brings her new friends together to show Mama that even though things aren't perfect, there is cause for hope and celebration. Syrian culture is beautifully represented through the meal Salma prepares and Anna Bron's vibrant illustrations, while the diverse cast of characters speaks to the power of cultivating community in challenging circumstances.