A PLACE AT THE TABLE, by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan, Clarion Books, Aug. 11, 2020, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 10-12)
Two girls bond over South Asian cooking in Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan’s excellent A Place at the Table.
Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends? —Synopsis provided by Clarion Books
If you look at events on the world stage, the thought of Muslim and Jewish girls becoming friends seems inconceivable. A Place at the Table smashes that misconception. The truth is, the girls are more alike than they initially think. And while they both are dealing with cultural issues; their bigger problems are on a more familial level.
A Place at the Table is written in alternating voices, giving readers an up-close look at Sara and Elizabeth’s home lives as well as their emotions. Sara is an artist. She’s clever, but keeps her head down. Elizabeth is a Dr. Who fan who’s learning life isn’t always what it seems.
While A Place at the Table is, on its face, a book about cooking, there’s a lot of other things to unpack. In other words — real life. Racism, financial woes, adult depression and changing friendships are all addressed in realistic ways. This could end up being schmaltzy, but under the authors’ adept hands, it instead feels grounded and accessible for the intended audience.
As discussion is likely to happen during or after reading, A Place at the Table is a good read-aloud option for school or at home.
Though my advanced copy does not have recipes at the back, it does have a “Recipes To Come” note. I can imagine making recipes from the book with my daughter while reading the book together. They would make it a completely immersive experience.
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