Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, Illustrated by Anna Bron

Review by Logaine Navascués

Annick Press, March 10, 2020

40 pages, hardcover, $21.95 CAD, 978-1-77321-375-0

Ages 4-7, Grades Pre-K–2

Picture book, Contemporary realism

What is home? Is it a place? A people? A refuge? Or the memory of a smell you can almost taste? For Salma, a young Syrian girl who just immigrated to Canada, it’s all that and more: it means making her Mama smile again. And with the help of her friends at the Welcome Center, she discovers that mixing a pinch of creativity with lots of love and a bowl of chickpeas may be the best recipe for doing that.

Through Salma’s fresh, childish gaze and authentic voice, writer Danny Ramadan represents the reality that many refugee families have to endure through poetic yet precise language. The dull, rainy days are illuminated by the author’s sensory analogies, bringing a spark of magic to everyday moments, such as: “Mama used to giggle with her friends at the refugee camp. It sounded like the ringing bells on the older boys’ bikes.”

Anna Bron’s rich illustrations work in perfect harmony with the text, painting Salma’s word in detail, while effectively using colour to convey emotion. The bluish-grey double spreads echo the nostalgic tone of the narrative, which progressively transforms into the hope of a brighter present and future, depicted with yellow and orange hues. Pages are framed by delicate designs and ornamentation that clearly resemble the style of Arabic architecture, as a visible reminder of the invisible imprint of one’s own heritage. Diversity and inclusion are at the core of this story, with careful and well-thought portrayals—in both words and images—of the LGBTQ+ community and people from different countries, cultures and faiths.

Ramadan has created a strong-willed, honest and lovable character whose desire to spread joy is truly inspiring. This is a compelling and moving read for children and adults of all ages; a powerful reminder of the value of finding unity and uniqueness amid diversity, and to create our own ways of feeling at home.

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books and eating chocolate while pursuing her MA in Children’s Literature at UBC.

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