This 36 page book for kindergarten and up shows the role perseverance, confidence, and believing in yourself can play in conquering bullies, carving out a space for yourself and finding success. While the book is a little predictable on the surface, older kids will understand that by winning the spelling bee, Samar didn’t just benefit by standing up to the bully, but in proving to herself what she is capable of and ultimately being more confident of her place in a new country. The book is presented on large 8.5 by 11 full color glossy pages and features discussion questions at the end.
Samar is in 3rd grade after recently moving to America from Syria, where she was the best student in her class. ESL wasn’t difficult, but mainstream class is proving to be a challenge, mostly because of Jenna, the class bully.
Jenna, snickers when it is Samar’s turn to spell words in front of the class, she teased her about her jump rope songs not being in English, and she makes fun of her for her accent. With the help of a kind friend, Angela, the two girls decide the school spelling bee will be the best chance to prove how smart Samar is, by winning.
The first step Samar must do is convince her teacher, Ms. Bryan to help her study. To show her commitment she offers to give up her recess to study. The teacher agrees, but on the way home Jenna teases her saying she’ll never win when she can’t even speak English properly. Deflated, when Samar gets home, she doesn’t study the flashcards and opts to watch cartoons instead.
When later in the week her teacher quizzes her, Samar admits she didn’t study. Ms. Bryan encourages her by sharing her own story of coming to America and having to learn English. When Samar gets home she sees her mother, a former dentist in Syria, studying for the exams to be a dentist in America. This is the spark she needs and she studies hard, everywhere, and with anyone who will help.
On the day of the bee, Samar spells word after words correctly and after saying bismillah before spelling the final word, wins the competition and beats Jenna. The audience cheers and the next day Samar and Angela are jumping rope and Samar is singing in Arabic.
I love that Samar and her mom wear hijab while out, but not at home, that they speaks Arabic, and Samar says bismillah. Samar’s mom is clearly highly educated and determined and mom and dad are supportive. I love that Samar’s drive, however, comes from her own determination, no one forces her or guilts her, it is her leading the way and understanding what her mother is going through and her teacher has gone through, and using that as inspiration. I love that at the end she doesn’t rub it in Jenna’s face that she won, and the symbolism of Jenna just disappearing from the story makes this clear as Samar steps in to her own. I truly love that for every Jenna in the wold there is also an Angela. Be kind, be supportive, be a good friend!