Full of determination, creativity, culture, misunderstandings, and learning from your mistakes, this story will resonate with readers 6-10 who want to solve problems on their own, stand out and be special, and who must own up to their mistakes when they happen. In just under a hundred pages of story, the characters are developed and made memorable, the voice realistic, and the story engaging and enjoyable. I love that there is no cultural or religious identity crisis, no parental fixing of problems, and no preachy moral overtones. There are many lessons learned, explored, and threaded through the book, but the incredible writing never lets the threads overpower the story. The emotional attachment to Anisa has you cringing when she messes up, cheering for her to solve a problem, and sighing in relief when amends are made. The backmatter is quite robust with recipes, a glossary, numerous activities, and notes from the author. I know the book says it is meant for grades 3rd through 7th, but I think early chapter book readers will enjoy it the most. There is not a lot of Islam in the book, but enough that Muslim readers will appreciate the representation and OWN voice authenticity.
Anisa is an artist, a baker, and pushes herself to be ingenious in all she does. With her aunt’s wedding coming up, her and her sister and their A-Z Bakery are tasked with making cookies for a party, and her Nani in Pakistan has even sent clothes for her to wear. Included in the package is a beautiful kurta that Anisa decides to wear to school. Inspired by her pride in her culture the teacher, Miss Torres, decides the class will have an international day. Anisa can’t wait to bring samosas, but Prerna from India commits to bringing them first and ingenious Anisa can’t copy her. To make matters worse, Anisa’s best friend Katie doesn’t seem to like the mehndi Anisa got put on at the dholki. Misunderstandings, assumptions, and hurt feelings get amplified when Anisa takes action, and when everything gets put out in the open, she will have to find a way to make things right.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that the drama is not over sensationalized, it is on par for 3rd grade and the solutions are as well. The teacher and Anisa’s parents are supportive and present, but they don’t solve the problems or force reflection, the children in the story do. I love the subtle backstory of Anisa and Prerna seeming to be in competition, but finding support in one another as the story moves through. I also love that no one puts pressure on Anisa to be the most creative or the best at anything, it genuinely feels like her personality and a standard she expects for herself. I was glad that there was no cultural (or religious) self doubting. The problems with a friend is communication, approval, and misunderstanding. The mehndi is the catalyst, but it is not meant or perceived to be a symbol of a whole culture and identity. It is just mehndi. Of course I also love that the apologizing is not just saying sorry, but rather making things right.
There is mention of the aunt wearing hijab and taking it off because Anisa’s dad is not home, that is tucked in and appreciated. There are black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout that show women in hijab (#muslimsintheillustrations) as well. The pictures are not finalized in the arc I received, so I will update the included images in this review at a later time.
There is mention of music, not sure if it is just drums, or other instruments as well. Makeup is also worn by the adult women and mentioned a few times. Anisa is mean, but she does apologize.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think fans of the Yasmin series (Saadia Faruqi) will move on to this book, and also enjoy the upcoming Marya Khan series also by Saadia Faruqi. The book fills a gap for this reading demographic, and will add relatability, representation, and warmth to whatever shelf it is placed on.