As an adult setting out to read this book, I imagined that the goal of the book was to bring awareness to a specific issue, food insecurity, and to rally support to help others with this basic need. The beauty of Muslim author and activist Onjali Q. Rauf, however, is that even with such a clear intent, the storytelling, character building, and enjoyment of the book makes you connect to the plot and issues and feel the message, not just be told it. For children seven through 12 with no prior expectation of the book, they will be emotionally effected by the reality shown and feel empathy and compassion for characters that will hopefully translate into their real life. My 10 and 12 year old boys read the book in about an hour, not realizing what the book was going to be about and hounded me to read it with glowing reviews. This 103 page middle grades book has diverse characters (none are Muslim), and is a great story, a great educational tool, a great empathy check, and a great resource for how to get involved to start helping food banks, and breakfast clubs, all while being funny, relatable, kind, and engaging.
Nelson, his younger sister Ashley, and their Mum work together to make hard “tricky” months manageable. They are creative with their meals, they go to breakfast club, and they use their vouchers on Thursdays at the food bank. Some times though, it isn’t enough, Mum has to pawn her jewelry, they go without meals, and generous friends share their snacks. When the food bank starts running low, Nelson breaks his secrecy about breakfast club and his close friends Krish and Harriet are determined to help figure out why donated food isn’t reaching the bank and what they can do to make sure it does.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that it shows how the family has food insecurities on a day-to-day basis and how never feeling full affects so much of the characters’ attention. I also love that it shows their mom works, she is a nurse and works really hard, they don’t steal or load up on food that is donated, they are very grateful for all assistance given and their friends don’t judge them. It shed light on a different narrative that many children perhaps don’t think about: that people they know and are close with, might be hungry. I think the maturity of the kids is a lesson to adults reading the book too, that reminds us that kindness and assistance doesn’t need to come with judgement or arrogance. The characters are all really likeable, they aren’t perfect, but even though the book is short, you feel your heart being affected by them in their handling of the mystery and the larger concept of hunger.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I would read this book aloud in a classroom (2nd-5th), and if I get a chance to participate in Lunch Bunch (where a book is read to children while they eat their lunch) at our local Islamic School, I will start off with this book. I think kids have bigger hearts than we often think they do, and while they might not recall the less fortunate when you want them to finish all the food on their plate, they often notice kids without lunches at school and share without prompting.
Here’s a great clip and reading by the author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVYBLh0kODc