This picture book broke my heart and mended it again. What a beautiful story. Kanzi is an Egyptian-American child who loves poetry and swimming. Like so many immigrant children and TCK’s she feels caught between two worlds. She loves the Egyptian food her parents make, and cherishes the Egyptian quilt her Teita (Grandma) made for her. But she also wants to fit in at her new (mostly white) school. She wishes her Baba would send her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and she turns down the Arabic radio station when her Mama drops her off at school.
When her mother uses an Arabic term of endearment at school, some of her white classmates snicker, thinking it sounds funny. Kanzi’s teacher notices her pain, and tells her, “being bilingual is beautiful.” She encourages Kanzi to share the quilt her Teita made with the class – which the children love – and creates a special project designed to introduce the children to the Arabic language, help them celebrate diversity, and teach them about inclusion. The project brings the children together and helps Kanzi to realize she doesn’t need to change to fit in. She can be proud of her Egyptian family and customs, seeing them as assets – gifts she has to offer her new friends rather than walls that separate them. What a beautiful and timely message that is.
The illustrations are gorgeous. The colors and facial expressions Anait uses add beautifully to the emotional resonance of the story and somehow create the perfect blend of cultural elements that feels authentic for an immigrant story.
(On a side note, this book pairs beautifully with the educational resource I reviewed for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which provides many other ideas for lesson plans, games, and activities teachers can use to promote multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion in their classrooms.)
*I was provided with a free PDF copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.