Thursday, 20 April 2017

Book Review: 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafel' by Firoozeh Dumas

Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian author - right away you have a reason to be using this book, 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafel', in your classroom; the majority of us teachers teach very few texts by non-white authors. As Darren Chetty wrote 'diversity should start at story time'.

And whilst the focus of this laugh-a-page, partly-biographical novel is difference, it serves better to highlight the differences in how people treat those who appear to be different. In many ways the book's protagonist 'Cindy' (real name Zomorod) is no different to the group of friends she builds after she moves to California, yet she experiences varying degrees of treatment from other key characters in the book. It's useful in the classroom to have both positive and negative examples of how others should be treated - this funny and charming story has both.

Once the scene is set the story revolves around the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the 1970s - we see how events abroad cause people to stigmatise and behave  negatively towards those who they perceive to be linked to things happening in far-off places. The story is a safe place to start classroom discussions about stereotyping, ignorance and critical thinking.

The other main theme of the book is relationships (what book isn't about relationships at its core?); what's striking is that despite her embarrassment at times, Cindy clearly loves and respects her parents - positive parent-child relationships are not always portrayed in children's literature. 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafal' also shines a spotlight on close friendship groups (Cindy's contains a nominal Christian and a Jew), relationships between children and their friends' parents and it has a literal look at the concept of 'love thy neighbour'. All of this provides further opportunities to discuss the treatment of others, especially in a plurality of differing relationships.

For a light-hearted springboard for exploring some heavy subjects, an upper key stage 2 teacher couldn't go far wrong by introducing 'It Ain't So Awful, Falafel' to their classroom. With super-short chapters this is the sort of book equally as perfect as an end-of-day read aloud as it would be in a more formal reading lesson. Highly recommended.

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