Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan are the co-authors of “A Place at the Table,” a middle school novel about two characters who are navigating faith, friendship, and their identities as the children of immigrants.
Sara is a Pakistani American who grew up attending Islamic school until middle school where she meets the Jewish American Elizabeth, whose mother is British.
Both characters are navigating a new school, helping their moms and going through unique experiences as preteens. They meet at an after-school cooking club where Sara’s mom is the teacher.
“It is not love at first sight. They rub each other the wrong way. And so the book is the story of how they learn to get along and become friends in addition to being kitchen partners,” Shovan says.
Faruqi says the story captures a lot of first-generation angst.
“Other aspects of culture are really explored from both the Pakistani and the British sides … and American because then that’s the connection of the two, and relationships, especially friendships among girls,” Faruqi says.
Shovan says faith plays out into these conversations.
“When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of books featuring Jewish kids. There was Sydney Taylor, the All-of-a-Kind Family (series), which I absolutely loved. And especially for me, because my mom’s a convert. It just wasn’t an area explored in children’s books. So I’m so happy that increasingly we’re seeing authors bringing faith into the conversation, even if it’s a background piece of the story because faith is such an important part to many kids’ daily lives.” The story explores racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
“Those are things that are just part of life for so many Muslim kids, so many Jewish kids, people of color … we’re facing a lot of things, especially in that time period in school, which a lot of us adults don’t even realize,” Faruqi says.
Faruqi, who is an interfaith activist, says she hopes the book teaches allyship, standing up to bullies and learning about different people, which lead to people becoming friends with people not like them.
“We wanted to teach all our readers, whether they’re kids or adults, how to be an ally, which is not the same as being a friend … being able to stand up against racism against injustice against somebody just being a bully is really important,” she says.
The book features Pakistani foods, including recipes.
“A Place at the Table” recently received a Sydney Taylor Book Award, a National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature, at the American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media.
To learn more about the book visit HMHBooks.com.