Cover Reveal for A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan
This book started with a question: What does it mean to be an American when your parent is an immigrant? It’s an identity I struggled with as a child. Was I more American and Jewish, like my father, or did I feel most at home in my mother’s British culture? First generation American kids face such a multiplicity of challenges that I knew this story needed a second point of view. I am so grateful that Saadia agreed to co-author A Place at the Table. Her experience as a recent U.S. citizen raising bicultural American children has many common threads with my family history, but also significant differences, including race and religion.
Every brown person in America has heard a version of “go back where you came from” at some point in their lives. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it happens more often than many people realize, or are willing to accept. Slurs like these – accusations that you’re from somewhere else and don’t really belong – can truly mess with a child’s self-esteem and identity. That’s why when Laura asked me to collaborate on a middle grade novel that explored first generation immigrants and what it means to be an American, I jumped at the chance.
Writing about these issues together was not only good for our book, it also helped us both grow as human beings.
Speaking from experience, I know that when immigrants leave their homes, they take only the essentials with them. This includes cultural memory, passed down through food and language and dress. We decided to showcase all these artifacts in our book to celebrate them – as Sara is doing with her henna-inspired drawing on the cover — rather than make them issues to be embarrassed about. A Place at the Table is essentially a friendship story, but cooking is a huge part of it, not just as an element but also as a theme. Food brings people together, it surpasses cultural norms and produces fusion dishes like the paratha S’mores recipe Sara and Elizabeth invent.
Only now, as an adult and a parent, can I grapple with all that my mother gave up in order to come to this country – including her family, religion, and culture. I love how illustrator Anoosha Syed uses small details on the cover. She shares subtle clues that our main characters remain connected to their cultures of origin while pursuing their own independent interests: cooking for Elizabeth and art for Sara. I’m especially fond of the Doctor Who charm on Elizabeth’s bracelet.
That’s why I love our simplistic and bright cover, which was designed by Sharismar Rodriguez. It’s an invitation to the table, both physically and metaphorically, and it shows the commonalities that we share if we focus on the positives of our cultures. There is hope and cheerfulness on this cover, and while at times Sara and Elizabeth face dark moments, the book is ultimately as hopeful and bright as the cover itself.
Saadia and I each brought important things to the table when we sat down to write Sara and Elizabeth’s story. Like our characters, we have learned from each other, challenged each other, and grown closer as friends. We hope readers enjoy getting to know these two very different girls as much as Saadia and I have.
Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. Her book Meet Yasmin!, the first book in an early reader series about a Pakistani-American girl, received starred reviews, and she is also author of the adult fiction book Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan. She lives with her husband and children in Houston, Texas, where she is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry, and prose.
Laura Shovan’s novel-in-verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and won CYBILS and Nerdy Book Club awards. She is a longtime poet-in-the-schools and the author and editor of three books of poetry for adults. Her latest book, Takedown, publishes in June, 2018. Visit her at: www.laurashovan.com.
A Place at the Table
by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan
Editor: Jennifer Greene
Cover art: Anoosha Syed
Cover design: Sharismar Rodriguez
Publication date: May 12, 2020
Link to pre-order: https://hmhbooks.com/shop/books/A-Place-at-the-Table/9780358116684
Sixth-graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is huge and completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners … but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?