It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas begins in the late 1970s and ends in the early 1980s. Many of the 10-12-year-olds who read this book will think that seems like ancient history. For many of them, this precedes the birth of their parents. However, if these dates were not shared with them, and if they were unfamiliar with the Iranian Hostage Crisis, they could be forgiven for assuming that this story took place quite recently. The anti-immigrant sentiments of some of the characters are still present in the United States today. The bravery, resilience, and righteous indignation of children also continue to move us forward towards justice even as the tides of intolerance try to pull us back.
Zomorod Yousefzadeh, who goes by Cindy when she is in the United States (a’la Cindy Brady), is one of the most entertaining characters I have encountered in recent children’s literature. She is used to moving back and forth between Iran and the United States as her dad’s oil company job demands. She is an only child and acts as the “cultural interpreter” for her parents every time they move back to the US. Her dad’s English is excellent, but American humor is unceasingly confusing.
Making new friends every couple of years is a challenge, but Zomorod is persistent. When her literary references and desire to actually swim in the swimming pool (instead of just tan beside it) are unsuccessful in engaging her next door neighbor, Zomorod finds friends at school. One of these friends, Carolyn, wants to become a journalist and is fascinated to learn more about Iran. It is through these conversations that readers learn about Iran’s rich history and the opportunities that women in Iran had prior to the Revolution.
Zomorod is shocked when she learns that American hostages have been taken in Iran. Things start to fall apart for her family financially and, when the hostages are not returned quickly, some members of the community quickly become hostile to immigrants from Iran. This will not surprise readers today who are familiar with the anti-immigrant rhetoric they hear on the news. What they might be less familiar with is the impact that this has on families’ everyday lives. The pressure to protect one’s family can be crippling to adults and Dumas does an excellent job of depicting this in her writing.
Another surprise to readers might be the way that the community, and particularly Zomorod’s friends, respond to the attacks against her family. Reading about this kind of response, and similar responses in communities today, would go a long way to move us forward as a nation. It often seems like children are the impetus behind these movements and reading a book like It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel might be just what young people need to get them started.
Diversity 6: I interact with people who are similar to and different from me, and I show respect to all people.
Diversity 8: I am curious and want to know more about other people’s histories and lived experiences, and I ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
Action 19: I will speak up or take action when I see unfairness, even if those around me do not, and I will not let others convince me to go along with injustice.
RL.2- Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
RL.5- Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
RL.6- Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
RL.7- Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.