In a contemporary Somali village, young Hasan promises his mother a feast while his father is away working in the city. Trouble is, there isn’t any food in the pantry. Hasan runs to the local mosque, and with the help of the imam and various (semi-unwitting) villagers and mosque goers, puts together the promised feast along the lines of the classic Stone Soup fable.
My ten year-old loved this book, rating it a solid 5 stars, but I spent most of my time either chuckling or exclaiming over what a grifter Hasan was being. I remember the original fable involving a peddler finessing a town into sharing their individual ingredients for the common good, thereby teaching them a necessary lesson about working together (or socialism, if you will.) This book had the same basis but a narrower focus: Hasan isn’t trying to feed a village, he’s trying to impress his mom. Fortunately for him, his village is willing to go along with it, in the way of any mosque-focused community looking for an excuse to come together and have a feast.
And that, I thought, was the largest part of this book’s charm, the way it displayed the generosity and spirit of a Muslim village humoring a boy who loves his mother, while feeding the community. It showcases a trust in God’s will via the good-heartedness of one’s neighbors, all through a simple tale that riffs off of a familiar fable. Amina Khan’s expressive illustrations suit the story perfectly, evoking a Somali village and its inhabitants with joyful cartoon imagery well-suited for the book’s target audience.
Bismillah Soup was a lovely buddy read to celebrate Raya/Eid with my kids, and I’m grateful to my sister for giving it to my eldest as part of his Raya present, especially since I’ve told him I won’t be buying him any more books till he picks up the ones he’s scattered all over the house and places them neatly in his room, which he’ll hopefully tidy up, too. Optimism dies hard in my family.
Bismillah Soup by Asmaa Hussein & Amina Khan was published January 1st 2015 by Ruqaya’s Bookshelf and is currently out of print (tho hopefully that will change soon!)