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Picture Book Review for Grandparents Day – Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar

 

MAMA SHAMSI AT THE BAZAAR

Written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani 

Illustrated by Maya Fidawi

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar cover Grandmother and grandaughter walking to bazaar

 

 

Written by mother-daughter duo Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Mama Shamsi At The Bazaar shares the loving bond between grandmother and granddaughter as they venture out to share a new experience together.

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int1 ready to go to bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Getting ready to go to the bazaar with her grandmother for the very first time, Samira is afraid she’ll get lost in the crowd. Again and again, she tries to coax Mama Shams into letting her hide under the protection of her veil. “‘Let’s get in line, under your chador, you in front, me behind!’” But each time, Mama Shams responds with a resounding “Na, na, na” followed by an exaggerated explanation of how silly they might look to passersby. “‘I’d look like a fool with four legs below me just like a mule!” 

 

Mama Shamsi at the bazaar int2 Samira and Mama Shamsi near bazaar
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Textually, this lovely rhyming interchange between grandmother and granddaughter adds much humor and whimsy, while also providing a place for young readers of all backgrounds to stay grounded in the story as Mama Shamsi suggests the different types of animals she may be mistaken for if she acquiesces to Samira’s wish.

 

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar int3 Mama Shamsi tells Samira to use her eyes and ears
Interior spread from Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar written by Mojdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani, and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2023.

 

Visually, their conversation introduces readers to the bustling capital of Iran, Tehran. Fidawi’s expressive illustrations are wonderfully and thoughtfully detailed from home to city life during the 1960s/’70s, reflecting the time period author Hassani grew up there. My personal favorites include the seated vendor on the street, prayer beads in hand, and chai brewing on a portable burner next to him, a grandmother on the balcony of a nearby apartment hanging clothes to dry, and another vendor selling my favorite Iranian street food: steamed beets. When they finally arrive at the bazaar, Samira feels assured that with Mama Shamsi by her side, she is safe to enjoy and explore her new world. 

For those seeking an intergenerational, diverse, sweet, and/or humorous story with a touch of social-emotional learning, this picture book ticks off all of the boxes. A recommended read for National Grandparents Day and year-round.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Picture Book Review – Sora’s Seashells

SORA’S SEASHELLS
A Name Is a Gift to Be Treasured

Written by Helena Ku Rhee

Illustrated by Stella Lim
With Ji-Hyuk Kim

(Candlewick Press $17.99, Ages 4-6)

 

Sora's Seashells cover Sora and Halmoni at beach picking shells

 

 

Sora’s Seashells, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Stella Lim with Ji-Hyuk Kim, is so much more than a beach or summer story. It’s a multi-layered, moving, and intergenerational picture book about a grandmother and granddaughter relationship. Gentle in tone with art that beautifully captures the book’s mood, the story is also about loss, and passing kindness forward to other’s lives, including strangers. Additionally, Sora’s Seashells addresses the meaning of a name and how it can bring joy.

 

Sora's Seashells int1 Sora and Halmoni comb for shells
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

When Sora’s grandmother (Halmoni), visits each summer from South Korea, the pair spend special time together gathering seashells at the beach. Though lovely, the prettiest shell that Halmoni picks is intended for someone else. “It’s a gift,” Halmoni tells Sora, left “For anyone who sees its beauty.” Sora is a bit confounded at first. Parents, however, may explain to children being read the story what a thoughtful gesture Halmoni has made.

Not quite understanding the largesse in Halmoni’s action of spreading kindness, Sora tucks away a few of her favorite finds when she and Halmoni go back to the beach the next day. Later at home, Halmoni can be seen in art glancing from Sora’s bedroom door at her granddaughter who inspects her collection that brings her such happiness.

 

Sora's Seashells int2 empty bench at beach
SORA’S SEASHELLS. Copyright © 2023 Helena Ku Rhee. Illustrations Copyright © 2023 Stella Lim and Ji-Hyuk Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

At the beginning of Kindergarten, some classmates tease Sora about her unusual name, wondering if it’s really supposed to be Sara. The bullies persist over several weeks but Sora chooses not to tell her parents. When she learns her Halmoni has passed away, she is beset by sadness for so many reasons all at once. Sad she’ll no longer be able to spend summers with Halmoni. Sad at remembering times together and the way Halmoni said Sora’s name. And sad how the bullies treated her at school. “I hate my name. I want to be Sara!” Sora tells her parents through a steady stream of tears.

A restorative trip to the beach and learning that her name means seashell in Korean, helps Sora get things in perspective. Most of all, Sora’s mom explains that Halmoni felt finding a perfect shell was like receiving a wonderful gift. Sora was that gift!

And if that doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, when Sora shares the meaning of her name at show and tell, and gives each of her classmates a shell, including those who’d teased her, my eyes welled up with tears. She knew she mattered, took the high road, and was rewarded. I was especially touched when Sora left her last shell on the bench at the beach exactly as Halmoni had. What a meaningful way to end the book.  The art, rendered in warm watercolor and finished digitally, is soothing and sensitive. Full of caring and love, hope, and kindness, Sora’s Seashells is the kind of feel-good read that is easy to recommend.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Grambo by Beth Navarro

This Grandma Has Secrets

Grambo_cover2When you were a child, did you ever wonder what your grandmother got up to when you weren’t around? Do you think she spent her days knitting, baking or playing Canasta or were you convinced that her grandmotherly activities were merely a ruse for something more covert? A part-time spy perhaps? Hard as I try I cannot imagine my Nanny or Nana parachuting into enemy territory, but just thinking about it makes me laugh. Grambo, a picture book by L.A. author Beth Navarro with illustrations by Betsy Hamilton (Be There Bedtime Stories, $9.99, Ages 4-8), takes that far-fetched and very funny idea and runs with it.

It’s wonderful to read a new grandparent-centered picture book especially such an imaginative one. Grandparents play an important role in kids’ lives, in fact many grandparents raise their grandchildren or are full-time caregivers. So when I saw the title of this picture book, I knew it was going to take me somewhere unusual. The best part is it will make children look at their grandmothers in a whole new way.

Navarro introduces us to the narrator, Ryan, a young boy who sneaks into his grandmother’s bedroom eager to find his souvenir from her trip to Texas. However, instead of finding his present, Ryan uncovers a government issued GPS.  “Why would Grandma need a Global Positioning System? Did Grandma pick up the wrong suitcase?” Not standard vacation gear for a typical grandma, now is it? Well it looks like something’s cooking and it isn’t Ryan’s grandma’s great chocolate chip cookies. With his curiosity piqued and using his best surveillance skills, Ryan follows his grandma on her next vacation only to discover she’s really on a mission for the CIA. Grandma’s no ordinary grandmother, she’s secret agent Grambo!

Kids will love the bonus secret code embedded in the story along with all the action and adventure Grambo’s spying sojourn promises. Plus Hamilton’s illustrations are a riot. My favorite is Ryan’s grandma in her disguise of a long grey wig, sunglasses and a tattered shawl. This grandmother can keep her cool even when things heat up and I’m not talking about kitchen ovens.

As part of the Be There Bedtime Stories world, Navarro’s book can be purchased not only as a hard copy, but as a web story, too. Find out how it works here.

Click here to get a preview of the book!

Hear Beth Navarro read a bit from her picture book here.

Visit her on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/Grambobethnavarro

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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