The Next Chapter

How a love for food and belonging inspired Danny Ramadan to write a book for children

The Vancouver author spoke to Shelagh Rogers about his first children's book Salma The Syrian Chef.
Salma the Syrian Chef is a picture book written by Danny Ramadan and illustrated by Anna Bron. (Annick Press)

Vancouver's Danny Ramadan is a Syrian-Canadian author, activist and public speaker. His first book was the novel The Clothesline Swing, which was longlisted for Canada Reads 2018. 

Salma the Syrian Chef is Ramadan's first book for children. One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the postponement of book launches and author tours. Ramadan was one of the authors in that position. 

Undaunted, he took to Twitter to do a live launch for his children's book.

Salma the Syrian Chef features art by Anna Bron and is about a young girl named Salma whose mother is missing her home country as she tries to adjust to a new life in Vancouver.

Ramadan spoke to Shelagh Rogers about his first book for kids. 

Going viral

"[Reading the book online] was honestly a bit of a selfish act. I was feeling quite down on myself about how the world was turning around. I needed an outlet. I thought that the best thing I could do is to bring this book and start reading it online. I didn't expect it to go as viral as it did.

"As the new normal is settling in, we are finding new ways to interact with one another as well as finding this space of comforting calmness. We're allowing ourselves to to be in this moment and to witness it the best way we can."

Feeling inspired

"I have a sister and she is hopefully coming to Canada when all of this is over. She is arriving as a refugee and she has a little daughter. I haven't seen my sister in ages. As I was getting to know her again and getting to know her daughter, I started to think about all of the challenges and the complex narrative of what it means to arrive to Canada as a refugee — what it means to leave everything about your culture behind and embrace a new and foreign culture. 

I was starting to think about all of the challenges and the complex narrative of what it means to arrive to Canada as a refugee.

"I started writing that story. At the same time, I looked at my own nostalgia and what I miss the most. One day, I was sitting at home with my husband and I wanted to cook him a Syrian breakfast salad. I started cooking it and the dots connected."

Cooking with community

"Salma is making a Syrian traditional dish. It's a warm salad, where many different items are mixed together to create this lovely, fresh meal. It was a great metaphor for the way I wrote the book. 

It felt like an appropriate way of talking about  the power of community and the power of self-motivation toward engaging in a new community and embracing it.

"Salma is facing this big challenge of cooking a traditional meal that she's never cooked before. She has no idea how to do any of those things or where to get the ingredients. She's faced with a lot of challenges as she's trying to navigate a world that speaks a different language.

"But then all of those people — who are from different backgrounds and different colours — are coming together to support her and help her.

"It felt like an appropriate way of talking about the power of community and the power of self-motivation toward engaging in a new community and embracing it."

Danny Ramadan's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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