Like many families during the pandemic, I noticed my world becoming smaller. Schools were closed, my husband worked from home and even my exercise class met online. Forget traveling — an exciting trip for me was a visit to the grocery store. But one of the few ways my world grew larger was through books. Reading was my passport to any place in the world I wanted to go.
In January, when my Girl Scout co-leader and I were planning future activities for our troop, we decided to close our first year of Cadettes with something we had never done before: a book club. We hoped to expand our girls’ worlds one page at a time.
The book our sixth graders selected was “A Place at the Table” by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan, published in 2020 by Clarion Books. Faruqi is the author of “A Thousand Questions” and the “Yasmin” series, and Shovan wrote “The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary” and “Takedown.” Both agreed to a free 20-minute author visit over Zoom. They even sent us autographed bookplates.
I’ve purchased a lot of fun supplies for my troop over the year, like owl pellets, crochet hooks, tie-dye kits and even carnivorous plants, but this was the first time I ordered a huge box of hardbacks. The books arrived with plenty of time for the the girls to read them by May.
“A Place at the Table” is about two sixth-grade girls living in Maryland who are both the daughter of immigrants. Sara’s family is from Pakistan and Elizabeth’s mother is from England. Together they face challenges such as making friends at a new school, girl drama, covert and overt racism and helping their mothers pass the United States citizenship test.
Cooking is a big theme in the book, and the descriptions of Pakistani food left my mouth watering. In fact, I was so curious about the meals that I placed a huge order from Turmeric ‘N More, a local Indian and Pakistani delivery service in Snohomish County. Everything we tried was delicious. There was enough food that I took a three-day break from cooking.
My troop Zoomed two times to discuss the books. The first was without the authors present. We focused on major themes in the book as well as progress updates. The next week Faruqi and Shovan joined us for our chat. Faruqi lives in Texas and Shovan is in Maryland. Just by them being with us, our world had gotten bigger. They shared about their inspiration for writing the book, as well as what it was like to be co-authors.
If this were a typical year, a Girl Scout book club would have happened around my dining room table, and perhaps involved stuffing our faces with chana masala or mutton biryani from Turmeric ‘N More together. But instead, we were in our separate houses, chatting with authors in two different states. That’s pretty cool, too, if you think about it.
Shared meals will happen again next year, but in the meantime, we fed our minds.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.