Title: The Butter Man
Author: Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou
Illustrator: Julie Klear Essakalli
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 4.3
Concepts: scarcity, wants and needs, hunger
Review: Nora’s family has a special Saturday afternoon ritual in which Nora keeps her father, Baba, company in the kitchen while he cooks a savory Moroccan dish of couscous, meat, and vegetables. While they wait for her mother to come home from work, and as the tantalizing smells fill the kitchen, Nora feels increasingly hungry and complains to Baba that she is starving.
But Baba knows what it really feels like to slowly starve. He recounts to Nora a story from his youth in a mountain village of Morocco when a famine left him no more than a little bit of hard crusty bread to eat every day, and the jar of butter in which he liked to dip the bread had gone empty. Wanting to distract him from his hunger pangs, Baba’s mother sent him outside to sit along the dirt road and wait for the butter peddler to come along. The butter man never did come, but watching the passers-by served as a necessary diversion until the day his father returned home from across the mountains with a sack of flour and a basket of food.
This outstanding book has much to offer with its powerful lesson about famine and hunger, the introduction of Moroccan culture and vocabulary, and the dramatic folk-art illustrations. The Butter Man communicates in a sensitive and careful way what it may feel like to experience extreme scarcity and how a particular family gets through the difficult time. Readers will appreciate how this important lesson is woven into an engrossing story with a unique international context.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children