- Age Range: 10 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 5 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 730 (What's this?)
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Clarion Books (May 3, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0544612310
- ISBN-13: 978-0544612310
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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It Ain't So Awful, Falafel Hardcover – May 3, 2016
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From the Publisher
Q&A with Firoozeh Dumas
The bestselling author Funny in Farsi and Laughing Without and Accent, talks about her first book for middle grade readers: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel.
You are a bestselling author of adult books. What inspired you to start writing for younger readers?
When I was thirteen and living in California, the Iranian revolution happened and a group of Americans were taken hostage in Iran. As a result, my father lost his job, and my mother became depressed. All my hopes and dreams disappeared. I survived this period thanks to friends and a caring community. When I grew up, I realized that without the kindness that I had experienced during those difficult times, I would not be the person I am today. I wanted to write this book specifically for a younger audience so they would realize how much power there is in kindness.
You were born in Iran and moved to California as a girl. How did this experience shape you?
Being the only Iranian in my school made me an instant outsider, but this became a huge advantage in my life. I learned early on to find commonalities with people who come from entirely different backgrounds. I learned as a child that the human experience is entirely universal. We may speak different languages or eat different foods, but at the end of day, we are looking for a safe place to live and the opportunity to become the best versions of ourselves. To this day, put me in a room full of strangers and I start making friends right away. My husband says that I could find meaningful conversation with a tree. This is true! Now I just need to find a talking tree.
What parts of the book most closely resemble your own life?
The book is mostly true. I chose to write it as a fictional novel in order to make the story flow better. For example, in real life, I have two brothers. In the book, Zomorod (Cindy) is an only child. I love my brothers, I truly do, but it was easier to tell this story without them. All the characters in the book are based on real people, although some are composite characters. Cindy's friends Carolyn and Howie are based on my real friends, Carolyn and Howie, whom I met in sixth grade and who are still my dear friends. (You can see their pictures on my website.) Cindy's struggles were my own. Even though this book is fiction, it is the most personal book I have ever written.
Humor plays a huge role in the book, and in your writing in general. What does humor mean to you?
Simply put, I could not live without humor. As a writer and public speaker, humor allows me to put the audience at ease even when talking about uncomfortable topics. It connects groups of people who think they have nothing in common. When my first book, Funny in Farsi, was published, it got a lot press for being laugh-out-loud funny. Iranians would often ask me, “Why do Americans think the stories are funny? Your humor is so Iranian.” Americans would often ask me, “How is it that Iranians find you funny? Your humor is so American.” I have had Indians, Mexicans, Australians, you name it, ask me the same thing. I was even told by a well-known British humorist that my humor is entirely British. People don't often realize how universal humor can be. Humor is like music or food; it's something that we can all enjoy. It's a bridge that connects us.
BookRiot said Cindy is one of 50 of the Best Heroines from Middle Gr. Books. What makes her special?
Cindy is a rock star, at least in her own mind. Here is a kid who, at a young age, is faced with some serious problems. There's no one she can talk to who understands, so she has to figure out what to do on her own. She manages to do the right thing most of the time, while still dreaming of being cool. Cindy is open to new experiences and keeps trying to become a better version of herself. She's also very, very funny, which is probably the single most endearing quality about her. Both boys and girls can relate to her.
There is a huge push for more diversity in children’s literature. Why is this important to you?
Reading books is like traveling. Why travel to the same place every time? Reading about people with different backgrounds widens our worldview; it opens our minds and hearts. Children who grow up reading books with all kinds of characters become global citizens. There is no downside to that.
Why was it important for you to share this piece of history with young readers?
We live in a democracy, and in order for a democracy to thrive, each citizen must make informed choices. Iran-U.S. relations are very important today, and yet very few Americans know the history of the two countries. I want my readers to be smart and to understand that you cannot judge a country by the evening news. There is so much more to every country, including the U.S.
What do you hope readers take away from It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel?
I hope that readers say, “I can't put this book down!” As a humorist, I hope readers laugh and feel the need to read their favorite parts out loud to their friends and parents. I also hope that readers want to learn more about history. I used to think history was boring until I took a class in college that sparked my interest. Now I think, How can anyone have an opinion of current events without knowing what happened earlier?
And last, I hope that readers feel that sadness I feel when I finish a really good book. But what happens next? I want to know. That is both the best and the worst feeling. Thankfully, there are so many great books out there to read!
From School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—In Dumas's first foray into middle grade fiction, readers follow Zomorod Yousefzadeh through middle school in Newport Beach, CA, during the Iran hostage crisis. Zomorod, who goes by Cindy (like in The Brady Bunch), and her family are from Iran, living in America while her father works to build an oil refinery in their home country with American engineers. While the Yousefzadehs are able to fly under the radar in their early days in America, mostly being mistaken for Mexican, their entire situation changes when Iranian students storm the U.S. Embassy and take American hostages. Facing hostile racism and the loss of their only source of income, Cindy's family learns what it means to stick together, to create the best of an awful situation, and to embrace their heritage while incorporating new customs and friendships into their lives. This title reads more like a memoir than narrative fiction, which makes sense given Dumas's previous adult titles, Funny in Farsi (2003) and Laughing Without an Accent (2008, both Villard). Although the dialogue sometimes borders on textbooklike explanations of Iranian history, this tactic might be necessary for young readers to truly understand the underlying problems in later action. Dumas gives each short chapter a clever title, includes humorous asides throughout the narration, and keeps readers engaged with the very real and relatable difficulties of finding friends after moving, dealing with family issues both domestic and abroad, and discovering one's own identity in middle school. VERDICT For large middle grade collections looking to widen their diverse, upper middle grade offerings. Hand to fans of Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala (Little, Brown, 2014) or Erin Entrada Kelly's Blackbird Fly (HarperCollins, 2015).—Brittany Staszak, St. Charles Public Library, IL
Booklist Editors' Choice 2016
Kirkus Best of 2016
Raleigh News & Observer Best of 2016
Time Magazine Best of 2016
"Insightful, sobering, and hilarious."
"Filled with humorous touches and authentic cultural references, Dumas’s story will resonate not just with young immigrants but with any readers trying to adapt to new situations."
* "Dumas’ semi-autobiographical novel is both funny and affecting...Readers will be thoroughly invested in Cindy’s story, whether holding their breath or laughing out loud, and always hoping that the Yousefzadehs will come out on top."
—Booklist, STARRED review
* "[A] fresh take on the immigrant experience—authentic, funny, and moving from beginning to end."
—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review
"[It Ain't So Awful, Falafel] is funny, affecting, and nuanced...The novel doesn’t sugarcoat the issues, but it balances these serious notes with preteen antics and melodramas that Blume would be proud of; Cindy’s voice will undoubtedly draw in readers from all backgrounds."
"...keeps readers engaged with the very real and relatable difficulties of finding friends after moving, dealing with family issues both domestic and abroad, and discovering one’s own identity in middle school."
—School Library Journal
“Firoozeh Dumas’s unique gift is her ability to use her wry, bold, but always gentle wit to tell serious stories about family, heritage, and loss. . . . In this era of suspicion and paranoia, [this book] offers a tender and compassionate glimpse into the immigrant experience.” —Khaled Hosseini, bestselling author of The Kite Runner
"This book is a sheer delight—rambunctious and rich. . . . Firoozeh Dumas writes with the perfect light touch that makes us wonder once again: Who is running the big world and why not this person, please?" —Naomi Shihab Nye, novelist and poet
"[A]n honest, witty, and moving portrayal of what it means to be an Iranian immigrant in the late 1970s, during the Iran hostage crisis."—Scholastic Teacher Magazine
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Top customer reviews
I loved, loved, loved this book, and this author. Highly recommend this laugh-out-funny and moving story of Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh, a girl from Iran who has spent several years, here and there, in America due to her father's engineering job.
The time period is the late 70s, when a lot of people in America were hearing about Iran for the first time due to political strife and the taking of American hostages. I was exactly the same age as Zomorod during the period of time the story takes place. In Catholic School, we would turn toward the window, say the Pledge of Allegiance, and then take turns on who would lead the prayer for the hostages.
Zomorod, like any kid, seeks to fit in, and is embarrassed by her parents. She has the added pressure of good English, but not knowing all the idioms, as well as parents who are different culturally from the other adults. And schoolmates who think she comes from a land of an animal she'd only ever seen in a zoo -- a camel.
I found myself chuckling at several opportunities at Zomorod's observations and wit, and at her mix of love and embarrassment in regard to her parents.
Americans are written as essentially good people, albeit a bit ignorant on world events. The most villainous character is still portrayed with some sympathy. Because the story takes place over a couple years, the younger characters get an opportunity to mature.
In fact, one of the details that impressed me most is how the Zomorod at the beginning of the story and at the end are clearly the same girl, but each version think and behave appropriate to her age. She has gained wisdom and confidence and lasting friendship. (I adored her circle of friends.)
If there is one flaw, it's that the author imparts a lot of info on the Iran, which is both interesting and vital to the story, but the information is often imparted in a less-than-natural fashion. The best method is Zomorod's best friend asking questions out of interests, concern, and her plan to become a journalist. But then there is the neighbor who stops periodically to ask to have events explained to him.
I hope that there will be more books in this series, because I would love to stay in touch.
This is the story of 1977-1980. For those alive then this is when the shah fell and the Iranian hostage crisis happened.
I was in high school and college during this time and it was amazing to read this history which I remember as told from another point of view.
We all feel alienated from time to time in our lives. Imagism bring an Iranian in America during this time.
Great voice. Great story. Friendship and heartache.
Now to go read her other books.
Most recent customer reviews
It's the late 1970's and Zomorod (Cindy) is the new kid in town, for the fourth time. Her family has moved from Iran to Newport Beach, California.Read more