Normally, I spurn picture books written by celebrities, be they actors or royalty or what have you. If it’s a person in the headlines, I quite assume they could not possibly write a worthy picture book. The only exception on my shelves, I believe (and I realize there are other exceptions! Feel free to leave titles in the comments.) is The Sandwich Swap by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly Depucchio, illustrated by Tricia Tusa.
I adore this book and have read it to many groups of kids. It’s about two best friends, Salma and Lily, who do most everything together—they draw, they swing, they jump rope. And every day they eat lunch together—Lilly always has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on squishy white bread, and Salma always has a hummus sandwich on pita bread. Secretly, they each find their friend’s choice of sandwich mystifying. Gooey peanut paste? Ew Gross! Icky chickpea paste? Ew yuck! But they don’t say this to each other.
Until one day they do. Lily blurts out her feelings about Salma’s sandwich.
Salma frowned. She looked down at the thin, soft bread, and she thought of her beautiful, smiling mother as she carefully cut Salma’s sandwich in two neat halves that morning.
The next line is the most brilliant in the book, I think: Her hurt feelings turned to mad.
Isn’t that how it goes? Once, when I read this in story time a little boy smacked his forehead with his hands and said, “Oh no!”
Oh no, is right—Salma snaps back with hurtful words about the grossness and offensive smell of Lily’s sandwich.
Lily looked surprised. She sniffed the thick, squishy bread, and she thought of her dad in his silly apron, whistling as he cut Lily’s sandwich into two perfect triangles that morning.
Well, the disagreement is personal and hurtful, and the friends part ways after a few more hurtful exchanges. No more picture drawing, swinging, and jump roping. They don’t eat together, they don’t talk…and the pictures are exquisite—two deflated girls without their best friend.
Meanwhile…the story spread and everyone in the lunchroom began to choose sides around the peanut butter and hummus sandwiches.
Pretty soon the rude insults had nothing at all to do with peanut butter or hummus.
“That’s so dumb!” said one outraged girl I was reading to. I nodded vaguely and turned the page to the two-page spread of a food fight right there in the lunchroom. “See!” said the girl. She held her head as if she had the worst headache.
This is how wars start, people! Interestingly, every time I look for this book on my shelf I’m looking for the title “The Sandwich War” and am then reminded that the actual title is more…peaceful. As is the book in the end.
Salma and Lily come to their senses as pudding cups and carrot sticks whip past their heads. They’re required to help clean up the mess and they’re sent to the principal’s office, as well. Again, the illustrations carry the feelings—two small girls, made smaller by all that has happened.
The next day, brave Salma sits down across from Lily at lunch. In return, Lily works up the courage to ask Salma if she’d like to try her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A swap occurs, as well as glad exclamations of the yumminess of each others sandwiches.
The girls hatch a plan, which is depicted entirely in a gorgeous pull-out three page spread.
When I read this to kids, we looks at all the flags and try to identify them. We wonder what food was brought to represent each country. I’ve always wanted to have such a potluck after the book, but although I’ve been to such potlucks, I never seem to have the book with me at the right time. Perhaps I just need to carry it around in my purse… Or create such an event!