Stay for Dinner written by Sandhya Parappukkaran, illustrated by Michelle Pereira and published by Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing is the third collaboration between this highly creative duo who continue to create such engaging books that celebrate difference and cultural diversity. Their stunning books empower, include and validate the way children see themselves and are greatly influenced by Sandhya’s Kerala Indian heritage. Stay for Dinner explores the connection and bonds that are strengthened when preparing and sharing a family meal. Such meals can be steeped in tradition and shaped by customs as depicted in this story as Indian, Asian and Italian cultures are represented. This book celebrates difference and highlights that we are all richer when we learn about diverse ways of being; models prosocial behaviour and empowers readers to expand their thinking.    

In this story, a young girl, Reshma, looks forward to her dinnertime with her family who come together enjoying each other’s company and Kerala cuisine including fish dishes, curries, pickles and pappadums that they eat with their fingers. Touch is an important part of the experience. Sadhya is served on vibrant banana leaf plates and is reserved for highly anticipated special days.

It isn’t until Reshma receives invitations to stay for dinner at her friends’ homes that she realises what her family enjoys eating, how they eat and serve their dishes, is very different to her friends. At Charlotte’s place, she is gently shown how to use the cutlery and with this compassionate instruction, Reshma enjoys the challenge of pronging every pea on her plate as she eats a roast dinner. Back at home, she reflects on her family using their fingertips and hands and contemplates the potential reactions her friends may have to this practice. She is invited to each of her friends for dinner and learns that every family consumes different foods and eats in different ways. Each time her friends sensitively instruct her on how to use the utensils and together they enjoy trying new experiences.

Reshma’s mama decides to invite her friends to come for dinner. Reshma feels a wave of dread wash over her as her Ammama suggests Sadhya. Thoughts and doubts swirl through her mind and her uneasiness grows. She suggests alternative dishes, but to no avail.

The day arrives for her friends to join her family for dinner. Preparations are carried out as Reshma cleans the banana leaves and the assortment of dishes are prepared. Banana leaf plates and the dishes served are new experience for Reshma’s friends, how will they react?

Sandhya Parappukkaran’s choice of literary devices transport the reader to each of the different dinner tables and it is easy to imagine yourself as a guest with the use of onomatopoeias which evoke such vivid imagery. The use of alliteration aids the rhythmic lyrical flow making this an ideal book to read aloud.

Michelle Pereira’s lively, vivid illustrations capture the joy, vibrancy and connection of coming together to share a meal. Readers will delight in identifying the foods, spotting their favourites and learning about different dishes. It is fascinating to observe Reshma’s body language throughout the story as she confidently eats with her family and then how her posture and facial expressions change as insecurities begin to creep in as she learns her family is different to her friends. It is also interesting to note her reaction as she sits at the table at each of her friend’s places. Compare these emotions to how she is depicted during the meal.

This story explores how kindness and being open to new ideas and possibilities, without judgement, can break down fears; empowering one to embrace new experiences, leading to an increased understanding and appreciation for diverse ways of being.

Sandhya Parappukkaran and Michelle Pereira’s first book, The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name, was a CBCA 2022 Notable in the Picture Book of the Year category and the Winner of the 2022 Children’s Book Council of Australia New Illustrator Award. This title has been reviewed on the Reading Opens Doors blog here.

Amma’s Sari Sandhya Parappukkaran and Michelle Pereira’s second book is a CBCA 2023 Notable in the Picture Book of the Year category and was Shortlisted for the NSW Premiers Literary Award – Patricia Wrightson prize for children’s literature. This title has been reviewed on the Reading Opens Doors blog here.

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