TitleTayta’s Secret Ingredient

Author: Amal Abou-Eid

Illustrator: Cara King

PublisherMidnightSun Publishing

Publication date: March 2024

Themes: Diversity, Harmony Day, intergenerational family bonds, Lebanese culture, baking.

Teachers’ notes are available on the MidnightSun Publishing website here.

Tayta’s Secret Ingredient by Amal Abou-Eid, illustrated by Cara King and published by MidnightSun Publishing is a gentle and heart-warming intergenerational story that invites the reader into Billy’s Tayta’s (grandmother) cosy kitchen as she fulfils Billy’s request to make kaak for Harmony Day. This is a story about family bonds, love and celebrating culture. It highlights the power of baking, how it is an intuitive, immersive, rich sensory experience that is a conduit for passing on rich cultural heritage and creating treasured times to cherish forever.

Billy’s favourite day of the year is Harmony Day. At his school it is such a festive and exciting celebration full of colour, sound and food.  It is a special and memorable day to celebrate diverse cultures and traditions. Each year, Billy shares a piece of his Lebanese culture. One year he wore a tarboush and sherwal to school and another year he brought in a Lebanese flag.

Billy has a plan for the upcoming Harmony Day and he knows just the right person to help him achieve his goal of sharing Lebanese food with his school community.

Billy’s Tayta obliges and sets about making kaak, “so everyone can have a taste of Lebanon” and shares with Billy that she will be including her special secret ingredient. This piques Billy’s interest and he is highly curious as to what this ingredient could possibly be. He is also fascinated to learn that his Tatya does not follow a recipe, she explains how she uses her senses to guide her and more importantly how she cooks from her heart. Billy’s desire to find Tatya’s secret ingredient sees him rummaging through his Tatya’s kitchen, searching every nook and cranny. Together they finish the treat and they are ready to bake. It’s at this point that Billy is perplexed as he questions the secret ingredient. A secret of this magnitude, one that is passed down from grandmother to grandson  must stay in the family and not be divulged to anyone else, including Billy’s teacher who is very impressed with Billy’s biscuits.

The watercolour illustrations add another layer to the story. Together with the text, they bring to life the joy of Harmony Day, the love that Billy and his Tayta have for each other as well as Billy’s emotions and reaction to the secret ingredient. These illustrations demand to be revisited as there are many stories to unpack within them.

Amal Abou-Eid was inspired to write this story after discovering she was unable to find stories where her children could see themselves, stories that were about and/or featured characters that reflected their Muslim-Lebanese Australian identity. While this story serves as a mirror for her children and community, a story they can identify with and relate to, it is also a window for all readers into the everyday life of a Muslim Lebanese Australian family.   

This story would make an invaluable addition to any collection and could contribute to an increased understanding and appreciation for diverse cultures.

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