The Sandwich Swap
In The Sandwich Swap’s author’s note, Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah describes an experience she had in nursery school. When she saw a friend eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she thought it looked strange and revolting compared to her daily hummus sandwich. The friend asked if she wanted to try it. Rania bravely took a bite, and discovered it was “heavenly.”
This personal experience inspired The Sandwich Swap, but Queen Rania and veteran children’s book author Kelly DiPucchio pump up the drama in this 32-page picture book aimed at ages 3 to 7. Best friends Salma and Lily do everything together, but they each have a secret. Lily thinks Salma’s hummus and pita sandwiches looks “weird and yucky.” Salma thinks Lily’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches looks “strange and gross.” One day, Lily breaks down and tells Salma what she thinks. Salma, hurt and mad, criticizes Lily’s sandwich. The resulting feud spreads across the school, leading to insults and a wild food fight.
The two girls feel ashamed, decide to taste each other’s sandwiches, and renew their friendship with a deeper cultural understanding. They bring this to the school in the form of a multicultural picnic, where all the kids get to swap food.
The story loses some logic by straying from the original facts. It seems odd that Lily and Salma would be such good friends, yet never discuss their lunches. The peanut butter and jelly versus hummus school division also seems extreme. But the changes make for a more dramatic story as emotions spiral out of control, and young readers are unlikely to question the realism.
The Sandwich Swap is obviously about overcoming prejudices and the suspicions we often have about anything new and different. Should anyone miss this theme, it is clarified on the jacket flap and in the author’s note at the end. Yet the humor of this episode keeps it from seeming preachy. It’s also a story about friendship—focusing on common interests, being tolerant of differences, and sometimes moving out of your comfort zone for the sake of your friend. This is a valuable lesson for any friendship, with or without different cultural backgrounds.
Illustrator Tricia Tusa uses the page in interesting ways throughout the story. She starts with a simple image of a sandwich taking up one-quarter of a two-page spread, among lots of white space. The next illustrations focus on Salma and Lily, sometimes in close-up, with soft colors and rounded lines. Some pages show several small spot illustrations, while during the food fight the children crowd the two-page spread, with flying food spilling over the edges. A foldout flap at the end shows Salma and Lily waving from either end of a long table, where their classmates cluster around foods from many countries.
The art style is simple and just a touch old-fashioned, like a softer and lusher version of Quentin Blake, which somehow works well with this modern story. Racial differences are handled lightly, showing variety without clichés. Tusa’s sweet, expressive illustrations are a delight.
Many celebrities have forced their way into the world of writing for children. Often these endeavors are notable solely for the fame of the “author.” But by pairing with Kelly DiPucchio, author of the New York Times bestseller Grace for President and other books, Queen Rania has turned out a gem of a story. It also helps that the Queen’s sincerity shines through.
Queen Rania is active in UNICEF and other organizations, promoting cross-cultural tolerance and global education. According to her website, “All of Her Majesty’s proceedings from The Sandwich Swap will go to Madrasati Jordan, an education initiative launched by Queen Rania to renovate 500 public schools in urgent need of repair.” That makes this charming and educational story that much more appealing.