Young Zainab loves going to school, especially to see her best friend, Melissa, and teacher, Mrs. Sperber. But one day, classmate Matt says he won’t play with Melissa and Zainab: “My dad said [Zainab is] weird and different from us,” he tells them. When Zainab asks Mrs. Sperber whether she is different, the teacher decides to give the whole class a lesson about commonalities and differences. The children learn, for example, that some people go to church, some to a mosque, some to a synagogue, some to temple; people celebrate different holidays, including Christmas, Eid, Diwali and Hanukkah; some mothers wear headscarfs, some don’t. “Differences are what make each of us unique and special,” Mrs. Sperber says. “But everyone feels sad if someone is mean and everyone feels happy when we’re nice to each other. Feelings are the same for everyone!” In the end, Matt apologizes, and he, Zainab and Melissa decide to paint together. Wise’s colorful (if somewhat awkward and glassy-eyed) illustrations help tell the story, along with some photographs of religious buildings. The message of tolerance and caring about others’ feelings is, of course, unexceptionable, although the solution elides real-world difficulties: Matt’s father is the one who really needs the lesson, but so far as readers know, he doesn’t receive it. What if Matt’s father still doesn’t want him to play with Zainab?
Doesn’t address all the complexities of discrimination, but it’s a good conversation starter on a difficult subject.