The Mombasa-born, Canadian author Shenaaz Nanji (Child of Dandelions) complicates and elevates the "new kid at school" plot device in Alina in a Pinch, an illustrated chapter book about a charming girl who wants to fit in at her new elementary school.
Alina's Afro-Indian family recently relocated to a different area of Calgary, Alberta. Almost immediately after arriving, Alina's parents depart on an extended trip to Kenya, and Nani, "a good fairy with a magic spell for happiness," comes to watch Alina. At first, the upbeat and encouraging Nani is a welcome break for the girl who is adjusting to her new school--she loves cooking with her grandmother and starts preparing to enter a Master Chef contest for children under 10 years old. But then Alina receives a note: "Hey, where do you buy your food from? Pet store?" Not only is Alina friendless, now she's also being bullied. Even as she tries to attract less attention by eschewing the traditional East Indian garments she once adored and discarding Nani's homemade lunches, Alina decides to play detective to ascertain who wrote the Nasty Note. But Alina's sleuthing leads to a major mishap that will require self-confidence to fix.
Nanji keeps the literacy level approachable and balances subject matter and tone so that Alina in a Pinch is welcoming to younger readers while also being engaging enough to hold the attention of older readers. Expressive grayscale spot illustrations by comics artist Beena Mistry are strategically placed throughout, giving visual readers another access point. By book's end, Alina has found the courage to be herself--like Nani tells her, in being oneself, we honor the roots from which we sprung. --Rachel Werner, author and teaching artist at Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and The Loft Literary Center