The Butter Man
Product Code: 91271
Binding Information: Hardback
Ages: 6 - 9
Grade Highest: 4th
Grade Lowest: 1st
Availability: In stock
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It's always worth the wait.
As young Nora waits impatiently for her mother to come home from work and for her father to serve the long-simmering couscous that smells so delicious, her father tells her about his childhood in Morocco. During a famine, when Nora's grandfather had to travel far to find work and bring food for the family, her father learned the valuable life lessons of patience, perseverance, and hope.
Folk-art illustrations capture the Moroccan culture and landscape.
An author's note provides context for Berber culture, language, and traditions.
Listen to a review of The Butter Man on Just One More Book.
The story that Ali tells Nora takes place in a village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The High Atlas Mountains span the central part of the country of Morocco, which is located in the northwest corner of Africa.
Berbers or Imazighen (ee-mah-ZEER-een) are the native people of North Africa. The language they speak is called Tamazight (tama-ZEEK) or Berber. This language is spoken by an estimated 40 to 60 percent of all Moroccans, including almost all inhabitants of Morocco’s mountainous regions. Most Berbers are Muslims, like Ali’s family in the story. Many Berbers also speak Arabic, the other main language in Morocco.
In the High Atlas Mountains, people live in small villages that are clustered along river valleys. The primary occupation is farming. People grow wheat, barley, and potatoes, and they raise chickens, sheep, goats, and cows for their butter. Nowadays some villages have electricity and some roads are paved, but many still appear much as in Ali’s story.
The mountain roads are difficult and often impassable in winter. Very few people have cars, so there are many peddlers who travel from village to village carrying their wares in packs on the backs of their mules. One day you might find a teapot repairman, or a traveling healer who treats illnesses. Another day a peddler might arrive who sells goods from the big town, like chewing gum and straight pins, or staple food items, like olive oil and butter. Since the peddlers walk from village to village, you never know exactly what day they might pass through.
Traditional Berbers wear distinctive clothing. The women and girls wear colorful striped blankets called tahendirt (ta-hen-DEERT) tied around their shoulders. The blankets are made out of wool because winters in the mountains are cold and snowy. The blankets have distinctive patterns of stripes that identify which tribe the women belong to. They also wear bright head scarves that are often embroidered with sequins. Men wear heavy woolen robes with hoods called tajellebit (tah-jah-LAH-bit) in the winter, or lighter cotton robes called fokias (foh-KEE-yaz) in the summer. Some men wear long bands of cloth wrapped around their head like a turban to protect them from the hot sun.
Everyone in the village has a lot of work to do. Men go to the fields to plow and plant. They harvest crops and take goods to the weekly souk, or market, to be sold. At the weekly souk you can also buy almost anything you need—anything from kerosene for lanterns to plastic buckets; from fragrant spices to fruits and vegetables brought in from neighboring towns. Women walk far into the mountains to gather sticks for kindling. They carry the sticks piled onto their backs in bundles almost as big as they are. They use these sticks to light their cooking fires. There are lots of jobs for children to do, but they still have time to play soccer and other games and attend the village school, where they learn to read and write Arabic, the official language in Morocco.
Elizabeth and Ali Alalou
Further resources on the issue of hunger:
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Kirkus Reviews - January 1, 2008On Saturday evening, Nora's mother is at work, and Nora waits for her father to cook couscous. To pass the time, he talks about his childhood in Morocco. During a time without rain, his father sold the cow and left for the mountains to work. Soon, there was no butter left and only bread to eat. Young Ali's mother sent him to wait for the butter man, but Ali ate the bread before his arrival. Day after day this happened, until finally, Ali's father returned with food. And the butter man? Perhaps he never came, but the rain did, and eventually, the family was able to buy another cow. With perfect timing, Nora's mother arrives home from work, and the family enjoys a flavorful feast in a satisfying conclusion of this realistic Jack in the Beanstalk tale. Essakalli's memorable gouache illustrations provide a sense of place, and while the Berber words in the text are not always immediately defined, a glossary is located in the back. Also includes an informative author's note on the Berber, or Imazighen, people of Morocco.
Booklist - January 15, 2008Every Sunday night, Nora watches her Moroccan-born baba (father) prepare a couscous meal in a special pot that he carried with him to the U.S. in his suitcase. One evening, Baba shares a story about how he coped with a famine during his childhood, spent in the mountains of Morocco. The authors, a married couple who drew on Ali's personal experience, write in descriptive language that speaks directly to children. Baba says that hunger, for example, feels like "a little mouse gnawing on my insides." The folk-art paintings, created by a textile designer, feature whimsical characters and cozy domestic scenes, while the ocre, gold, and rust palette evokes the feeling of the dusty, sunlit landscape. An author's note adds cultural context, and an appended glossary defines the Berber words used in the text. This warm family story about a rarely viewed culture will have particular appeal among children of immigrants, who, like Nora, wonder about their parents' mysterious, former lives in another land.
School Library Journal - February 1, 2008Weaving between the present and past, this picture book introduces readers to Berber culture in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. While young Nora impatiently waits for couscous to cook, her father tells her about a famine during his childhood. Food was so scarce that his father left home to find work. Baba's resourceful mother helped him stay busy so he did not dwell on hunger. Eventually, his father returned home with food and, ultimately, the rains came. An author's note provides additional cultural information, and a glossary defines Berber words. Essakalli's decorative, folk-art illustrations done in gouache, predominantly in shades of brown and beige, provide the feel of parched land and vast mountains. Neither the story nor the art has instant child appeal. This wordy but heartfelt tale about patience and hope may take some selling, but libraries that want to build their multicultural collections should consider it.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books - April 1, 2008Every Saturday night, young Nora's baba (father) cooks up a big pot of couscous using a special pot he brought with him from his native Morocco. One Saturday, Nora protests Baba's "no snacks before dinner" rule, saying she's "staaarving," which prompts Baba to tell her the story of a time in his youth when he was truly hungry. As his daily portion of bread shrank and the family's supply of butter disappeared, young Baba grey hungrier and hungrier, and his father left to seek work and food. To distract Baba from his hunger, his clever mother suggested each day that he go out by the road to wait for the "butter man." Though the butter man never actually appeared, there was plenty to watch by the roadside, and eventually Baba's father returned home with food. As the tale is finished and Nora's family sits down to eat, their experience is quite different ("We eat and eat until we are full, and there is always some left to save for our lunch tomorrow"), but there's a nicely subtle parallel between the two generations of parents trying to distract their hungry offspring. Descriptive language and avoidance of didacticism give Nora's and Baba's contrasting stories genuine emotional impact. The gradually shrinking amount of bread makes Baba's hunger palpable: "One day the piece of bread my mother had given me was so small I could close my fingers all the way around it, and it was so hard that when bread was plenty, I would have tossed it to the cow to eat." Essakalli's blocky folk art gouache paintings are delicately accented with patterns of dots and dashes, with warm tones of browns, golds, reds, and turquoises predominating. Nora and the adult Baba are situated in contemporary times by their modern clothing (Baba sports attractive red tennies) and hairstyles, which contrasts with the more distanced depictions of the Morocco landscape and people of Baba's childhood. Though Baba's depiction of hunger will, one hopes, be unfamiliar to most kids who see this book, it obviously still exists in many places, and this might be a fine way to introduce that problem to youngsters who, like Nora, frequently claim to be "staaarving." An author's note explains more about Morocco and the Berber people, and a glossary is included.
The Horn Book Magazine - April 1, 2008While Nora is hungrily waiting for her father, her baba, to finish making his traditional Saturday meal of couscous and vegetables, he serves up a story of his Moroccan childhood. Baba remembers the time when drought sent his own father away to look for work and forced his family to sell their cow. With only a dwindling bag of flour left in the house, the boy is often hungry. He wishes for just a bit of butter for his tiny piece of hard bread. Sent outside by his clever mother to wait for the butter man, he observes all the comings and goings of his world, from the farmers, peddlers, and kindling collectors to a big red truck "kicking up dust that made me spit and diesel fumes that carried the important air of faraway places." The butter man never comes, but the boy's vigil helps him forget his hunger, and just as he and his mother run out of bread, his father returns with the ingredients for a feast: "the best couscous you can imagine." Invitingly detailed gouache folk art, in dry browns for the Morocco flashbacks and in blues, greens, and purples for the present-day American scenes, beckons the reader to slow down and consider the details that enrich each painting. An author's note and a glossary are appended.
SWON Libraries - June 12, 2008Nora’s Baba (father) tells a story of a spring when there was no rain and therefore not much wheat for flour. It was also a time of very little money, so there was no butter for his bread. When he complained to his mother, she told him to go out to the road and wait for the butter man. However, young Baba got hungry and eventually ate the dry bread. Each day the scene was repeated until one day Baba’s father returns home after a long absence. Along with money from his job, he brings flour for couscous and bread, and butter! Baba’s beautifully told story allows children to discover the under-lying message. What a wise parent to provide the lesson, but let the child learn it. The warmth of the story and the Moroccan setting are reflected in the earth tones of the paintings. Simple representations are created with single brush strokes, resulting in subtle texture. The tapestry or quilt-like paintings fill single and double-page spreads, telling and enhancing Baba’s tale.
Multicultural Review - September 1, 2008Enhanced by paintings in folk-art style and an informative author's note about rural Morocco, the story describes a traditional way of life still found in remote mountainous areas. The writing is simple and smooth, with some charming phrases: a truck exudes "diesel fumes that carried the important air of faraway places." Although Nora's present-day family evidently live in America, her father retains much of his culture--with a twist. He prepares dinner while Nora's mother works late. This appealing book, suitable for both young children and elementary-level classes, skillfully combines a view of traditional Morocco with modern realities.
Bureau County Republican - December 4, 2008"But I'm staaarving!" cries little Nora as she waits for her father to prepare dinner. To fill the time while they wait for the couscous to steam, he tells her about "The Butter Man," a story from his boyhood in Morocco. A drought had ruined the crops, and his father left to find work elsewhere. When his daily meal was down to a scrap of bread, the boy's mother sent him to watch for a traveling vendor who would give him a bit of butter. Day after hungry day the boy watched the road. Finally one evening he saw someone coming--not the butter man, but his own father, bringing food and hope for the family. The illustrator, a Moroccan textile artist, has created gouache illustrations with a folk-art quality emphasizing both the exotic and the universal elements of this true story from the authors' family. The few Moroccan words scattered naturally in the text are defined in a glossary at the end of the book. Also included in the back pages is an author's note providing addiitional background about Berber culture on a level appropriate to the preteen audience. By the time Nora's father finishes his tale, the couscous is ready and Nora's mother is home. They say a blessing before their meal, grateful that there will be enough for today and some left for tomorrow.
CCBC Choices - April 1, 2009
Too hungry to wait patiently for the couscouse dinner to cook, Nora moans to her Baba that she's "staaarving!" Taking Nora on his knee, Baba shares the story of the butter man from his own childhood in Morocco. After a season of drought and poor harvest, food became scarce in hi s home, and Ali's father left to look for work across the mountains. Soon bread was the only thing left to eat, and the piece his mother gave him each day was smaller and harder than the piece on the day before. In an effort to distract Ali from his hunger, his mother suggested that he go outside and wait for the butter man. If the butter man passed by, Ali could ask for a bit of butter to spread on his bread. The butter man didn't pass by on that day, or any of the following days, but Ali was occupied by watching the villagers on the road, "forgetting for a while the gnawing feeling in [his] stomach." Finally, one of the travelers on the road was his own father, returning from across the mountains and carrying vegetables and a piece of meat. Folk-art paintings show Nora and her Baba in their contemporary kitchen at the story's opening and conclusion, and depict Ali and his parents in their Moroccan village. An author's note and glossary provide additional information about life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Highly Commended, 2009 Charlotte Zolotow Award)
CCBC - April 14, 2008Too hungry to wait patiently for the couscous dinner to cook, Nora moans to her Baba that she’s “staaarving!” Her father got “the look he gets when he is thinking about tamazirt – that’s what Baba calls the place where he comes from, far away in Morocco.” Taking Nora on his knee, Baba shares the story of the butter man from his own childhood. After a season of drought and poor harvest, food became scarce in his home, and Ali’s father left to look for work across the mountains. Soon bread was the only thing left to eat, and the piece his mother gave him each day was smaller and harder than the piece on the day before. In an effort to distract Ali from his hunger, his mother suggested that he go outside and wait for the butter man. If the butter man passed by, Ali could ask for a bit of butter to spread on his bread. The butter man doesn’t pass by on that day, or any of the following days, but Ali is occupied by watching the villagers on the road, “forgetting for a while the gnawing feeling in [his] stomach.” Finally, one of the travelers on the road is his own father, returning from across the mountains and carrying vegetables and a piece of meat. Folk-art paintings show Nora and her Baba in their contemporary kitchen at the story’s opening and conclusion, and depict Ali and his parents in their Moroccan village. An author’s note and glossary provide additional information about life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
The Florida Reading Journal - January 1, 2011Whe Nora delcares she is “starving” as she waits for her father to finish preparing their dinner, he tells her a story about his childhood in Morocco. He recalls a time in which his family did not have much to eat because the lack of rain resulted in small, brown, and stunted wheat crops. Eventually, the lack of food prompted his father to trek across the mountains to look for work. While he was away, the food supply continued to diminish and Nora’s father complained to his mother that he was hungry and craving butter to put on his bread. Every day, his mother instructed him to wait with his piece of bread for the Butter Man and each day, he waited—licking the bread, then nibbling it, as he tried unsuccessfully to wait for the Butter Man before consuming the only food he would receive for that day. The pieces of bread he was given got smaller and harder until finally, he was unable to even nibble it and his bread was gone in two small bites. As it would happen, that very day, he saw a man coming down the road with a pack slung over his back and carrying a sack. Although he thought that this may be the Butter Man, it turned out that it was his father, returning with flour, vegetables, and meat from his work on a farm on the other side of the mountains. The tale Nora’s father tells reaches its conclusion just as their dinner is ready to be eaten and the family gives thanks before enjoying their meal. Julie Klear Essakalli’s gouache naïve illustrations, often in double page spreads, add to the reader’s sense of story, time, and place.