Multicultural Book Talk

Lauren Wormington

The Butter Man

Alalou, Elizabeth & Ali. 2008. The Butter Man. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge

Written by:
Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou

Illustrated by:
Julie Klear Essakalli

Realistic Fiction

Patience and Famine or hunger


Bank Street College's The Best Children's Books of the Year

CCBC Choices

Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended

Children’s Africana Honor Book

Junior Library Guild Selection

Middle East Book Award

NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People

Peace Corps Writers Award

Peace Corps Writers Awards - Award for Best Children's Writing

Storytelling World Award Honor Book for Young Listeners

Background Information on Authors and Illustrator

Authors: Elizabeth and Ali Alalou

Elizabeth Alalou met Ali Alalou when she was serving as a Peace Corp volunteer in southern Morocco. Ali Alalou was born and raised in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco where he met Elizabeth Alalou while she was serving as a Peace Corp Volunteer in Southern Morocco. They both taught in a public school in Morocco but now, Ali Alalou teaches French and applied Linguistics at the unitversity of Delaware. They are now happily married and live with their four children by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Illustrator: Julie Klear Essakalli

The Butter Man was Julie Klear Essakelli's first book. Along with her husband Moulay Essakalli, Julie designs and creates textile art and furnishings for children. She lives with Moulay and their two children in Marrakech, Morrocco

Illustrations from the Story

Media: Gouache on Arches paper. Gouache: a type of painting consisting of pigment, a binding agent, and sometimes added material designed to be used in a smeared method.

Three Criteria

1. Names of characters should be culturally authentic and their personalities should reflect believable attributes.

The names of the characters in this book are baba, Nora, mama, Ali, mahalou, bahalou, Sidi Lhou, Fadma, Itto, Moha, and Lahcen. Mahalou and bahalou mean grandmother and grandfather in Berber, which is the main language spoken by the native people of North Africa other than Arabic. The names Sidhi Lhou, Fadma, Moha, and Lhacen all are representations of Muslim names which is what Ali's family is in the story. The way "baba" or Ali tells his story to Nora, he makes it apparent that he is keeping the tradition of cooking couscous while teaching his daughter what his mother taught him about patience and scarcity of food. It is showing him what his culture taught him and how he will teach it to his daughter.

2. Setting should be representative of and consistent with historical or contemporary time, place, or situation of a particular culture.

The setting of this story takes place in a village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The story is accurate with the information of the society located within the High Atlas Mountains according to the author's note located in the back of the book and research that I have found on

The people of North Africa, or Berbers, live in small villages along small river alleys just like Ali's story in the book. Many villagers pass through from village to village to sell and buy food or clothing items. In the story, the villagers clothes represent exactly what they would wear in the mountains. Women wear colorful striped blankets and men wear heavy woolen robes with hoods. Every detail and illustration in the book depicts the Moroccan culture of the Berber people very accurately.

3. Themes should be consistent with the values, beliefs, customs, traditions, and conflicts of the specific cultural group.

The theme of the book is famine or hunger. In the Atlas Mountains, the primary occupation is farming so if the weather is not permitting, it would create hunger among the Berber people. The Berbers valued their food very much and it is evident in Baba as he is cooking for Nora that he wants Nora to value and be grateful for her food as well. The customs and traditions in the book stay consistent through the years. They first show Baba cooking couscous, which is a traditional North Africa dish, and then when Baba is telling his story, Mahalou is trying to cook couscous as well. He keeps the traditions and values of his culture alive by teaching them to his daughter Nora.

Classroom Teaching Application

Grade Level: 4

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text

The students will collect evidence from the story's details to identify the main theme of the story.

*To connect this story to the lives of my students, I will explain how important it is for students to know about what is going on in other parts of our country. I will explain to them after reading the book and they identify the theme how even though the events happening in this book may not be happening in our lives, we need to still take away the message of being patient. This book has a great theme and lesson behind it that I think is good for all students to learn. It is good for them to realize how others are more hungry than we are and how we need to be aware of how grateful we are for the things that we have. I may ask them how they get their food that they eat every day and compare it to how Nora's father had to get his food to show how grateful we should be. The instruction for this book will be focused on identifying the themes in a story.

*To model and explain what I want them to learn from this story, I will first refresh teir memories by explaining how the theme is rarely ever stated in the story so that we need to use our inferencing skills to tell what the theme is. We need to pay attention to specific details in the story that will help us depict the theme. I will remind them how some people may get the topic of a story and the theme get confused and model this by giving examples of other stories. I will make a T-Chart use the stories Cinderella, Charlottes Web, The Ugly Duckling, and The Wizard of Oz to determine the topic and theme of each:

Topic: Poor girl that marries a Prince
Theme: Good things happen to good people

Charlottes Web
Topic: A talking spider helps a pig
Theme: Self sacrifices, true friendship and perseverance

The Ugly Duckling
Topic: the ugly duckling grows into a beautiful swan
Theme: Patience, self-confidence, and individuality

The Wizard of OZ
Topic: a girl goes on an adventure in a magical land,
Theme: friendship appreciate what you already have and things you seek are already inside you.

*To have them practice this strategy, I will have them listen to me read the story and then they will brainstorm the details in the story and identify what they think the topic and the theme of the story is. They will do this individually first and then compare with peers.

*To have them apply this to increase mastery, I will either put up pictures or give each table a few short books and they will read the books and identify the theme and topic of the books from it's details or look at the picture and based on the illustration and what they see in the picture, have them identify what the theme might be of the picture. They will need to brainstorm the details that helped them to identify the theme so that they know what sort of details they should look for in the future.