the challenge and beauty of delayed gratification

by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalolu, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli - Charlesbridge Publishing, 2008
ages 4 to 12 years / diversity, s.o.s.e.

Have you ever had to wait for something you really wanted or even needed – and has that waiting felt like it would never end? 

The Butter Man is a lovely look at a boy’s life in Morocco and at his life as a grown man and father. 

The baba (father) in the story is telling his little girl about a time when he was a child living in Morocco. 

There was a drought and his family was running out of food, so they ate less and less each day. 

Eventually, the gnawing hunger pervaded all of his thoughts - and his mother came up with a way to distract him from his  hunger and from the other worries in his life. 

Her way of making the waiting a little easier worked brilliantly!

(It’s a clever and loving solution – but I’m trying not to give away too much of the story!) 

But even as we sat around the steaming platter with our spoons held high, we had to wait just one minute more. Just long enough to say our blessing.

There are connections between the two worlds – couscous for dinner, a parent who goes away to work, a child who is hungry, a parent who finds a way to calm the child till it’s time to eat - and both stories culminate in a shared family meal.

The simplicity of life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco appears charming and peaceful but the continuing drought has a profound impact and while there is still peace and love, there is also concern and hardship. 

There are quite a lot of words in this story, but the pictures provide some prompts and the font is clear and large – making it ideal for beginning readers to read to themselves.  It’s also lovely for when you have a bit of extra time for at bedtime. The rather naïve style of the illustrations matches nicely with the homey telling and evokes Morocco in a way that is clear but not intrusive of the story. The Butter Man helps to nourish the sort of ideas and ideals that I hope to settle in the hearts and minds of my children and myself, like:

It’s alright to have to wait sometimes - and sometimes it’s inescapable.
Families matter, in good times or bad.
Even really significant problems can be made less impactful when we think of others.
There is sometimes value in delayed gratification.
It’s hard to beat simple pleasures or simple food.
Across time and cultures, there is more that connects us than separates us.

The Butter Man is also great to read in times of drought – to get an understanding of its impact and to remember how insulated many of us are from the vagaries of life. Or when families have to spend time apart for a greater cause. Or when you’re having couscous for dinner!

You can buy The Butter Man via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

P.S. Elizabeth's latest book is The Eighty-Dollar Champion and Julie creates gorgeous hand-mades for kids. Her label is Zid Zid Kids.