KidLit in Color author Tonya Abari interviews Ashley Franklin about her new book Better Together, Cinderella released September 9, 2021.
Tonya: What do you hope children and adults will gain from reading Better Together, Cinderella?
Ashley: I hope that they gain a new appreciation for the power of a child’s imagination. Tameika not only imagines a magical evening for herself, but one that encompasses her family.
I also hope that kids with siblings realize that their personal, shining light doesn’t diminish just because the sizes of their families have changed.
Tonya: Just like in Not Quite Snow White, you seamlessly include a classic fairy tale into a modern, yet timeless narrative. Can you explain your process for selecting which parts of the classic fairy tales to feature (and how much you wanted to include) in your own manuscripts?
Ashley: Both fairy tales have oodles of retellings, so I wanted to focus on their most memorable components (in my opinion)—beauty & acceptance for Not Quite Snow White and family dynamics & acceptance for Better Together, Cinderella. I wanted those to be the driving forces behind each of my manuscripts while also exploring Tameika’s princess state of mind.
Tonya: So many children can relate to welcoming new siblings into the family (and Tameika has double duty on her hands!). How did your own experience as a parent and/or sibling inform the crafting of Tameika’s struggle to find her place as a big sibling?
Ashley: I am nine years older than my next sister. In my mind, I was clearly cemented as my mother’s only child, so I was not a fan at first. My bitterness grew when my mom dressed us alike. She’s my best friend now though.
My own boys are 2.5 years apart. For the entire time that they’ve occupied Earth at the same time, I’ve seen them fight hard yet love harder. I’ve helped them navigate their misunderstandings and stood aside as they have aired their grievances. Capturing the complexities of sibling relationships was foundational in how I shaped Tameika’s emotional journey.
Tonya: I just love how Tameika’s best friend and uncle help her navigate becoming a big sister. Can you expand on the theme and importance of community stepping in to help children understand their feelings around life’s changes?
Ashley: Honestly, I hate the idea that picture book characters are expected to solve their own problems. I wasn’t raised like that. There was always a relative, friend, or even a neighbor I could turn to.
I always think back to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The guidance of a safe, protective, and enlightened community helps a child to grow to their full potential. Feelings are big—even for adults. The moments between Tameika and Uncle Derrick where he helps her figure out her feelings are some of my favorites. Why not show the beauty of that bond in a picture book?
Tonya: You are back for the second time working with Ebony Glenn’s lively and colorful illustrations. Tell us about the author/illustration process for this second book – working with Ebony and co-illustrator, Saba Joshagani.
Ashley: It was simple! I was able to ask for things to include (like the girl in the wheelchair and for Khadija’s hijab) and they were great about it. All in all, I really just had no problem putting this story in their more than capable hands.
Tonya: After the success of Not Quite Snow White, did you feel any pressure drafting Tameika’s next adventure in Better Together, Cinderella?
Ashley: Absolutely! I wanted to keep Tameika’s sweetness but also show her frustration with her new big sister role. It was hard to make sure that she didn’t come across as bratty. Instead, I needed her to come across as lost. In essence, she’s a star who feels lost without being center stage.
Tonya: We all know that publishing is very top secret, but can you give us the scoop – or at least a subtle hint – on what you’re working on next?
Ashley: Sigh. So many NDAs 😞. I can mention that I have at least one picture book scheduled for 2023, and that’s Xavier's Voice with Innovation Press. I’m also trying my hand at writing a middle grade novel. It’s a wonderfully terrifying experience to branch out from picture books.
Ashley Franklin is a writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. She received her M.A. from the University of Delaware and B.A. from Albright College, both in English Literature. Ashley is the author of Not Quite Snow White (2019), “Creative Fixes” from the anthology Once Upon An Eid (2020), “Situationally Broke” from the anthology What We Didn't Expect (2020), and Better Together, Cinderella (2021). She’s also had several pieces published on popular online platforms such as Romper, Complex, About Islam, Medium, and more.
Ashley grew up in Maryland, but she has also called Pennsylvania, Delaware and Louisiana home. She currently resides in Arkansas with her family.
Interview with Saadia Faruqi on Trauma, Islamophobia and 9/11
by Aya Khalil
Aya: Hello, Saadia! I am so happy I get to interview you for Kidlit in Color about your new upcoming middle grade book, Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero, which comes out on September 7 from Quill Tree Books/Harper Collins! Can you please tell our readers a brief summary of your book?
Saadia: Thank you for interviewing me! This book is about 9/11 and the experiences of the Muslim American community in the last twenty years. The main character, eleven-year-old Yusuf Azeem is looking forward to starting middle school and participating in a regional robotics competition. When school begins and bullies start coming out of the woodwork, he realizes that this year is going to be more difficult than he thought, because it’s the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A group of white supremacists are riling the townspeople up, harassing Yusuf’s community, and protesting the new mosque. Yusuf begins to read his uncle’s journal from 2001 to understand the September 11 attacks and how they changed life for Muslims like him before he was even born. As tension escalates, and his friends and family get more scared, Yusuf has to chose whether he will ignore the hostility or stand up and be a hero.
Aya: This is such an important topic to discuss in books. Especially from a Muslim perspective. I absolutely loved reading an arc of this book a couple of months ago and it took me back to 2001 when I was in high school during the 9/11 attacks. Can you tell us where you were on that awful day and what feelings crossed your mind?
Saadia: Everyone probably remembers where they were on September 11, 2001, what they were doing and feeling. It’s such a visceral, traumatic memory for most people, even those who lived far away from New York City because we were watching things unfold in real time on television and radio. I was in college that year, and I remember my husband calling me from his office to ask if I’d watched the news because he couldn’t figure out if it was a joke or not. I went to campus and everyone was so quiet and serious, not just on that day but for days afterwards, as if all the laughter had been snatched up from the halls. I don’t remember much about how I felt, just that quiet stillness, a wondering of what would happen next.
Aya: Many of us were silent out of shock, that’s for sure. I could really relate to Yusuf in this story because I grew up in two small towns: I went to elementary school in North Dakota and I went to middle school in Lima, Ohio. This was pre-9/11 but Islamophobia didn't start after 9/11, so I remember a lot of micro-aggressions and racism then. Why did you write this story and why is it important to tell? What about Muslims kids who are growing up small towns now and facing similar experiences; what do you want to say to them?
Saadia: Islamophobia has been prevalent in the U.S. since the first Muslims arrived on these shores. It’s human nature to fear and hate what we don’t understand, and media always twists how people are represented in ways that are very negative and hurtful. I wrote this story because I was tired of these media depictions, especially around the anniversary of 9/11 each year. I wanted to highlight all the ways Muslims have been demonized and misrepresented, bullied and hated, in the last twenty years. It’s personal to me because as a Muslim mother, raising Muslim kids, the prejudice is too close to home and just cannot be ignored. I want to tell Muslim kids that I see the bullying you endure, and the ways you feel unwelcome in your schools and neighborhoods just because of your faith. I want to tell them that your experiences are valid, and that you’re not alone.
Aya: Yes, so important to validate those feelings. I don't want to give too much away or for spoilers, but there's a central part in the story that made me emotional. It was when the Muslim families were working hard to build the mosque and they were faced with lots of hate and pushback from the community. It reminded me when my friends and I gave a presentation at a local place to "convince" people to build a mosque in our community. We were faced with so much hostility and the city turned our proposal down. I still think about it often. Why did you choose to write about this and is this based on any experiences you have faced?
Saadia: One of the central plot points of this book is obstructing the construction of a mosque that Yusuf’s Muslim American community is building. After many attempts at stopping construction through intimidation, a white supremacist group complains to the city government and holds a zoning meeting to achieve its aims. Although I don’t have personal experience in this, I learned while I was exploring 9/11 and its repercussions that this happens throughout the U.S. on a regular basis. In fact, the ACLU monitors anti-mosque activity including violence, vandalism and the use of city zoning laws to block construction. More examples are available here (https://www.aclu.org/other/mosques-and-community-centers).
Aya: Thanks for sharing that link. What do you hope readers will gain or understand after reading Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero? Both Muslims and people of other faith?
Saadia: My biggest hope is that readers will understand the long-term repercussions of 9/11 in our culture and society. When we discuss 9/11, we mostly talk about the attacks themselves, or the victims who lost their lives. We forget about the things that came after: the wars and the government policies, and the prejudice against all those who looked like “the enemy.” For my Muslim readers, I hope they see themselves in this book and take heart that someone is telling their story, acknowledging their pain. For non-Muslim readers, my hope is that they’ll walk a mile in my shoes and see what it’s like to be Muslim American in a post 9/11 world, not so that they can pity us but so that they can demand change from their communities and governments, and so that they can learn to be true allies the way the characters in the book do.
Aya: I know it will make readers think and reflect. How long did it take you to write this and what are some challenges, if any, you faced while writing it?
Saadia: I’m a pretty fast writer. I think it took me 4-5 months to write this book. My biggest challenge was that once I started writing, I realized I didn’t have all the information I needed to write the historical parts of this book accurately, so I had to pause and conduct interviews of several people to bridge those gaps. Another challenge was writing really emotional and difficult scenes in a way that wouldn’t traumatize young readers but feel authentic at the same time. With time and a lot of revisions, I think I was able to capture the essence of the story.
Aya: Thanks for letting me interview you! Fun questions time! Your favorite food?
Saadia: Biryani and pizza, but not together.
Aya: Your favorite color?
Saadia: All shades of blue.
Aya: Your favorite city?
Saadia: That’s a difficult question. It’s wherever I have loved ones.
Aya: What are you currently reading?
Saadia: I’m getting started on The Samosa Rebellion by Shanti Sekaran.
Order Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero here.
Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series Yasmin and other books for children, including middle grade novels A Place At The Table co-written with Laura Shovan (a Sydney Taylor Notable 2021), and A Thousand Questions (a South Asia Book Award Honor 2021). Her new book Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero details the experiences of the Muslim American community twenty years after 9/11. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband and children.
by Reem Faruqi
Read to the bottom to find out how you can win a copy of I Can Help!
I’m often asked why I wrote I Can Help and I wish my answer was different, that I didn’t have to say it was inspired from real life experiences.
Like my main character Zahra, I used to help a classmate who needed a little extra help.
Although, my character Zahra is an elementary school classroom, I was in middle school. I was in 8th grade and enjoyed helping my classmate. One day, two popular girls started talking about him behind his back. They said he looked weird and was such a baby. I didn’t want to listen, but it seemed like I was listening harder. Then all of a sudden, they looked directly at me and asked me, why I helped him.
I wanted to have a good response, but I didn’t. I remember the wistful look of pity they threw at me, the way they leaned closer to each other and exchanged glances like I was weird too, before they walked away.
I made a decision. I decided to stop helping him and being his friend. Instead, I became mean to him. I hated how my voice sounded when I wasn’t kind. I didn’t recognize it.
My teacher noticed that I wasn’t my usual self and moved me from the table we shared to far across the room. I wish she had had a conversation with me instead. The worst moment was when my classmate looked straight at me and said that I’d become mean. I remember how hard it felt to shrug it off and act like I didn’t care, when every fiber of me did care.
Like my character Zahra, I wish I’d apologized, but I never did, and when I did want to, it was too late. I was moving away to a different continent.
Sometimes life doesn’t have a neat happy ending. However, I remembered that experience vividly and tried to make up for it, practicing kindness whenever I could.
Years later, when thinking of a picture book idea, I remembered this experience, and how I wished it had a happier ending. I wrote I Can Help from an honest and raw place. I didn’t create the magical happy ending, but rather I showed how regret can be heavy, but that it can be fueled for change, and in this case, kindness.
I hope that readers will be inspired from this story to do better, that they will see Mikela Prevost’s dreamy illustrations and connect deeply to Zahra and believe that they too can make a difference in being kind.
More about I Can Help and the author:
Fully Booked podcast by Kirkus: I Can Help is featured here at the 36 minute mark as an Editor’s Pick, and I love how they dissected my book, saying that it forces the children to do the heavy lifting, and that it's unique.
Interview with Children’s Book Author Reem Faruqi – Eerdlings Blog, story behind I Can Help.
Interview with Reem Faruqi by Aya Khalil on Kidlit in Color
Order I Can Help here.
Want a copy of I Can Help? Comment below on your favorite ways to be kind to others! U.S. only.
Reem Faruqi lives in Atlanta with her husband and three daughters. She is the award-winning children’s book author of Lailah’s Lunchbox, a book based on her own experiences as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. After surviving Atlanta traffic and the school drop off, Reem spends her days trying to write, but instead gets distracted easily by her toddler, camera, and buttery sunlight. You can find her at www.ReemFaruqi.com or on Instagram or Twitter.
Interview with author Summer Edward
by Lisa Stringfellow
KidLit in Color welcomes author Summer Edward to our blog to discuss her picture storybook, The Wonder of the World Leaf, a heartfelt story that also reflects the rich, vibrant culture of the Caribbean.
Would you please give our readers a brief summary of your picture storybook?
Eight years ago, when I was battling an illness, this young girl appeared in my mind. Her name was Wygenia and she kept hanging around, so I paid attention to her and it turned out that she was sad because someone she loved was ill. I felt that Wygenia needed something in order to help the person she loved, but I didn’t know what.
At the time, I took an extended trip back to Trinidad where I grew up, and my mother took me to this wonderful wellness center on the island where I saw a naturopathic doctor and master herbalist. My visits to the wellness center inspired me to start learning more about the island’s medicinal plants, and when I read about the medicinal uses of Wonder of the World leaves, I suddenly knew what Wygenia needed—a leaf. Not a fig leaf of shame, or a four-leaf clover of luck, but a wondrous leaf of possibility.
I started to write and as I followed Wygenia through the story, I discovered that she also needed the presence and help of people who cared for her. That’s my long-winded way of telling you how The Wonder of the World Leaf ended up being the story of a young Trinidadian girl who, with the loving support of her community, grows a Wonder of the World plant, and uses the leaves to help her beloved grandmother recover from illness.
Is your picture storybook based on any real experiences?
My own experiences using traditional healing practices showed me the importance of tending to the human being in the same fashion that a gardener tends to her plants. Any gardener will tell you that there are many variables involved in plant care. Likewise, at the wellness center I visited, they give weight to the idea that the social, cultural, emotional and moral roots of illness must be treated, along with the physical symptoms. It’s the responsibility of the community to address all of these variables so that the sick person can flourish again. I wrote what I learned about, and experienced with, traditional healing practices into The Wonder of the World Leaf, which is on a surface level, a story about plants and gardening.
In her determination to help her Grannie, Wygenia turns to the traditional healing practices of Trinidadian people, and she, her friends and family tend to the things that truly matter. In doing so, lots of good things sprout in their collective lives.
In the book, Wygenia is part of a vibrant island community. Can you share more about the relationships she has?
Wygenia, like many Caribbean children, has a strong bond with her grandparents. One of her grandfathers has recently died at the beginning of the story, and although it’s left unsaid, one can imagine that his death is partly what fuels Wygenia’s resolve to help her grandmother heal. Wygenia’s classmate, Sanjay, who also happens to be her next-door neighbor, and Sanjay’s aja (‘aja’ is a Trinidadian Hindustani word that means ‘grandfather’) are also significant people in Wygenia’s life. They share in Wygenia’s concern for her grandmother and play important roles in the old woman’s convalescence. There are other community members in the story whose succor and goodwill provide a buffer for Wygenia and her family during their time of difficulty.
Wygenia’s faith is also a kind of relationship. She’s in a relationship of trust with something bigger than herself. Whatever that ‘something’ is, it keeps her hoping and believing that her grandmother can get better.
Your book includes many Trinidadian words and phrases. Talk to us about the importance of language and dialect in your story.
Writing in a blend of Trinidadian English and British English is natural for me; I don’t really see it as a choice. I grew up speaking Trinidadian English at home and with my friends, but I was educated largely in British English. I’ve taken ownership of both varieties of English and see them both as equally belonging to me. I still speak both, which is something that’s rooted in the Trinbagonian experience. The language in The Wonder of the World Leaf is a reflection of that, which is what makes the story authentic.
There are some things that can’t be sufficiently expressed in British English, and so for the characters in the story, Trinidadian English is the language of emotions, humor, intimacy, national identity, and cultural solidarity.
By the way, because I moved to the U.S. as a teen, I also speak American English, so constantly negotiating three languages is my jam.
You're also an editor. How has that influenced your work?
Editing children’s books and short stories for children is something I’ve been doing since 2011. I currently work as a children’s fiction editor at Heinemann. A literary agent once advised that I should either give up writing or editing because I couldn’t do both simultaneously. I’ve learned to distrust that idea.
Before I started editing, I read voraciously but more narrowly. As an editor, one is forced to read very broadly, to engage deeply and seriously with all kinds of stories that lie beyond one’s usual tastes and predilections. Also, when you’re an editor, reading stories is your job; there are no lulls in your reading life; an on-again, off-again relationship with literature isn’t an option. There’s also no respite from the difficult work of wrangling with words, or to be frank, from wrangling with one’s ego. As an editor, one’s ego is constantly being tamped down and held in check by the nature of the job. Also, an editor doesn’t have the writer’s luxury of procrastination and creative resistance. All of this has made me a better writer. The best way to explain it is that working as an editor is like taking a never-ending intensive in writerly discipline.
What do you hope readers learn or take away from The Wonder of the World Leaf?
The reason I write anything is so that readers feel heard and seen.
In the Western world, there’s social stigma derived from both popular and medical views of illness. Illness is something to be feared, something to be dealt with privately and individualistically, something fraught with shame, something that people feel uncomfortable talking about. That’s why in Western societies, so many ill people tell stories of friends and even family abandoning them at precisely the time when they need community the most. I hope that the way Wygenia deals with her grandmother’s illness helps readers realize that there is another, much better way.
When it comes to living a healthy life, often the old ways are the best ways. Gathering with friends and family, telling stories, laughing together, sharing a meal, simply listening to another human being, sitting in silence, planting a garden, connecting with nature…all of that simple stuff really works. They’re the remedy for all the loneliness, pain and sadness out there. Simple human interactions, in which you merely give another person the gift of your presence, are what keep people healthy, and what sick people in particular are desperately in need of. A seven-year-old who reads the book already knows this, but capturing it in a story is my way of making sure they never forget.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sayada Ramdial created the illustrations for The Wonder of the World Leaf and she did a wonderful job. Sayada is a fellow Trinidadian-American, and I think our collaboration has enabled the telling of a truly Trinidadian story that’s also universal, one that I hope readers everywhere enjoy reading.
Summer Edward is a Ginkgo Prize longlisted author who writes for all ages. Her children's book debut, The Wonder of the World Leaf, was recently published by HarperCollins UK. She has six more children's books forthcoming, to be published by Heinemann (USA) in summer 2021 and spring 2022. She created Anansesem, an online magazine covering Caribbean literature for young readers, which was published for a decade. When she is not writing, she works as a children's fiction editor at Heinemann and reviews children's and young adult books for The Horn Book Magazine. Born in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, she grew up in Trinidad and Philadelphia, and currently divides her time between the U.S. and Trinidad. Learn more at her website: www.summeredward.com
Interview with author Alexandra Alessandri
by Aya Khalil
Isabel and her Colores Go To School author, Alexandra Alessandri shares the importance of bilingual picture books and how her experiences are weaved into her writing.
Aya: Hi Alexandra! I am so excited to interview you today for our blog. Your second picture book, Isabel and her Colores Go to School, comes out on July 15th. Would you please tell our readers a brief summary of your picture book?
Alexandra: Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Aya! Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is about Isabel, who’s nervous about starting school and making friends because she doesn’t speak English. Isabel is artistic and processes emotions and language through color, both of which help her navigate—and ultimately bridge—the language divide.
Aya: I love that the book is bilingual and when I read the advanced reader copy, I was filled with so many emotions. I have a background in teaching English as a second language, so I've taught many English Language Learners. You're an educator yourself. Is this picture book based on any real experiences?
Alexandra: This made my day—thank you! Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is based on my own experience of starting kindergarten in New York City while not knowing English. My story was slightly different—I literally got lost in school because I didn’t understand the teacher—but I tried to bring those emotions to Isabel’s story. And, as an educator at a college with a large number of students who are English Language Learners, I know this is a story that is true for many immigrants and children of immigrants.
Aya: I love that it's written in both English and Spanish. How was the process like? Did you write the manuscript in both languages or did you need a translator? How was it like going on submission with a bilingual book?
Alexandra: I’m incredibly excited that this will be a bilingual book. I wrote and submitted Isabel and Her Colores in English with Spanish sprinkled in, as this code-switching is a natural part of my own way of speaking. My wonderful editor suggested it be published as a bilingual text, and it was everything I didn’t realize I wanted. I had the opportunity to translate the story then, and I’m grateful to have had my family and fellow Spanish-speaking authors who helped me where I stumbled.
Aya: Wow I love that your editor made that suggestion! I’ve noticed there are some recurring themes in your picture books that I definitely relate to. Being introverted, finding your voice and being multicultural. Why do you think these themes are important nowadays?
Alexandra: As a shy introvert who is the daughter of Colombian immigrants, these themes are personal to me, and I think (hope!) they speak to many others. Often, kids who are shy and introverted aren’t receiving the message that their voices and ideas matter, too, and I think it’s important for them to know their voices matter, too.
As for the theme of being multicultural, one of the reasons it’s important for me personally to write about Colombian American characters is because I grew up with the microaggressions that came with being Colombian in the 80s and 90s—the jokes, innuendoes, and stereotypes—and I hated it. It’s perhaps why I’m determined to share other stories of the Colombian and Colombian American experience. Nowadays, it’s more important than ever that we push back against the “single story” and show the beautiful tapestry of the human experience.
Aya: I absolutely agree! What are some challenges you have faced in the publishing world, or just in general, as a Colombian American?
Alexandra: I think I’ve been lucky in terms of how my characters and stories have been received in the publishing world, though that might be in part because I embraced writing from my cultural identity around the time that the push for diverse stories grew. However, when I first started writing (with a YA fantasy!) I didn’t see a place for my reality in that genre. Even now, the number of Colombian/Colombian American stories are limited, especially in the fantasy genre. I’m hoping to see that change.
Aya: It’s definitely because you’re a great writer! Why do you write children's books?
Alexandra: Because I want to help raise readers. Books were always a refuge for me as a kid, and I want to offer children stories a place of solace in a world that is often hard.
Aya: What would you tell writers of color who are nervous to put their words out there for the world to see and get their work published?
Alexandra: It can be scary because it’s so easy to think our stories don’t matter, that no one’s going to want to read about our realities. But they do! Our stories and experiences are important, they’re enough, and they can be that lifeline for a child who might not see themselves in the literature they read. (On the flip side, we don’t only have to write about our lived realities. We should not be boxed in!)
Aya: Yes, absolutely! Is there anything else you're working on that you're allowed to tell our readers?
Alexandra: I have some exciting things happening, but nothing I can say right now. I’m hoping to be able to share soon, though!
Aya: Fair enough - publishing is so secretive ha! Where can people find you on social media?
Alexandra: I’m infrequently on Twitter and Instagram, but I love connecting with readers, teachers, and authors!
Aya: Thank you so much for letting me interview you! I can’t wait until I get my physical copy of this beautiful book that is much needed in the world!
Alexandra Alessandri is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! (Albert Whitman) and Isabel and Her Colores go to School (Sleeping Bear Press). The daughter of Colombian immigrants, she is also an Associate Professor of English at Broward College and a poet, with some of her work appearing in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, Atlanta Review, and Young Adult Review Network. Alexandra lives in Florida with her husband and son.
People often ask me about my writing process for a picture book (PB), including this question, which always trips me up: How do you go from an idea to a complete draft of a PB? I know the person asking is often looking for a strategy, but I never know how to simply describe my strategy in a clear way except to call it “gathering.” This article is my attempt to lay it out. Maybe, it will be useful to some writers out there. At the very least, I hope it will be entertaining.
Strategies That Don’t Work for Me: Pantsing or Outlining
Lots of PB creators simply dive in and draft. Theoretically, pantsing a PB of less than 1000 words is easy compared to a 50,000+ novel. Yet and still, it has a lot of the same pitfalls for writers like me: it leads to unfocused, meandering writing. For me, it means never getting to the end of the story and probably getting bored.
Other authors outline. Hundreds of great PB templates exist on the internet. However, I’ve always found outlining a picture book painstaking. If I try to structure a new story idea, I experience a lot of creative blocks and can’t figure out how to move forward. I need some messiness to generate ideas.
My Strategy: Gathering
Because the two methods above don’t work for me, I gather. Another way to explain my process is intensive brainstorming–it’s days of brainstorming–and gathering or collecting my notes from that brainstorming.
To show what I mean by this, I found old notebooks where I gathered brainstorms for Your Name is a Song and took pictures.
Yeah... I wrote pieces for Your Name is a Song in four notebooks... on random pages, interspersed with diary entries, random lists, and brainstorms for other books!
Did I mention I struggle with organization?
Through looking back at these old scribblings, I was able to figure out just what I am doing during my process, and I’m proud to say I did organize that process here!
1. A Very Long Free Write (maybe multiple)
I started out knowing that I wanted to write a book called, Your Name is a Song, but had no idea what the story was about. That title came to me as I was reflecting on a child’s beautiful name, and I decided to write a story that could fit that title.
These are some pages from an almost five-page free write I did to get ideas. Free writing means quickly writing all of your ideas during a set time period without stopping to edit those thoughts. I find writing without self-censoring a therapeutic way to start a book. It took me at least two free writing periods to have a clear direction for Your Name is a Song.
2. Writing Down Words, Phrases, and Sentences I Want in the Book
Once I pinned down that Your Name is a Song would feature many names from multiple cultures, I was constantly making random name lists.
In addition to important words, or in this case names, I will write sentences, phrases, and major ideas I want to put in any book. I don’t necessarily know how or where these will fit in the narrative but I jot them down. Here, I was focusing on language around made-up names.
3. Notes of Encouragement
Finding old notes to myself made this dig into old notebooks pretty special. I, like many authors, often doubt myself while writing a book. I write myself encouraging notes when I’m having those moments. I think they’re an important part of the process.
I hesitated to share the note I found in the middle of my brainstorming. It makes me blush. The language is so lofty, and it talks about my work as genius . However, when I’m having a moment when I don’t feel good enough to write something, I need a note to lean into grandiosity. (And authors, if the note is helpful to you in your own writing, please use it!)
There are no limits to genius. Because it [genius] isn’t yours. But you can hold on to and grasp as many pieces of this infinite mass [of genius] if you want it enough. If you crave it enough. You can create this work of art because it is there to be created.
4. Asking Myself Questions
My questions are interspersed throughout my brainstorming pieces. They are in my freewrites. They are in places where I wrote about scenes. An important question to ask yourself again and again throughout this pre-writing process is “why?”
Here I ask myself: Should I give [my MC] a name? I answer: Shaherazadrina. Of course, I later changed that!
5. Write Messy Versions of Two Key Scenes (typically from the beginning and the end)
I write quick and short versions of scenes. From this photo, you can see just how short sometimes. The important thing at this stage is not that I’ve written a long detailed complete scene but that I have a clear idea in my head of the complete scene.
Here I am teasing out the beginning scene of the book when the girl stomps and say “I never want to go back there again!”
Time to Draft!
After gathering ideas, words, and scenes, I have a good sense of my picture book. I know where it’s going and what it needs to do. I know and love my characters. And I am DYING to finally write the thing. When I have to write the story, I know my idea gathering is done.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, M.S.Ed, is a Philadelphia-based educator and children’s book author. Her works, which feature young Black Muslim protagonists, have been recognized and critically-praised by many trusted voices in literature, including American Library Association, School Library Journal, and NPR. She writes picture books and middle grade fiction. Her books include Mommy’s Khimar, Once Upon an Eid (contributor), Your Name is a Song, and Abdul’s Story. She’s taught youth in traditional and alternative learning settings for 15 years.
What inspired you to write Jayden’s Impossible Garden?
The idea first came to me one warm spring evening. As I strolled through the neighborhood with my family, I kept hearing a squishy popping sound. I wondered what it was and tried to find out. No one else seemed to hear it. After many more walks, and research, I learned that I’d been hearing worms!
What if I wrote a story about that? After watching my students on the playground and other kids in the neighborhood, I wanted to capture their imaginative play, and the way they invent whole worlds with very little. Along with memories of my own childhood, playing outside with my siblings, Jayden’s character emerged—though he wasn’t yet named Jayden. The worms didn’t survive the many drafts, but the idea of a kid who noticed those kinds of details in nature, did.
Jayden lives in an urban setting which makes it difficult for him to connect with nature, but you provide ways to make that happen for children like planting runner beans in a milk jug. Where did these great ideas come from?
On my walks, I notice all kinds of planters, bird feeders, and bird houses. The hand made ones usually catch my attention first. I love seeing how others recycle materials. There are lots of great ideas online as well. It’s amazing how many different ways people can use milk jugs!
Growing up, we decorated old cans and bottles and boxes all the time. We used what we had. It’s essential to recycle, but I think it’s important to show children the joy and satisfaction in using your hands to make things.
Jayden forms a friendship with an elder neighbor who also enjoys being out in nature. Tell us why that relationship is important in the story?
Their relationship is special because it’s formed by shared interests. Jayden and Mr. Curtis become allies, each helping the other enjoy the outdoors even more. Their relationship is mutually beneficial. At times, Jayden helps Mr. Curtis. Other times, Mr. Curtis helps Jayden. Jayden is interested in hearing Mr. Curtis’s memories and Mr. Curtis enjoys creating new stories with Jayden. Their intergenerational relationship highlights the respect for elders in African American culture.
The illustrations by Ken Daley are vibrant and colorful. Tell us about your illustrations and working with Ken.
Though I had expressed a few art preferences before production began, typically, authors are not in direct communication with the illustrator. The creative director thought Ken’s style would suit the story best and relayed info and questions through the editor to me and vise versa.
I was thrilled when I first saw Ken’s sketches. They were in black and white, and so energetic and expressive. He conveyed so much so swiftly. But that was just the beginning. I was blown away when Ken added color. His palette is so bright and expansive that Jayden and Mr. Curtis nearly jump off the page!
I loved Ken’s vision of Jayden, Mr. Curtis, Mama, and the neighbors. They were all clearly depicted as individuals that you might actually meet down the street in your neighborhood. Yet his style is also playful. I loved his animals too: the bird at the window, the curious rabbit.
That’s one of the reasons why I love picture books. You get to work with a wonderfully creative team of people, each adding something to produce a beautiful book that young readers can hold in their hands. Ken’s illustrations truly bring Jayden to life.
What do you hope children learn or take away from Jayden’s Impossible Garden?
I hope children see themselves as heroes of their own stories, no matter how fantastical the vision or how humble the actual setting. I hope children gain an appreciation for elders in their life and the role they can have in building relationships. I hope Jayden sparks more creative play and exploration of nature nearby. I hope children are inspired to cultivate community with their human AND nature neighbors.
What are you working on next?
Jayden may have another adventure or two in the works! I’m also working on another picture book biography, this time in collaboration with a poet. And, I’m always researching and writing other topics that bounce into my brain!
Mélina Mangal has authored short stories and biographies for youth, including The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just, winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award. Her latest book is Jayden’s Impossible Garden. Mélina also works as a school library media teacher in Minnesota and enjoys spending time outdoors with her family.
If you’d like to learn more about Mélina Mangal please visit her social media links below!
Interview with Sarah Kamya, founder of Little Free Diverse Libraries
by Lisa Stringfellow
I'm excited to welcome Sarah Kamya, the founder of the Little Free Diverse Libraries movement. As a steward of a Little Free Library myself, I was inspired by Sarah's work to build a Little Free Library in my community that served a two-fold need; that of BIPOC children who needed to see themselves reflected in the books they read and that of BIPOC authors and illustrators whose work I wanted to amplify. My library, The Little Free Kidlit Library, launched in April in my home of Hyde Park, MA and I'm so excited to have Sarah here to talk about her journey and what inspired her to start this movement!
Lisa: What was the inspiration behind Little Free Diverse Libraries?
Sarah: I was inspired to start Little Free Diverse Libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. After many weeks in isolation I found myself passing the same three Little Free Libraries on my nightly strolls, and as someone who has always been an avid reader and book lover, I would always stop to see what books were inside. When the murder of George Floyd occurred on May 25th, I knew I had to do something within my community. Fueled by the current tide of civil justice, I had the idea to create and install a Little Free Library to amplify and empower Black and Brown voices within my community of Arlington, MA. I wanted to create a Little Free Library where the only books that filled the library were books featuring diverse characters, written by BIPOC authors, purchased from Black-owned bookstores. I set out to normalize diverse stories and bring diverse narratives to the forefront, especially for Black and brown youth, who so often cannot find themselves represented in literature. My mission throughout this project has been to amplify and empower diverse voices, one book at a time.
Lisa: You're also an educator. How has that influenced your work?
Sarah: As a school counselor at a Title 1 Elementary School in New York City, the majority of the students I work with are Black and brown, and come from low-income communities. My work as a school counselor involves teaching coping skills, helping one build self-confidence, stress management, and more. My work in this field has influenced my work with Little Free Libraries significantly. I strongly believe that if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. With a lack of representation of BIPOC characters in literature, the children I work with are significantly being impacted. As I continue to work with future change-makers, leaders, and activists, I am passionate about elevating their voices, and helping them see their worth. This can be as simple as seeing a character that looks like them, that becomes an astronaut for a day or goes on an adventure with their grandmother. When I was growing up I did not have books and resources where I saw myself. This impacted me greatly, and it is not something I want my students, or any other BIPOC individual to face.
Lisa: What’s been the biggest surprise about this project?
Sarah: The biggest surprise about this project has been the outpour of love and support across the United States and Canada. I have connected with a Little Free Library lover or steward in all 50 states, and have been able to send diverse books to fill a Little Free Library in every state. This connection and impact is something that goes beyond me. The books that enter these Little Free Libraries are shared, borrowed, held tight, and passed along. Knowing that these diverse books are in the hands of many across the country is unbelievable. I have also loved connecting with people on Instagram. There are so many incredible humans doing amazing work. I feel so lucky to be connected to other diverse book lovers and those who are continuing to support this project.
Lisa: What books have been popular in your own Little Free Library?
Sarah: In my Little Free Diverse Library in Arlington, MA books are constantly leaving and new books are being returned weekly. Since we live five minutes from one of the elementary schools, the library can be a frequent stop on the way to or from school. Many families can be seen stopped outside the library selecting books, trading books, and promising to return back another day when they have a book to leave. Some of the most popular books have been, Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.
Lisa: How do you select titles to include? How do you keep your library/libraries stocked?
Sarah: When selecting books I like to mix between children’s books, young adult books, and adult books. As of lately there are more children’s books in the library as I am focusing on collecting books for children, and find that there is so much to learn and take away from a children's book. We keep a back-stock of books so that the library is never empty, and thanks to the Amazon wishlist people have been kind enough to send books to our house.
Lisa: What’s your favorite story about the Little Free Diverse Libraries project?
Sarah: This is a hard one! I mean meeting Ryan Seacrest and Kelly Ripa was pretty spectacular…. But I would have to say the day I installed the Little Free Diverse Library. My Little Free Diverse Library is installed in the front yard of my family's home in Arlington, MA. This home is where I grew up, where I was raised, where I was the only Black girl in school until 6th grade, where I learned who I was. Installing the library outside my home was a very significant and memorable moment.
The day of the installation was a beautiful July summer day, and I was surrounded by my family, childhood best friends, and neighbors who have seen me grow up. Seeing the installation of the Little Free Diverse Library signified change for not only the small town I grew up in, but for myself. The library reminds me that the quiet, lonely, isolated Black little girl who never saw herself represented in literature, or the people around her, was making something of herself, and changing the narrative so future little Black girls never have to not see themselves represented, supported, amplified, and empowered in books, or when they walk down our street.
Lisa: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a Little Free Diverse Library?
Sarah: My advice for someone who wants to start a Little Free Diverse Library would be to just do it!!! If you have the passion and the dedication to diverse literature (and the ability to stick something in your yard or community) then why not! When setting up a Little Free Diverse Library think about your community. Who is represented? Who is not? What conversations are missing? How can you foster a diverse space for sharing, communicating, and inspiring? It is absolutely incredible to see how the community has come together because of this library. I see a Little Free Diverse Library as an educational tool and resource for non BIPOC community members, and a beacon of hope for BIPOC authors, children, and adults. There is so much to gain from having a Little Free Diverse Library, and personally it feels like my very own baby.
Lisa: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sarah: I hope to install 10 more Little Free Diverse Libraries before January 2022 (totaling 20 Little Free Diverse Libraries in one year)! I am eternally grateful for the team at Little Free Library for all their support, and the incredible organization that they created that allows others to connect with literature, any day, anytime, for free.
Sarah Kamya is a child of an Ugandan immigrant, has a Masters from NYU in Counseling and Guidance in Schools K-12 and now works at P.S. 191, a K-8 Title 1 Public School in New York City as a School Counselor. It is here she witnessed first hand how hard it is for young Black and brown students to find their own experiences reflected in popular media, especially literature. What started as a passion project turned into a small movement. In the first 10 days LFDL raised over $6,000 to purchase books from Black-owned bookstores. To date, Kamya has raised over $20,000, has sent diverse books to a Little Free Library in all 50 states, and has installed 10 Little Free Libraries at schools in Boston and New York City.
You can find out more about the books Kamya is reading, sharing, and amplifying on LFDL’s Instagram (@littlefreediverselibraries).
Interview with award-winning author, Reem Faruqi
By: Aya Khalil
Aya: Hello and Salam, Reem! First of all I am so excited to be interviewing you. I don't know if I have shared with others before but you were the first author who really inspired me to publish a book, traditionally, after falling in love with your debut Lailah's Lunchbox in 2015. And our books were both published with Tilbury House, and you answered so many of my questions along the way, so thank you for that! You just released a new book called Amira's Picture Day! Congratulations. Would you tell us a little about this book?
Reem: I’m SO glad you were inspired, Aya. I've loved watching your writing journey unfold! I also loved your book The Arabic Quilt and can’t wait to read more from you. And yay for Tilbury House Publishers – I’ve had a great time with them.
Amira's Picture Day is a story about wanting to be in two places at once and speaking up when you want to make a change.
About Amira's Picture Day: Ramadan is over and Amira can’t wait to celebrate Eid. Spotting the new moon, she celebrates because Eid is tomorrow and she gets to miss school to go to the mosque for the Eid prayer and brunch. But then she realizes that tomorrow is Picture Day at school. How will her class remember her if she’s not in the class picture? What will Amira do?
You can order here.
Aya: My kids and I really enjoyed Amira’s Picture Day and gifted a copy to their library! Your MG debut, Unsettled comes out on May 11th! Could you tell us a little about this novel in verse?
Reem: You can see the summary on book ordering sites, but this is what I originally had in my query:
My #ownvoices middle grade verse novel, Unsettled, has a strong, female character and a poetic voice. In my lyrical 14,100 word manuscript, Unsettled, Nurah reluctantly moves continents. In a new land, she sticks out for all the wrong reasons. At school, Nurah’s accent, floral print kurtas, and tea colored skin contribute to her eating lunch alone. All she wants is to fit in. If she blends in enough, will she make a friend? For now, all she has is her best friend brother Owais. In the water though, Nurah doesn’t want to blend: she wants to stand out and be just like her star athlete brother and win a swimming medal. However, when sibling rivalry gets in the way of swimming, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates and Nurah might risk losing the one friend she ever had…
Aya: That sounds incredible! You have a third book coming out called I Can Help in a few months. Would you please tell us about this?
Reem: Zahra often happily volunteers to help a fellow classmate who needs a little extra assistance in school. It is only when she gets picked on by two popular students for helping him, she decides to distance herself from the fellow classmate to fit in more with her popular classmates. Later, she feels regret for her actions, but it is too late. Now, she decides to take matters into her own hands…
You can preorder on Amazon or from Eerdmans.
It comes out in the fall on August 10th just in time for the beginning of the school year.
Aya: Perfect for the beginning of the school year. What inspired you to write these three books and the inspiration behind them?
Reem: I love incorporating real experiences from my life into my stories and each of these 3 books has these elements. Also, I wrote these books all at different times over the past few years- they just all happened to fall for publication in 2021.
Aya: What are some challenges you have faced throughout your publishing journey?
Reem: My most recent challenge is launching two books within one month which is a great challenge to have ☺. Amira's Picture Day release date got delayed so I have two books that will be launched within Ramadan – Unsettled and Amira's Picture Day! I am just trying to get through each day, one fast at a time, while juggling emails!
Another challenge I faced was going many years without any offers. Since Lailah's Lunchbox got published in 2015, I worked and wrote and gave up and prayed and tried again and after six long years, three books are releasing this year! I assumed after having one book out in the world, the rest would be easy and would automatically come, but that wasn’t the case when I waited for manuscripts to sell. The writing journey can be quite rocky at times and sometimes quite smooth. It’s the weirdest thing.
Aya: What a great reminder about how it’s never easy to sell a book but you persisted and made it happen. What advice would you give to writers, especially BIPOC writers, who want to publish a book?
Reem: I would advise you to connect with authors and critique partners who look like you and share your beliefs as well as connect with authors who don’t share your faith and culture and race. That way you can get a wider variety of opinions and insight on your manuscripts. I think it’s important to be in both worlds. I’m in a traditionally published Muslim Author group (you’re in it and we’re both admins, Aya, along with Saadia Faruqi and Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow – all authors I admire!) that I really have enjoyed being in and often ask maaany questions there.
Aya: I do love a good support group! What are some of your favorite books recently?
Reem: I love reading but this Ramadan haven’t had the chance to delve into books as much. A recent read I’ve loved, for picture books is Inside My Mosque by M. O. Yuksel and Hatem Aly.
For middle grade, I’ve enjoyed Hena Khan’s Amina's Voice and the way she shares her love for Pakistan with her friends as well as navigates middle school and its challenges .
For YA I just read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and loved it. I happened to watch the movie first! Both were powerful.
Aya: Great suggestions. Tell us more about yourself. Where do you live? Do you have another job besides being an amazing author? What are your hobbies?
Reem: I live in Atlanta. I work for the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta and schedule speakers for a variety of organizations. I am also a seasonal photographer but am finding less time for that!
Hobbies – doodling, NOT COOKING, making messes, napping (does that count?), Pilates
and walking. I recently discovered these Pilates workouts with Robin Long and love them. I love that the Pilates exercises (https://thebalancedlifeonline.com/) are 10-15 minutes and are a nice computer break.
Aya: I love napping too, when I can. Ha. Where can people find you? Twitter, Instagram, website and where can they purchase your books?
@ReemFaruqi on Twitter and Instagram
Please check out my photoblog at www.ReemFaruqi.com .
They can purchase my books at indie bookstores near them or on Amazon with the links provided.
Aya: Thank you for letting me interview you! Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you for having me Aya! I love seeing our books the world and am so happy the younger generation is FINALLY seeing themselves in books!
Reem Faruqi lives in Atlanta with her husband and three daughters. She is the award-winning children’s book author of Lailah’s Lunchbox, a book based on her own experiences as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. After surviving Atlanta traffic and the school drop off, Reem spends her days trying to write, but instead gets distracted easily by her toddler, camera, and buttery sunlight. You can find her at www.ReemFaruqi.com or on Instagram or Twitter.
Aya: Hi and Salaam, Susannah! I am so excited to interview you about HALAL HOTDOGS! Would you please summarize the picture book in a couple of sentences for us?
Susannah: The children's book, Halal Hot Dogs, is about an Arab-Muslim boy named Musa who cannot wait to share halal hot dogs with his blended family, which includes his mother, father, sister and grandfather!
A: I looked at some of the preview photos online and noticed some delicious food in the book, which I loved! Can you tell us some of the foods mentioned, and why you included them?
S: I think what makes this book special, is that it features multi-cultural street food which adds depth to the story because not only does it celebrate halal food, but also celebrates foods from all over the world like churros, bao and samosas. The story also includes Middle Eastern specialties, like kufta (spiced meat), riz b'haleeb (rice pudding), and molokhiya. I feel that delicious food brings people together, so really, we celebrate cultures through cuisine!
A: I am getting really hungry now. I love kufta and I mentioned it in my own picture book too! Why did you write this book? Is it inspired by anything?
S: Halal Hot Dogs is inspired by my many years living in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. My children are Brooklyn kids. They had all the streets in the neighborhood memorized by the age of four! We loved strolling around Fifth Avenue, getting our shopping done at the many local Middle Eastern businesses, like the halal butchers, grocers, and produce stores. We frequented the local masajid (mosques) often, and afterward, my kids would always ask for halal hot dogs from the many halal food carts around the city!
A: I won't tell my kids this, because they LOVE halal hotdogs! Tell us a little about the illustrations and the illustrator. What emotions did you feel when you first saw the sketches and illustrations?
S: The book highlights the charm of living in a large, diverse city. I feel that Parwinder Singh was really able to capture the magic of that in his illustrations! I was instantly taken by Parwinder's sketches. He is extremely talented, and I love how he gave a comic-style feel to the characters!
A: I love the lively illustrations he did! I've noticed that Palestinian Americans are VERY underrepresented in kidlit. Who are some of your favorite Palestinian American writers? What can we do to help amplify Palestinian-American writers and creatives?
S: It goes without saying that all cultures and religions should be represented in children's publishing. I find it exhilarating to learn about other cultures through picture books. As a librarian, I have parents anxiously calling me, asking for more diverse books. A handful in the library really doesn't cut it. I hope to see more in the near future. I hope to see more Arab authors, I hope to see more Palestinian authors, I hope to see more Muslim authors from countries all over the world! The publishing world has only just scratched the surface in terms of publishing diverse stories.
The best way to amplify Palestinian/Arab voices is to support the authors! Invite them to speak at various conferences, and book events. Include their books in your lesson plans, purchase classroom sets of books, and read them during story-time. Multicultural literature is needed in the classroom. We need every kid to see themselves in books, and that is the goal!
I recently came across a picture book retelling a Palestinian folktale. I was disappointed to know that it was not an #OwnVoices author...not even close! There is a culturally rich heritage to Palestine, and many are not aware of the importance of the oral storytelling; the folktales, lessons, songs, and sayings that have been passed down for many generations. I would love to see more of it in traditional publishing, documented by Palestinian/Palestinian-American authors.
The diverse publishing community is strong, and it is very reassuring when they amplify writers and artists from other underrepresented, or marginalized communities. I am proud to be a part of that community. As long as authors from diverse backgrounds can have a platform to speak, share, and contribute to the publishing/creative world, then we can continue to see change throughout the traditional publishing world. I think the movements that have brought us We Need Diverse Books, and #OwnVoices are amazing, and I think authors supporting these endeavors are critical and have already made some significant, positive change.
Some Palestinian-American poets to note include:
Naomi Shihab Nye
Many of their words have resonated with me
Arab American Authors/Illustrators that I think are great:
Aya Khalil (The Arabic Quilt)
Hatem Fathy Ali ( Illustrator) In My Mosque
Susan Muaddi Darraj (Farah Rocks the Fifth Grade)
Saladin Ahmed (Amulet)
Nadine Kaadan (Arab-British) (The Jasmine Sneeze, Tomorrow)
Muslim Authors that I think are terrific: (To name a few)
Jamilah Thompson Bigelow
Rabiah York Lumbard
A: Thank you for all of these great recommendations. Are you working on any other writing projects that you can share with us?
S: Nothing to share as of yet...but a few things in the works! My best work gets done at random coffee shops that I stumble upon throughout the Tri-State area. As a wanderer, I find that traveling long distances enhances my creative process. I hope coffee shops fully open back up soon so I can get back to a better writing routine!
A: I can't wait to hear more! Thank you so much for answering my questions. Where can people find you and also purchase your books?
You can request Halal Hot Dogs at your local library, and purchase Halal Hot Dogs from any major book retailer.
You can find me and my cats (oh yeah, and kids) on: Instagram
Susannah Aziz is a creative/freelance writer and children's book author living in NYC. She writes stories that focus on Arab and Muslim characters and hopes to see more culturally diverse characters, as well as neurodiverse characters represented in traditional publishing. Her debut picture book, Halal Hot Dogs (Little Bee Books), features an Arab-Muslim character named Musa that enjoys a special treat with his family after Jummah prayer at the local masjid. Susannah is also a librarian with a MSLIS from St. John's University (NYC). She hopes to create more library programs for children with Autism. As an urban librarian, she loves running into patrons all around town. Susannah also spent some time teaching as a middle school educator at an Islamic School. She is an advocate for UNRWAUSA https://www.unrwausa.org/. UNRWA USA National Committee (UNRWA USA) aims to promote a life of dignity and human development for Palestine refugees by informing the American public about UNRWA’s work and generating support for its programs in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Susannah lives in a very old, creaky, squeaky house with her husband, three kids, and two cats. Her favorite summer activity with her kids includes trying to hit every halal hot dog stand in NYC in search of the BEST hot dog! They still can't decide on just one!