KM: Tell us about how you landed this exciting opportunity to write a children’s board book about Egypt?
AK: So the way I landed this awesome board book deal is pretty unique! On Twitter one day, an Egyptian illustrator (Hatem Aly and I love his illustrations - dream illustrator for one of my books one day for sure!) tagged me after a Barefoot editor, Kate DePalma, asked if there were any Egyptian authors out there. A couple more people tagged me also. I connected with Kate right away before the holiday season of 2021. She explained the Our World board book series and I fell in love. What I love the most about the series is that Kate sought out both authors and illustrators whose backgrounds are from that country.
KM: What kind of timeline or deadline were you given? Was it difficult to work in such a short amount of time?
AK: I think I was given a few weeks. I was brainstorming over winter break and jotted down ideas. Kate sent me the layout, another work-in-progress for an Our World book and more information about the series. We sent each other edits throughout a couple of weeks. The most challenging part was getting the English pronunciation of the Arabic words correctly. I also tend to write longer picture books, so I loved the challenge of keeping the board book very short!
KM: Were there any experiences you had while visiting Egypt that are included in the book or helped shape the book in any way?
AK: I didn’t get any inspiration from when I was there recently, but I got ideas from when I used to visit in the summer as a child and teenager and even young adult. I looked at old pictures I took and even videos I used to record. I remembered specific details of walking along the busy streets of Alexandria with my cousins, and stopping by the fruit stands. I even tried to remember the smells and sounds. It was a lot of fun using my childhood memories in this beautiful book.
KM: There’s an intergenerational connection in the book. What made you include that representation for young readers?
AK: I feel like all of my books have some type of intergenerational connection (and food!). I would say it’s part of my author brand now ha! I loved the dad and daughter joy presented in the book. Grandparents are highly valued in Arab society, and it’s very common for adults and their children to visit the grandparents often in Egypt. Some even live in the same building or neighborhood. While I don’t live in Egypt, I still obviously visit my parents and I love the connection between grandparents and grandkids, so I wanted to include that.
KM: What were your thoughts when you saw Magda Azab’s illustrations for the first time? Which one is your favorite?
AK: I couldn’t stop smiling and screaming “THIS IS SO CUTE!!!!" The colors, the lines, the faces. Everything was so perfect and magical. She truly brought my words to life in the most beautiful way. She’s also Egyptian but lives abroad, like me, so we both brought our personal experiences into this board book. There’s so many favorites. I love the grandparents scene, because there’s so much joy in it, but I also love the simplicity of the toddler and her dad walking along the corniche, enjoying the little things in life.
KM: How have your children and family reacted to this book?
AK: They loved it. My youngest is now three, so it’s such a perfect book for her and she thinks the main character is her. Everyone else was so excited to see it digitally and I can’t wait for them to see it in print
KM: Do you have plans to celebrate the release? If so, what are your plans?
AK: I’m not quite sure yet! I was invited as a guest at a local farmer’s market so I’ve been coordinating with my local bookstore and publisher to see if we can sell it a week before the official release date and I hope it works out!
KM: What’s up next for you?
AK: The Night Before Eid comes out in March 2023 from Little, Brown and it’s illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh. The Banned Books Bake Sale comes out in 2023 from Tilbury House and it’s illustrated by Anait Smeridzhyan. Readers can find out more about these upcoming titles at www.ayakhalil.com
Make sure you enter our Instagram giveaway to win an advanced copy before it officially launches in October!
Freelance journalist and blogger Aya Khalil, holds a master’s in Education with a focus in teaching English as a second language. She’s been featured in Teen Vogue, Yahoo! Book Riot and other publications. Her work has been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Toledo Area Parent and many others. She’s done sensitivity readings for DK Publishing/Penguin.
Aya is a picture book author and is represented by Brent Taylor of Triada US Agency. Her debut picture book The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story was published February 18, 2020 by Tilbury House.
She is also an adjunct instructor at the University of Toledo. Besides writing and teaching, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and exercising.
She does author visits at libraries and schools and sensitivity readings. Contact her for details.
You can learn more about Aya at http://ayakhalil.com.