I never imagined I would be a children’s book author. But when I became a mother of two little girls, I admired how fun and whimsical the holidays were here in the United States. The stories of Santa and his elves make you want to be a kid all over again! Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an engaging tale to read to my kids about any of the Muslim holidays we celebrate. This motivated me to write my first book.
“Looking for the Eid Moon” draws upon an old Muslim tradition: the sighting of the crescent moon. Because Muslims follow the lunar calendar, they rely on the moon's shape to mark important holidays and dates. One night, the crescent moon signals the arrival of Eid al-Fitr (a holiday that celebrates the end of fast) and one night, it signals a ten-day countdown to Eid al-Adha (a holiday that celebrates the end of pilgrimage).
To make the holidays special, my family adopted this tradition. And every Eid, we would take our girls on a little quest to find the moon. But the crescent moon is hard to spot, that is why there are moon sighting committees that look for it. And so, just like Sara, the protagonist of this story, I started placing our very own glow-in-the-dark “moon rocks” around the house and backyard for our girls to find. Each rock is filled with coins because, during Eid, children are gifted money so they can get a toy they really want. We found our “moon-rock hunts” to be a fun alternative for children who are too young to understand the value of money notes and bills and a great way to keep their spirits high when they fail to spot the moon.
Regardless of our backgrounds and faiths, as parents, we all hope our children will have a happy and memorable childhood they can look back on for many years to come. We strive to raise strong and confident individuals who can withstand the challenges that life throws their way. That is why it is important for all children to see themselves in fun, light-hearted stories filled with hope. Stories in which a protagonist who looks like them is the hero of an exciting adventure, not a victim struggling to fit in.
In “Looking for the Eid Moon,” the moon is not only a religious symbol. It is also a reminder that even in our darkest moments, we must be brave and search for that glimmer of hope. And how much like the moon, we must be a source of light for others, too.
Sahtinay Abaza grew up in the United Arab Emirates before making Florida her permanent home. As a mother of two, she admired how fun and whimsical the holidays are in the United States. This motivated her to write her first picture book about the holiday her family celebrates, Eid. Inspired by her own family tradition, Looking for the Eid Moon is meant to transform the uncertainty of when Eid will fall into a quest to find the moon, in both a fun and endearing way. This story won the 2019 SCBWI Emerging Voices Award and inspired Sahtinay to write more children’s books.
This month is AAPI heritage month. Please tell us what it means to you.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are an integral part of the American cultural mosaic, encompassing a wide range of diversity. There are many different Asian diasporic cultures and experiences, and we need more stories that span all reading levels and in different genres. I hope more AAPI authors will feel compelled to write stories for our young people. I hope agents and editors will solicit our stories from our talented writers and illustrators. And I hope librarians, educators, and parents will work hard to connect young people with our stories.
As an educator, how do you address Asian American Pacific Islanders missing from books or being depicted using stereotypes?
I encourage educators to reflect on how they are presenting AAPI history, cultures, and communities within their classroom. All students need to develop positive self-identities and learn to understand and respect the identities of others. In my debut picture book, Meena's Mindful Moment, young readers are introduced to a diverse story that reflects some of their experiences and/or exposes others to the wider world. We need more books that celebrate diverse AAPI cultures, communities, and people.
Tell us about your MG historical fiction book, Orange For The Sunsets.
We see a lot of Historical fiction written by AAPI writers. These books are how we acknowledge our past. We see that in my MG book about the expulsion of Asian Indians from Uganda. It is not merely my history but a living, vital part of our present...how that historical event shaped a community. These stories are an attempt to capture the texture and richness of a wide scope of experiences, recent or distant, and to share the future we hope to see.
What does the phrase "We Need Diverse Books" mean to you?
We hear that phrase quite a lot in the book industry and in the education environment. However, when we say, "we need diverse books," we don't mean books by marginalized people that are only for marginalized people. Everyone needs diverse stories. Being able to imagine someone else's life vividly enough to feel it within yourself is how we reshape culture and unlearn false ideas.
As an educator for over thirty years, how do you feel about the fight for the removal of books in school districts and public libraries?
All children have a right to quality education and access to books that reflect their communities. Books can be used as tools to develop anti-racist foundations and help students think critically. Across the county, school boards are removing, or fighting to remove, books by non-white authors instead of diversifying our stacks. Presently, marginalized groups are absent from our K-12 public education core curriculum or represented by a very small percentage. How can we move forward and build a more cohesive world, if we cannot see all of us in it together?
Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family left Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for her book Orange for the Sunsets. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.
You can learn more about Tina at https://tinaathaide.com/tinaathaide.com/
Congratulations on your new book, Together We Ride! Please tell us what inspired you to write this picture book?
The inspiration for Together We Ride is the children my husband and I saw riding bikes in our neighborhood during the COVID shutdown. In particular, during our daily walks, I witnessed a girl who had just learned how to ride a bike; I noticed her progression as she became a better, more confident rider. Learning to ride a bike – without training wheels – is such an exciting milestone for children that I decided to write a story about that experience.
Bike riding is a rite of passage for young people and one I clearly remember as a child. You perfectly capture the glee, inevitable falling, and decision children face of “do I get back on or forget about this.” Did you draw from your own childhood memories when writing this book?
That’s a great question, Kirstie. I remember that I enjoyed riding my bike with my cousins and friends. We’d ride up and down my street and also over to my elementary school playground, which was around the corner from my house. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact moment when I learned how to ride a bike. I think these memories are embedded within me though, which is why I was able to portray the experience and feelings in this book. We all know that riding a bike takes practice – falling, getting on and off again – to be able to ride independently and successfully.
The text is really simple and easy for early learners and readers. But we all know the simplest text is often the hardest to write. What was that process like for you and how long did it take you to finish Together We Ride?
Surprisingly, this is the book for which I wrote the fewest drafts. I think I had three. Since I maintained the same end rhyme throughout (with one exception), I was limited with the words I could use, so I think that’s what made it quick work. I shared it with my critique partners twice, and then it was “done.” When I signed with my agent, this is the first book with which he went out on submission. It went to auction and resulted in two two-book deals.
Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s authors?
Kirstie, this is a question authors are often asked. I think the simplest response is that if you want to write, do it, and don’t give up. Also, study, meaning read, read, read in the genre you’re writing. Read to study (think mentor texts), not just for pleasure. Also, read books about craft, and attend classes and webinars. Equally important is to immerse yourself in the writing community by joining a critique group and writing organizations.
The illustrations by Kaylani Juanita are so detailed and captivating. Did you have a lot of illustration notes and what were your thoughts when you saw the beautiful pages Kaylani created?
I didn’t even envision it as a father/daughter story, per se; that was my editor’s vision, which worked for me. Therefore, the only illustration notes I had were to denote which words were attached to the child and which connected with the adult. My ending illustration note expressed what/who we should see on the last page.
When I saw Kaylani’s first sketches, I was very pleased because, as you can see, she’s a talented artist. When I saw the actual color spreads and then held the book in my hands, however, I was especially thrilled. She certainly captured all of the special moments associated with a child learning how to ride a bike.
As an educator, your commitment to children was recently honored with a SERC Equity Award. Please tell us about that honor.
Kirstie, it was indeed an honor to be recognized for my commitment to equity. I believe that all children – all people – need to feel welcome and that they matter. In my work as an educator, I want all students to feel welcome in classrooms and to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. When reading books, I want children to have that same experience – to see themselves, those like them, those who share similar experiences. Schools and books also offer opportunities for us to learn about those who are different from us and have different experiences. If everything around us only reflects one type of person, one view, one story, how will we learn about, enjoy, and appreciate the diverse world in which we live?
Here’s an article I wrote about why representation matters in children’s books.
How are you celebrating your second book release?
I’m going to celebrate by taking a personal day from work on release day and visiting my elementary school alma mater to read to kindergarten and first grade students. I’ll also visit the Barnes & Noble in my city – Stamford, CT – to sign books.
I want to be able to celebrate with everyone who wants to celebrate with me. Thus, I’m having two launch events. One will be in-person, which should be super fun for kids with a lot of activities, and the other will be virtual. For that one, I’ll read my story at the beginning of the program, so kids can tune in, and then a conversation will occur that will be of more interest to adults – especially parents, educators, and writers.
When not writing you can find me….? Teaching, walking or reading.
What are you working on next? I’m working on my books that will release in 2023. I’m also trying my hand at a chapter book series.
Valerie Bolling is the author of LET’S DANCE!, a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award winner and CT Book Award finalist. In 2022 Valerie is happy to welcome TOGETHER WE RIDE (April) and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (October). Sequels to these books (TOGETHER WE SWIM and BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!) as well as a Scholastic early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, are slated for 2023.
A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years. She currently works as an Instructional Coach for Greenwich Public Schools and is on the faculty at Westport Writers’ Workshop. She is also a WNDB mentor and deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, Black Creators HeadQuarters, and Diverse Verse.
Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.
Farah Rocks Florida by Susan Muaddi Darraj, illustrator Ruaida Mannaa - Farah's little brother is in the hospital with a heart problem that needs surgery, so her parents send sixth-grader Farah off to stay with her grandmother in a retirement condo in Florida; Sitti Fayrouz does not speak much English, has a lot of rules, and does not understand Farah's interest in geology, so Farah is not happy with the move--but despite being the only child in the community, Farah finds that the people are nice, and despite getting off to a bad start (she accidentally dumped a soda on his lap) she forms a friendship with Dr. Fisher, who shares her interest in science.
Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrator Ekua Holmes- Welcome to Dream Street--the best street in the world! Jump rope with Azaria--can you Double Dutch one leg at a time? Dream big with Ede and Tari, who wish to create a picture book together one day. Say hello with Mr. Sidney, a retired mail carrier who greets everyone with the words, "Don't wait to have a great day. Create one!" On Dream Street, love between generations rules, everyone is special, and the warmth of the neighborhood shines.
Little Seeds of Promise by Sana Rafi, illustrator Renia Metallinou- When Maya moves to a different country, she feels lonely and lost. Everything―and everyone―seems so unfamiliar here, and she wonders if she will ever find a way to fit in. Longing for her home, she holds tightly to the special seeds her grandmother gave her, afraid to plant them. Can she take the risk that they―and she―might grow and bloom in this new place?
Meena’s Mindful Moment by Tina Athaide, illustrator Åsa Gilland- Meena is excited to visit Dada and explore all the exciting sights and sensations of his home with him. But Meena has so much energy, it becomes a whole imaginary character she calls her hurly-burly hullabaloo. With playful art and engaging characters (real and imagined), this charming story all about mindfulness will be wonderfully relatable to anyone with a rambunctious hurly-burly hullabaloo of their own.
Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles- Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong--to a place and a movement--and to fight for what you believe in.
Dancing in Thathaa’s Footsteps by Srividhya Venkat, illustrat or-Kavita Ramchandran- A heartwarming picture book about a multigenerational Indian-American family discovering a shared love for bharatanatyam, an ancient classical dance that continues to fascinate dancers worldwide.
Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara- Yo’ mama so sweet, she could be a bakery. She dresses so fine, she could have a clothing line. And, even when you mess up, she’s so forgiving, she lets you keep on living. Heartwarming and richly imagined, Your Mama twists an old joke into a point of pride that honors the love, hard work, and dedication of mamas everywhere.
Root Magic by Eden Royce- It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. Her beloved grandmother has just passed away. The local police deputy won’t stop harassing her family. With school integration arriving in South Carolina, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, are about to begin the school year with a bunch of new kids. But the biggest change comes when Jez and Jay turn eleven— and their uncle, Doc, tells them he’s going to train them in rootwork.
Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi- With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?
Jump at the Sun by Alicia D. Williams, illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara- Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, “to jump at de sun”, because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you’d get off the ground. So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to Howard University, to Harlem. And everywhere she jumped, she shined sunlight on the tales most people hadn’t been bothered to listen to until Zora. The tales no one had written down until Zora. Tales on a whole culture of literature overlooked…until Zora. Until Zora jumped.
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh- Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.
King Sejong Invents an Alphabet by Carol Kim, illustrator Cindy Kang- In 15th-century Korea, King Sejong was distressed. The complicated Chinese characters used for reading and writing meant only rich, educated people could read―and that was just the way they wanted it. But King Sejong thought all Koreans should be able to read and write, so he worked in secret for years to create a new Korean alphabet. King Sejong's strong leadership and determination to bring equality to his country make his 600-year-old story as relevant as ever.
Playing the Cards You’re Dealt by Varian Johnson- Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which means he's finally old enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. So while Ant's friends are stressing about fifth grade homework and girls, Ant only has one thing on his mind: how he'll measure up to his father's expectations at the card table.
Areli Is a Dreamer by Areli Morales, illustrator Luisa Uribe- When Areli was just a baby, her mama and papa moved from Mexico to New York with her brother, Alex, to make a better life for the family--and when she was in kindergarten, they sent for her, too. Areli’s limited English came out wrong, and schoolmates accused her of being illegal. But with time, America became her home. And she saw it as a land of opportunity, where millions of immigrants who came before her paved their own paths. She knew she would, too.
Tu Youyou’s Discovery by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrator Lin- Tu Youyou had been interested in science and medicine since she was a child, so when malaria started infecting people all over the world in 1969, she went to work finding a treatment. Trained as a medical researcher in college and healed by traditional medicine techniques when she was young, Tu Youyou started experimenting with natural Chinese remedies. The treatment she discovered through years of research and experimentation is still used all over the world today.
Jada Jones Skywatcher by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrator Nneka Myers- Jada is excited to do a school project about her hero Dr. Mae Jemison, a former NASA astronaut and the first Black woman to travel to outer space. She even gets to pretend to be her for the presentation in front of her teacher, parents, and friends! But when Jada's research reminds her how accomplished her hero truly is, she suddenly feels like she's made a mistake. How can she portray someone who seems to have everything together when she feels like she's falling apart?
When Langston Dances by Kaija Langley, illustrator Keith Mallett- Langston likes basketball okay, but what he loves is to dance—ever since he saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform. He longs to twirl into a pirouette, whirl into a piqué. He wants to arabesque and attitude, grand battement and grand jeté. When he walks, the whole street is his stage. With his neighborhood cheering him on, will Langston achieve his dream?
Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz, illustrator Parwinder Singh- Every Friday after Jummah prayer at the masjid, Musa's family has a special Jummah treat. They take turns picking out what the treat will be, but recently the choices have been . . . interesting. . . Finally, it's Musa's turn to pick, and he picks his favorite-halal hot dogs! But actually getting to eat this deliciousness turns into a journey riddled with obstacles. Will he ever get his favorite tasty treat?
Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland-Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past—and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. Ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.
Isabel and Her Colores Go to School by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrator Courtney Dawson-English, with its blustery blues and whites, just feels wrong to Isabel. She prefers the warm oranges and pinks of Spanish. As she prepares for class at a new school, she knows she's going to have to learn--and she would rather not! Her first day is uncomfortable, until she discovers there's more than one way to communicate with friends. This is a universal story about feeling new and making new friends.
We Can: Portraits of Power by Tyler Gordon- Here is a debut picture book by partially deaf prodigy Tyler Gordon, featuring his bold paintings of over 30 icons―musicians, artists, writers, civils rights leaders, sports legends, change-makers, record-setters, and more―alongside short explanations of how these people inspire him.
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi- When her family moves from Pakistan to Peachtree City, all Nurah wants is to blend in, yet she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts. And in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in the U.S. Yet when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.
Kirstie: I was looking through old emails and saw that we started our group at the end of December last year. Wow. I can't believe that much time has passed. Initially we were called Diverse Debuts and we were more focused on marketing and promotion.
Would you like to share why you wanted to start this group?
Aya: I really wanted to connect with authors who had similar experiences in the publishing world and understand how it's extra difficult to break into the publishing world as a BIPOC. We had similar feelings about issues we faced and agreed that having like-minded individuals share their experiences and support each other would be helpful!
Kirstie: We have such talented authors in our group. I give you credit for that because you made many of those connections and you're on Twitter promoting our group every day.
What do you think the members bring to our group that makes it unique?
Aya: I love our group! You do an incredible job on Instagram and create the best content and graphics! The members are awesome and so supportive. I remember feeling comfortable sharing and asking how much advances they made because that helps us grow and ask for more advances in the future! The authors are beyond talented and many of them have critiqued my manuscripts and I am truly grateful for their support! We are like one big family!
Kirstie: I remember the book advance discussion. That was such an eye-opener and really helps those of us that are new to this moving forward. It wasn't long after our discussion that this topic was trending on Twitter and we saw the poorly paid advances BIPOC authors received, even those who had sold quite well and had big followers.
What are your goals for our group moving into 2021 and beyond?
Aya: Continue supporting each other. I love that we can ask for advice and people are genuine and truly we want each other to succeed. I hope we can do more Instagram Lives together and Instagram Take-overs because that's always fun!
Kirstie: Yes, that is fun. My biggest goal for the group is we do a retreat or conference once it's safe. I think connecting in person is our next step.
What are some things you have learned while in KidLit In Color?
Kirstie: I learned firsthand how supportive the writing community is. I can call or email any of our members and ask for help and they make themselves available to me. My book was last to debut in November 2020, and I remember reading that authors who debut last are oftentimes cheated out of support from their fellow members because the year is nearly over and people are over it, but that wasn’t the case with our group. I felt very supported by our members. Everyone went above and beyond to promote me and my book.
What are some of your favorite moments in 2020 from our group?
Kirstie: I have several favorite moments. I enjoyed attending member virtual events and our NYE Zoom party was big fun!
One favorite or special moment that really stands out is also a painful moment. The protests were happening in response to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police brutality, and our group was a safe space where we could openly share our pain. I remember we were scheduled to do a panel and collectively our spirits were so heavy that we couldn’t do it. I remember you sending a text just checking in on me and that meant the world to me in case you didn’t know.
KidLit in Color is a group of traditionally published BIPOC creatives. We nurture one another, amplify diverse voices, and advocate for equitable representation in the industry.
Mark your calendars for World Read Aloud Day 2021, also know at WRAD! It will take place on Wednesday, February 3, 2021.
LitWorld started the event in 2010 to celebrate the power of reading aloud and to advance literacy efforts around the world. In support of this work, many authors and illustrators offer free 20-minute virtual read alouds to teachers and classrooms. This year, several members of KidLit in Color are available to read with you!
Most WRAD virtual visits will go something like this:
1-2 minutes: Author gives a quick introduction & talks a little about their books.
3-5 minutes: Author reads aloud a short picture book, or a short excerpt
5-10 minutes: Author answers a few questions from students about reading/writing
1-2 minutes: Author book-talks a couple books they love (but didn’t write!) as recommendations for the kids
Before you sign up, you'll need to be able to provide:
Please check your scheduled time carefully. All times are listed in Eastern Standard Time.
To sign up, go to our form on SignUp Genius and choose an available slot.