Today we feature Aya Khalil, author of The Arabic Quilt illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. The Arabic Quilt recently debuted and is a great book about embracing differences. I especially took note of the important role supportive adults like teachers and parents play in bridging cultural gaps between children.
What inspired you to write The Arabic Quilt?
There's not a lot of immigrant picture books that are authentic, #OwnVoices. I have so many experiences, good and bad, growing up as an Egyptian-American and I thought kids and even adults may relate to The Arabic Quilt, which is based on several true events.
Have you had a chance to tell your teacher how important she was in helping you acclimate into the classroom and new environment?
I actually just did a couple of days ago! My childhood best friend connected me with her and I am sending her a book in the next couple of days. It's so nice to reconnect with her and we are catching up.
What message would you like for immigrant children to get from The Arabic Quilt?
That it is OK to stand out from others and there's really no need to assimilate, as many parents try to make their children do. Clothes, food, and language are all part of who we are and we should embrace them all with confidence.
What message would you like for children who were born and raised here to get from The Arabic Quilt?
Acknowledge your classmate's differences (don't be colorblind), but also find similarities when it comes to hobbies, etc.
How long did it take you to write The Arabic Quilt?
I wrote it all in one sitting with my kids near me. Then I revised for weeks. I submitted to agents and I received some great feedback (although rejections) so I revised some more and attended local and online critique groups. So a couple of months total.
Did you have critique partners? If so how instrumental were they in writing your story?
Yes! My local SCBWI was so supportive when I attended my first meeting with them. They wrote down some encouraging comments and I remember one person told me that this is a great story and to "go get it published."
I also asked writer friends to critique it, who were really helpful, particularly a group of awesome women called Muslim Writers and Publishers.
As an #ownvoices writer, what's your message to the industry about your work and your voice?
Our stories matter and I hope more publishers believe in our stories and amplify them. I'm thankful for Tilbury House and Brent Taylor of Triada US for believing in The Arabic Quilt. There's been so much positive feedback since it's debuted and I've been getting tons of messages from parents, teachers, and librarians telling me their kids or students could relate to Kanzi (the main character). And adults my age who remember similar events from their own childhood growing up as a third culture kid.
Tell us about your illustrations and talented illustrator?
She's been so incredible throughout the whole journey. Anait's illustrations are so lovely and I'm so happy and honored she illustrated the book. She also related to the book as an immigrant herself and her kids faced some of the experiences mentioned in the book.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read recently published books from your genre, spend a lot of time at the library and talk to the librarians to see what kids are checking out!
What are you working on next?
I'm working on two more picture books! Fingers crossed that we hear good news soon.