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.