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!