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Three Picture Books for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

 

PICTURE BOOKS FOR RAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

Moon's Ramadan cover kids on balcony cheering moonMOON’S RAMADAN
Written and illustrated by Natasha Khan Kazi 
(Versify; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m a big fan of personification in picture books so I was curious how Kazi would bring the moon to life in her new Ramadan story. In her debut, she shows a cheerful crescent moon grinning at a diverse group of Muslims across the planet.

Ready for a month of peace and fasting from sunrise to sundown, people are busy cleaning and preparing. Moon’s view of celebrants takes us first to Egypt, then to Turkey. We learn the early morning meal is called Suhoor. The daylight hours are devoted to good deeds and kindness. When Moon glances down at Indonesia, it’s time to break the fast at Iftar. Here we’re treated to a spread of a dining room table filled with all the delicious foods of the holiday including dates. In the United Kingdom, Moon lights the way for children “delivering baskets of dried fruit and honey-soaked pastries.” Zakat, or charity during Ramadan, is discussed by leaders of the community in New Zealand. One example is by putting coins in sadaqah jars for those in need.

As the days pass, Moon grows fuller. So by the time this story reaches Somalia, it is full, signaling the halfway mark of the holiday. An Iman leads worshippers in the nightly prayer of Taraweeh. One of my favorite spreads, in rich purples and blues, is about breaking bread with people of different faiths. Set in the United States. Moon has reached its last quarter and is shaped like a loaf of bread that has risen. In Dubai Moon gets a glimpse of smiles and hennaed hands. A gorgeous star-lit outdoor scene greets a new Moon in Argentina as she “magically melts into mulberry and lavender hues.” People fill the streets as the month of fasting nears its end. First India for Chaand Raat, the night of the moon, and then for our return back to where everything in Kazi’s picture book began, in Egypt for the joyful Eid al-Fitr festivities. The positive energy of Kazi’swarm art, achieved using scanned watercolor textures and digital pencil, and uplifting prose pulsates from the pages!

The endpapers depict the phases of the moon and back matter includes an Author’ Note, a Ramadan Glossary, illustrations of different foods, and Ramadan items such as the lantern, the sadaqah jar, the traditional skullcap, and more. A rewarding read now and for years to come!

 

The Night Before Eid cover grandmother hugging grandchildTHE NIGHT BEFORE EID
Written by  Aya Khalil
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

(Christy Ottaviano Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 Starred Review – Kirkus

Introduce your children to Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that begins with a crescent moon above, by sharing this heart-warming new picture book.

Zain is so excited that Teita has finally arrived from Egypt. Everyone will help her make the delicious dessert called ka’ak that she is known for. She’s brought along special ingredients, too. The mouth-watering cookies take time and patience to make and though Zain is eager to get started, author Khalil takes us back to Egypt via several fabulous flashback spreads to when Zain’s Mama and Teita were younger. That was a time when the whole family would stay up all night to bake the ka’ak and then offer them as gifts to others. Those three pages of recollections convey the significance of this tradition that Zain’s family continues.

Zain brings the cookies to school where they are a hit even with his class’s pickiest eater. This is a super scene because it’s inclusive—there’s a student in a wheelchair, a Black student, a White student, one girl in a headscarf, and one boy wearing a yarmulke. When Zain’s teacher wants the recipe he is filled with pride. Wait until he tells Teita! You can feel the love emanating from the huge hugs and smiles he shares with his teita once home.

The charming illustrations, which include a lively kitty popping up in fun poses and places, have a childlike quality that I find appealing and feels so right for this story. They were created using mixed media including acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, crayon, and pencil on watercolor paper. The saturation of colors such as pink, orange, and teal adds vibrancy to this tale that is already so full of life.

Seeing the scenes when Mama was a child helps reinforce how the memories of time spent together during the holiday are a cherished part of the experience. Young readers are treated to not only the history of ka’ak going back to the pharaohs’ rule but to the fun involved when everyone pitches in now to help prepare them. Khalil’s prose makes us almost taste their sweetness and shows how important it is to honor this joyful tradition. Six pages of back matter end the book with an explanation of Eid, a ka’ak time line, lovely author photos, and a recipe to try your hand a ka’ak making. Don’t miss this timeless intergenerational story!

 

Zahras Blessing cover girl wishing on the moonZAHRA’S BLESSING
Written by Shirin Shamsi
Illustrated by Manal Mirza
(Barefoot Books; Available in Hardcover $17.99, Paperback $9.99, + Spanish, Ages 4-9)

I loved where this wonderful story went and how the title can be interpreted to refer to more than one blessing that occurs in Zahra’s Blessing. One clue is given in Nirza’s beautiful cover artwork.

The story begins at bedtime with the main character, Zahra, telling her teddy bear that during the Ramadan moon, her mama says “… blessings are all around us during this month.” So Zahra prays for a sister, someone to bake with. I’m adding play with, read to, and love because it’s clear Zahra is a girl full of love.

One blessing during the holiday is to give to others so along with her Mama, Zahra chooses clothing to box up and donate. Afterward, she realizes that she cannot find Teddy, her stuffed animal, despite a thorough search. This loss weighs on her. A sister could help her look for Teddy.

When they bring their items to a refugee shelter, they will also spend time there volunteering. And though Zahra is missing her beloved Teddy, her mother explains the shelter residents have lost so much more since fleeing their homelands. That helps Zahra understand their difficult circumstances. Mama introduces Zahra to “someone special,” a young refugee named Haleema who is painting. This a second clue kids might not pick up on. They may also not get that Haleema refers to her parents in the past tense. Her Baba was an artist she tells Zahra. Her mama was an architect. Here I must note I did wonder if kids will infer Haleema’s parents had died. What is clear is that Zahra and Haleema bond over painting, reading stories, and then breaking the fast together. Soon it was time to go home and I was moved when Zahra longs to find Teddy so she can give him to Haleema who was sad to see her new friend go. Moments like this demonstrate Zahra’s maturity and humanity.

Over Ramadan, Zahra and Haleema spend more time together, growing closer every day. Just before “Eid Day dawned dazzling bright” Zahra’s parents share a delightful secret with her which readers ultimately learn a few spreads later. Zahra’s wish for a sister has come true in the most wonderful way so when Eid festivities end, this family of three grows to a family of four with Haleema! There was no denying the blessing of Ramadan that Zahra’s family could feel.

The two pages of back matter explain the holiday, and its customs, and also address displacement, shelters, and foster care. The interconnectedness of Shamsi’s lyrical writing with Mirza’s jewel-toned, ebullient art makes this a standout story for children. Zahra’s Blessing presents a story of empathy, kindness, and the joy of giving in an engaging and accessible way while beautifully blending the richness of Ramadan and Eid.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review – The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil

THE ARABIC QUILT:
An Immigrant Story

Written by Aya Khalil

Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

(Tilbury House Publishers; $17.95, Ages 5-9)

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

The Arabic Quilt, written by Aya Khalil with art by Anait Semirdzhyan, is a thoughtful picture book that sensitively conveys the experience and emotions of any child who has ever felt uncomfortable with or ashamed of a second language spoken, or other customs practiced and foods eaten, at home whether a recent immigrant or not. When my husband’s family moved to America from Israel in 1955 they chose to speak only English and, while I understand their motivation of wanting to fit in, it’s sad my husband never learned Hebrew, or Yiddish and German for that matter, all the languages of his parents.

The main character in this story is Kanzi whose family is newish to America, hence the sub-title. When she later introduces herself in class at her new school she says “I am Egyptian-American. I love to swim. I love to write poetry.” But also on her first day of third grade she deliberately leaves behind a kofta (meatball) sandwich so that her somewhat less typical meal wouldn’t stand out. Much to her dismay, Kanzi’s mother shows up at school with the forgotten lunch and embarrasses her daughter in front of classmates when calling her an affectionate name in Arabic. This part resonated with me even though I never had that exact experience. But who cannot relate to that awful feeling of being ‘the other’ in some situation during their school years whether it was from being teased for crying, being un-athletic, wearing glasses, or having an uncommon background?

The Arabic Quilt interior1
Interior spread from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

The theme of Khalil’s story feels current and fresh. No one apologizes for their differences and should not have to. The Arabic Quilt honors Kanzi’s family’s history and language which is empowering, and no one does it better than Kanzi’s teacher. I love how Mrs. Haugen knows just what to say and do to comfort her upset student after being teased, “Oh Kanzi, being bilingual is beautiful.” In fact, the story not only features Arabic words throughout, but Khalil’s included a helpful glossary at the end.

Mrs. Haugen suggests Kanzi bring the handmade quilt into school and, following the positive response, announces a special project. Kanzi and her mother will write the students’ names in Arabic and then Kanzi’s classmates can design their own paper quilt pieces. Even the class across the hall is inspired by Mrs. Haugen’s project that celebrates Kanzi’s Arabic language. The book aptly ends with Kanzi composing a poem to her parents where she thanks her parents for encouraging her to be proud of her unique language and how, like the assorted pieces of her teita’s quilt, language can actually bring us together.

The Arabic Quit int2
Interior art from The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, Tilbury House ©2020.

 

One of my favorite Semirdzhyan illustrations depicts Kanzi writing poetry following her difficult first day while reassuringly wrapped in her cherished quilt from her teita (grandma) far away in Cairo. Another is the happy faces of the children admiring the finished paper quilt, the look of contentment on Mrs. Haugen’s face, and the pure joy on Kanzi’s face. The book’s art brings added warmth to this already meaningful story, and the ample white space allows the focus to be on the students, their interaction, and ultimately their own collage quilt that binds the kids in class together. Kanzi’s individual story is now woven into theirs, separate yet together. Between its important message of accepting differences, and being proud of one’s culture and language, The Arabic Quilt would make a welcome gift for Eid or for anyone eager to expand their child’s multicultural horizons. I recommend this lovely debut from Aya Khalil and hope you get a copy for yourself or for your child’s school from your local indie bookseller today.

  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a classroom guide.

Also recommended for Eid is Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, with illustrations by Sara Alfageeh, Amulet Books.

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Ramadan by Hannah Eliot with illustrations by Rashin

 

Ramadan book cover art

 

I’m happy to share Ramadan, the first book in a new board book series from Little Simon geared towards preschoolers called Celebrate The World. “The series aims to show readers how different cultures celebrate and cherish the holidays important to them.”

 

Ramandan int artwork 1
Interior artwork from Ramadan written by Hannah Eliot and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, Little Simon ©2018.

 

Alluding to the lunar calendar, Ramadan takes places in the ninth month of the year “when the crescent moon first appears in the sky …” With its 24 pages of ebullient illustrations, Ramadan is a cheerful and easy-to-understand introduction to the Islamic holiday observed by over a billion Muslims across the globe. Little ones learn that during the monthlong fast of Ramadan, eating occurs “only when it is dark outside,” and involves prayer, introspection and spending time with family and friends. Other important aspects of this holy holiday include being “thankful” and helping others. When the month has ended, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, also known as the Sweet Festival, for three days during which time they “pray” and “give each other gifts.”

 

Ramandan int artwork 1
Interior artwork from Ramadan written by Hannah Eliot and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, Little Simon ©2018.

 

Eliot has included just the right amount of information to pique a preschooler’s curiosity. The simple language that is used works perfectly with Rashin’s festive and upbeat artwork conveying the impression that both author and illustrator thoroughly enjoyed working on this book. That said, I have no doubt that readers will agree. The depiction of the crescent moon, the men kneeling in the mosque, and all the fabulous food scenes are sure to please. I look forward to all the other books in this series if they’re as well crafted as Ramadan. They’ll be popular for parents and educators alike for being a positive way to help youngsters understand and welcome traditions from near and afar.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Stars shine bright for debut authors Thompkins-Bigelow and Martinez-Neal

MOMMY’S KHIMAR
Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

&

ALMA
Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Two parent and child dyads share and celebrate cherished cultural connections in beautiful new picture books by debut authors that will touch and delight the heart.

Cover art by Ebony Glenn for Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-BigelowDebut author Thompkins-Bigelow depicts a child’s wonderful, busy day in MOMMY’S KHIMAR.A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears” says a young Muslim girl who loves to dress-up in her mother’s rainbow collection of headscarves. Fun and fancy are foremost in her mind as she incorporates the beautiful khimars in her imaginative play. The yellow khimar – another term for hijab – is her favorite and she dreams of wearing it like a queen, or a superhero, flying through the sky like a star.

Mama sees the girl at play, but smiles tenderly rather than scolds. The scarf carries her familiar, motherly fragrance of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon, making it even more special to her daughter. The girl is also loved and celebrated by her father, teachers and her grandmother, wrapped in tangible and intangible messages of love and welcome.

Glenn’s bright, sunny illustrations are sweet and appealing, using vibrant colors that compliment the warm, well-rounded story and keep the focus squarely on the girl’s fun. The energetic images cool to soft blue-purples as night falls and the beloved khimar returns to her mother’s closet. Even in her dreams the heroine recalls the tender embrace of her family and community, but her mother most of all. A delightful depiction of an ordinary day in the life of a cheerful and charming child.
Starred reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

Cover art for Alma and How She Got Her Name ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME is the book title, but the inquisitive heroine’s full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Alma complains that her name is “too long” and “never fits.” In fact, Alma must tape an extra piece of paper to her page to accommodate all six! Soon, the how and why of the family stories behind each and every name is revealed in compelling, engaging descriptions.

When Alma’s father explains the rich history of the names she bears, Alma’s incredible imagination brings them to life. Aided by family photos and icons, her father’s story reveals Alma’s namesakes and the common bonds they share. Like her grandmother Sofia, Alma adores books. Like her grandfather Jose, Alma loves to draw and paint. Candela was Alma’s activist grandmother, and aunt Pura was deeply spiritual.

Alma wears delightful striped red pants, a perky red hairbow, and a red string around her left wrist. Her sweet, expressive face moves from solemn to astonished, serene to silly as she “meets” her ancestors and discovers the common bonds that they share. Martinez-Neal, recipient of the 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, uses a restrained color palette and imbues the well-designed textual components with meaningful symbols. Broad, double page spreads pace the story smoothly and linger for maximum impact on each name’s meaning. The final reveal for the name “Alma” is a warm, satisfying and ultimately empowering one for the little girl who has been enriched by the love and history of her family past and present. ALMA is a tender tale, a treasure for all readers who will wonder about their own name history.
Starred reviewsBooklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

•Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Read reviews of other #Epic18 debuts here:

I am Famous & Shark Nate-
Snow Sisters
The Three Little Pugs & The Little Red Fort

 

 

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