Lailah’s Lunchbox: a book deal!!!!

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Ramadan has been a busy month here. I hadn’t fasted in years due to pregnancies and nursing, so it feels good to fast. Challenging, too, but the first bite and sip of cool water after a long day is a wonderful feeling!

As many of you know, I have been writing, blogging, and photographing. But deep down, I’ve always wanted to get a children’s book published. I worked on writing children’s book manuscripts when Z was a little baby, and great napper. I wrote stories and then thought, now what to I do with them? My parents had gone to an ISNA conference and happened to meet author Asma Mobin Uddin there and purchased her book, My Name is Bilal.  I reached out to her and she was helpful and told me some good books to read to learn about the publishing market. I remember sitting down with the Children’s Writer & Illustrator’s Market and circling publishers that I liked. I remember circling and highlighting Tilbury House Publishers, a publishing company that published diverse books, books that promote respect, tolerance, and compassion. They stood out in my mind as the books they produced are beautiful!

So when Z was a baby, I submitted my manuscripts to Tilbury House as well as a few other companies and got all rejections. I remember thinking, But my stories are good! I remember Tilbury House held on to one of my manuscripts longer than normal, and when I reached out to them, the children’s book editor had liked my story, and sent it back for extra reviewing, but at the end of the day, my story was too similar to one already on its way to being published, Say Something. But the fact that someone liked my story out there in the publishing world gave me hope!

I told myself I’d go back to writing – at that time Z entered toddlerdom, so life got busy! I also delved into photography and loved it, but my children’s book writing wasn’t a priority.

When Baby A came, I told myself I wanted to try again, so send out another round of manuscripts and got rejected again.

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Busy with children? Still. Must. Write!

So I took another break, but kept wanting to get back in the publishing world. Every time I would visit the library, I would look through books, leaf through the pages to see which authors had made it, which publishers I gravitated to, and think I need to try again. Or I would hear news of another author who made it, one who had four children, and think, Wow! I shouldn’t make my two children a reason for not being able to write. 

If I want to write or get published badly enough, I should try again! Or it might be a comment, one of my brothers made to me, “I always thought you’d write children’s books…”

So I wrote ‘Submit Manuscript’ again on my To-Do List and  circled it in neon green pen and starred it as well. But the to-do list remained what it was, a to-do list. Finally, I had another story, but was sending it out to critique groups and waiting.

My aunt, Sana Dossul who specializes in all stuff children, was in town, and I showed her my manuscript Lailah’s Lunchbox along with another manuscript that I thought had potential. My aunt read the story, and said “What are you watiting for? Just send it!” 

“But what about my other story?” I asked.

“I didn’t like that one as much. Send this one in!” she responded enthusiastically.

photo (21)So instead of mulling like I usually do, or sending it for another extra round of critiquing, I listened and sent it in. I took Baby A, went to the UPS-Fedex office on a rainy grey day, dodged rain drops, printed, reviewed, Sharpied on addresses, and plopped it in a mailbox. And took a quick photo, because What If?

And then I waited, and submitted my story to agents as well, and waited some more, and gardened to pass the time.

And one day, I saw the subject ‘Your Manuscript’ in my mailbox. My insides took a quick leap as I sat down to read…

Hello Reem,

Your manuscript arrived in today’s mail, having been rerouted by the post office to our new address. I enjoyed reading it and have taken the liberty of sharing it with our co-publishers, Jon Eaton and Tris Coburn, as well as Audrey Maynard.

I think your story is a unique take on Ramadan and I’m glad you thought of us. Please let me know if you’ve had a response from any other publishers as yet.

Best wishes,

Fran Hodgkins

 

I got v.excited and the next few days kept checking my email and phone to see if there was any update! Finally I couldn’t wait and checked in with them again…and got this response…

“I was going to wait and have our children’s book editor call you, but I’ll take this opportunity to say that we really like your manuscript and would like to publish it.”

 

So I have a book deal! And my story will be published next year, either in the Spring of 2015 or Fall of 2015 or maybe even early enough for next Ramadan! It’s v.exciting and surreal, and this last month has consisted of reviewing a contract, talking terms, signing a contract, and now discussing illustrators (which is the funnest part!) I always placed authors on a pedestal and wondered what life was really like in the publishing world, but have found that one day you can be unpublished and one day, published, or on the way to publishing. We are all the same, just working toward a goal! The publishers, editor, and director have been down-to-earth and wonderful to work with so far.

Here’s a sneak peek of what I sent in my query letter:

When writing Lailah’s Lunchbox, I reflected on my earlier memories of moving to America. When Lailah moves from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia, she realizes her best friends are miles away. She feels even more estranged when she realizes no one else is fasting with her at school. Adding to her dilemma is a note from her mother to her teacher, explaining why Lailah doesn’t have her lunchbox, and Lailah still hasn’t given her teacher the note. Her classmates simply think Lailah has forgotten her lunchbox…again. Will Lailah have the courage to tell her class about this special time for her?

As well as a sneak peek favorite quote of mine from this story:

Lailah knew the sign by the highway said “Peachtree City: You’ll Love to Call it Home!”but she didn’t agree with the sign. Abu Dhabi still felt like home.

Can’t wait to share more updates about this story! Since it is a Ramadan story, couldn’t wait to share this news during this special month of Ramadan. Thank you to all who have encouraged me so far!

Why I Write

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My talented-writer-friend-mom-playdate-buddy Aisha Saeed participated in a blog hop, in which she wrote about her writing process here. Basically, you tag other writers and get to learn and relate to other people’s writing processes, something I find interesting to see how each person’s mind works! Aisha has a novel coming out next year - Written in the Stars  - which is really exciting! I love reading her thoughts on her blog, so am looking forward to reading her novel. on March 24th, 2015!

 What am I working on/writing? 

Right now, I’m trying to focus on children’s book stories. When Z was born, I was very invested in getting a story published and had a lot of gumption! When it didn’t work, I took a break and delved into photography and loved it! I feel like I have a creative reserve and can choose where to apply it. During my teaching years, the reserve was all used up. When being a stay-at-home-mom, I really wanted to use my creativity, so writing stories for children was one way to get my thoughts out. Blogging is also another way I love sharing my thoughts – I like how photos can complement my words. I got distracted with blogging, photography and baby A in the middle, and am now trying to use that creativity for writing children’s manuscripts, and the children’s book world. Trying to find a new balance and a new focus that will hopefully pay off!

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How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?

I’ve been reading and reviewing a lot of children’s books here, especially those in the Muslim children’s book world, books about Eid, Ramadan, and general multicultural stories. It’s been great to see that there are quite a few wonderful books out there written already. Reading these stories has shown me what is in this genre already, and what other stories need to be  told. I’m planning on telling those untold stories.

Even for college application essays, my father would always say, write about the things that make you different so that you stand out. Good advice for writing picture books as well!

 

Why do I write what I do?

Because I think even more diverse voices need to be heard. Because my favorite part of teaching 2nd grade was Read Aloud time. Because the first place I go to in the library is the children’s section. I just love picture books – seeing illustrations complement the author’s words. Each picture book is a unique piece of art!

Also if I don’t get my thoughts out by writing, my mind gets clogged. The words keep bouncing around and the only way I can get them out and clear my mind is through writing. I’ve always loved writing, even as a child. When I was given a diary for my birthday as a child, I wrote in it and to this day I have kept a journal.  When moving from Abu Dhabi to America, I was happy to bring my journals along with me! It’s always fun to read my childhood journals, to see what I brought for lunch that day, and what activities we were up to!

 

 

How does my writing process work?

I wish I was more organized in this part, but am not. When thoughts come to me, I may write them down on a post-it, the back of an envelope, anything near me. Unfortunately, I don’t always keep track of these scrawly ideas. It’s usually the ideas that keep coming back to me that I know I need to get out of my head. Sometimes, I feel really creative and the words come v.easily. Those are the best times! Sometimes, the story keeps replaying in my head, and I can visualize it really well with illustrations and everything, but then the minute I see in front of my laptop, my mind can go blank or wander. That can be frustrating, so I may take a break, or get forced to take a break (with my 2 little ones around me), and find that the story replays in my head again when putting baby A to sleep, or when cleaning the crumbs off my kitchen floor.

 

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I love how a messily scrawled idea can take shape and become a story, so that’s why I keep writing!

I hope this writing process was helpful for writers!

Next, as part of this blog hop, I’d like to introduce a best friend/ex-roomate who will be blogging about their writing life next week. Check out her blog next week to find out what inspires her!

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Salma has a witty sense of humor, is a scientist, aspiring pharmacist, and quirky baker who bakes delicious goodies! She’s the type of person  who always has lots of funny things happen to her when she goes grocery shopping. She blogs here and  you can follow her on twitter here @snstoman

 

 

Allah’s Prophets: Board Game Review!

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I’ve been reviewing books, so when Share the Deen, a company that makes entertaining&educational Islamig games and products, reached out to me about reviewing a board game, I thought it would be fun! I’ve only played a real Islamic board game once, during a Youth Group night at the masjid. It was fun; I didn’t know quite a few answers, but I thought it was cool to have a real game. So many games I’ve had to make for Sunday School, simple ones with flash cards. Even today, Z and I played a makeshift fishing game, with a magnet, Arabic letters, and paper clips!

So when Allah’s Prophets (one of their popular board games) came in the mail, I was excited to start playing. I’m actually looking forward to playing this with my 7 year old niece as she’s just the right age for this. Z can’t read so is too young, but I had her help me play it on my own today. Baby A lingered nearby and loved fiddling with the cards (and knocking them over!) I need to play this when she’s napping.

There is an answer key which is important to keep. This is a memory game, with a twist that I really like. Instead of just matching up the cards, you match the Q and A cards, question and answer cards. The instructions also give a few options of how to play this game. I also liked that the cards were about the prophets and varied from easy to challenging/tricky. This game, I knew lots of answers which I liked!

This would also be a great game for Sunday School. I could totally imagine students happily playing this. The cards are colorful (Z enjoyed making patterns!), and the game is professionally made and thought of! It also doesn’t have lots of tiny, annoying parts, but simple well-made cards, that are pretty easy to clean up. This is a great Eid gift for children 8+ or any person for that matter. Who said games are just for children anyways?! Also, put in the promocode, Ramadan14 to save 10% off this order here.

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King for a Day: Children’s Book Review

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Amazon Summary:

Basant is here, with feasts and parties to celebrate the arrival of spring. But what Malik is looking forward to most is doing battle from his rooftop with Falcon, the special kite he has built for speed. Today is Malik’s chance to be the best kite fighter, the king of Basant. In two fierce battles, Malik takes down the kites flown by the bully next door. Then Malik moves on, guiding Falcon into leaps, swirls, and dives, slashing strings and plucking kites from the sky. By the end of the day, Malik has a big pile of captured kites. He is the king! But then the bully reappears, trying to take a kite from a girl in the alley below. With a sudden act of kingly generosity, Malik finds the perfect way to help the girl. This lively, contemporary story introduces readers to a centuries-old festival and the traditional sport of kite fighting, and to a spirited, determined young boy who masters the sport while finding his own way to face and overcome life’s challenges.

  • Age Range: 6 – 10 years
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1600606598
  • ISBN-13: 978-1600606595

My thoughts: Rukhsana Khan, an award winning author, has written some beautiful books and each story she writes has a distinct voice and unique characters. This story is no different! I requested this review copy from Lee&Low, which is known for publishing some beautiful multicultural books. The illustrations/artwork in this story are phenomenal and I really could see bits of Pakistan in this book, from the dusty alley to the the thatched roofs, to the colorful kites, and billowy shalvar kameezes.

I enjoyed the plot of this story and how Malik is known that day for his great kite-flying skills, but I really enjoyed his sudden act of kindness at the end of the story.

I could relate to this story since I’ve always loved flying kites as a child. My father would take us right outside our house where stood a parking lot and there’s nothing like seeing a regular sized kite become a tiny dancing diamond high, high in the sky. My father also enjoys making kites like Malik in this story.

A unique part of this story that I didn’t stumble upon till the middle is that Malik is in a wheel chair. The story doesn’t mention it – simply portrays it in illustrations. It’s easy to miss, but I believe it makes the story even more powerful.

Z’s thoughts:

She loved the kites and pointing at each one. In this story, they are a work of art! We’ve already read this story a few times!

Favorite Quote:

Suddenly I hear yelling from below. The bully pushes a young girl to the ground. Then he grabs her kite and runs into his house. The girl gets to her feet. Sobbing, she heads down the alley trailing the kite string behind her. Something makes me pick up Goliath and drop it over the side of the roof. It floats, slicing the air side to side, to land close beside her.

The quote above is just a small sample of Rukshana Khan’s crisp writing. Each word is so precise and kid-friendly, and really spins a beautiful tale.

 

Above 2 images obtained from here.

Ilustrations pasted from illustrater Kromer’s site here, and she talks about her art process there as well! And the illustrator being interviewed by the author here – something I found really interesting!

The Jinni on the Roof: Children’s Book Review

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Amazon Summary: Eight-year-old Raza is too young to fast, but he longs for the delicious parathas the grown-ups eat before dawn. The aroma of the flaky, golden bread tempts him. He cannot wait for the children’s breakfast, but he’ll get into trouble if anyone finds him up this early. Lying in bed, Raza hatches a plan. Will he get away with it? This is a delightful tale about a mischievous boy who learns the true meaning of Ramadan – patience and empathy. Age range 4 -8 years. Link to amazon here!

Story by Natasha Rafi  (Author), Abdul Malik Channa (Illustrator)

My thoughts: I saw this tale advertised on Facebook and wanted to read it! I reached out to author Natasha Rafi and she sent me one over. It’s a heartwarming tale of a child who loves parathas! Most children do love parathas so it’s relatable! I also liked that this story was paperback. A lot of children’s books are hardback, but it ‘s nice to have a good quality paperback. I like paperbacks for traveling purposes so I would pack this with a Noor Kids comic book for Z if we were to travel soon! Also the benefit of paperbacks are that they aren’t as expensive as hardcovers so it’s a great book to add to a child’s Ramadan collection or give as an Eid gift, #RamadanReads!

The story is set in Lahore – I’m from Karachi, so the descriptions of the cook and sehri hit home for me. Rafi included a glossary at the end of the book which is helpful for non-Pakistani people. There is also an Author’s Note on Ramadan which is helpful for non-Muslims and Muslims.

I enjoyed how Rafi describes 8 year old Raza’s escape to the roof and the sounds he hears at Sehri time. It was amusing to read Raza’s thoughts and how he snuck up to the roof. I also enjoyed the illustrations by Abdul Malik Channa, especially of Raza’s nani (or maternal grandmother) as she looks like Z’s paternal great grandmother! Z also enjoyed the little orange cat in the pictures.

On his way he passed through room after room filled with heavy wood furniture, stubbing his toe in the dark more than once.

Z’s thoughts: Z enjoyed the part where Reza goes on the roof and disguises his voice to scare the cook Amina. It was a fun story to use a scary voice to. Z also loves parathas so she enjoyed pointing to the balls of dough. Z also wanted to hear the story of why he wanted parathas and how he got them, over and over again!

Favorite Quote:

I loved how the cook sounded like a paratha!

Amina the cook was heaving her plump, doughy body up the stairs to his grandmother’s room to wake her up. She had a lot of work to do since the whole family had gathered together in Lahore to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Shortly after that came the aroma.

 

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This was Z’s favorite page because Amina the cook was cooking parathas and in Z’s words she really likes parathas!
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A Sunflower’s Ramadan

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“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.”
~ Helen Keller


This sunflower bloomed a few days in Ramadan, so enjoying it as are the bees that buzz around it. Today a butterfly visited it so that was fun for A and Z to see! The Ramadan days are meshing together, the hours are long, but now am adjusted and grateful to have food, shelter, and basic necessities that so many others don’t have. As well as a pretty sunflower to admire from our kitchen window!

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Before…

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A few minutes before the long fast…IMG_0286-2 IMG_0297 IMG_0302-2

 

caught the moon int he back!

“When a Muslim plants a tree, whatever is eaten from it is charity from him and whatever is stolen is charity and whatever is subtracted from it is charity.” - Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

 

Noor Kids: Children’s Comic Book Review

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I’m excited to review Noor Kids comic books!

Suggested Ages: 3-8 year olds

How to Get the Books: You basically sign up online here at Noor Kids to receive the comic book bundle  in the mail.  Z loves getting mail! I ordered a stash a while ago, when Z was 3 last Eid, and loved the concept of these books.

About the Authors and Backstory: The stories are based for children growing up in North America. 2 brothers Mohammed and Amin Aaser created these comics  for children to be proud of their Muslim identity- these books are now entering over 25,000 homes across 25 countries!

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My thoughts: A nice thing about these books is that they’re light weight around 25 pages, and fit easily in a little backpack. Z had placed these in her backpack when we traveled, and these kept her entertained on the road trip. She left them at her grandparents house so Noor Kids sent me a sample for reviewing, and was happy to see Z was excited to see them again, as was I.

Z’s thoughts: The first thing Z said when she rifled through the pages was, “COLORINGGGG!” – a coloring page keeps them busy. I think she enjoys them more at age 4 than at age 3.

The illustrations are animated and full of expression. I love the way the female characters wear hijab from time to time and the way their animal ears poke out of their hijabs! Z wanted to know why Shireen (the bear) below was sad, and asked over and over again to which I had to explain over and over again!

Favorite Quote:

“Sweet pea, there is no reason to stress at all. Tonight, raise your hands and give Allah (SWT) a call. Everything is possible through Him, no matter how big or small.” – Shireen’s father to Shireen when she still doesn’t catch a fish during a camping vacation.

Nice Perk: At the end of the comic books, they feature an Arabic letter and show how the arabic letter looks written in its three forms – the beginning , middle, end. When teaching Sunday School to preschoolers, I noticed that children often get confused when they see the letter broken up, so the good thing about this page is that children get familiar to seeing the letter in 3 different forms. There are also a few Arabic vocab words so that is nice to introduce a little Arabic on a basic level. Planning on placing Z in a public school for next year, but I like if she reads these, she will still get a little Arabic!

Dua: I loved how this recent edition brought prayer down to a v.young child’s level. The creators of this book, Mohammad and Amin Aaser, have a mother who has cancer and is not feeling well. Please keep her in your prayers. This recent edition (Power of Prayer) was inspired by her.

 

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I enjoyed the duas placed in Noor Kids as well; this was paired with the COLORINGGGG page!photo 4 (17) photo 2 (22) photo 5 (16)

Arabic page above!