Review: Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi with illustrations by Lea Lyon

Review: Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi with illustrations by Lea Lyon

Doodling Through Life:

Thanks for this review!

Originally posted on The Book Wars:


Hardcover, 32 pages
Published June 1st 2015 by Tilbury House Publishers
Source: Author

The review for this book could not come at a more relevant period as it is the month of Ramadan currently and Muslims all around the world are fasting. Fasting in this sense means abstaining from food and water from before sunup to after sundown.

These days being Muslim is difficult for reasons I’m not particularly keen to get into at the moment. Suffice it to say that Lailah’s Lunchbox is an extremely timely picturebook.

The picturebook focuses on the titular character, Lailah, who is going to fast for the first time during Ramadan. She had been too young the previous year so hadn’t been able to fast while all her friends had. Being able to fast is a distinction she has been waiting anxiously for. (Children are not obligated to fast until they are 10-12 years old.) This year…

View original 538 more words



It’s Ramadan again!

I’ve enjoyed reading people’s Ramadan Facebook statuses of how they’re going to do the best this month and give it their all! With little ones, there’s a lot of online activities for Ramadan such as here: 49 Ways to get Kids Involved in Ramadan, and lots of little things I’ve seen people do online such as decorate their houses, a good deeds chart, string lights, put up a calendar, etc.

Here, we haven’t done much of that all – no lights strung up, no fancy decor here! I wanted to make a calendar like last year, so Z and I stuck some cupcake wrappers up (that’s all I could find in the Pantry) and I let her write from 1 to 30, which means a lot of numbers are crooked, small, and the wrong way. The wrappers are stuck up a little crooked, the papers are folded in the wrong place, but I just don’t feel like going out in the heat to buy proper materials to make arts and crafts that look ‘pretty.’  As long as whatever we make is functionable, we’re good to go.

I wrote ‘good deeds’ on the wrappers and took the girls’ input in so there are funny ones like, “Tell your Mom please when you want pancakes!” and “Help Your Mom Bake Cookies.” “Help Your Mom Bake Cookies” should seriously be “Make Your Mom Cookies and More Importantly Clean the Kitchen After!”

A note about cleaning, this book is worth the hype and I feel like my items in my cabinets and clothes in my closet are breathing a little better and my house is a bit more at peace this Ramadan!

For Ramadan, I wanted a less cluttered home so I feel like I am closer to that goal. I also replaced my sponge, something so small, but makes me feel a little happier.


lazy Summer mornings in which I get a little extra sleep, courtesy of Steve Jobs and his iPad.

IMG_6905 IMG_6894 IMG_6891 IMG_6827

‘homemade samosas’ that are store bought from the Halal Meat Grocer on 14th Street!


almost Zinnia buds

IMG_6811-3 IMG_6807 IMG_6803-2

1 of my favorites because they naturally did this!

IMG_6797-2 20150521_114554

And my book up in Little Shop of Stories. I’ve seen my book in Ramadan book displays and will share those photos later, but it doesn’t get old to see my book up on someone’s book shelf! [I’ll be at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur at 3 pm tomorrow for Story time of Lailah’s Lunchbox!]


The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify God for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.

Guest Post: Inspiration on Writing Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi


Doodling Through Life:

Here’s my Guest Post on the Bookwars site! Thank you for the feature!

Originally posted on The Book Wars:

Ramadan, a month of fasting observed by Muslims around the world, starts around June 18th this year and what better time than now to introduce you via this guest post to Lailah’s Lunchbox, a picturebook about Lailah, her lunchbox, and Ramadan. Here to talk about her book and the inspirations behind it is Reem Faruqi.


61x80imSllL._UX250_Reem Faruqi used to teach second grade and her favorite time was Read Aloud time. Now, as a stay-at-home-mom, her favorite time is still Read Aloud time. Of Pakistani origin, she moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia when she was 13 years old.

She based her first children’s book Lailah’s Lunchbox on her own experience as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. Reem loves doodling, writing, and photography and photoblogs at Currently, she lives with her husband and two daughters in Atlanta.

Her picture book, Lailah’s Lunchbox

View original 512 more words

Gardens of Kindness


I am at a ‘Graduation Ceremony’ or a ‘Moving Up Ceremony’ or a ‘Pre-K Presentation,’ whatever you call it.

Z is going to Kindergarten.

I always want to spell it with a D. A garden where kindness grows and friendship blooms.


We have heard the poem over and over in our house. Z taught it to A which means we hear it double.

Kindergarten Here we Come!

We Know We’ll Have Lots of Fun!

Lots of Things to Make and Do!

Counting, Reading, Writing Too!

The Pre-K Children are dressed up and walk in with a mixture of pride, confidence, and shyness. Friendship has bloomed here in the world of Pre-K.

The chairs are hard and metal and I’m struggling to get a good view of Z, but I’d rather be here than anywhere else.


A month ago I was recovering from a health issue. I was hooked up to an IV waiting for Health to visit again.

photo 2 (30)
Now I am healing. I want to preserve health. Wrap it up gently and hold on to it tightly the way one holds a toddlers hand crossing the road. Tightly. Firmly. Not let go.


To do everyday day tasks is a blessing. To go to a grocery store, pick up a child from school, work on a computer with your brain slowly sharpening again, is a blessing. What used to be mundane and trivial is now done with a sense of accomplishment.

To not have doctor appointments scheduled with high frequency, tainting white squares of the calendar is a blessing.

For so many things in life we work at to get. Wealth. Education. Careers. We put in long hours with the hope our efforts will pay off.

But not so with health. We can exercise and take care of ourselves, yes, but health can go away stealthily and silently, without warning. It can flee you when you most need it leaving you struggling and wallowy. Get Well Soon is a phrase you learn to dread hearing, a phrase said to you with a smile, a phrase that taunts you. Sometimes you Don’t Get Well Soon. Every fiber of you wants to heal, but the body has a way of betraying you sometimes.


So when you finally get your health back, when it finally returns slowly and surely, like a sun ray falling in your lap, you want to cherish it and not let it go.

You’d rather keep those calendar squares white and empty, free and unblemished when you can. You’d rather hold on to health and the toddler with a tightly gripping hand, cross the road, and attend a kinder- garden ceremony. A place where kindness blooms. A place with new beginnings. You. The toddler. The preschooler. And health with a capital H.


“Take benefit of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness,  your wealth before your poverty, your free-time before your preoccupation, and your life before your death,” ~ Prophet Muhammad (Narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim)

Words with Weight


“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” ― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

“What does the author look like?” asks the little boy at Read Aloud time.

I assume the role of ‘the author,’ stand up, and wave at him with a smile before sitting down.


It is much easier for me to write that I have published a children’s book. But to tell others is something else.

At the library, I am the mother of the 2 children who like to play Tag at Check out. Those 2 children who choose to find something funny and erupt in laughter interrupting the studious and revered silence with punctuated giggles.

Telling librarians or people in real life about my book is challenging for me. Like my character Lailah, I find it hard to get the words out.

But through writing, I find ease, solace, and comfort. It is easier for me to be ‘poised’ in writing. To use the Backspace Button when needed. To edit. But to be poised in real life with words is harder.


Words — You can…

  • Release them
  • Watch them float away, weightless.
  • Modulate them – Hold on to them like Sugar
  • Share only a baby spoonful at a time
  • Or … Don’t share them at all
  • Be stingy with them

Words can be …

  • Heavy and once released change the air around you.
  • Mixed and Stirred
  • Warm
  • Chilling
  • Evoke Memories
  • Erase Dreams
  • Build Dreams

I would love to be more poised in real life, to not regret saying so much, or to regret saying so little at times. I always admire those who hold onto their words and when they release their words, their words are listened to, heard, and respected. Their words have a reassuring Weight. Importance.


I’ll attempt poise in real life. But for now, writing will do…




Say, “If the sea were ink for [writing] the words of my Lord, the sea would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like of it as a supplement” – Quran 18:109

New Voice: Reem Faruqi on Lailah’s Lunchbox


I have read Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s blog Cynsations for a while. It is a great place for author information, resources, and most importantly, inspiration! I was featured as a New Voice on her blog here.

Below is an excerpt…

As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Trying to write and mothering young children can be very tricky! I have a two-year-old and four-year-old and have learned that you get better at working through interruptions. When I’m writing, I’m usually receiving interruptions from my children to take them to the bathroom, for another snack … the list goes on!

When my four-year-old is at school, I have my interruptions cut in half with just my two-year-old’s needs. That’s when I feel I get the most writing done.

I do try to write sometimes at night when the children are asleep and find it semi-successful. I find I work best during daylight. I love natural light and find it conducive to working and getting my ideas flowing.

At night, it is easy to feel tired after a busy day!

When I quit teaching to stay home with my children, I wrote a lot of children’s manuscripts when my first child was a baby. She slept a lot during the day so I enjoyed getting that time to write.

Those stories didn’t make it in the publishing world, but through them I now found a stronger voice that works for me.

“Writing” her name with Webdings

I do think it’s important though to rest when your children are resting as that time is precious and when your mind is rested, it is easier to write. Sometimes whole stories will pop in my head when I am doing something random like getting my children ready for bed. It’s as if I can visualize the story, the words, the illustrations, but sometimes when I sit down at the computer, it is frustrating when that story disappears! But if it’s a good story, I believe it will resurface.

The title for my story, Lailah’s Lunchbox, popped into my head when I was cooking: I thought it would be fun to write a Ramadan story about a child who “forgot” their lunchbox every day during Ramadan. I wrote the title on a sticky note and put it away for some time before coming back to it.

For those trying to write and raise children, I would tell them there is no such thing as having it all! You may have a great manuscript you’re working on but you will be eating left-overs for dinner for the third day in a row and children that need a bath! Or you may be itching to write a story, but find yourself caught up in bathing children, cooking food, laundry, dropping and picking up children from school, etc!

Something has got to give way when you write. Sometimes I may be caught up in a story and look around at my house and children and think What Happened?!

This happened when I was writing once!

At those times, find reassurance in your words that you have just worked on and know that because of entropy, your house will continue to keep getting dirty. Putting your words out there takes work and in due time your work will pay off!

Could you tell us the story of “the call” or “the email” when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

For the answer and to read the rest of the article, click here to Cynthia’s blog!

Copyright Cynthia Leitich Smith (Cynsations, 2015). Used with permission.

10 Question Illustrator Interview with Lea Lyon


“I tried to make the illustrations be both a mirror and a window for the reader,” – Lea Lyon, Illustrator.

I really wanted to know Lea Lyon’s thought process for illustrating my story Lailah’s Lunchbox. I usually interview authors so interviewing illustrators was insightful. For example, when I first saw Lea’s pictures, I was struck by the warmth that I felt from her paintings. The characters looked genuine.

I also was impressed by the touches of home that I saw in the book. I sent Lea a few photos of my home to show how my house was decorated with Pakistani touches, and it’s really cool to see little bits of that in the story. Lea has painted some spice jars that are similar to my house, and even added an ajrak looking cushion, a common Pakistani fabric, to one that Lailah sits on.


Do you see the spice jars?! Mine are similar!

I also got to ask Lea how she pronounces her name Lea Lyon. I have been saying it the French way, but it’s actually pronounced “Lee Lion.” Good to know for future book readings! Also, another cool factoid is Lea is Jewish so she is familiar with fasting! She has illustrated The Miracle Jar, a Hanukkah story and now my story, a Ramadan one.

Interview below!
1. What was the process of illustrating Lailah’s Lunchbox like? (I know you sent pictures of which child was going to be our Lailah which was exciting. I never knew that was part of the illustration process!)

There are many steps to illustrating a book. I received the manuscript from Tilbury House Editor, Audrey Maynard, with some suggestions as to where to have page breaks. Picture books are usually 32 pages including the title page, etc., so there are parameters that make it less overwhelming to make a book out of your words.  I first did some thumbnail sketches (a story board) to get ideas for what image to put on each page. The images should enhance the words, not just show what they say. I tried, for instance, to put as many references to Pakistani and Islamic design into the scenes that were at home, rather than at school. So much of the book takes place in the school, and I wanted to give the cultural flavor of the book as much as possible. Also, since I knew very little about Ramadan and your culture, I did lots of research. Interestingly, the thing I really needed your help on was the “cream rolls,” as I had never seen that brand of snack cake here in California. Now I have found them. (Like when you get a new car, you see that kind everywhere.)

I need to paint from models, or photos of real people, rather than out of my imagination. So the next step, when the thumbnails were approved, was to find models for the book. I needed to find a 10 year old Muslim girl who does not wear a head scarf. I knew this aspect of Lailah because she says in the book “They don’t even know I’m Muslim,” and I figured that if she wore a scarf, they would have known.
2. Did you visit schools for Lailah’s illustrations? I love the diversity of the students you painted.

Once I found my model, Eshal, and her family and they were happy to be part of this project, I contacted the principal at the school Eshal attends in San Ramon, CA. I have used schools for two other books I illustrated, and it works so well. We have so much fun and I get all the photos I need. The school agreed, with excitement, to be part of this project. Each child had to get a permission slip signed by his or her parent or guardian, as I was taking photos of them. This, even though I wasn’t using the actual photos in the book.  I was not able to take any other kids in the cafeteria except for the ones in this class. I did a short presentation about how picture books are made and then had them act out the story while I took many, many photos.I also took lots of pictures of the kids going through their day. I was only there about two hours, and went back one more time for some retakes of the cafeteria scene.

In the San Francisco Bay Area it was easy to find a diverse class, as there is such wonderful diversity here. In fact, I had to add some Caucasian children to the class to make it more recognizable  for other parts of the country, specifically the Atlanta area. I told the class this and they thought it was very funny. So do I.

3. How did you discover the Lailah that you based the illustrations on?

I found Eshal, my Lailah, through a colleague of  mine (a children’s book writer) who is, herself, Muslim but her daughter is too young to be Lailah. She suggested several friends, and sent me photos. Eshal looked perfect. I later realized that she is rather tall for her age, so looks older. I had to shorten her in a few paintings and make her look younger.

4. Were you familiar with Ramadan and fasting before illustrating Lailah’s Lunchbox ?

I was not very familiar with Ramadan before this project. I mainly researched it through children’s books and some websites about Muslim books for children. That way I figured I would see how the subject is presented to kids. I also did much research on the Islamic patterns and designs. I put some ceramics in the first page kitchen scene with patterns on them.

The only fasting I know about is for Yom Kippur, as I am Jewish. I think it is so cool that a Jewish illustrator illustrated your book. With all the strife between the two groups (in the media, at any rate) this can only help.
5. I know you edited illustrations to get the look right. How hard is it to edit illustrations?

Usually publishers want the original paintings for a book and then they have them scanned into digital images. It is very hard to change something on a watercolor painting, although not as impossible as folks think. Many colors can be washed off, depending on what they are made of. But often you have to repaint the whole painting.

In this case, to save time, Tilbury House asked me to get the paintings scanned here. Once they were in digital form, I was able to modify various parts of the paintings as needed in Photo Shop.   I even added a new face here and there. I liked a whole painting, except for one face, for example. So I repainted that face and pasted it in using Photo Shop. This really
worked out well. And I’m happy with the result.

6. How long does it take to complete an illustration the way you want?
Usually an illustrator gets from 9 – 12 months to illustrate a picture book – and there are usually 14-15 paintings in a book. That gives you an idea how long it takes. For Lailah’s Lunchbox, I only had about five months, so I really worked fast. I have learned two lessons –

1) Always leave time to do a painting over,

2) Don’t paint them in order, or the end paintings will be better than the beginning ones. I paint them in a random order.

7. How did you get to be an illustrator? Any tips to those trying to make it in the publishing world?

My main tip for anyone trying to make it in the children’s book publishing world is to join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) There are local conferences and workshops as well as national ones, and you make new friends of people who share your interest. In my case, I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator when I grew up, but then forgot about it. About 14 years ago I saw a class at UC Berkeley extension on “Illustrating Children’s Books” which reminded me of my dream. I took the class, joined SCBWI, and learned so much. I sent samples to art directors at publishers who used similar styles to mine. Tilbury House was the first to hire me to illustrate a book. This is my fourth book with them. They have all won awards, and the first one, “Say Something,” by Peggy Moss, has sold over 70,000 copies, which is really a lot for a picture book. I now have illustrated 6 trade picture books, all still in print.

8. Anything else you’d like to share about yourself? 

I have a degree in English Lit and an elementary teaching credential. I only substitute taught, however, because they weren’t hiring teachers at the time (the “baby bust generation”) and I got involved with  making dolls and puppets which I sold through stores. Then I went to work in the greeting card business and went to gift shows etc.  Eventually (when I was 40) I went back to school to get an MBA. I worked for a while as a high tech product manager. Now I find the MBA is very useful as I get more involved in this new industry.  I have become quite involved with SCBWI as the Illustrator Coordinator for the San Francisco, South region. I organize a one-day Illustrator conference each year in SF, which has become quite popular. Over 80 illustrators attend each year.  I get to use spread sheets and other MBA types tools, as well as network like crazy.  Because it is San Francisco and SCBWI, I can invite anyone I want to speak and they usually say yes. So I have met the art directors at most of the big houses.   When they  need  my style of art, I already have a relationship with them. I’ve become a known quantity.

9. Do you think children will enjoy the illustrations & story of Lailah’s Lunchbox ?

I think this is a lovely, accessible story about Ramadan, and, really, about solving the situation of being different in any way from most of the kids around. Most kids have something about themselves that makes them feel not quite like everyone else. It is what makes us special, but they don’t see it that way. Lailah is a courageous girl who is proud of her culture and wants to not only practice the rituals, but share it with her new friends at her American school. The lovely librarian helps her find a solution, without finding it for her.

I tried to make the illustrations be both a mirror and a window for the reader. I showed a regular school with a varied student body so everyone could identify with someone in the class. I made the characters sympathetic,likeable, warm people.

10. What do you want people to feel when they see your illustrations?

I want them to feel warmth and to smile. I want them to identify with some of the kids and make this a believable story for them.


** To view more of Lea’s heartwarming illustrations, check out the Look Inside! feature on Amazon here. For those of you have ordered Lailah’s Luncbox, it should be mailed to you tomorrow or sometime this week! I hope you all like it and cherish this story!