Lailah’s Lunchbox: a book deal!!!!

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.

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!


  1. Congratulations, what wonderful news! 🙂 Looking forward to hearing more about your book as it comes out. Maybe you could write about the process you went through to encourage other mother/aspiring authors 🙂

  2. That is a dream come true! Good for you, and thank you for sharing the bits about your process. (What a great query…) I’m hoping to get my PB manuscript as well, so your story is indeed inspiring. Look forward to following the development of your book here.

  3. Many congratulations Reem!! Mashallah,what a great accomplishment! I just stumbled across your blog a few days ago and have loved the writing and photography. Looking forward to your book!

  4. MashaAllah! I’m so so SO proud of you, Reem! This made me giddy with excitement to read and I can’t wait to pick up a copy next year for my future kids! Bohoth Mubarak ho my dear! : )

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