Last weekend I was honored to be invited to the 2019 KidsLit Week and the 5th Annual WNY Children’s Book Expo! Here’s a video on the 2018 one in case you want to see the event.
Kim Krug was the organizer of the event and was incredibly organizing and welcoming! She owns the bookstore Monkey See Monkey Do and organizes a dynamic expo! I got to meet many talented authors and illustrators. A hard part was leaving the expo and all those delicious books behind. I had a small carry on bag so was quite limited on what I could carry!
I received an email from Kim last spring and glazed over it thinking it was probably a spam email. Then she called my publisher who then reached out to me and I was intrigued. I reread the email and watched the video of the event in 2018 and was hooked. Kim got sponsors to generously cover the author’s visits, lodging and travel. When you get paid for your work, you feel valued. And as an author doing an author’s visit, that’s time away from writing or family!
There were so many favorite parts of my trip! I saw pretty snow flurries as I did school visits on my first day. Light snow does NOT slow the students and schools of Buffalo! In Atlanta, everything shuts down!
The best part of the school visits was connecting with the students, answering questions, and hopefully inspiring them to become authors or illustrators, or both! I got to witness a couple of students raise their hand and announce that they were Muslim too. I heard one student ask “What’s the main idea of your story?” When I asked the students to answer their fellow classmate’s question, one shared, “It could be sharing about something you’re afraid to share.”
During my author’s visits, I encouraged the students to journal, gave them tangible tips on how to develop a character better, and showed them slides in the illustrating (thanks Lea Lyon!), writing and editing process. I connected with first graders to fifth graders. I didn’t know how diverse Buffalo was! Some schools had fewer Muslim students and my book was a good intro to Ramadan. For other schools there were many Muslims who already knew about Ramadan. I presented to one school where the librarian Anne had chosen students as a welcoming crew (a great gesture!) and told me:
“Students at our school come from all reaches of the world. With over 70 countries represented and 40 languages spoken, we are truly a hidden gem and our halls are rich with diversity! Our students come from all over the world and our top five languages other than English are Karen, Arabic, Somali, Burmese, and Nepali.”Over 150 students fast during Ramadan and during their lunch periods come to the library as an alternative setting to the cafeteria!
I have never been in such a diverse school as the one listed above and it was truly an eye opening experience. Their librarian Anne hand picks and delivers books to a few students whose parents don’t let them leave their homes after school as their neighborhoods aren’t safe.
I met many dynamic librarians who gave me rides in snowy weather, served me delicious lunch, and gave me insight into their jobs. I have a soft spot for librarians. In my picture book, Lailah sneaks out of the cafeteria at lunchtime and heads to… the library. Amongst all the books she feels safe and is able to open up to the librarian about Ramadan and how she misses her friends.
Behind the scenes, I had delicious steamy butternut squash Panera Bread soup with librarian Nava and spicy Thai noodles (from Pho Lantern) and relaxing conversations in a sunny library overlooking a lake on my lunch breaks with librarian Heidi! I am amazed by the generosity and kindness of librarians.
One librarian Kristi worked in the public downtown library and effortlessly shuffled between welcoming a whole second grade level for a school visit to the library and other patrons – Buffalo gets so cold and homeless people often frequent the library.
Librarian Nava read my book and recommended it to the organizer Kim and said that they should bring me here for the expo. (Thank you Nava!)
The beauty of the out of town travels is the quiet hotel room and the bed being made for you. It was lovely to walk into a clean, quiet room after talking and performing for what felt like all day! However, I know if you are a frequent travelling author, then you can get burned out and just want to be home.
At the expo, I interacted with mostly adults. I met another librarian Steve who upon seeing my book said that he would welcome the Ramadan students in the library and almost got in trouble with the union for this for giving up his lunch!
There were also amazing teachers who disciplined their students and encouraged them to ask insightful questions. Some fifth grade students had their questions written on index cards which was a great idea so they were ready to ask away! Sometimes when you hand a child a microphone, they freeze. With the pre-written question, the flow of the questioning was not interrupted and I was asked insightful questions. Why did you write this book? How do you not care when people talk about you? (that last question threw me in for a loop! I honestly told them that I do care, but try to ignore it or be friendly back.)
And a warm thank you to Tilbury House Publishers for picking up my story from the slush pile and for publishing my story! Lailah’s Lunchbox has gotten awards (yay!) but it’s important to note that it also got rejections and if I had given up, filed it away, and not submitted it to them, this story wouldn’t be a book! I encourage all the writers out there to not give up!
I also got to see my cousins and uncle (this is my Mamu or mother’s brother!) who came all the way from the Canadian border to come see me one freezing evening and took me to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory! My grandmother has 8 children and I love having family in different parts of the world.
When I said it was cold, they said it was nothing! My cousin also laughed at me when I looked out the window on Saturday morning that no one would come to the expo because it was snowing!
She was right – many people showed up! One teacher (pictured below) who I met at the expo thanked me profusely for writing my book as she had a student last Ramadan who walked around with my book for days! She was so glad to see herself and her beliefs in it!
Also being a mother of three younger children (one who is two!) I do appreciate the village it takes to raise them and transport them to school, pack lunches, and get a toddler down for nap time. THANK YOU back home family!
Also these are the three middle grade books I managed to bring back – my 7 year old is a big Jasmine Toguchi fan so I brought her back Jasmine Toguchi – Flamingo Keeper by Debbi Michiko Florence. I got Us in Progress by Lulu Delacre book for my sister in law who’s from El Salvador and The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (a gorgeous book about the Pakistan-India Partition) for my grandmother and aunt.
I really wanted to bring back picture books but my bag was stuffed and couldn’t fit anything wide! These are two books I saw at the expo that are on my list to get! Beatrice and the Sunflower Gift by Stephanie Parwulski (a lovely book on kindness by a friendly, local author Stephanie Parwulski of Buffalo – I met her at the author reception and was impressed by her kindness and her gorgeous book!) and La Madre Goose by Susan Middleton Elya (nursery rhymes with a touch of Spanish!).
“I had the pleasure of hosting Reem Faruqi at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (Central Library) for a reading of her book “Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story”. Over 100 students from a local charter school were in attendance, plus members of the public and some of our librarians. Reem did an outstanding job reading her book to a large crowd. She also took time to answer student questions and really engaged the audience. We were able to project Reem’s book onto our projector screen with the PDF she provided ahead of time and we had the option of using her flash drive if that didn’t work. Communication was timely via email and Reem was wonderful to work with in-person.” – Librarian, Manager of Children’s Services & Outreach, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
“Reem’s visit was broadening–in that some of our students were not familiar with Ramadan and its customs. We got a taste of religion and culture, geography, and social learning. Our Muslim students were thrilled to “see themselves” at last in a book.
Reem showed us her craft, but she also encouraged children to write themselves, giving examples of adding details and “showing, not telling” to convey emotion. After her inspiring visit, we have many first-time authors at our school!”
Librarian Olmsted School #64