Today I get to share another picture book debut. I just love being able to share a first publication story with you all, and this is a wonderful one.
Aya Khalil is a talented writer who is also in the education business (like myself). She holds a master’s in Education with a focus in teaching English as a second language. She’s a freelance journalist and blogger who has been featured in Teen Vogue, Yahoo! and other publications, and she has also been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Toledo Area Parent among many others. You can follow her on Twitter.
“The Arabic Quilt is her picture book debut. It is a truly touching story about a young girl who doesn’t fit in and a teacher who finds a unique way to bridge the gap between cultures. This book was so inspiring to me as a fellow educator, that I just had to share it. It’s certainly a relevant story on many levels.
Me: You have been a journalist and a blogger. What is it that drew you to writing picture books?
Aya: While blogging for various websites, I came across many books that I was asked to review or write about. I was often sent children’s books to review or make listicles (an article of lists) of various books. In the back of my mind I thought “wouldn’t it be neat to publish a picture book?” As a journalist I am always on the look for story ideas, and there were so many ideas I had! I once said enough dreaming and write that book!
Me: Kanzi is such a wonderful believable character. What gave you the idea for this story?
Aya: Thank you! A lot of what Kanzi goes through in the book is that many immigrants – second and first generation – go through. Trying to fit in, being embarrassed of their parents’ accents, finding a caring mentor (in Kanzi’s case, her teacher). This story is based on real events growing up when my family moved to the United States when I was one. I had a wonderful teacher in third grade who made me feel loved and welcomed and did that exact project in the book. I re-created this project in one of my own classrooms I was teaching a couple of years ago and thought it would be a sweet story.
Me: It certainly is sweet! The illustrations are perfect. I especially loved Kanzi’s bedroom and home. Were you able to communicate with the illustrator at all during her creation process? Or did you just leave her alone to create all on her own?
Aya: Thank you! Anait did an incredible job and her illustrations brought me to tears when I first saw them because the story is so personal to me. She created mostly everything on her own but I added a few suggestions here and there to make it more authentic as an Egyptian-American, Muslim family in the book. She is amazingly talented and I’m so lucky to be working with her these past couple of months.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Aya: I was surprised when I had to keep decreasing my word count for this story. I started out with over 1000 words! Nowadays editors accept only around 500-600 words.
Me: What does your writing process look like?
Aya: I write what comes to my mind and revisit it after a couple of days to see if I want to continue with it or not. Then I edit, edit, edit.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Aya: Get a good support group!
Me: LOL! Yes! Absolutely true. Do you make quilts or have a quilt like the one in the story?
Aya: I do not make quilts but the outer design on the quilt (also on the cover) in the story is pretty popular in Egypt. There’s an ancient Egyptian lotus flower, or a water lilly, that represents the sun and enlightenment. I would like to think of Kanzi as being that enlightenment in her classroom.
Aww. I love that! Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this brand new picture book, you must track it down for a read. It inspired me and I’m sure you’ll find that it will inspire you as well.