Banned books are definitely a topic of conversation these days, but what do kids think about them?
Aya Khalil has visited my blog once before. She is a freelance journalist and blogger who has taught at all levels from preschool to college. Her first book, THE ARABIC QUILT, is based on events from her childhood, when she immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt with her parents and siblings. She lives in Toledo, Ohio, with her husband, Abdalrahman, and their two children. You can follow her on Twitter.
THE GREAT BANNED-BOOKS BAKE SALE is a sequel to THE ARABIC QUILT. After the first book, Kanzi has come to feel welcomed and accepted in her new school. Until, that is, the day she walks into her school’s library and discovers that all of the multicultural books with kids like her have been banned and removed. I haven’t seen any picture books on this topic, and this is an interesting take on a troubling topic.
Welcome back Aya!
Me: I loved your first book with Kanzi, THE ARABIC QUILT. I know it went on to win many honors and awards before it was banned. Can you talk about how that made you feel?
Aya: Thank you so much! I was really surprised, to be honest, because that book took so long to get sold. With every honor and award it won, I was so excited and thankful. And I’m forever grateful for my agent Brent for fully believing in it, to my amazing illustrator Anait for bringing it to life, and to my publisher Tilbury for taking a chance on it.
Me: Kanzi returns in this story and has a very human reaction to the books that go missing from the library. What gave you the idea for this story? Was it based on your own experience?
Aya: Yes, usually there are new books displayed at the front of the library, and many times diverse ones are displayed there, so when she and her classmates discover that shelf is empty, she’s just speechless. She has so many feelings and thoughts and goes to something she did in The Arabic Quilt: writing in her poetry book. It’s loosely based on true events when The Arabic Quilt was on a banned list in 2021 at York District in Pennsylvania. Students protested there for weeks and the ban was reversed due to their hard work and persistence.
Me: The illustrations are done by Anait Semirdzhyan again. How wonderful that you were able to get the same illustrator. Was that an editor’s choice or your own? How did that collaboration come about again?
Aya: Yes! I was so excited about this collaboration again. I was so blessed that my editor asked if I wanted Anait to illustrate it again and I of course said YES!!! It was exciting because Teita played an important role in The Arabic Quilt and readers will see that she plays an important role here too, because she’s actually visiting this time. Anait did a phenomenal job, as always.
Me: Were there any illustration surprises for you? Any favorites?
Aya: I did love the surprise at the back of the cover! Readers can see it if they check it out from the library or purchase the book. 🙂 I have too many favorites, but I love the one where Kanzi finally finds her voice with the help of her friends, family and allies and speaks up!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Aya: It was pretty challenging to write because there were not many, if any, picture books about banned books. There are protests/social justice/ rallies books of course. But I think there will be more books coming out in the next few years about this topic.
Me: It seems that books of all shapes and sizes are getting banned these days. No book is safe. Do you have any advice to offer to book creators who may find themselves facing the same battle you did when your book was banned?
Aya: There are many great resources out there like PEN America and also Dr. Tasslyn Magnusson has some great sources.
Me: What would you say to kids like Kanzi who are seeing books disappear from their libraries because of book bans?
Aya: Ask questions like why are these books being banned and if it’s fair for everyone. Talk to your parents about it and talk to your teachers and librarians about it. If you don’t like it, say something and speak up. Your voices are powerful.
That’s great advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Aya.
Dear readers, this book is released next week on August 1st. Don’t miss it. This book manages to give a face and a heart to those who are affected by the banned book movement.