Aya Khalil - The Arabic Quilt

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 1 comment

Today we feature Aya Khalil, author of "The Arabic Quilt" illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. The Arabic Quilt recently debuted and is a great book about embracing differences. I especially took note of the important role supportive adults like teachers and parents play in bridging cultural gaps between children. 

What inspired you to write The Arabic Quilt?

There's not a lot of immigrant picture books that are authentic, #OwnVoices. I have so many experiences, good and bad, growing up as an Egyptian-American and I thought kids and even adults may relate to The Arabic Quilt, which is based on several true events.

Have you had a chance to tell your teacher how important she was in helping you acclimate into the classroom and new environment? 

I actually just did a couple of days ago! My childhood best friend connected me with her and I am sending her a book in the next couple of days. It's so nice to reconnect with her and we are catching up.

What message would you like for immigrant children to get from The Arabic Quilt? 

That it is OK to stand out from others and there's really no need to assimilate, as many parents try to make their children do. Clothes, food, and language are all part of who we are and we should embrace them all with confidence.

What message would you like for children who were born and raised here to get from The Arabic Quilt? 

Acknowledge your classmate's differences (don't be colorblind), but also find similarities when it comes to hobbies, etc.

How long did it take you to write The Arabic Quilt? 

I wrote it all in one sitting with my kids near me. Then I revised for weeks. I submitted to agents and I received some great feedback (although rejections) so I revised some more and attended local and online critique groups. So a couple of months total.

Did you have critique partners? If so how instrumental were they in writing your story? 

Yes! My local SCBWI was so supportive when I attended my first meeting with them. They wrote down some encouraging comments and I remember one person told me that this is a great story and to "go get it published." 

I also asked writer friends to critique it, who were really helpful, particularly a group of awesome women called Muslim Writers and Publishers.

As an #ownvoices writer, what's your message to the industry about your work and your voice? 

Our stories matter and I hope more publishers believe in our stories and amplify them. I'm thankful for Tilbury House and Brent Taylor of Triada US for believing in The Arabic Quilt. There's been so much positive feedback since it's debuted and I've been getting tons of messages from parents, teachers, and librarians telling me their kids or students could relate to Kanzi (the main character). And adults my age who remember similar events from their own childhood growing up as a third culture kid.

Tell us about your illustrations and talented illustrator?

She's been so incredible throughout the whole journey. Anait's illustrations are so lovely and I'm so happy and honored she illustrated the book. She also related to the book as an immigrant herself and her kids faced some of the experiences mentioned in the book.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? 

Read recently published books from your genre, spend a lot of time at the library and talk to the librarians to see what kids are checking out!

What are you working on next? 

I'm working on two more picture books! Fingers crossed that we hear good news soon.

You can learn more about Aya Khalil on her social media pages.

Twitter - @ayawrites
Instagram - ayakhalilauthor
Website - ayakhalil.com

Tameka Fryer Brown - Brown Baby Lullaby

Friday, February 7, 2020 No comments

Today we feature Tameka Fryer Brown author of "Brown Baby Lullaby" illustrated by AG Ford. "Brown Baby Lullaby" is a beautiful depiction of a day in the life of a baby with his parents.

What inspired you to write this story?

I was inspired to write BROWN BABY LULLABY during a moment of nostalgia. I was remembering the relationship I had with my children when they were babies; it was such a pure and uncomplicated one, full of the sweetest memories. I wanted to capture those memories and emotions in writing and I thought the topic would certainly make for a good picture book.

How long did it take you to write Brown Baby Lullaby?

I wrote the first draft in one day. I just looked at my files to confirm and was surprised to find how similar that first draft is to the finished version.

The illustrations are really beautiful. Did you have any input in that?

I did not have input into the selection of AG Ford, but man was it inspired. I'm so thankful to Joy Peskin and Monique Sterling (my FSG editor and book designer for BBL, respectively) for having the foresight to reach out to AG for the project. And I'm even more thankful that he agreed to do it!

You are a member of #2020Diversedebuts, a group of diverse authors with debut children's books coming out this year but you're also a member of an author collective called the Sowing Circle. Tell us about that group and what benefits these types of groups serve authors?

Our Sowing Circle serendipitously came about through a conversation I initiated with three authors about how we could promote each other's titles on our joint book birthday. Assuming you have the right mix of people in a collective, it can be a great way to leverage each other's networks, personalities, and skills to help increase visibility for each author and the work they are trying to promote. Members have to leave self-centeredness by the wayside, though, in order to make marketing cooperatives like these work. You have to put as much time into promoting other members as you are expecting them to put in for you. Also, it's important to establish or understand what the expectations of the group will be and to be honest up front if you don't think you'll be able to meet them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Read a lot. Study the craft. Learn the craft. Join SCBWI. Don't expect hook-ups. Do the work.

What are you working on next?

I have a book slated to come out in 2022 called TWELVE DINGING DOORBELLS. It will be published by Kokila and illustrated by the supremely talented Ebony Glenn.

Besides that, there's always something in some stage of the process, isn't there?

Yes, there is!

You can follow Tameka Fryer Brown on the following social pages:
Facebook: Tameka Fryer Brown, Children's Book Author
Twitter: @teebrownkidlit
Instagram: @tamekafryerbrown
Her website