Ramadan, a month of fasting observed by Muslims around the world, starts around June 18th this year and what better time than now to introduce you via this guest post to Lailah’s Lunchbox, a picturebook about Lailah, her lunchbox, and Ramadan. Here to talk about her book and the inspirations behind it is Reem Faruqi.
Reem Faruqi used to teach second grade and her favorite time was Read Aloud time. Now, as a stay-at-home-mom, her favorite time is still Read Aloud time. Of Pakistani origin, she moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia when she was 13 years old.
She based her first children’s book Lailah’s Lunchbox on her own experience as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. Reem loves doodling, writing, and photography and photoblogs at www.ReemFaruqi.com. Currently, she lives with her husband and two daughters in Atlanta.
When I first started writing children’s stories, I struggled to find a voice that was mine. My initial attempts were stories that were goofy and humorous. They were fun to read, but they didn’t reflect who I was.
When I was a teenager submitting my college applications, I remember my father reading my college essay and advising me, “Write what makes you different. You have many unique experiences and have lived in a variety of places. Why not share about that?”
I took that approach to my children’s books. I veered off path and started afresh and wrote about my experiences. I found that those stories, when they reflected my unique culture and identity, the voice of the story was more powerful. When I sat down to write Lailah’s Lunchbox, I wanted the story to be about Ramadan, but I wanted it to be so much more. My goal was for readers to connect with Lailah’s vulnerability and feelings of loneliness when she moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia. Who hasn’t been lonely or vulnerable in their life?
My illustrator Lea Lyon said that she tried to make the illustrations both a mirror and a window for the reader. I would love for readers to feel the same through my words – to see themselves reflected in Lailah, but to also learn about another angle of Lailah through her culture.
When writing Lailah’s Lunchbox, I reflected on my own experiences of moving to Peachtree City, Georgia all the way from Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. I remember when people would ask where I had moved from, I was met with blank stares. I remember I desperately wanted to be back home and resisted learning our new phone number because I missed my old phone number! I would love for more people to know about Abu Dhabi as well as the immigrant experience so hopefully this story will cultivate such conversation.
I wanted people to connect with Lailah’s personality and emotions so when writing this story, I really paid attention to my own emotions. When I felt happy, I would pause and reflect how do I feel inside? How do I feel outside? How do my feet feel when I’m happy? My fingertips? My stomach? When I would feel sad, I would ask myself similar questions. In this way, I tried to make Lailah’s actions speak as much for Lailah and did the ‘show not tell’ technique, something I had always struggled with before.
I have had people tell me that when they read Lailah’s Lunchbox, it brought them to tears. What I love about children’s books is that they can be simple, yet they can simply and boldly unleash emotions that you have stored up. I love stories that make me feel, stories that scrape your heart and I feel comfort in knowing that this story has done that.