This week I’m excited to review Aya Khalil’s beautiful picture book debut, THE ARABIC QUILT, out in February. (Aya and I are both members of the fabulous 2020 Debut Crew, a picture book debut group.)
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Title: THE ARABIC QUILT
Written by: Aya Khalil
Illustrated by: Anait Semirdzhyan
Tilbury House, February 2020, fiction
For ages: 5-11
Themes/topics: immigrants/immigration, celebrating differences, acceptance, heritage, languages/Arabic, school, poetry, collage, quilts
“Kanzi, habibti, you’re going to be late to the first day of school,” Mama calls.
“I’m coming, Mama.” Kanzi stuffs her notebook into her backpack and quickly but carefully folds her quilt—the special one Teita made in Egypt.
Summary (from the publisher):
Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and on her first day in a new school, what she wants more than anything is to fit in. Maybe that’s why she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.
That night, Kanzi wraps herself in the beautiful Arabic quilt her teita (grandma) in Cairo gave her and writes a poem in Arabic about the quilt. Next day her teacher sees the poem and gets the entire class excited about creating a “quilt” (a paper collage) of student names in Arabic. In the end, Kanzi’s most treasured reminder of her old home provides a pathway for acceptance in her new one.
This authentic story with beautiful illustrations includes a glossary of Arabic words and a presentation of Arabic letters with their phonetic English equivalents.
Why I like this book:
On her first day of school in America, Kanzi’s goal is to fit in. And she believes that means not being different. She even wishes her baba would pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her lunch instead of her favorite – a kofta sandwich. When Mama brings her forgotten lunchbox, kids laugh at Mama’s use of the Arabic word “habibti.” However, Kanzi’s teacher is an ally, and she reminds Kanzi of the beauty and value of being bilingual. And Kanzi finds comfort in a cherished quilt from her grandma in Egypt.
When she finds the courage to share the quilt with her class, Kanzi’s classmates admire the quilt and are excited to make a paper collage quilt of each of their names in Arabic. When the project is met with resistance from a student who says, “My mom says we should only speak English,” Kanzi and her teacher remind the class about the many English words that derive from Arabic words. And her teacher says, “We can speak non-English languages and still be American.” Yes! This beautiful story’s themes of acceptance and celebrating differences shine through.
The warm and inviting illustrations convey much emotion and beautifully complement this heart-warming story. This book will be a wonderful addition to any elementary school classroom or library!
Resources for educators:
Educational materials related to the book will soon be found here: https://ayakhalil.com/for-teachers/
(For a colossal collection of picture book reviews, please visit this page on Susanna’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)