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.)

Connect with the 2020 Debut Crew: Connect with Aya:


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

First spread:

“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:

(For a colossal collection of picture book reviews, please visit this page on Susanna’s site:

5 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE ARABIC QUILT

  1. What a beautiful story with an important message. Making such a quilt in class is something every teacher could do to help their students fit in. I love it and think it should be in every classroom. I’ll look for it when it comes out and would like to write about it too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a wonderful immigration story. We can’t have enough of these. Thanks for the early review. I look forward to seeing this next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a heartwarming immigration story. I love how the teacher intervenes with a classroom quilt that includes the Arabic names of all of the children. This inclusive book is perfect for classrooms. And, the quilt idea can be expanded and used with other cultures.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just finished reading this one (nabbed a pdf from a review site). Hoping this book receives a lot of attention – such a wonderful message of inclusion, recognition of the difficulties new children face in schools, and I especially love that it’s the grandmother’s gift that enables the class project.

    Liked by 1 person

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