Author: Reem Faruqi
Illustrator: Lea Lyon
Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers
Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won’t understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom.
Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs. This gentle, moving story from first-time author Reem Faruqi comes to life in Lea Lyon’s vibrant illustrations. Lyon uses decorative arabesque borders on intermittent spreads to contrast the ordered patterns of Islamic observances with the unbounded rhythms of American school days.
The story starts with Lailah reminiscing about her old school in Abu Dhabhi where she had been so excited to fast with her friends but was too little. This year was the first time she was fasting and that too in an American school where the teacher and kids may not know what Ramadan is. Her mother had sent a note to the teacher but Layla felt too shy to give it to her, and pretended that she had actually forgotten her lunch box. Having a hard time in the cafeteria resisting food she goes to the library where she feels safe with the books. She then ends up sharing everything that had been piling up with the school librarian who encourages her to write her feelings down. Lailahs writes a letter to her teacher with a sweet poem. The next day the teacher has a letter waiting for Lailah and encourages her to share the poem with the class.
Why I like it:
- It’s a realistic story of what one could expect someone fasting for the first time in a school where people are not aware of Ramadan
- The author describes the range Lailah’s feelings so well and makes them relatable:
- Excitement to fast
- Sadness from missing her friends
- Anxiety of not knowing if the teacher/kids would know what Ramadan is
- Feeling shy/embarassed to tell the others
- Becoming overwhelmed with trying to do resist the food
- Relief after talking to the librarian
- Happy/confident when the teacher asks her to share her poem with the class
- I like how the story introduces the idea for an alternative accommodation for children who are fasting at school (ie the library)
- The story can encourage kids to write down their own feelings in a letter and maybe share with the class.
Things that could be improved:
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Overall it’s a Ramadan Awareness book and doesn’t go into detail of what fasting is or what Islam is. There is mention of sehri and iftar and an author’s note at the end. The main focus is on Layla and describes the first day of Ramadan for her and the range of emotions she is feeling over the day. This book is a great resource that connects students, parents and educators.
It helps validate the students feelings – whether it’s their excitement of fasting, and or any fears or anxiety they have about being accepted by peers. The author also shares one way that the student can cope with their overwhelming feelings and communicate with peers is to write them down in a letter.
Sometimes parents who migrate from countries where fasting in Ramadan is the norm, don’t realize how difficult it can be for their kids in the west. This book gives a very realistic glimpse into what the first day of Ramadan for their children may look like. Also many parents don’t know how to reach out to teachers regarding Ramadan, and leave it to their kids to “talk to the teacher themselves”. So this book is a great alternative to having to write your own detailed notes and parents can easily send the book in to the teachers with a short note.
For teachers it gives them a basic idea that kids may fast during Ramadan but more importantly introduces the idea that they can be accommodated at the library during lunch. This book can lead to further discussion with educators on how else can the school accommodate and encourage muslim children fasting.
While children in countries where Ramadan is nationally celebrated may not appreciate the importance of this book, it is a GEM for families living in the west. There are STILL so many people who have absolutely no idea what Ramadan and fasting is. And if your kid is starting to fast in rural America (or any city/school where teachers aren’t aware of Ramadan) this book is perfect for you! Share it with your kids to give them confidence and share it with their educators to help them be aware about how they can be accommodative. Because most teachers really do care about their students and love to do whatever they can to help their students grow!
Watch a read aloud by Reem Faruqi: