Seven Special Somethings: A Nowruz Story by Adib Khorram, illustrated Zainab Faidhi, is on sale now. Order it here!
By Nawal Q. Casiano and Cornelius Minor
Adib Khorram moves among worlds. As a queer Iranian-American author of writing for young people, he has had to move from American culture outside to Iranian culture in his home. He has moved from young adult writing with his award-winning Darius the Great books to picture books. Personally, as a lover of science fiction and popular culture, he moves from Cybertron to Earth and from life in the US to life under the Galactic Federation.
Adib moves. And his books move children.
“I am really excited little kids will be able to share this book with their friends,” Adib told We Need Diverse Books.
When we spoke to Adib, both of us called him a sojourner. The thing that makes one a sojourner is that as they move, they learn and they grow as a result of their travels. They accumulate experiences, stories, insights, and passions. Adib recognizes that those who move in the unique context of now must be learners. As we move from context to context, home life to public life, so much is uncertain. Especially for children. For them, Adib’s books are necessary guidance.
Seven Special Somethings, gorgeously illustrated by Zainab Faidhi, celebrates the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which coincides yearly around March 21 with the Spring equinox. It tells the story of little Kian, who makes the mistake of disrupting the family tradition of collecting items to decorate a spread specific to growth and rebirth that begin with seven items starting with the ‘s’ sound. When he seeks to fix his mistake, Kian experiences a growth and rebirth of his own.
“I always had little Iranian kids in mind,” Adib said, “and the little Iranian kid I used to be. I wanted for them to come away with a sense of pride in their heritage that I felt I didn’t always have access to as a child.”
On his journey, Kian is allowed to be himself. This is especially powerful in a world where kids are programmed to fill in what their parents and the world need them to be. As the children of immigrants and parents of young children, we too found comfort in the large and small ways Kian builds his own identity atop family traditions. We laughed aloud reminiscing about the moments of havoc amid holiday celebrations in our own homes, from spilled vinegar to frozen sugar sticks meant to represent sweetness in marriage to powerful bonds with the family cat (from Cornelius’s fam traditions). In these ways, Seven Special Somethings carves space for warmth in all of our textured, nuanced traditions, uniquely beautiful in each family’s experience. Reading this story feels like the long embrace we all need.
“It was very important for me to show his family accepting and loving it, rather than trying to correct it,” Adib explained. “I want to honor that humanity, and part of it is that self-direction and the ability of children to re-make the world around them.”
But Seven Special Somethings is also a story about joyful defiance.
In some small way, Kian’s ability to creatively and happily problem-solve when the family tradition is interrupted is an act of standing up for the self. Instead of obsessing about perfect, Kian reaches for something new and personal; heartfelt and authentic. Seeing an immigrant kid do this when the pressures to conform are often so great, is part of a larger picture of Kian establishing himself, free to operate in the world without what Adib calls ‘liminality.’
In Adib’s work, children are self-determining. He shows children a reflection of who they can be when they trust themselves while at once showing adults what they can be when they trust children. While Kian embraces his Iranian heritage, he is able to be himself too.
Adib humbly attributes some of the craft to “following where the story” took him, but also to life experience and growth of his own. Wanting to avoid “fanfiction of [himself]” he looked for intentional “artistic distance” and believes his own journey helped shape Darius the Great Is Not Okay and Darius the Great Deserves Better as well as his new picture book. He crafted characters with emotional experiences similar to his own but it was important to him to shape them as their own. We chuckled about our own very similarly awkward video calls overseas.
“There are some truths of growing up in diaspora that are very universal,” Adib said.
Seven Special Somethings transfers the message from its thoughtful creator: Children can be brave. They need not operate within limits the world imposes on them. For the children of immigrants, we can be both/and. We can proudly stand on the legacies of our ancestors, share our unique heritages, connect to others, and see ourselves in the experiences of book friends. We all deserve that. Like Kian, our young readers can be bold and unapologetic in their navigation between spaces.
And Adib leaves readers with this message as continued advice—to find and support one another in the desire to move among worlds. None of us are alone.
Recalling a favorite line from Star Trek, he said, “Find that person who seems farthest from you and reach for them.”
Nawal wakes each morning to a cup of strong coffee and a head full of stronger ideas. One time zone away, Cornelius does the same thing, but with tea. Over the years, the two of them met through these ideas , and they soon learned to grow many others. Together. As book people, parents and educators, they believe in the power of storytelling as a way to connect our imperfect past to the infinite potential of our future. For families. For children. And for the world.
They are both educators who work in many capacities, but the capacity that energizes them the most is that they share and discuss stories with young people. There is power in this. Especially when it is done with an intentional focus on diversity. They believe that seeking words and experiences that are different from our own help us be more human.