By Khadejah Khan
Today we’re pleased to welcome author Reem Faruqi to the WNDB blog to discuss her younger middle grade book Anisa’s International Day, out September 20, 2022!
Anisa is super-excited about International Day and can’t wait to share her mother’s samosas with her class. But when someone else has the exact same idea, Anisa is crushed.
Going to her aunt’s dholki party gives her an idea for the perfect activity instead—mehndi! There’s only one problem: Anisa’s best friend doesn’t seem to like the idea. She doesn’t even seem to like Anisa anymore.
Will Anisa ever get to enjoy International Day?
Welcome to the blog, Reem! Tell us a bit about your background—who are you and where are you from?
I’m a Pakistani-American children’s book author who enjoys writing lyrical stories that reflect my own experiences. I grew up in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, and moved to Peachtree City, Georgia when I was thirteen years old. I am Pakistani and love visiting Pakistan every chance I get. It’s harder visiting when I’m so far away in the United States.
Professionally, I was an elementary school teacher and taught second grade. When I had my first daughter, I became a stay-at-home mom. I am also grateful to call myself an author.
What led you to become a writer? Were you encouraged to explore the arts as a career when you were younger? How did you transition from teacher to writer?
On my ninth birthday, I was gifted a journal from a friend that I wrote in until it finished and kept writing! The pages were scented like bubblegum. I still have that journal! My parents bought me a new journal each time I ran out, so in that way, they supported me and let me take my journals with me when I moved countries. My father also orders my books and hands them out to everyone, including the hygienist at the dentist’s office, who wanted to discuss my book while she cleaned my teeth!
When I left teaching and stayed at home, I knew I always wanted to write a children’s book. I just didn’t know how much work it was! It’s quite a learning curve. Luckily, I read a children’s book almost every day for years when I taught second grade, so that was helpful to my research process.
How has your experience as a teacher inspired the stories you create?
When I write, I sometimes visualize my second graders and their reactions to books that I read to them—what moments got their interest? What moments made them chuckle? Which book got the classroom extra quiet? Being in the classroom was beneficial and when I did start writing children’s books, I felt inspired. However, it was still a lot of work, a lot of giving up, and trying again!
One of my daughters noticed that all my picture books have been set in schools. As a reader, I always love reading books that have classroom settings. As a teacher, I feel like I have insider information about what really happens in a classroom, so I try to weave those experiences into my writing, too.
What is the funniest or most memorable thing a student has ever done in your classroom?
I can’t pinpoint just one! But I used to write some quotes down of what my students said that made me smile. Here are a few:
“Ms. Faruqi, from your planet, do they wear long sleeves and skirts?”
“Ms. Faruqi, can we go on a field trip to Pakistan?”
Me – “Use an inside voice. You’re hurting my ears!”
2nd grader – “But I can’t see your ears, Ms. Faruqi!” (I wear hijab.)
Me – “What is a synonym for quiet?”
2nd grader – “Vibrate.”
Me – “Why?”
2nd grader – “When I make my mom’s cell phone QUIET, I put it on VIBRATE!”
One of the overarching themes in the story is tolerance and respect for other cultures’ traditions. How important is it for young readers to see their uniqueness accepted amongst their peers?
Very important! I think when we feel accepted by others, we feel comfortable sharing who we really are. If you think about how you behave and speak amongst a close family member or good friend, it may be different from how you act with people who you don’t feel accept you yet. When we feel comfortable, we can speak up and not second guess ourselves.
What advice would you give to aspiring South Asian writers?
I would advise you to connect with authors and critique partners who look like you and share your beliefs, as well as connect with authors who don’t share your faith, culture, and race. That way, you can get a variety of opinions and insight on your manuscripts. I think it’s important to be in both worlds.
The publishing industry is unpredictable and it requires patience and persistence. It can be draining at times, and joyful at others. You have to have a lot of self-motivation to keep writing over the years and be your own boss. Also, you are your best advocate! I’ve learned to speak up more over the years.
What projects are you working on right now?
Copyedits for my third verse novel, Call Me Adnan. Also, I’m trying to brainstorm ideas for another middle grade book.
What are you reading right now?
I’m actually reading a book for adults! The School for Good Mothers, a novel by Jessamine Chan.
I’m also reading three books that haven’t been released yet, but they’re available for pre-order: Bhai For Now by Maleeha Siddiqui is a middle grade book full of humor and plot twists. I loved it; it got me out of a reading slump and I couldn’t put it down! I also read a verse novel, The Hope of Elephants by Amanda Rawson Hill, that was simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. If you want to write in verse, I recommend you read this book! And a picture book: The Moon from Dehradun: A Story of Partition by Shirin Shamsi was poignant and perfect. I’d never read a children’s story on the Pakistan/India partition before and was blown away.
One perk about being an author is reading books before they’re released. It’s so exciting!
What is one question you wished you were asked more often (and the answer!)?
What’s your go-to breakfast?
A banana with a glass of milk. Bananas are the best fruit ever: easy to peel, portable, healthy, and delicious! My daughter, on the other hand, hates the smell of bananas and will stay far away from them, so I made my character Anisa, from Anisa’s International Day, be like that, too. But, for the record, I love bananas!
Thank you so much, Reem, for speaking with me for the blog. I’m excited for people to read Anisa’s International Day soon!
Reem Faruqi is the ALA Notable author of Lailah’s Lunchbox, Amira’s Picture Day, I Can Help, Golden Girl, and Unsettled, which is loosely based on Reem’s own story. Of Pakistani descent, Reem immigrated to Peachtree City, Georgia in the United States from the United Arab Emirates when she was thirteen years old. Reem is also a teacher and photographer who loves to doodle. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and three daughters. Visit her online at reemfaruqi.com.
Khadejah Khan is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books. Like Grandpa Joe, she lives in pajama co-ords and never leaves her bed, where she is wrapped burrito-style in her blankets. She has an insatiable sweet tooth, as well as a voracious appetite for fiction, children’s stories, and historical non-fiction. In her free time, she’s quoting SpongeBob, rewatching classic whodunits and reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show, roller-skating, or tanning like a rotisserie chicken poolside in Florida. She is currently an Editorial Assistant at Luxe Interiors + Design. You can find her on Twitter @khadejah_k.