I’m continuing to review picture books dealing with immigration themes and found a fairly-recent book that also celebrates Ramadan, the Muslim holy month occurring now. Truly a Perfect Picture Book:
Title: Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
Written By: Reem Faruqi
Illustrated By: Lea Lyon
Publisher/date: Tilbury House Publishers/2015
Suitable for Ages: 6-12
Themes/Topics: Ramadan, Islam, fasting, immigration, moving home, acceptance
“We won’t be needing this for a while,” said Lailah’s mother, hanging up Lailah’s lunchbox.
“Imagine! I won’t be eating lunch for a month!” replied Lailah with a twirl.
“I won’t have to pack lunch for a month!” said her mom with a bigger twirl.
Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim immigrant is excited to fast for Ramadan for the first time, but finds it difficult to explain fasting and her religion to her new teacher and classmates.
Links to Resources:
- Learn more about Ramadan in Laila’s Simple Guide to Ramadan;
- Check out the Anti-Defamation League’s Teacher’s Guide to Lailah’s Lunchbox;
- Dates are eaten to break the fast after sundown each night during Ramadan; craft a date holder;
- The evening meal during Ramadan is called an Iftar; find some Iftar recipes here;
- Try making and sharing an easy, kid-friendly dish: watermelon chaat.
Why I Like this Book:
Lailah’s Lunchbox combines two themes well: explaining Ramadan and exploring the feelings of a child who recently has immigrated to a place where she is the only child in her class who fasts for Ramadan. Being different is difficult for kids (and adults), and I think Faruqi has done a wonderful job of capturing the emotional tugs of wanting to fit in to a dominant culture and upholding family, cultural, and/or religious values. I believe that feeling of deflation and difference is universal, and Faruqi has captured it well. I also love the solution – which I won’t divulge here so as not to ruin the ending for those who haven’t read Lailah’s Lunchbox yet.
Equally important, Faruqi writes a positive story about Ramadan and fasting. As someone who grew up Catholic and hated Lent, with its notion of “giving up” and fishy Fridays coupled with a few “fasting” days, I loved learning about the spirit of community and sharing that pervades Ramadan.
Lyon sprinkles colorful mosaics throughout Lailah’s Lunchbox, including on the lunchbox itself. She also includes items that mimic the mosaics, such as the backsplash in Lailah’s family kitchen, the Iftar spread of colorful foods, a sign in Lailah’s new hometown of Peachtree, and the colorful splines of library books. Doing so reminds us that a part of Lailah’s Abu Dhabi home accompanies her to her new home in Georgia.
A Note about Craft:
In an Author’s Note, Faruqi indicates that Lailah’s Lunchbox is based on her own experience of moving from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia as a child. What childhood experiences inform your writing & how can you include universal themes in your personal story ?
In the opening scene, Faruqi deftly sets up the action in two ways: she focuses on the lunchbox, the holder of food, as a way into the story. By not jumping directly into the notion of fasting, an action that some young kids may not understand, she uses a familiar object to help explain it, before even mentioning the term. She also indicates with one repeated action the feelings Lailah and her mother hold about Ramadan and fasting – the characters “twirl.” Twirl connotes happiness, and the repetition of the action signifies community. Circling back, Lailah also twirls at the end of the story.
Lailah’s problem in the story is an internal one: she worries about how to explain why she is fasting to her teacher and classmates. None of her classmates question or bully her actions or beliefs, because she doesn’t reveal the what or why of her actions. Faruqi’s exploration of Ramadan and the emotions of someone who has moved thus remains free of external conflict, which I think is a plus.
Finally, at the risk of revealing the solution to Lailah’s problem, I can’t help repeating one of my favorite lines: Lailah felt safe among all the books.
Visit Reem Faruqi’s site here.
Learn about Lea Lyon here.
Lailah’s Lunchbox is a Notable Social Studies Trade Book For Young People 2016, a cooperative Project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council; a Featured Book of the Month of the Anti-Defamation League; an American Library Association Notable Book for Children 2016; won a Skipping Stones Honor 2016; and made the International Literacy Association Choices Reading List.
Tilbury House “is an independent publishing company founded forty years ago” that publishes “award-winning children’s picture books about cultural diversity, social justice, nature, and the environment.”
For a list of 99 children’s books about Ramadan, visit A Crafty Arab.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!