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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview of Hasan Namir and Daby Zainab Faidhi

I'm pleased to introduce you all to the author and debut illustrator of the fun and poignant new picture book, Banana Dream.

Photo of Hasan Namir

Hasan Namir - Iraqi-Canadian author Hasan Namir graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BA in English and received the Ying Chen Creative Writing Student Award.

Book cover of a child in front of a mirror.

His debut picture book is The Name I Call Myself (2020).

He also is the author of God in Pink (2015), which won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction and was chosen as one of the Top 100 Books of 2015 by The Globe and Mail. His work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Shaw TV, Airbnb, in the film God in Pink: A Documentary, Breakfast Television Toronto, CTV Morning Live Saskatoon. He was recently named a writer to watch by CBC books. He is also the author of poetry books War/Torn (2019) and Umbilical Cord (2021, Book*Hug Press). He lives on the unceded territories of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen First Nations. with his family.

Photo of Daby Zainab Faidhi

Zainab “Daby” Faidhi - is a conceptual artist, illustrator and architect, currently based in Los Angeles. Daby’s work spans animation, illustration, and painting.

Daby developed her passion towards architectural drawings through her BA study but she had chosen animation as a more experimental, flexible medium and platform. Where she discovered herself more to showcase her interaction with life and generate authentic ideas that tell stories that also resonate emotionally with the audience. her architectural background provides acute observations of everyday life, a unique sense of space and nostalgia-qualities that she applies as a concept artist. She has a real passion for the small details and set design that characterize each place she visits.

She’s worked on several short film projects that have won international awards, as well as the student academy award. The cartoon Saloon's The Breadwinner was her first feature film, where she took part in backgrounds paintings, set, props’ design and conceptual art. This is her picture book illustration debut.

Their new picture book, Banana Dream, was released on July 11th.

Welcome Hasan and Daby,

Tell us a little about yourselves. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)

HASAN I started writing when I was 12 years old. I used to write a lot of horror and crime stories. As I got older, I became more interested in writing character-driven fiction and poetry and now I am into writing children’s picture books. My first novel was published in 2015 and I’ve been writing other books since then. I find myself drawn to picture books more now since having my son Malek in my life. I read 2-3 picture books to Malek every day. So now, I’d say picture books are definitely my favourite books to write.

DABY - Every day, everywhere, for as long as I can remember, I find myself inspired by things that move me, whether it's simply for the joy of creating art. My favorite type of book to illustrate is any story that requires imagination, designing intricate locations, and attention to detail. I am drawn to art that reflects the beauty of different cultures and enjoy illustrating humorous and comedic elements. Additionally, I love drawing real-life scenes like cityscapes, buildings, and diverse people, often inspired by observations during my travels or leisurely Sunday afternoons in cafes.

It is wonderful to meet both of you! What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

HASAN – I’m not sure if this is entirely unusual, but I definitely get inspiration while I’m at the gym, in particular while I am on the elliptical. I will write out ideas on my Samsung Notes App while I’m exercising and then will go home and continue working on that idea. [Ha!]

DABY - One of the most unforgettable and unique places where I've illustrated was in Ireland, on top of ruins amidst a green field surrounded by grave stones adorned with Celtic ornaments. The serene city of Kilkenny fueled my creativity during my time there.

That's two places I haven’t written a manuscript! 😊 Hasan, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for Banana Dream?

Book cover - boy dancing in street of Iraq with a treasured banana.

HASAN – The book is inspired by my childhood and growing up in Iraq. I was born in 1987 and lived there until I was 11 years old. During that time, right after the Gulf War, there were sanctions that were imposed by the UN on Saddam’s government. What that meant was many things weren’t being imported to Iraq. One of those things that wasn’t locally grown nor imported were Bananas. They were these luxury fruits. The only way we would be able to get bananas would be to travel to Amman, Jordan and smuggle them across the border, even then it would only be a couple of bunches at best because they needed to be hidden. I’ve always wanted to write about this story. When we started feeding Malek solids, he was instantly drawn to the banana and that’s where the inspiration for this book was born!

This is the first picture book I know of which addresses the cost of sanctions on the people. Daby, what about the Banana Dream manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?

Title page of book

DABY - Upon reading the Banana Dream manuscript, I was instantly captivated by its humorous and light-hearted storytelling. The words effortlessly translated into vivid images in my mind. The story struck a personal chord with me, evoking memories of my childhood experiences with bananas during the war in Iraq in 1993. It beautifully portrayed how bananas were cherished by many kids during that time, especially when they came as precious gifts from relatives or friends arriving from outside Iraq. My sister and I would eagerly rush to those fruit-filled boxes, savoring their enticing aroma, and playfully squabble over the piece with the sticker label, simply because it looked cool and represented a faraway land.

I think your illustrations also add to the subtle humor and beautifully capture your own connection. Hassan, what was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing Banana Dream?

HASAN – For me, the fact that the story was set at a time when there was war. So the challenge for me was finding that right balance and making sure that the writing is authentic, sheds a light on the seriousness while also maintaining a child-like voice. I want to make sure that it was written in a way that makes sense for children. That’s why I made sure the writing is simple and accessible. so every child can understand Mooz’s story.

You did a great job! Daby, as your debut picture book, what was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about illustrating Banana Dream?

DABY - Every project comes with its own set of challenges, and for me, the main hurdle was finding time to work on illustrating children's books while juggling my full-time job in Animation. As for Banana Dream, the key challenge was striking a balance between making the visuals engaging, humorous, and unique, while maintaining the essence of simplicity that suited the story.

You definitely succeeded. How many revisions did Banana Dream take for the text or illustrations from the first draft to publication?

HASAN – When I started writing the story, I went through many rewrites and edits to the title and the story itself. I’d say over 10 rewrites at least. I always say the best writing is rewriting. And the story kept blossoming rewrite after another. We were at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and I was also on parental leave and would write while Malek slept.

DABY - Fortunately, there weren't many revisions needed. We only made minor adjustments to the characters' eyes as the initial design appeared too cartoony with excessively large eyes. The publisher preferred a blend of realism and cartoony, and the process went quite smoothly.

Congratulations Hasan on your son and this wonderful book. Hasan, when you first saw Daby’s illustrations in Banana Dream, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

multiple balconies, under a sweltering sun, with rugs, beds, and couches on them.

Text © Hasan Namir, 2023. Image © Daby Zainab Faidhi. 2023.

HASAN – I was definitely blown away. I felt like I was back at home in Iraq. The illustrations are so rich, vivid and detailed. I especially appreciated the little details like Saddam Hussein’s image on the wall in the classroom scene. Every tiny detail was so thought out. It’s just so astonishing. They’re all my faves. There’s something so vivid about the outdoor balcony scene, the colors, it really brought back so many memories when we used to sleep on the rooftop because it was so hot inside. It was so authentic and perfect.

Daby, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Which is your favorite spread?

extended family sitting on cushions around a meal.

Text © Hasan Namir, 2023. Image © Daby Zainab Faidhi. 2023.

DABY - Among all the spreads, I hold a special affection for the first two, especially the second one where the family is gathered, eating, and surrounded by the delightful chaos that accompanies such moments. The scene vividly captures a memory from my time in Iraq, where the sounds of children playing and spoons clattering against dishes come alive in my mind. It's a common scene in almost every family in Iraq. Additionally, I am fond of the final spread, where Mooz is swimming among the bananas against a mint green background. I wonder which spread resonates most with readers?

I hope they let you know. What's something you both want your readers to know about Banana Dream?

HASAN – I just hope that story will bring a unique perspective on the fruit. I hope kids will empathize with Mooz and his journey.

DABY - Beyond its beautiful and enjoyable narrative, I want readers to understand that Banana Dream can inspire them to find confidence and make peace with their insecurities. It carries a unique voice and meaningful messages.

I am sure there are many kids who’ve never thought of a banana as a “rare” treat and I think your message comes across clearly. Daby, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Banana Dream? If so, could you share one or more with us?

Young boy, Mooz, standing in his bedroom surrounded by his bed, shelves (Batman on shelf), and desk.

Text © Hasan Namir, 2023. Image © Daby Zainab Faidhi. 2023.

DABY - Indeed, I enjoy adding personal touches and hidden gems in every children's book I illustrate. In Banana Dream, I drew inspiration from my younger brother's appearance when he was ten, particularly his hairstyle, which I incorporated into the main character. Additionally, I couldn't resist sneaking in a Batman toy into the illustrations, as I'm currently working on an animated film about Batman for Warner Brothers. Another meaningful element is the sewing machine, reminiscent of my mother's sewing skills, as she used to make all our clothes for school and leisure. Throughout the story, you'll find several other elements that reflect my childhood and memories of our house in Baghdad. Since this story is also personal to Hassan, the author, I made sure to include something from his real-life childhood, such as the mosque in his neighborhood, for which he provided me with photo references.

I noticed Batman in Mooz’s bedroom and thank you for sharing with us about the sewing machine and the mosque. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

HASAN – I’m working on a novel and a picture book manuscript as well.

DABY - Absolutely! I'm currently art directing along with a talented team, a stylized animated Batman film called Merry Little Batman. Directed by Mike Roth, it's a Christmas-themed PG movie for Amazon. I highly recommend watching it! [Wow!]

Good luck to both of you with your projects. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

View of lake and snow topped mountains from first peak of Stawamus Chief hikes.  Photo by  Best Hikes BC

HASAN – I’m from British Columbia, Canada. My favorite park is Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. The water, the view, it’s just so stunning. [I whole-heartedly agree!]

Arial view of Central Park nestled between New York skyscrapers.

DABY - While I have a greater affinity for beaches than parks, I'd love to explore more parks in California. Currently, my favorite park is Central Park in New York City, along with London Fields in Hackney, London. The latter park is particularly appealing due to its vibrant market that takes place every weekend. [Nice!]

Thank you Hasan & Daby for sharing with us a bit about yourselves and your new picture book.

Book cover - boy dancing in street of Iraq with a treasured banana.

Be sure to check out the Perfect Picture Book Friday (#PPBF) review of Banana Dream.

To find out more about Hasan Namir, or to contact him:

To find out more about Zainab “Daby” Faidhi, or to contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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