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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Aya Khalil (7/23)

Aya Khalil is a freelance journalist and educator.

Author photo of Aya Khali.

She holds a master's degree in Education with a focus in Teaching English as a Second Language. The Arabic Quilt is based on true events growing up when she moved to the US from EGYPT at the age of one. Her articles have been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Post & Courier, Toledo Area Parent, and more. She's been featured in Yahoo!, Teen Vogue, Verona and more. She was named one of Arab America's Foundation's 40 under 40 in 2021.

Collage of Aya Khali's three book covers.

Aya is the author of The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story (2023), Our World: Egypt, illustrated by Magda Azab (2022), and The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan (2020).

For more information on Aya, check out our earlier interview (here).

Her newest picture book, The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale, releases on August 1st.

Welcome Aya, thank you so much for stopping back by to talk about your newest book and your writing.

Thank you so much for having me again! What do you like to do outside by yourself or with family and friends? I love to go on bike rides with my family, go to parks, travel, and explore new coffee and brunch places with friends. What was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale?

Cover image of class of kids protesting under a banner with the title.

In 2021, I learned that my debut picture book, The Arabic Quilt, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, was on a banned list in Pennsylvania. A few weeks later, my editor reached out to me and told me that two different districts, one in Pennsylvania and one in New York, bought a total of 22,000 copies of The Arabic Quilt for their school districts and asked me if I would like to write another book! I said I would love to and it took me a few days to think about what I wanted to write. I finally decided I would write on banned books, loosely based on how The Arabic Quilt was banned and reversed. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale?

Not too long, actually. I want to say about 4-6 weeks from drafting to sending it to the editor. That was back in the fall of 2021 and it comes out in the fall of 2023 so a total of two years. Wow! That's speedy for a picture book. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale? I love that people are already familiar with Kanzi so it was really nice to see people getting excited to learn that Kanzi would be back! I was really happy that Anait was available to illustrate it again. I of course loved seeing the illustrations and I can't wait to hold it in my hands soon!

It's great to have Kanzi star in a sequel. What was the hardest, or most challenging part of writing The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale? Why?

It was definitely writing a hard topic for young children. Explaining book bans and why people would want to ban books was pretty hard. There were also hardly any picture books out there about this topic, if any. I did write a lot of back matter, so I hope that is helpful. It is so important for kids to understand and speak up against banning books. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Anait Semirdzhyan’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Internal spread of Kanzi speaking out at the bake sale.

Text © Aya Khalil, 2023. Image © Anait Semirdzhyan. 2023.

I love that teita is actually in town and Anait illustrated her so well! I love the illustrations of Kanzi and her classmates and the solidarity shown throughout. They're all my favorite, but really that spread where she just speaks up and uses her voice is so powerful!

Is there something you want your readers to know or hope they discover about The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale?

I hope they know and understand that their voices are important no matter how small they are! What a great gift to give to readers. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I have an unannounced picture book that is coming out in 2024, hopefully I can announce it soon, but I am so excited about it because it's with a dream editor and a topic very special to me.

Congratulations! I can't wait to hear the news. What is your favorite animal or one that you are enamored with? Why? Penguins because they're so cute and I just want to play with them. I totally agree!

Cover image of class of kids protesting under a banner with the title.

Thanks so much, Aya for stopping back by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you. Thanks so much for having me again!

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book (#PPBF) post on The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale.

To find out more about Aya Khalil, or contact her: Website: Facebook: Twitter: Instagram:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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