The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Natasha Khan Kazi and Review of Moon's Ramadan
Natasha Khan Kazi was born in Bangladesh, raised in Texas and Pennsylvania, and now lives in Southern California, where she writes and illustrates books for young readers.
Her creative work is rooted in empathy, diversity, and childhood joy. Natasha started putting in her ten thousand hours to be an artist as soon as she could hold a crayon. She spent evenings drawing, learning, painting, and drawing some more into adulthood. In her spare time, she loves thrift store treasure hunting and learning about new cultures.
Natasha is the blogger behind IslamiMommy, where she shares ways to honor Islam through arts & crafts. And she is a 2023 Highlights Foundation Muslim Storyteller Fellow.
Her debut picture book, Moon’s Ramadan (a 2023 Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), was released on February 28th.
Natasha, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write &/or illustrate? How long have you been writing and illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
I have been a writer since I received my first journal at age 10. But being an author & illustrator is a profession and a dream I always felt it belonged to someone else. Someone with money, resources, and connection. Though I had been writing for my full-time marketing career for many years, I started to learn the craft of writing for children in 2019. And though I had been an avid artist my whole life, I was also a dutiful immigrant daughter who opted for business school over art school. But in 2020, I finally permitted myself to explore a career in illustration. Now I feel thankful to do both in my home studio and wherever my Ipad will let me work, sometimes at the park or my son’s basketball practice.
I'm glad you gave yourself permission to follow your dreams. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, or your favorite book as a child?
I loved the classics as a kid: the golden books, Richard Scarry, Berenstein Bears, Shel Silverstein, and Dr. Seuss. I remember reading The Lorax for the first time and being so completely enchanted. Building an entire world in a picture book is on my life goals list.
What was the inspiration for Moon’s Ramadan?
When my oldest son started preschool, I wanted to share our special holiday with his class. So often, minority holiday celebrations in the U.S. are quiet, and I wanted him to feel the holiday spirit. Pre-schoolers are the absolute best! They are so curious and kind.
But after my presentation, my four-year-old told me he wished I had shared more information about Ramadan. I realized I had made the mistake of oversimplifying things for small children. They are so smart and sophisticated. So when I began my writing journey, I knew I wanted to write a Ramadan story. But I wasn’t sure how to make it unique to me. The answer finally came to me: holiday magic. It is what I needed as a child and what my children need now. So I found my imaginative main character, Moon, and the heart of my story.
It's really fun to see it through Moon's eyes. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript? How about the most unusual place where you’ve painted or drawn an illustration?
I don’t know if this is unusual, but when I was up against Moon’s Ramadan deadlines, I edited art on my iPad at my son’s soccer practice underneath the floodlights.
Sounds magical. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Moon’s Ramadan?
I wrote the first draft of Moon’s Ramadan in 2020 and held the physical book in my hands for the first time in 2023!
And it's your debut! That's almost speedy in publishing. What's something you want your readers to know about Moon’s Ramadan?
Moon’s Ramadan is a story for all children. Adults teach children empathy by role-modeling and caring about experiences that are not their own. And inclusivity is an important tool for building empathy. In western culture, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter mark the beginning of the year. Most western holidays are rooted in the Christian tradition. Sharing diverse traditions helps children understand the experiences of those unlike themselves. And that is the basis of authentic friendships.
I'm wondering which came first, the illustrations or the text? Which is harder for you? Why?
For Moon’s Ramadan, I wrote the manuscript before drafting the sketches. I knew I wanted it to be a lyrical story and have the feel of a classic holiday book. So only after the text was done did I start the illustrations. Illustration and text are equally challenging (but a good kind of challenging)! I call writing my therapy and illustration my meditation. They both take concentration and my utmost focus.
Ooh, I love that description. Many illustrators leave special “treasures” or Easter eggs in the illustrations. Did you do this? If so, can you share one or more with us? What is your favorite spread or one you’re especially proud of?
Text & Image © Natasha Khan Kazi, 2023.
I left many Easter eggs in the illustrations! I will share two of them. First, seven golden spiders are hidden in the book's pages. Little kids love finding them! And on the U.S.A page, a message in Arabic is hidden in the steam. The message says salam, which means peace.
Did you see the spider hanging under the table? Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have a second book with HarperCollins that I am working on now. My second book shows a different side of me, rooted in my South Asian heritage. Because I write and illustrate, I put everything I have into one book at a time. I write fiction, but I love to research. So every word, every detail in the illustration, is thought through.
I'm curious and will keep an eye out for the book's cover reveal. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I love our National Parks! But my most favorite park so far is Sequoia National Park. When you climb the mountain's elevation and enter the Sequoia grove, it is just magical. It feels like a fairytale.
Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?
The best advice I’ve received about writing/illustrating is to do it every day. If you do it every day, you will get better, smarter, and more confident. And I can say from experience that this is true.
Thank you, Natasha, for stopping back by to share with us your debut picture book.
To find out more about Natasha Khan Kazi, or to contact her:
Review of Moon's Ramadan
This book creatively envisions the celebration and meaning of Ramadan through the eyes and emotions of the moon, as she watches kids and their families around the world participate throughout the month.
Author/Illustrator: Natasha Khan Kazi
Publisher: Versify/ Harper Collins (2023)
Phases of the Moon, Ramadan, holiday, new year, peace, and magic.
With radiant and welcoming art, this debut picture book and modern holiday classic captures the magic and meaning of one of the world's most joyful and important celebrations.
It's Ramadan, the month of peace, and Moon watches over Ramadan traditions with excitement and longing in this sweetly illustrated debut.
In Egypt, India, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates, in Somalia, New Zealand and Indonesia, in Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, children and their families do good deeds in honor of those who have less.
Cleverly blending glimpses of different countries' celebrations with the corresponding phases of the moon, Moon's Ramadan makes Ramadan, one of the world's most widely celebrated traditions, accessible and exciting for all readers. Includes robust and easy-to-understand back matter.
In the purple veil of twilight, Moon smiles at earth.
Her sliver of silver signals the start of Ramadan, the month of peace.
Moon peeks through paper pennants and tin-plated fawanees.
Hands point toward her new crescent.
Moon is excited too.
What I LOVED about the book:
It is so fun to look at Ramadan celebrated around the world from the moon's perspective. It is an ingenious way to explore the holiday as well as the phases of the moon. Natasha's beautiful, soothing refrain - "In the purple veil of twilight" - sets the stage for the evening skies in inviting shades of purple and lavender, rather than the deeper, darker black of night,. adding both a lyrical and visual magic to the moment.
As Moon travels around the Earth for the month of Ramadan, she observes various activities and rituals of the holiday celebration in different countries. A pretty golden plaque at the bottom of the pages clues the reader into where Moon has focused her attention. For instance, at the start of the holiday, we see Moon watching people in Egypt cleaning their homes so they "sparkle, warm and inviting like Moon."
Text & Image © Natasha Khan Kazi, 2023.
Each evening, Moon's shape changes as she waxes and wanes, until as a new moon peaking around the mountains of Argentina, she "magically melts in the mulberry and lavender hues" while people hunt for her in the sky. Though the people ultimately shuffle home, Moon assures them that "You can't see me, but I am always here for you." evening meals beginning with "a cool glass of water and a plump date," charity, and nightly prayers. And I love how Moon interacts with a widely diverse group of people both in nationality and religion, but also in age and ability.
Each evening, Mon's shape changes as she waxes and wanes, until as a new moon peaking around the mountains of Argentina, she "magically melts in the mulberry and lavender hues" while people hunt for her in the sky. Though the people ultimately shuffle home, Moon assures them that "You can't see me, but I am always here for you."
Text & Image © Natasha Khan Kazi, 2023.
The gentle, scanned watercolor textures and digital pencil illustrations predominately feature tones of blue and purple, with warm touches of gold throughout. And they include the architecture, varied clothing, and food of the featured countries. As Moon's cycle and Ramadan come to an end, she remembers Eid and discovers . . .. The last couple of spreads are joyful and full of hope. The book also includes an author's note, diagram of the moon's phases, and a glossary. This is a very inventive way to explore not only Ramadan and the ways it's celebrated throughout the world, but also our connection to the moon and each other.
- make a Ramadan lantern and decorate it with your favorite phase of the moon.
- make moon Ramadan cookies.
- check out Natasha's "Ramadan Teacher's Guide."
- pair this with The Night Before Eid by Aya Khalil, illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh and The Gift of Ramadan
by Rabiah York Lumbard,, illustrated by Laura K. Horton.