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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Zainab Khan and Review of Noura's Crescent Moon

Zainab Khan is a writer born in Singapore who went to school in different parts of the world including the American and British schools in Saudi Arabia. She’s a spreader of light and in order to spread light, she is donating a part of her proceeds to GIVELIGHT.ORG. This organization cares for and educates orphans in thirteen different countries including the U.S.

Author photo of Zainab Khan

After getting her BA from Boston University, she taught elementary school. Years later, she ran my own preschool program. The best part of her day was telling her students stories. That is when Zainab knew she wanted to be a writer. She joined the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and worked hard to make her dreams come true. She currently lives in Long Island with her husband, daughter, and cat, while her son goes to college in NYC.


Her debut picture book, Noura's Crescent Moon, releases on April 16th.

 

Welcome Zainab, thank you for coming to talk about your debut book!

 

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

 

Thank you for having me on your blog, Maria. I am excited to share a bit about myself.

 

It’s taken eleven years for my debut picture book to get published. Eleven years of not so patiently waiting for April 16th, 2024. 

 

I wrote countless manuscripts, participated in many writing contests, received over at least a hundred rejections but I persevered. Determination to get to the other side never left me. All it took was one eagerly awaited joyous yes to change the course of my publishing journey.

 

I enjoyed immersing myself into my stories as I wrote them. It allowed me to taste, touch, hear and feel everything my character experienced as she went through her journey.

 

Nabila Adani did a marvelous job illustrating NOURA’S CRESCENT MOON. My illustrating skills were on par with a three-year-old, so I was always happy to hone in on my writing instead.

 

I'm glad you got your 'yes.'! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Book cover - family walking under a bridge.

As a child, I gravitated towards authors who focused on books that promoted empathy and allowed children to have agency. My favorite childhood stories were The Family Under the Bridge, any book by Enid Blyton, and The View From the Cherry Tree. My favorite picture books as a child were about Paddington Bear, the Bernstein Bears and of course, A Birthday for Frances (and that delicious chompa chompa bar).

 

I reread these stories as an adult and noticed that not only were these authors prolific writers. Enid Blyton’s reading level may be on the lower end but I highly recommend all writers to read her books. She is a master in developing story arcs, plots, emotional arcs, page turns- the whole gamut! 


I agree with you. Her books are amazing. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Noura's Crescent Moon?

Book cover - a young girl looking up into a swirling, sparkling crescent of feathery light.

Noura’s Crescent Moon comes from my religious and cultural experiences. It took me many long years to realize what it meant to write my own stories. My incredible critique partner, Aimee Haburjak, encouraged me to do so. This book is about how Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr and shares how they determine the date through Noura’s eyes. 

 

As an author only, my best ideas come when I’m in bed or in the shower. I was sitting under the covers letting myself daydream when my thoughts dilly dallied to Ramadan and the moonsighting. I hadn’t seen any other books in the market that dealt with this specific topic. It felt fresh and organic and so I wrote that first manuscript. 

  

I love that it came from letting your mind freely wander. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Noura's Crescent Moon?

 

I don’t remember how long it took me to write Noura’s Crescent Moon. It’s a blur now. Perhaps, a year and a half. After it was acquired in 2020, there were more drafts written with the editor. Having a great team behind me was key to getting this book published. How lucky I am!

 

It's such a wonderful blessing when the team works well together. What was the toughest aspect of writing Noura's Crescent Moon? And what was the most fun part of creating this book?


Initially, the book felt more like the page from a middle grade novel. I had to really think about how to change the voice from first person into third person and it had to be a younger child’s voice.


It was difficult and painful killing my darlings too. There were words and concepts I was in love with but the process taught me never to love anything so much that I can’t get rid of it. The goal is to write a book that will be marketable and sell.


My favorite part was finding different ways to write about the sunset. It was so much fun that I continued finding creative ways to write sunrises and sunsets for my other books as well. Who doesn’t like to think of clouds as pink cotton candy?

  

Oh, that's fun! When you first saw Nabila Adani’s illustrations, did anything amaze or surprise you? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - a young girl and parents join others on hill top for a iftar picnic and hunt for the new moon.

Text © Zainab Khan, 2024. Image © Nabila Adani, 2024.


Nabila is extremely talented! She brought the book to life. I was blown away by her artwork. The spreads are beautiful. Those sunsets are stunning. The ambiance on each page is out of this world! And Noura is perfect. She is exactly how I imagined her to be.


I love all the illustrations. Each one evokes a different feeling and I love them all. There isn’t one spread that I like less than another. I am extremely lucky that Nabila is the illustrator. Noura's Crescent Moon was in the best hands possible.


And since the entire book is set at sunset....all the illustrations are gorgeous! What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written and/or illustrated a manuscript?

 

The shower. The idea came as I scrubbed shampoo out of my hair (we can pretend it was then). Once I was dressed, I pulled out a notebook and wrote the first draft of the story. The story never got published but it was the runner up for the 2016 Sue Alexander award. It opened doors for me. So, I always like to think of story ideas wherever I may be. I like to keep my phone handy just in case I need to scribble something down (and I have)!

 

The toughest thing is getting an idea and having nothing to write it down on. There are times I've toyed with the idea of getting waterproof paper. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Noura's Crescent Moon?

 

The goal for this book is to spread love in the world. We all dress up, eat yummy treats, get presents and have parties to celebrate the important events in our faiths with the same emotions. I want kids to realize that we are all the same.


I pray Noura's Crescent Moon can be a tiny piece of the puzzle that makes the world a better place for the next generation.

 

 I do too. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

I just finished some last-minute changes to my second book with Candlewick, Hana’s Hajj. This story is about a young, Muslim girl excited to go “Hajj camping.” She thinks it will be camping like with her scouts but comes to the beautiful realization of how “Hajj camping” is special in its unique way.

 

Congrats. We'll have to keep our eyes open for your next book. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park (anywhere in the world)? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of Sequoia National Park

Every park is unique. I wish I could visit all of them. One of my favorite parks was National Sequoia Park in California. The trees were phenomenal. Their trunks were the diameter of buildings, and one was even as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

 

I liked imagining the stories these trees would tell if we understood their whispers in the breeze (if that was even a language). I felt the same way when I went to Joshua Tree, Utah, and the Alps.

 

There are many more parks I still want to visit like Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and my dream, Kruger National Park. I love nature and seeing the unique beauty God has created for us humans to experience. One day, I will see them all, God Willing.

 

Thank you, Zainab for sharing about yourself and your debut picture book with us.


For more information about Zainab Khan, or to contact her:

 

Review of Noura's Crescent Moon


A beautiful, lyrical look at the traditions and celebrations surrounding Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.


Book cover - a young girl looking up into a swirling, sparkling crescent of feathery light.

Noura's Crescent Moon

Author: Zainab Khan

Illustrator: Nabila Adani

Publisher: Candlewick Press (2024)

Ages: 4-8

Fiction


Themes:

Ramadan, Eid, the crescent moon, family, and traditions.


Synopsis:

Venturing out after dusk with her family, a child is eager to watch for the new moon that signals the start of Eid ul-Fitr celebrations in this charming picture-book debut.


Noura can’t wait for the sun to go down! With Ramadan and her first month of fasting almost over, she and Mama and Papa are headed to the hills for a moonsighting picnic. It would be truly special if Noura could catch a glimpse of the faint silvery crescent, something even her mother has never managed to do. If the moon stays hidden, that means one more long day before Noura can wear her sparkly new dress and the joyful Eid celebrations begin—bringing with them visits with friends, eating sweets, and painting henna on her hands. In a lighthearted introduction to Ramadan and Eid, this family-centered tale of anticipation under the stars pairs an inviting text from Zainab Khan with Nabila Adani’s vibrant illustrations, capturing everything from the bustle of a shared meal to the swirling magic of the night sky. Relevant terms, from food items to the Islamic lunar calendar, are explained in a glossary at the end.


Opening Lines:

As the sun drifted toward the horizon, Noura's belly

rumbled. After twenty-nine days of Ramadan,

tonight would be Eid - if the moon appeared.


The smell of fried cumin wafted out through the

kitchen window. Pakoras sizzled in the fryer for that

night's moonsighting iftar.


What I Loved about this book:

I agree with Zainab Khan that Nabila Adani's colored pencil and gouache illustrations are amazing. There is a delicious etherealness to them. She beautifully captures Noura's energy and excitement as well as the gentle shifting light in this fun opening image. In the first few spreads, it feels like we're looking through a lens with reflected circles of light playing across the images.

Internal spread - a young girl swining on a tire swing gazing at her house as twilight starts to soften the sky.

Text © Zainab Khan, 2024. Image © Nabila Adani, 2024.


Barely containing her excitement of participating in her first Ramadan fast, Noura "gallops into the kitchen" and helps her father prepare a picnic breakfast for their hunt for the Eid moon. Her enthusiasm and determination to see her first Eid moon is palatable and I love the gentle and caring relationship depicted between Noura and her parents. As clouds begin swirling on the horizon, Papa tells Noura he's only seen the Eid moon once and Mama admits she's never seen it; making Noura wish harder that they can all see it together.

Internal spread - young girl and dad heading toward the car, when she's distracted by a golden sparkle in the bottom left corner.

Text © Zainab Khan, 2024. Image © Nabila Adani, 2024


Zainab and Nabila gently draw the reader into the traditions and events around Eid as Noura's anticipation grows when she sees the sparkling Eid dress her Mama made and then henna cones in the car, just in case it's Chaand Raath. Instead of breaking up the joy of the holiday, by inserting definitions, the book has an expansive discussion in the back matter on Ramadan and Eid.

Driving to a hill above the city, Noura's family joins a wonderfully diverse group of others as they all excitedly await a glimpse of the new moon, even as more clouds gather and deepen in color. As Noura squints into the horizon, willing (almost daring) the moon to appear, she worries the fun of the feast, Eid prayers and parties, and especially her new dress and henna decorations will be put off for "another long, long day."

Internal spread - a young girl and parents join others on hill top for a iftar picnic and hunt for the new moon.

  Text © Zainab Khan, 2024. Image © Nabila Adani, 2024


But, as Noura enjoys her family's delicious iftar meal, she realizes that putting off Eid for one more day might not be so bad. Especially as she'd get to enjoy another special family Ramadan meal. You'll have to read the book to discover if she sees the moon. Releasing the week after Eid al-Fitr (for 2024), this book is a wonderful lyrical exploration of a special celebration of family, traditions, and food.

Resources:

Photo collage with six of twenty Ramandan crafts.


  • pair this with The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard, illustrated by Laura K. Horton, Zahra's Blessing: A Ramadan Story by Shirin Shamsi, illustrated by Manal Mirza, and Moon's Ramadan by Natasha Khan Kazi.

Σχόλια


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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