Children's Africana Book Award (CABA) 2021 Honor Book
Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and on her first day in a new school, what she wants more than anything is to fit in. Maybe that’s why she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.
That night, Kanzi wraps herself in the beautiful Arabic quilt her teita (grandma) in Cairo gave her and writes a poem in Arabic about the quilt. Next day her teacher sees the poem and gets the entire class excited about creating a “quilt” (a paper collage) of student names in Arabic. In the end, Kanzi’s most treasured reminder of her old home provides a pathway for acceptance in her new one.
This authentic story with beautiful illustrations includes a glossary of Arabic words and a presentation of Arabic letters with their phonetic English equivalents.
Is it possible that a kid’s book can make a grown person cry? Yes, most definitely, because I did while reading Aya Khalil’s debut picture book The Arabic Quilt- An Immigrant Story. The term “children’s book” is misleading. They should generally just be called books, because it’s stories like these that deserve a larger audience than only the market it’s being targeted to.
The Arabic Quilt is an endearing story of little Kanzi’s first day of 3rd grade in the U.S. She recently immigrated with her family from Egypt and doesn’t want any extra attention on her than is necessary.Whether you are a new immigrant or several generations removed, this story will especially be felt by families where the parents: speak a different language, dress in traditional clothes or send ethnic food for lunch. Or, like me, all of the above. Hence, the waterworks.
Even though my kids are not immigrants to the U.S., and neither am I, this scene has played out before with my own children at their school. Once, after seeing me dressed in hijab, my daughter got asked, “Why does your mom wear that?” “Does she have hair?” It is so hard for children to just want to belong and find their place, without their classmates making it harder.