Salaam, everyone! I’m so excited to introduce another guest for the next author spotlight of #RamadanReadathon.
Admittedly, one of my favourite things about hosting this readathon is getting to interview such a diversity of Muslim authors, so I’d like to give a warm welcome to Saadia Faruqi for joining me today to discuss her two upcoming MG novels, A Place At The Table (co-written with Laura Shovan) and A Thousand Questions!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series Yasmin published by Capstone and other books for children, including middle grade novels A Place At The Table (HMH/Clarion 2020) co-written with Laura Shovan, and A Thousand Questions (Harper Collins 2020).
She has also written Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan, a short story collection for adults and teens. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She resides in Houston, TX with her husband and children. You can follow her on Twitter: @SaadiaFaruqi.
ABOUT A PLACE AT THE TABLE
Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher.
The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?
ABOUT A THOUSAND QUESTIONS
Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal. The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score —but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?
Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most.
Salaam, Saadia! Thank you so much for joining us! To begin with, could you quickly introduce yourself?
SF: Wa alaikum assalam! I’m a Pakistani American children’s books author. I write the popular Yasmin series, as well as middle grade novels, all featuring Muslim kids doing ordinary, everyday things. I’m also editor of Blue Minaret, an online magazine featuring Muslim fiction, poetry and art.
You’ve written both early reader books and middle grade books, as well as an adult fiction book. Are there any challenges when writing for such different audiences? Do you approach them in a similar or different way?
SF: They are definitely very different skill sets. A good book is all about voice, so the most challenging aspect of writing for a variety of age groups is getting the voice right. I approach every book and every age category with a new mindset, and try to put myself into the bodies and minds of those characters. Some aspects of all books are the same, such as plot or character arcs, but if I get the voice right, then the rest follows much more smoothly.
Your upcoming novel A Place At The Table, co-written with Laura Shovan, is about two young girls from different backgrounds who find common ground in the kitchen. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how did you end up collaborating with Laura?
SF: I am an interfaith activist, and have been since 9/11. A Place At The Table is my activism in action, both in terms of its themes and also some of the actual problems the characters face in the book.
Laura and I both wanted to write about immigration and the difficulties immigrants (and their families) face when they make their home somewhere else. Since she’s Jewish and I’m Muslim, we decided to root our own experiences in our book. We wanted to give readers a window into how our two cultures and religions live in everyday America, as well as shine some light on the challenges of being “different”. Plus a Jewish-Muslim friendship is the true mark of interfaith activism!
The book explores the themes of food, friendship, family and belonging, which remind me a lot of what I associate with Ramadan and Eid! What are your favourite dishes to make during these occasions?
SF: Actually, I’m not a cook by any stretch of the imagination! I wish my mom lived with me so she could make for me all the delicious foods I remember from my childhood.
Laura and I joke about the fact that she’s cooked every single dish mentioned in A Place At The Table (and there are many) while I have not! She loves trying new cuisines and is a fantastic baker, while I hardly ever venture into my kitchen!
Nothing wrong with that! A Thousand Questions, set in Pakistan, is also a Middle Grade novel about two young girls who form an unlikely friendship. What do you want readers to take away from the story?
SF: This is the book of my heart! I wrote it while vacationing in Pakistan with my American-born kids, and it was eye-opening to see my birthplace through their perspective!
A Thousand Questions is all about friendships with those who we seem to have nothing in common with, and unfortunately sometimes first-generation American kids think they have nothing in common with kids from their “home country”. I wanted to dispel that notion.
Another thing I wanted to do with this book is to showcase the vibrant culture and city life of Karachi. It’s the place I grew up in, and which shaped me into the person I am today. I want readers to see other countries – poor ones especially – in a new light. A positive light.
I love that! And finally, what are your favourite books by Muslim authors? And which books are you looking forward to reading soon?
SF: I have so many favourites! In picture books, Aya Khalil’s The Arabic Quilt is wonderful, and Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow’s Mommy’s Khimar. In middle grade novels, Hena Khan’s Amina’s Voice is my family’s go-to. And in adult books, the Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak detective series by Ausma Zehanat Khan is awesome!
Coming up, there is so much to look forward to, but for me More Than Just A Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood is definitely top of that list! I’ve read an advance reader copy and I am a big fan.
Thank you so much for joining us, Saadia, and for taking the time to answer these questions!
SF: You’re so welcome. Thank you for being a supporter of my work!
A Place At The Table will be published on August 11th, 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Pre-order the book from an indie bookstore near you, and don’t forget to add it on Goodreads.
A Thousand Questions will be published on October 6th, 2020 by Harper Collins. Pre-order the book from an indie bookstore near you, and don’t forget to add it on Goodreads.
For more books by this author, check out the Yasmin series and Brick Walls: Tales of Hope and Courage from Pakistan.