Local author writes books to teach children about Ramadan and different religions
CHICAGO — As Muslims around the world celebrate the month of Ramadan, a local woman has released a new children’s book aimed at Muslim children. A tale set in a Ramadan setting, the book and its author quickly gained popularity.
Shirin Shamsi is one of Chicago’s Very Own.
Shamsi spent years volunteering by reading storybooks to school-aged children. This week, while reading to middle school students at the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park, she emerges as the author of a picture book that took her 25 years to publish.
“I just want to write for children because they are the most important people in the world,” Shamsi said.
Shamsi was born in England to Pakistani immigrants. As a child, she was a voracious writer. She constantly documented her life in her diary. She remembers that when she was 7, she filled the pages so much that she had to tape extra paper to the pages to chronicle the events of her week.
Years later, after having children, she pursued her love of reading and writing and wanted to share it with her children, especially during Muslim holidays. But she could never find any children’s books representing her culture.
“I always wanted a book about Ramadan because I felt like my kids didn’t have a book to celebrate their holiday and their legacy,” Shamsi said.
So she decided to do it herself. She decided to write a book about Ramadan to read to her children. It was then that “Zahra’s Blessings” was born.
“It’s about a little girl at the start of Ramadan. She sees the moon of Ramadan and she wishes for a sister,” Shamsi said.
Its first edition was rejected by the publishers. She was disappointed and she put the book away. But once her children entered university, about fifteen years later, she said to herself that it was time to dust off her manuscript and rework the main character.
After pitching the revised play at a Twitter pitch party, this Ramadan children’s tale took off. Barefoot Books published it in early April. More than a decade after first putting pen to paper. And it was a real success for the readers.
“It’s because it deals with so many themes, it’s not just a theme about Ramadan and family, it deals with displaced people which is so timely, sadly relevant for today, and it deals with donations and charity,” Shamsi said.
The story behind the story is also remarkable. Although the book remained unpublished for two decades, Shamsi continued to read the original version to students.
To her surprise, the illustrator chosen for the book was familiar with the tale – Shamsi had read the book to her second grade class years before.
Shamsi is now the author of six children’s books, including a book she co-wrote with some of her Jewish and Christian friends. She has another one in the works.
“I think with ‘Planting Friendship’, kids will see, yes, there are three religions, and see yes, we have different traditions, but we all believe in the same values and everyone is really the same” , she said.
She says her goal is to impart empathy and understanding in children.
“For example, if a child reads ‘The Blessing of Zarah’, for one child it may reflect an experience, but for another it will be as if they were invited into a Muslim household and had a positive experience. .”
She has been touched by the positive response to her book, however, she feels there is still a void when it comes to more diverse representation in children’s books.
“I think until every child can see themselves validated in the storybooks, we have to keep going.” she says.
For more information, visit the Shamsi website.
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