Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices

Review: Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices
Edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed; illus. by Sara Alfageeh
Intermediate, Middle School    
Amulet/Abrams   272 pp.    g
5/20    978-1-4197-4083-1    $17.99

For Muslims around the world, the two Eids (Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha), conjure images of joy and community and include celebrations which vary by region and consist of different traditions. 

Common traditions for the observance of both Eids often include new clothing, congregational prayers, special foods, and most importantly, time with family and community. Through prose, verse, and imagery, including the vibrant cover art, and a comic selection, authored by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Sara Alfageeh, the stories in Once Upon an Eid capture all of those traditions and so much more.

Consisting of stories by 15 Muslim authors of diverse backgrounds, each selection explores an aspect of human experience with incredible complexity and sensitivity. Characters are relatable, and reflect a range of Islamic practice and identity. Stories are set in a variety of locations, with many taking place in non-Muslim majority countries and communities. Readers are given the opportunity to explore many Eids not just reflecting different cultural ties characters might have but the joys, sorrows, feelings of grief, and love that take place when set against a much beloved and significant holiday. 

In Jamilah Thompkins-Bigleow’s “Perfect,” readers meet twelve-year-old Hawa on her way to celebrate Eid with her father’s side of the family in the Bronx. Though she would rather be celebrating with her friends, she is forced to confront a complicated relationship with her cousin, and the comparisons between them, that are tied to expression of identity and authenticity, body image and style, and family structure. In Hanna Alkaf’s “Taste,” set in Malaysia, the protagonist Alia feels alienated because of her mother’s absence and her sense of guilt surrounding that absence. In N.H. Senzai’s “Searching For Blue”, Syrian refugees make a home for themselves and carve a place for celebration in Greece. Thompkins-Bigelow’s poem “Eid Pictures” connects the joy and imagery of Eid in the African American community, the history of how that community was built in the United States, and the first Eid of stolen ancestors longing for their homelands, community, and faith. 

The subtleties of each story offer readers familiar with particular communities the opportunity to see themselves, some for the first time in print. Readers unfamiliar with the diversity within the Muslim community are given an intimate look into different communities, challenging the false idea that Muslims are monolithic. On a deeper level, this book gives Muslim readers the opportunity to look at, consider, be in conversation with, and understand complex feelings and how we can improve understanding of each other on a fundamental human level with empathy and compassion. Stories are inclusive of different family structures, socioeconomic backgrounds, relationships between Shia and Sunni Muslims, and recent converts to Islam. 

The core of the narratives are examining these familial relationships, expression of cultural, racial, religious identities, self-exploration and self-acceptance and are incredibly intersectional. While Once Upon an Eid centers Eid narratives, its stories are important to share in a library or classroom collection year round and hold universal appeal.
Mahasin and Ariana were recently part of Abrams’ Beyond the Book, and were able to interview editors S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed about Once Upon an Eid.

Posted in Reviews

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed


Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound. Middle Grade Fiction. Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin , 05/2018. 240 pp. $17.99. 978-0399544682. (RECOMMENDED). Ages 10-12.

I acquired this book during a library conference. When I sat down to read the book, I had no idea what was in store for me. Unlike most people, I rarely read the back/inside cover of a book before starting it. All I knew about the book was that 1) the author was Muslim, 2) the character was a Pakistani Muslim, 3) it was a kid’s book and 4) the cover was GORGEOUS.

Amal Unbound is a middle grade novel which focuses on Amal, the oldest of four girls. She loves school and wants to become a teacher when she grows up. However, with her mother due any day now, Amal is told to stay home to help out. One day, while running errands for her family, she ticks off the village’s wealthiest landlord and finds herself a new servant in his household.

Aisha Saeed, author of ‘Written in the Stars’, weaves a realistic story through the voice of Amal of what could happen to a young girl from a small village in modern day Pakistan. She meets different servants in the household, those she enjoys being around and those looking to make trouble for her. She even teaches one of the younger girls her alphabets. Trouble begins to stir in the household both for Amal and the wealthy landlord. While Amal begins to wonder if her debt will ever be paid off so she can go home she continues to hang on to the hope of one day finding her way out of her situation and finds her escape in studying.

While Saeed does not touch on the Muslim religion at all, she does, however minimally, bring in different aspects of Pakistani culture and how life for girls can be in Pakistan’s smaller villages. The cultural aspect becomes glaringly obvious when Amal’s father tells her that it is her duty as the eldest to stay home from school and help out even though she is only 12 years of age. As the eldest she is often reminded that it is her duty to look after her younger sisters and the needs of the family come before her own. Amal’s village is divided into two classes: high class, which is held by one man who reigns terror over the village and controls the police and lower class, the rest of the village. Saeed also touches on the cultural aspects of traditional clothing and wedding festivities.

I was able to get through the book in a couple of hours. The book itself was a pretty fast-paced read as things pick up the further along you get. This would be would be a great book for realistic readers looking for a hint of mystery and drama while learning some societal and cultural things about the country of Pakistan.