Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi & Lea Lyon

A slightly belated Selamat Hari Raya Aidiladha! What better way to kick off the season than by, er, reviewing a book about Aidilfitri. Well, technically Ramadan, but since I’d put off ordering this picture book for my kids till I had several novels I wanted to buy in hard copy from my local indie bookstore, the book’s arrival seemed serendipitous enough for review now.

I originally ordered this thinking it would be a good primer for my 6 year-old twins, being a picture book, but discovered it’s actually aimed at a slightly older age group, which is totally fine. My eldest and I read through it together and it was perfect for him, tho I would have liked it if Reem Faruqi had stated how old Lailah was when she began to fast for Ramadan in the book itself. It would definitely have been helpful for my 9 year-old, whom we’re trying to encourage to fast for full days at school, to know that Lailah was 10, and that he’s thus on track with his peers (tho I began fasting full days at 8 myself, a benefit of going to school in a Muslim country with a built-in support system for that kind of thing.)

Anyhoo, this picture book tells the story of Lailah, a recent immigrant from Abu Dhabi to Atlanta, who is excited to finally be old enough to fast at school. Her mom writes her a note to be given to her teacher, explaining about skipping lunch, but Lailah has second thoughts about handing it over, leading to misunderstandings that are eventually cleared up with the help of a thoughtful librarian. My poor kid had to put up with me snarkily commenting on Lailah’s disobeying her mother and thus making her own life unnecessarily difficult, tho I do very much understand Lailah’s reluctance to draw attention to her differences or, worse, have to explain her belief system. Fortunately, the book made it clear that most people are respectful and understanding if not downright accommodating when given the chance to be, which is definitely a good message for the target demographic. My 9 year-old told me that his main takeaway from the book is “to be brave” tho “there’s no school right now.”

The pictures are also lovely, with Lea Lyon’s watercolors practically glowing from each page. Their quasi-photorealistic quality do a really good job of illustrating Lailah’s family and school lives. Overall, Jms and I enjoyed this quick, thoughtful read that helps to demystify fasting in a non-Muslim country for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as well as encourage a two-way street of communication to facilitate understanding and acceptance.

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