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Virginia Children’s Book Festival

IMG_4729I had the pleasure of going to the Virginia Children’s Book Festival in Farmville, VA this past weekend. Since I’m “between books” (my Young Adult novel came out in 2015 and my middle grade pubs May 2018) this year has been a bit slower as far as book-related travel goes. And while I had done some panels and conferences this year like AWP and SCBWI LA it had been a minute since I’d done school visits. The Virginia Children’s Book Festival is a festival truly for children. It was a multi-day event where authors came to present at Longwood College and students from the county and surrounding areas bused in (some as far as two hours away!) to listen to authors share their craft and stories. There were kids as young as five all the way up to teenagers in their senior year of high school.

Coming to Farmville and presenting to teens about my YA WRITTEN IN THE STARS I remembered, yet again, that the biggest perk of writing for young people is the young people. I love presenting to them about the topics in my books, about the writing journey, and providing tips and advice (things I wished I knew at their age) to help them on their own journeys toward achieving their dream.

The other great perk? Is meeting fellow authors who I know and admire and respect and also getting to know new authors. As an author most of your working time is alone with your laptop or notebook creating worlds and characters. So author conferences, teen festivals, etc are a way to connect with colleagues and that too, I know, will never get old.

I am pretty bad at taking photos and I wish I had taken more of the fabulous authors I also met like Dan Santat, Dhonielle Clayton, Peter Brown, etc but I am glad I got to capture a moment with the brilliant Lamar Giles and lovely Meg Medina. If you don’t know their work, please rectify immediately!

And now, back to laundry and dishes, and babies who need extra cuddling because three days away is a long time when you’re under three years of age. But also back to writing and creating and working toward more books!

Love and light, to you and yours,

Aisha

 

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On restarting the blog, books I love, and authors you need to read.

Well, hello there. It’s, um. Been a while. 

A lot has happened since the last time I posted. And by lot I mean the world feels like its flipped upside down. [Though, of course, that’s not what happened. The fog simply lifted. I see now what was always there.]

Times are tough. Things are hard. There’s no sugar coating that. But we keep on keeping on because it’s what we do. We have stories to write, dinner to make, and diapers to change.

Seriously though. So. Many. Diapers

After my third son was born I took a step back from a lot of the work I was doing like my beloved We Need Diverse Books to focus on said diapers and dinners and stories. But then the world flipped. Things changed. Now I canvass for candidates, volunteer at the mosque, and call my reps every day over morning chai. And that is when I began thinking of this blog and how I haven’t updated it in nearly a year. I am on twitter (@aishacs) regularly but this here blog? It’s been pretty dusty. Whoops.

It’s not a coincidence I remember this blog when times got tough. This blog has been here since 2004 when I was still a teacher. It followed me through the ups and downs of law school, my life as an attorney, leaving my job to pursue motherhood and writing, and then the beautiful moment where I saw the book of my heart published.

And then I got quiet. Books to write. Babies to raise (Alhamdullilah, I have three little boys, the absolute joy and blessing of my life)

And as I think about this Brave New World we are in and what I can do, one thing that brings me  a consistent source of comfort is what always has since I was young: books. Both writing books and reading them. Books were my refuge. And I’m not just talking about Deep and Serious books, I’m also talking about Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. Those books gave me templates for friendships I admired and wanted when friends were difficult to come by. Those books gave me adventures when life felt dark.

A few months ago I read this brilliant article by William Schwambe, author of BOOKS FOR LIVING, about how books shape our lives and alter our destinies, how good books can give meaning to our lives and answer our questions and better still, raise more questions to consider and challenge ourselves. He’s right. And books matter more than ever today. This knowledge helps me write every day now. This understanding has stripped away the fear that plagued me these past few months. I need to write my stories. My stories matter because I know deeply how reading stories have shaped my own life.

In that vein I’m dusting off the blog again. I want to start sharing the books I’m reading that are healing and insightful, that may have made me laugh, or made me think, in the hopes by sharing they might inspire others to read and benefit also.

I am also starting up a regular series featuring authors from marginalized backgrounds who I admire and whose work inspires me. It’s tentatively titled How To Live In Our Brave New World and I will gush about books that help us cope and love and make it through difficult moments and amazing authors will share some advice and insight on how they are coping and handling these difficult times. The more of us talking about this, I hope, the better off we will be.

And to kick it off, I’m sharing a new monthly series where I’ll share that month’s sampling of books I read that I enjoyed and think you will too:

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar. I ugly cried reading this book. I have three small kids who wake up at the crack of dawn but I stayed up all night to finish it anyways. This book is a throbbing beating heart inside a book. I also love the inter-sectional diversity as Ruthie is Jewish and Cuban growing up in New York City. You will fall head over heels in love with Ruthie.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan. I’m sure when Hena wrote this book she had no idea how timely (unfortunately) the subject matter would be today. Hena’s editor, the amazing Zareen Jaffery, said once how when there is so little in the canon about Muslims each new book that enters the canon matters that much more. The negative portrayals hurt more and the authentic portrayals matter more. This book is a much needed book all young kids will benefit from.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This is a magical haunting book about slavery and the literary magic Colson unleashes here is so profound and powerful I will need to re-read it multiple times to really get my head around it. I loved how he took established facts such as the Underground Railroad of history and made it an actual underground railroad. As a writer I remain in awe of his skill.

Ms. Marvel, Volumes 1-6 by Willow Wilson. I will never be able to properly convey what this comic series means to me. The stories are for me. I have wept more than once reading. In volume 6 they discuss the PARTITION of India and Pakistan and the conversations within are chillingly relevant to today’s world.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. I knew the basics of Apartheid but until I read this book I did not know the gut wrenching reality. This book makes dystopian books mild and gentle fairy tales. This books should be required reading for everyone.

The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton. This book will shift the way you view news and take in the news forever. Particularly compelling to read in today’s world.

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. This book split my heart open and then refused to sew it back together so I sit here and stare out the window, my feelings piled upon feelings. A beautiful book. Just be warned: Bring tissues.

Phew. I guess this is what happens when you haven’t written on your website for nearly a year? If you made it to the bottom thanks for reading and stay tuned this week for my first in the new author series!

Hope you and yours are well. ❤

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Thoughts on Orlando. Words fail, but words will have to do.

I don’t know how to write this without crying.

So I’ll cry and I’ll write.

It’s summer break. I wake up to baby snuggles. Afternoons I clean up the goop left behind from three year olds intent on making their own PB&Js because I’m a big boy now thank you very much, and then I cuddle each evening with all three and hear my newly literate eldest son read me stories before bed.

It’s also Ramadan. The kids settle in most mornings with crayons and glitter for Ramadan cards to exchange with friends. We document good deeds. Read Ramadan stories. We snack on chocolate and dates as the day comes to a close, before we brush our teeth for bed.

I teach them to be good. I teach them to be kind. Be a doctor. Be an artist. Be an architect. Be a chef. Be whatever you want to be when you grow up but along the way and all your life be kind.

And then I wake up Sunday morning, a nice long stretch of shut-eye thanks to the spouse who watched the kids. Ready to offer a pancake breakfast for the wee ones. And just like that sleepy summer feeling vanishes. I read the news. During Pride month. During Ramadan. In my hometown. A man walked into a night club. He murdered 49 people. 

As I did after Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, the rest of the day trickled by in a haze. Today, I stared at the news, the texts from one of the victims, telling his mother he loved her. He called her mommy. Like my middle son calls me, curled up in my lap, twirling my hair. I love you mommy. Those will be the last words she will ever see.

I’m haunted by this mother’s grief. Surely, she too cuddled sleepy mornings with her son when he was a baby. She cleaned up his spills. Surely he too read her stories. She loved him. I know that love. Now she grieves.

As all mothers I’m terrified of the evil lurking in our midst. As a Muslim mother, after the events last night, I am terrified of the world my boys will grow up in. It’s not the first night I’ve lost sleep over the future. And with the current climate, with violence regularly inflicted on people who just might “look” Muslim, and flippant remarks tossed out by politicians nostalgically remembering the internment camps of our recent past, I’m afraid it won’t be the last.

I’ve never met this man. I don’t know who he is. As I’ve written in the past, I shouldn’t have to apologize for his actions. And I shouldn’t have to condemn what happened, because just as any act of murder and evil, just like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Charleston, ofcourse I condemn it. I condemn it. I condemn it. I condemn it.

And yet last night I stared at my phone. I thought of my friends. My beautiful friends who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Some who have held my hands in the most difficult of moments. Friends who I’ve vented about the book journey with. Friends who have brought me food when I was still in my post-baby haze. Whose children I love with all my heart. That a man twisted my faith, and invoked it when he committed this heinous act…. I admit I felt a whisper of fear reaching out. I reached out anyways.

And they responded with love. Compassion. Kindness.

As Lin Manuel said last night at the Tonys, love is love is love is love is love.

To my friends and readers who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community please know I love you. I am sorry you are hurting. I am sorry you are afraid. Just as you have always supported me, please know I will always support you.

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Saturday

Sunny Saturday morning of gardening, trimming, errands at large.
First weekend in town in weeks.

And then the text from a friend.
Air show! Come!

Fussy baby. Busy day. But the children plead, so we ergo the baby, zip in water bottles, and
pull in just in time to catch the last bit of the show.

Look at the view!
We’re on the runway!
The planes are so close!
Watch them go down! Back up again.

Grand Finale, the announcer bellows. This last one is a surprise.

Two planes.
One blue, the other green, race through the sky,
They criss-cross. Weave. Pirouette in the air.

And then, the green plane crosses the blue,
swims back into the sky.

But the blue plane sputters.

Shakes. 
Crashes.

It’s part of the show.
It’s part of the show. 
It has to be part of the show.
 
The crowd is silent. No gasps. No screams.
The fireman and officers stock still.

And I wonder now, if they were all praying too.

But then, a ball of fire.
The plane splits in two,
The announcer,
his voice subdued.
Accident.
Suspended.
Cover your children’s eyes. 

The plane flipped, the toddler shouts, over dinner.
Was someone inside? The elder asks.
They play out the scene. They draw it. They mime it.
And somehow, I mumble my way through.
Moments later they’re laughing,
then arguing over cookies.
I feel relief when it’s finally time for bed.

And feel a twinge witnessing the safety of their childhood because being an adult means telling your kids everything will be ok and wishing someone would tell you the same with equal conviction.

My thoughts and prayers with the man who lost his life, and his family whose pain I cannot even begin to imagine tonight.

It’s been a while since I last posted here, but this has been where I process things that happen in my life, and even though there are many times I consider packing up shop entirely on the blogging end of things, moments like now, I’m grateful this is still here.