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Once Upon an Eid review

I am pleased to share this blog article which was kindly written by Mat Tobin, this book was gifted for the purpose of the review. 

'What does Eid mean to you? A time for celebration? A transition between fasting and feasting or perhaps a time to share gifts with those whom you love? As a non-Muslim, I found that Ali and Saeed’s Once Upon an Eid, a collection of 15 short stories from a range of Muslim voices, showed me something different – it is all these things and more. Authors S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, both accomplished children’s writers in their own right, have invited 13 other voices to contribute to this collection of stories which shine a moonlit light upon Eid (Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha, the former marking the end of Ramadan and the latter ‘marking the tenth day of the month of Hajj’). As such, the tales vary in when they are told throughout the year but also where and how: some take the form of short stories, a couple are presented in verse and one particularly delightful entry takes the form of a comic.

Their commonality rests in the sense of hope and joy that Eid brings. With perhaps an audience of ages 7+ in mind, the stories could be read in any order but I thought the tempo and structure was just right. The initial stories from Thompkins-Bigelow and Saeed introduce us to the close of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. Food, friendships and family are central and I loved the focus on the importance of clothing and the joy that comes in preparing for the festival.

Whilst Hussein’s wonderful ‘Kareem Means Generous’ focuses on the importance of the gift of giving and the generosity that Eid encourages. From here tone and content shift and roll between touching stories such as S. K. Ali’s tender ‘Don’ut Break tradition’ around a family illness and ‘Khan’s Gifts’; a warm and humorous celebration of the end of Ramadan in which we learn that it is the love behind the gifts that are given rather than the gift itself that matters.

Senazi’s ‘Searching for Blue’ sees an Eid celebrated by refugees who are seeking asylum in Germany (a favourite of mine from the collection) and the very powerful ‘Not Only an Only’ by Al-Marashi – a pertinent story which sees two Muslim girls find companionship and strength within a school in which they are singled out because of their faith. Each of these stories will sing to any reader be they Muslim or not. These are tales about children and their extended families celebrating their love for one another. Eid is what unites all their tellings but the themes of joy, love, community, family, food are all ones that anyone can identify with. A particular strength of the stories is their sense of contemporariness. These are families and children who talk to each other using Whatsapp or play on their Nintendo Switches or stop for at MacDonalds for a bite to eat: there is no mystery here or distancing because of faith and this is the true power of this excellent collection.

As with recent titles like Zanib Mian’s Planet Omar and Aisha Seed’s own Amal Unbound, these are stories based around Muslim’s faith and culture but are mirrors and windows, as Professor Rudine Sims Bishop would say, for anyone to look through. What Ali and Saeed do here is open the door to their faith, their customs and families and invite anyone in with an interest. This new, gradual wave of contemporary Muslim stories is a welcome one and I am glad to have them rest upon my reading shore. ‘Once Upon an Eid’ is a warm, smart and deeply inviting collection of stories that celebrates the unity of a community; it open doors wide to anyone and everyone who is interested and welcomes them in. I highly recommend it.'

 

Mat Tobin teaches English and Children's Literature to training Primary School Teachers at Oxford Brookes University. When he’s not doing that, he is leading and teaching several modules at Masters level that focus on children's reading and a history of Children’s Literature. Since joining Brookes in 2014 after 16 years of Primary teaching in Oxfordshire, Mat delivers keynotes on teaching Primary English and chairs discussions on Children’s Literature which is where his passion lies. He is currently researching about children’s literature and landscape.

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