Ramadan and Eid are fast approaching, so Sapling editor Nida Fiazi has compiled a list of fantastic picture books that celebrate this special time of year for the Muslim community.
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins with the sighting of a new crescent moon, and ends like that too. The holiday is immediately followed by another one: Eid al Fitr, a three-day celebration that involves charity, prayers, yummy kai, presents, and visits from loved ones.
Most people will know Ramadan as the month of fasting, where Muslims will abstain from food and drink (yes, even water) during daylight hours, but Ramadan is much more than that. It is a time of reflection and introspection. Of discipline and self-improvement. Of gratitude, generosity and leaving old habits behind for better and newer ones. It is believed to be the month in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed to mankind. Muslims dedicate this time to reading, reciting, and deepening their understanding of God’s words.
[Ramadan] is a time of reflection and introspection…of gratitude, generosity and leaving old habits behind for better and newer ones.
Children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, those with health concerns, and the elderly are not obligated to fast, but most do anyway—either for a few hours a day, a few days a week, or whenever they feel up to it. It is an exciting time that no one wants to miss out on, so most will try to participate in any way they can.
Teachers and librarians will definitely come across children partaking in the holiday. Your own kids may have friends or classmates who are observing Ramadan. Heck, you probably know someone yourself, be it a neighbour, coworker or friend, who will be fasting next month.
In light of this, I’ve compiled a list of great titles on the topic, for what better way is there to have these conversations, and learn how to support your Muslim students/peers, than through books?
Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story
Written by Hena Khan
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Published by Chronicle Books
Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story offers a simple explanation of Ramadan and Eid through the perspective of little Yasmeen. The illustrations are a treat to lay your eyes upon, with vibrant colours and geometric patterns that evoke traditional Islamic art.
Since the text focuses more on the physical and social aspects of Ramadan and Eid (i.e. food, charity, gatherings) than the spiritual ones, I’d recommend reading it alongside some of the other books listed here to offer a more holistic understanding of the holiday.
The Month That Makes the Year
By Inda Ahmad Zahri
Published by Allen & Unwin
The Month That Makes the Year by Inda Ahmad Zahri is the first picture book about Ramadan traditionally published in Australia, and I think it’s the only one in the entire continent—which is a little appalling, to say the least. But it’s a start. And a stunning one at that.
The illustrations are wonderfully warm, with a colourful yet complimentary colour palette featuring Muslims and non-Muslims of varying backgrounds, ages and levels of ability. The text is poetic, easy to read, and makes for a beautiful introduction to the topic. There’s even a glossary at the end of all the Arabic words featured in the book. It’s a great read-aloud and read-alone book, and in my opinion, a must-have for any home and school library.
Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle
Written by Reza Jalali
Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Published by Tilbury House Publishers
Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle is incredibly relatable—little Shirin has a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out), desperate to fast alongside the rest of her family but too young to do so. We join her as she figures out a way around this wee setback and discovers how else she can participate in the holiday.
This book is quite culturally and religiously specific: the cuisine, prayer stones, clothing, language, and even the way the henna art is done all point to the characters being Shia Muslim, Iranian Americans. What a gorgeous window into this special time in their lives!
Written by Reem Faruqi
Illustrated by Lea Lyon
Published by Tilbury House Publishers
Lailah’s Lunchbox is another story many Muslim kids can relate to—it’s Lailah’s first time fasting during Ramadan, but the recent move to a new country and school and away from old friends presents challenges she doesn’t expect. The story takes us with Lailah through her struggles to explain and share this special time with her teachers and classmates.
This all-around fantastic text not only addresses the anxiety and fear young ones feel during this time, but also provides tools to work through them! And to all the spectacular school librarians that offer a listening ear, brilliant books and safe space for Muslim kids during Ramadan, we see and appreciate you!
Who Will Help Me Make Iftar?
Written by Asmaa Hussein
Illustrated by Saliha Çalışkan
Published by Ruqaya’s Bookshelf
Who Will Help Me Make Iftar? is a Ramadan retelling of the well-known fable The Little Red Hen. Set in Turkey, the tale depicts Mustafa and the obstacles he faces while preparing iftar (the meal you break your fast with) for the community.
By focusing on one specific Ramadan tradition, Asmaa is able to capture the essence of what the blessed month is truly about: purifying your intentions, doing things for God’s sake, helping others, leading by example, and having a positive impact on those around you. This would be a good follow-up book to some of the more ‘introductory’ type Ramadan texts on this list. I adored the older protagonists, and the muted, deeper tones of the illustrations really added to the cosiness of the story.
Written by Hiba Masood
Illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Published by Daybreak Press
Wake up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer
Written by Mariam Hakim
Illustrated by Dalia Awad
Published by Waw Stories
Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood and Wake up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer by Mariam Hakim are two picture books dedicated to the old Ramadan tradition of waking the community up for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) by taking to the streets and reciting poetry to the beat of a drum. That was the way it was done before the invention of alarm clocks and phones!
Drummer Girl challenges some of the stereotypes associated with this role and the denser text is best read together with an adult, while Wake up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer highlights the value of reviving old customs and can be read alone.
The Most Powerful Night
Written by Ndaa Hassan
Illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi
Published by Ndaa Hassan
The Most Powerful Night is an excellent shared reading text for kids who already have a basic understanding of Ramadan and all it entails. Centred on Laylat ul Qadr (aka the Night of Power, aka the night the Qur’an is believed to have been revealed), you follow (another!) little Laila as she learns about the importance of the last ten nights of the month and devises a plan to make the most of them.
This is a more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ type of story, but it does the trick. There’s a surah (chapter) from the Qur’an about the event at the start of the book (a lovely addition!), and if you look closely enough, you might spot another Ramadan book by the author hidden somewhere in the beautiful pastel-tone illustrations.
Rashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
Written by Lisa Bullard
Illustrated by Holli Conger
Published by Lerner Publisher Group
Rashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr is an engaging picture book with bright, animation-style illustrations. Separated into four short chapters, with little fact boxes on each spread, the story uses the adorable character of Rashad to take readers through a few of the basic Ramadan and Eid customs.
This text would make a good early education teaching resource. That being said, there are some minor inaccuracies present: the incorrect spelling of the Qur’an ‘Koran’, going to the mosque only ‘on some nights’ (Taraweeh prayers take place in the mosque every single night during Ramadan), dressing modestly to ‘show respect to Allah’ (when it is actually a commandment from God to everyone), and lastly fasting after the sun comes up (fasting begins not at sunrise, but as soon as the time for the dawn prayer commences).
The Best Eid Ever
Written by Asma Mobin-Uddin
Illustrated by Laura Jacobsen
Published by Astra Publishing House
The Best Eid Ever is another culturally specific text about a little Pakistani girl that takes all the lessons we hope to learn during the blessed month and actually applies them to her life.
Aneesa believes this Eid will not be as good as the last, but then she meets two refugee girls at the mosque who are a lot less fortunate than she is, and comes up with a plan to secretly make their Eid better. Throughout it all, you learn about the Hajj pilgrimage, the story of Prophet Ismail and his family, the specific name for one of the prayers, and even a handful of Urdu words!
Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid
Written by Yasmeen Rahim
Illustrated by Omar Burgess
Published by The Islamic Foundation
Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid is a cute and effective step-by-step breakdown of the Eid-al-Fitr festivities. It covers everything: the cooking, cleaning, decorating and gift wrapping the night before, the craziness of Eid morning, the congregational sermons and prayers in the park, visiting and hosting guests, wishing everyone ‘Eid Mubarak!’, opening gifts and just having a grand ol’ time with your family and wider community!
The only gripe I have with this book is how the women (and some of the men) were illustrated. Despite covering their hair and skin, their clothes are skintight which kind of defeats the purpose of hijab (here meaning the concept of modesty, not the headscarf).
Nida Fiazi has worked in the New Zealand book industry for the past four years as a poet, editor, reviewer, and advocate for better representation in literature. She is a Hazara Kiwi Muslim and a former refugee who spent her formative years in Kirikiriroa but now resides in Meeanjin (Brisbane). Her work has appeared in Issue 6 of Mayhem Literary Journal, the anthology Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand, and Poetry NZ Yearbook 2021. She is currently penning an opera with Tracey Slaughter.