Teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging and frustrating, but one thing has remained steadfast—my belief in the power of books to connect. This belief was reconfirmed when I read the picture book, The Arabic Quilt, to my third graders during our morning Classroom Book-a-day.
Together, Aya Khalil and illustrator Anait Semirdzhyan tell the story of Kanzi and her family who have recently moved from Egypt to America. Kanzi wants very much to fit into to American life. When her mother arrives at school to deliver her lunch, she calls Kanzi Habibti which immediately brings teasing from her classmates. Kanzi takes solace at home, writing a poem wrapped in her teita’s quilt. Days later, Kanzi’s teacher allows her to bring Teita’s quilt to school to share with her classmates. The students are inspired to make a quilt of their own, and Kanzi’s mother joins the class to write each student’s name in Arabic for the quilt squares. The Arabic Quilt is subtitled An Immigrant Story, but its themes include acceptance, friendship, and cultural identity.
Like Kanzi, I have a student who recently moved to the United States from Egypt. It was clear from the first page that this book was a mirror reflecting his own world. His face had the biggest smile throughout the whole story. He cheerfully helped me to correctly pronounce and translate the Arabic words (shukran, habibti, bahebek). He shared that kofta sandwiches and sherbet ‘ads were delicious foods his family loved. Our post-reading discussion become a Q & A with this student in which he happily answered all the questions.
I’ve found so many books over my years of teaching that have connected with individual students, but none quite like this one. That afternoon during a small group reading session which included this student, he asked, “Mrs. Little, can you read that book again?”
And, of course, I did. The planned reading lesson could happen another day.