By Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon. Tilbury House, 2015. 32 pages. $16.95/hardcover; $8.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 5–8.
I was perhaps nine or ten years old when I first began fasting for Ramadan. I don’t remember how I felt, but I do relate with Lailah, the protagonist of Reem Faruqi’s first book, Lailah’s Lunchbox, about having to explain the religious practice to friends. They were always surprised and impressed that I would fast for a month without eating or drinking anything from before sunrise until sunset.
Regardless of where I lived, in India or the United States, I was occasionally hesitant to explain the purpose of fasting because the full scope of Ramadan is not always understood or appreciated. It’s not merely about food and abstinence; it’s a special month dedicated to a spiritual cleansing of the body, mind, and soul, and a concerted effort to become closer to God.
Loosely based on the author’s own experiences as a young immigrant from Abu Dhabi, Lailah is thrilled to be fasting for the first time. However, her excitement is soon clouded by the worry that her new classmates and teacher won’t understand her religious practice.
Lailah’s Lunchbox is a sweet, descriptive story, and given the current social and political climate of Islamophobia in the country, the book could be an essential read in classrooms to gently introduce children to a central practice of Islam. The large watercolor illustrations by Lea Lyon, in soft colors and lines, also complement the bashful nature of Lailah.
The story of Lailah’s first Ramadan is a simple yet empathetic one. Yet, a few more pages about Lailah’s experience of fasting for the first time, introduction to some Ramadan traditions, and further exploration of her peers’ responses to her religious observance would have been beneficial for young readers.