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by Aya Khalil

As a freelance journalist, blogger, and now debut picture book author, I am always looking for writing ideas. Some of my best ideas came from my own life experiences—good and bad—especially as a writer of color.

My debut picture book, THE ARABIC QUILT, is based on true events growing up. I immigrated to the United States when I was one year old with my older brother and parents. We lived in several different states, but a memory that happened over twenty years ago gave me the inspiration to write THE ARABIC QUILT.

I spent three years in tiny town called Minot, North Dakota. My brother and I stood out from our classmates, who were mostly white Christians. I was in third grade and remember trying hard to fit in. I don’t remember being teased about my dark brown, curly hair, but until today, remember how my teacher made me feel loved and included.

She asked me to write my classmate’s names in Arabic. My mom helped me that night writing their names and I proudly presented each student with their name in Arabic. My teacher then asked the students to copy their names on their own piece of paper and decorate it. She hung it up to display. Thus, this simple, yet beautiful lesson the teacher came up with was the main inspiration for my debut.

I’ve written many articles growing up as a Muslim American, like how people should stop asking me where I’m from, sarcastic pieces like phrases to avoid while flying and why accents rock. I’ve also written serious essays like learning to drive with my immigrant father and sexual abuse. As a journalist, I’ve interviewed tens of dozens of people for articles. I’ve had people “compliment” me when I interviewed them at “HoW iS yOuR EnGlIsH Is SoOoO gOoD?” Even these micro-aggressions can be turned into a story.

I recently sat with my parents and asked them to tell me stories of when they immigrated to the US 31 years ago. Talk to other people and get their perspectives; look through their lens for inspiration and ideas.

Marginalized writers can absolutely write picture books that are inspired by life events. It can be a mundane scenario that you have a vague memory of. Diverse writers’ voices need to be amplified and you must write them yourselves. Your #ownvoices stories should be told because they’re authentic, even if it is through a fiction picture book. We need our kids and grandkids to physically hold these stories in their hand and inspire them to write, create, and story-tell. It can be something you wrote about in your diary when you were in middle school. Or a story your grandma told you about when you used to bake together. I have a vague memory of me and my grandma walking to a nearby park and picking berries. That can absolutely be turned into a picture book. Or the first happy or sad memory you remember as a kid. Look for old paper or projects your parents may have saved when you were growing up. Re-visit old photos on Facebook from your college or high school years and see what feelings came to mind when you saw them. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all, so why not make it into a picture book?


Aya Khalil holds a master’s in Education with a focus in teaching English as a second language. She’s a freelance journalist and blogger. She’s been featured in Teen Vogue, Yahoo! and other publications. Her writing has been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Toledo Area Parent and many others.

Aya is a picture book author and is represented by Brent Taylor of Triada US Agency.  Her first book THE ARABIC QUILT will be out on February 18th, 2020 by Tilbury House.

Visit her at ayakhalil.com and follow her on Twitter @ayawrites, Instagram @ayakhalilauthor  or Facebook.


Aya is giving away a copy of her debut book THE ARABIC QUILT when it’s released.

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You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
January 7, 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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