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by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Hi Tara! Thank you for having me on your blog today and hosting the cover reveal of ABDUL’S STORY, a picture book written by me and illustrated by Tiffany Rose (with art direction by Tom Daly).

ABDUL’S STORY is about a young boy who has many stories to tell about his community in Philadelphia. However, during writing period in his class each day, he never writes these or any stories because he’s ashamed of how he writes. His handwriting is sloppy. He misspells many words. Sometimes, he even writes some letters backward.

On top of these struggles, he also doesn’t see the stories of his community as being welcome because the stories read in his classroom are about people and communities that are not like the ones he knows.

Mr. Muhammad, a writer who looks like Abdul and tells stories like Abdul’s, visits his class and helps him to change his view. Abdul learns that the story he has to tell is valuable even if he struggles with writing, and even if his story is different.

The Story Behind the Story

The idea for ABDUL’S STORY came out of my work as a writer working in Mighty Writers community centers for kids. My main job was often to help kids see themselves as writers. I once taught a workshop for children, called “Get Published, Kids!” The goal was to help kids write stories for publication in magazines. There, I met a student (I’ll call him H) in this workshop who wrote one sentence in his writer’s notebook and told me he was done.

When I encouraged H to write more, he gestured to the other kids busily writing at his table with full pages in their notebooks and said, “I can’t be a writer like them.” H was only maybe six or seven years old at the time. It troubled me that a child so young could see himself as already incapable of doing something. The more I talked with him about his story, the more I realized that H lacked confidence because he couldn’t write neatly and had trouble spelling words. Still, I pushed him to write much more and to see value in the things he wrote.

At the end of our workshop session, H proudly showed his father the many pages he wrote that day. He did something he thought he was incapable of and was smiling from ear-to-ear. While that was gratifying, I thought a lot about other kids similar to H who don’t have empowering experiences with writing. What is a story that could help them?

Words of Advice for Aspiring PB Authors

My advice for PB authors is the same advice I would give to Abdul in my story and H: Remember that there is value in the story that you have to tell. Mine your experiences for the best material, and don’t dismiss your experiences just because they aren’t represented in books. Often the stories that are missing  are the best stories. Additionally, don’t underestimate yourself just because you need to grow as a writer. Keep trying. Keep doing the work. You never know what you might be capable of.

And now…the cover reveal!

ABDUL’S STORY releases March 29th, 2022 from Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster. Pre-order a copy today online or from your local independent bookstore.

And Jamilah will be giving away a signed copy of ABDUL’S STORY once it releases.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a Philadelphia-based educator and award-winning children’s book author. A curriculum writer and former English teacher, she has educated children and teens in traditional and alternative learning settings for over 15 years. Her picture books and middle-grade fiction center young Black Muslim protagonists and have been recognized as the best in children’s literature by Time Magazine, Read Across America, and NPR. Her books include Mommy’s Khimar and Your Name is a Song, an Irma Black Honor book. Her upcoming books include ABDUL’S  STORY (2022), HOLD THEM CLOSE (2022), and SALAT IN SECRET (2023).

Find Jamilah online at jamilahthewriter.com, on Twitter @jtbigelow, and on Instagram @authorjamilah.

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

For me, story ideas come from two extremes: when I allow my mind to wander or when I focus it on the small and specific. They are opposite ways of thinking and yet, somehow, both give me great material.

My mental wanderings happen each day during my daydream time. Daydream time sounds like the stuff of unicorns and pixie dust but in practical terms, it’s time I schedule to be bored. Typically, it’s 20-30 minutes on my train commute when I put away my phone and commit to not reading, communicating, or working on something. I simply sit, staring into space. I try not to people-watch or look out a window. Observing people and things can be great inspiration, but I push my mind to feed off nothingness during daydream time.

The trick to this is having no expectations about what my brain should do here. I allow it to do what it wants to. I might think through a stressful interaction I had with a family member. I might remember something that makes me laugh. I might come up with a new, fun program for my youth center. I may reflect on my nervousness around a new venture and mentally speak words of confidence to myself.

Sometimes, I get a story idea.

An idea that comes from boredom is often strange and exciting and the urge to not lose it is strong, but I fight to not take out a phone or notebook to work on that idea during that time. During daydream time, I’m just there to observe the idea. I let the idea move freely without trying to name, define, critique, organize, or develop it. I can do that work later. I let that idea twist itself around in my head and dance around in my thoughts the way it wants to.

My other main source of material is typically a specific word or phrase. Often these come from books. However, a number of my manuscripts come from focusing on something seemingly inconsequential that a young person said but that I can’t forget. I’ll consider these words and ask questions about them and imagine how they might work in a story.

YOUR NAME IS A SONG was inspired by my focusing on the name, Olumide (pronounced O-loo-muh-Day), which a teen I worked with had told me was his middle name. I simply loved the sound of it, the feel of it on my tongue, and decided to take time to reflect on it. I mused, “Olumide is a melody.” That led to many thoughts: That name is a song! What other names are like songs? What if I told someone their name is a song? How would they respond? “Your Name is a Song” would be an intriguing book title. But what would a story with that title be about?

Eventually, I worked out those questions and developed a story about a girl whose name gets repeatedly mispronounced. I also decided to use the narrative to celebrate names from certain cultures that may often be mispronounced by American teachers. “Olumide is a melody” became an actual sentence in the book!

So, today, consider focusing on something—a word or phrase that won’t leave you possibly. Or, don’t focus at all. Let the ideas wander in as they wish!


Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow centers Black and Muslim children in her work. She is the author of critically acclaimed picture book, Mommy’s Khimar. Through her work with Mighty Writers, she also provides free writing programs for Philadelphia youth. This year, she looks forward to the publication of her work in MG anthology, Once Upon an Eid and her picture book, Your Name is a Song.

Find her online at jamilahthewriter.com, Twitter: @jtbigelow, and Instagram: @authorjamilah.


Jamilah is giving away a picture book critique.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!

 

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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