Thursday, November 16, 2023

Q&A with Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams


Bridget Hodder, photo by Gregory Katsoulis



Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams are the authors of the new children's picture book The Promise. Their other books include The Button Box.


Q: The Promise is based on a true story. How did the two of you learn of the story, and at what point did you decide to write about it? How did you collaborate on the writing? What was your writing process like?


A: The Promise is the tale of two best friends--Jacob, who is Sephardic, and Hassan, who is Muslim--living happily in a little village in Morocco.


In the aftermath of WWII, Jacob's family fears for their safety and eventually packs to leave for Israel. Hassan promises Jacob that he will care for the Jewish family's glorious garden until his friend returns. And though it takes a lifetime before the friends reunite, Hassan keeps his promise.

Fawzia Gilani-Williams

This story of the enduring power of hope, love, and patient dedication was sparked by a news article that Fawzia found, about Jews living in Morocco.


The original story actually centered around a Muslim boy who faithfully maintained a graveyard rather than a garden for his Jewish friend whose family left the village for their safety.


Moved and inspired, Fawzia sent the article to Bridget, who felt the same way as Fawzia did about it. We'd found our next book!


Process-wise, our work is always collaborative. Fawzia began by writing a first draft, which became the foundation of the story. This was submitted for publishing but got rejected because the editor felt that graveyards were not a good fit for a child’s picture book.


Fawzia then sent the story to Bridget. After several emails, and some Zoom calls (which are difficult with the time difference between the UAE and Massachusetts), Bridget came up with the idea of replacing the graveyard in the original story with a garden.


Fawzia loved it, so Bridget took a shot at a second draft, and the metaphor of growth and patience in a garden was so powerful that our work bore fruit very quickly after that!


Q: What do you think Cinzia Battistel’s illustrations add to the book?


Bridget: I'm so glad you asked this question. In a lot of ways, I've always felt that in publishing, we could do a better job of giving picture book illustrators their due. Without the artists' many months of intensive research and creation, authors' words could never carry the same impact.


When asked about this on panels, I like to mention the classic Goodnight Moon--and I remind the audience of the fact that there is not a single mention of bunnies in the story.


Just think of how different that book would have hit with a different artist doing the illustrations! (Author: Margaret Wise Brown; Illustrator: Clement Hurd)

Cinzia Battistel is a perfect example of this. Her illustrations for The Promise are empathetic, insightful, and brimming with the exuberance of life, growth, and, well--promise. Fawzia and I could not have asked for a better visual interpreter of our ideas.


The choice of illustrator was all down to our wonderful editor, Joni Sussman. When she sent us Cinzia's prelimary sketches, I began to cry good tears. It was like Cinzia had seen straight into my heart and Fawzia's and made it all bloom on paper.


Q: What are you working on now?


Fawzia: I tend to have multiple projects going on at the same time. I work on them a little at a time. I just finished Treasury of Eid Tales which is a new release.


Beauty and the Beast, An Islamic Tale is waiting on the illustrations. I’m very excited about this book because my daughter helped write it. I am also working on The Qur’an Keeper which is a chapter book.


But I’m most keen to see how Wadeema Defenders: Prepared Not Scared does. This is a book that promotes self-safety with stranger danger. It’s written for children in the UAE.


Bridget: I just turned in revisions for my story in a Hanukkah anthology, edited by Henry Herz, which will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. in September of 2024. I'm so excited about it!


I have a solo picture book in the works, as well...and I'm trying my hand at a completely different, secret project, so stay tuned!


Q: Anything else we should know?


Fawzia: Prior to meeting Bridget I had only written books as a solo author. Being a co-author with Bridget opened a new door.


Without knowing it Bridget is the reason for nine children in the UAE becoming authors. I co-wrote books with them. In terms of empowering Emirati children, it’s a wonderful gift. We have Bridget to thank for that! (Bridget's response: "Fawzia is too modest; this was all her, haha!")


Bridget: The Button Box, our 2022 middle grade release with cross-cultural themes similar to The Promise, has just made the Seattle Global Read list for 2024! We're delighted that the story will be reaching so many new readers of all backgrounds and identities in over 70 Seattle schools.


The more Jewish and Muslim characters that end up in books children love, the more likely it is that those children will defend our humanity when they encounter hate against us in the real world.


I'll end by saying how grateful I am for my co-author Fawzia, who is not just a colleague, but a friend, a light--and a touchstone.


Thank you for having us, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

1 comment:

  1. This interview brought emotional light into an otherwise dreary day. Kudos and thank you, Fawzia and Bridget for your beautiful, important, collaborative picture book...which all adults would do well to read.