Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed and Anoosha Syed
Dear Anoosha Syed and Aisha Saeed,
Happy Thursday! Thank you for stopping by to interview each other about your brilliant and beautiful picture book, Bilal Cooks Daal. I look forward to celebrating its book birthday next week.
Anoosha Syed: You’ve written so many fantastic books in the past but BILAL is your first picture book. How was the experience for writing this book different from your past work?
Aisha Saeed: I love picture books. My kids and I easily read hundreds of them each month. Reading great picture books and studying them helped me to develop and hone in on the craft. Portraying an entire world with nuanced characters and main plots and subplots into a smaller word count than I was used to wasn’t easy though! The text of BILAL COOKS DAAL took about two years to get just right. And while I’ve always loved Bilal’s story about cooking with his father and friends it was so incredibly cool to see you illustrate this book. The way you added so many fantastic details like the father’s eyes tearing up as he chopped onions—all those things made the story truly spring to life. What was your experience like illustrating?
Anoosha: In all honesty, BILAL COOKS DAAL has been my favorite book I've illustrated to date! As you probably know, as children we didn't really see picture books that we could see ourselves in, but I am so honoured to have been able to create something with you where we're making a difference in terms of representation. It was a great experience working on a story I could really pour my love of my culture into, in a way that others could appreciate it as well. I've also never worked on a book that deals with food before, so it was a lot of fun researching the cuisine so I could better illustrate it (though it did make me hungry after!).
Aisha: Ha! I got hungry writing this book too! And I’m so thrilled you loved working on this book. Bilal's world includes a big cast of characters-- what was it like to figure out the way each character would look and dress? Do you do many different versions before deciding on how each character will look?
|Bilal Concepts | Illustration Credit: Anoosha Syed|
Aisha: I personally thought long and hard on the kid’s names. I even named the kids who are not specifically identified by name in the story—but Bilal’s name was always going to be Bilal from the start. It means so much to me when I hear from people about how much seeing the name of a Muslim boy on the cover of the book has meant to them. It’s the type of representation I wish I had as a kid. What would you want kids to take away from this book?
Anoosha: I want South Asian children to feel a sense of pride and familiarity when reading BILAL COOKS DAAL, and for kids of other ethnicities to learn something from and appreciate the culture shown in the book! This could be an opportunity for picky eaters to also go out of their comfort zone and try the many different, wonderful cuisines the world has to offer. I also love that the story is about a father and son cooking together; it's a subtle deviation from the cliche gender norms we usually see, and might encourage young kids (especially boys) to have fun in the kitchen! Why did you choose to specifically write about daal?
Aisha: I love daal—it’s tasty and simple to make. That’s why it’s one of our household staples. It was so much fun to write a story my kids would so directly see themselves in. It’s also been great when I do school visits to meet other South Asian kids—even high schoolers—who perk up when I talk about BILAL COOKS DAAL. What is your favorite daal?
Aisha: Masoor daal is also one of my top favorites but I have to say like Bilal, my absolute favorite is chana daal!
Aisha Saeed is a New York Times bestselling author. Her most recent books include: 2018 Global Read Aloud selection Amal Unbound (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) and Aladdin: Far From Agrabah (Disney Publishing, 2019). Coming up next is Bilal Cooks Daal (Salaam Reads, June 4, 2019) and Yes No Maybe So, co-authored with Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, February 2020). To learn more about her, visit her website at aishasaeed.com or follow her on Instagram or twitter: @aishacs.