Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed

Hello, Samira Ahmed! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! I love, love, love, love, love Kim Ekdahl’s cover illustration and Karina Granda’s cover design for Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds. What ran through your heart the first time you saw it?

Samira Ahmed: Thanks so much for having me, Mr. Schu!

Do you believe in love at first sight? Because that is how I felt when I saw the cover of Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds. My heart was racing, my palms got clammy and I was gobsmacked by the beauty before me. I adore how determined and fierce Amira & Hamza look and I was wowed by all the little (and important!) details Kim and Karina wove into the cover--almost like a scavenger hunt for the story inside! It was also really special to see these two young Muslim Indian Americans on the cover as the heroes of their own adventure. I never saw that when I was a kid and my heart swells with pride seeing Amira and Hamza front and center.

Scenario: You’re celebrating books with fifth graders in a school library in Batavia, Illinois. What do you tell them about Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds?

Samira Ahmed: First and foremost. . .GO BULLDOGS! I’m a Batavian and once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.

I’d tell them that Amira & Hamza are siblings who are smart and a little goofy; they have dreams, never say no to desserts and get in trouble for squabbling with each other too much. You can probably relate!

On the night of rare astronomical event their parents take them to an exhibit on ancient Islamic astronomy but when an ancient defunct artifact comes to life (courtesy of Hamza’s, uh, curiosity), they’re entire world is thrown into chaos. Everyone around them falls to the ground, unconscious, a piece of the moon breaks off and hurtles towards earth, and an army of jinn--shapeshifters made from smokeless fire--arrive with an ancient prophecy. The siblings must journey to the mystical land of Qaf to quell an uprising and battle am almost unstoppable evil. If they fail, the moon, the stopper between worlds, will break apart, and all of earth will be overrun by terrifying jinn, devs and ghuls. But how can two regular kids possibly defeat otherworldly creatures, some that shapeshift, some that can fly and some that are polka-dotted and have giant hairy smelly feet? That’s exactly what Amira and Hamza want to know.

This story was inspired by an ancient epic of the Islamic world, the Hamzanama (also known as the Adventures of Amir Hamza) and by jinn stories passed down in my family that both scared and fascinated me throughout my childhood.

Thank you for that AMAZING booktalk! 

Please finish the following sentence starters: 

School libraries are time machines, rocket ships, and warm hugs rolled up into a singular magical space. I spent countless hours in my school libraries. Not only were they places I always felt at home, but they allowed my imagination to soar because I could visit any time or any place and meet so many incredible characters. I could speed to distant stars or universes and stuff my world with wonder.

Story is connection. I believe stories are one of the most amazing forms of interrelatedness that we’ve ever created. Since humans first began using images, since our earliest days of language, we’ve used stories to share who we are, to explain our world, to understand ourselves, to know one another. Story telling is a core part of human existence. And when I consider all the stories we’ve created, across time, across cultures and languages, I’m in awe of how wondrous we are.

John Schu, you should have asked me about why I decided to write a middle grade fantasy after my first three books were young adult contemporary novels.

I love contemporary and will keep writing it, but fantasy has always occupied a part of my imagination. I love the way fantasy speaks to truth and I’d been searching for the right story to explore that and to capture the curiosity and wonder I had when I was a middle grade reader. When I was kid growing up in that magical land of Batavia, Illinois, I loved imagining that fantastical adventures were hidden behind every corner. I wanted to wander into my attic and find a treasure chest of rare objects (the only thing I found up there was a squirrel running around that I thought was a ghost). And there was a spot in my backyard where the tops of four lilac trees met to form a fragrant, floral canopy and in the summer that was my fort and secret portal to other worlds. Fantasy is such an innate part of childhood!

That’s why when I first thought of refashioning a part of the Hamzanama into a more modern fantasy, I knew it had to be for middle grades. It’s such an incredible age where enchantment lives side-by-side with the growing “realness” of life. And I wanted to capture a tiny part of that along with the humor and whimsy and courage I’ve seen in so many young people.

Thank you, Samira! 

Samira Ahmed was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in a small town in Illinois in a house that smelled like fried onions, cardamom, and potpourri. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she’s lived in Vermont, Chicago, New York City, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango.

Little, Brown's Description: 

From bestselling author Samira Ahmed comes a thrilling fantasy adventure intertwining Islamic legend and history, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the Land of Stories.

On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world—literally.

Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.

The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon—the stopper between realms—from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.…


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