I Can Help by Reem Faruqi and Mikela Prevost

Happy, happy Tuesday! I'm thrilled to celebrate I Can Help with Reem Faruqi and Mikela Prevost! I read it multiple times last week. It is the perfect, perfect, perfect book to read aloud on the first day of school or during the first week of school. I can imagine all the important conversations it will help start. 

I wrote the words in purple, Reem wrote the words in black, and Mikela wrote the words in green. Thank you, Reem and Mikela! 

I Can Help tells the story
of Zahra who enjoys helping a classmate who needs a little extra assistance. However, when she is teased for helping him, she makes some choices she regrets and later resolves to do better. I remember in school, I had a similar situation in which I used to help a friend and when I got teased for helping him, I decided to treat him unkindly. I remember how it felt like there was a sad storm inside me when I used my mean voice and words. When I wanted to apologize I’d already moved away to a new school in a different continent. That experience taught me to be kinder because when you hurt someone, it can stay with you and coat you with regret. The great thing about being kind is that you won’t regret it!

Mikela Prevost’s illustrations are dreamy, whimsical, and sensitive. I love how Mikela captured the essence and excitement of a classroom with the colorful backdrop of fall, art work on the walls, and the students’ expressions. When I read Mikela’s bio and saw that she was a classroom teacher, it made perfect sense to me! I used to teach second grade.

Mikela really brings my story to life with her beautiful details. I love the clothes the character Mikela illustrated for Zahra: they are colorful and look like my daughters’ clothes. I love the baby hairs on the character's forehead as well as her thick eyebrows. It is always heartwarming to see a character that looks like you in the pages of a book!

Picture books are what I used in the classroom to create a sense of calm. I remember after recess how the mood of the class would change when a book was pulled out. Now, at home in a pandemic with children, they are a great way to snuggle up with a little one on the couch. They are a great alternate to screen time. I do wish they were easier to write.

Thank you, Reem! 

Reem Faruqi’s manuscript for I Can Help….

I had recently finished debuting my author/illustrator picture book Let's Have A Dog Party and was eager to draw more wild and mischievous children when my agent Rebecca Sherman approached me about this story with Eerdman's. At first, I was surprised that the Art Director Holly Hoover had considered me for this manuscript because where was all the chaos and noise I'd been working on for two years? But I'm thankful to have an agent that can see the bigger picture and also my potential. She encouraged me to read it again and just live with it. I know now that I was afraid of this story - it was so personal and hit a little too close to home. The more I read it, the more Reem's words seemed to resonate with me as a five-year-old, a fifteen-year-old, and even now as a forty-two-year-old. I had been made fun of for having Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis in my early teens. But I also had ridiculed and been unkind to others that were different than me in other instances. Reem has translated her own personal life into a story that stays with you like a beautifully melancholy song. She is telling a story to children with the hope that they will choose kindness in life, but just as equally speaking to the adults reading the story out loud as a reminder of when we didn't choose kindness in our past but there is still time going forward.

I Can Help’s endpapers…

Oh, endpapers are always so fun to do! When not moonlighting as an illustrator, I try to teach art wherever I can. I get energized by kids - they are the most fun! So I wanted to have a craft that I think would tie in the book's autumnal theme and also represent one side of the states while the back endpapers represent another area. I love leaves, plants, and messiness - so having Zahra's class display their leaf creations seemed like a fun choice. The back endpapers was another craft my own kids usually do, and I love the idea of sending a note home to bring in a container for your plant and all the randomness that comes out of that. This also was an opportunity to show Zahra's move to a new area - one that experiences autumn in a warmer climate.

Watercolor, gouache, colored pencils, crayons, basically anything within reach that looks like it would make a fun mark. I try to have as much fun as possible and not be too precious with anything. I would always tell my art students "a mistake isn't a mistake, it's proof that you are trying and that makes you an artist."

Thank you, Mikela! 

When Reem Faruqi taught second grade, her favorite time was “Read Aloud” time. Now, her favorite time at home is reading with her daughters. Of Pakistani origin, she moved to Peachtree City, Georgia, from Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, when she was 13 years old. Reem based her first award-winning children’s book “Lailah’s Lunchbox” on her own experiences as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. She has three new books projected for 2021, her debut middle grade book “Unsettled” (HarperCollins 2021), and two picture books: “Amira’s Picture Day”(Holiday House 2021) and “I Can Help.” (Eerdmans 2021). She also has a new non-fiction picture book based on her grandmother Milloo’s Mind (HarperCollins 2023).

Mikela Prevost is an author and illustrator currently residing in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their three kids. Born and raised in Southern California, she received her BFA from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Illustration from California State University of Fullerton. Writing and illustrating for children has been her life-long pursuit and passion. Her work is driven by the desire to capture the whimsical innocence and unique perspective from which a child sees the world.

Look for I Can Help on August 10, 2021. 


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