I’d like to thank Aya Khalil and Christy Ottaviano Books for sharing a digital copy of The Night Before Eid with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.
The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story
Written by Aya Khalil | Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh
On the night before Eid, Zain is excited when his grandmother arrives at last from Egypt. He can’t wait to help Mama and Teita make her famous ka’ak and share them with his class tomorrow. Zain knows that making the delicious cookies with their delectable filling takes “patience and teamwork.” Teita has brought everything they’ll need to make the ka’ak, including “ghee from Khalo Karim’s farm, honey from Tant Tayseer’s beehive, and dates from Amo Girgis’s date palm.”
As Zain unpacks Teita’s suitcase and Mama and Teita get everything ready in the kitchen, Teita and Mama tell Zain about how they and their aunts, uncles, and cousins used to stay up all night to bake and prepare for Eid. They sang songs on the balcony of their home, from which they could see the lights and lanterns that decorated the streets. After prayers, they visited friends and neighbors to share the ka’ak they’d made. Teita also tells Zain that “ka’ak are as ancient as the pharaohs” and that “recipes were even discovered in one of the pyramids.”
Zain wants his ka’ak to turn out perfectly so that the kids and his teacher will like them. Teita adds the ghee to the dry ingredients, and Zain pours in milk, and Mama mixes it all together in the electric mixer. As they wait for the dough to rise just right, they drink sweet qamar al-din and Teita sings a song about Eid cookies. When the dough is ready, Mama scoops out round cookies, and Zain and Teita work together to add the filling.
Now it’s time to press the dough in the ka’ak mold. At first Zain presses too hard. Then he presses so lightly that the intricate design doesn’t even show up. When he tries pressing just a little harder, “clunk! The mold and dough tumble to the floor.” Zain is upset, but Teita comforts him. “‘El sabr gameel.’ She reminds him that patience is beautiful.” As Zain sips his juice, he has an idea that will make decorating the cookies easier. He uses the straw to make designs on the cookies. When they are finished baking, the sweet toasty aroma fills the kitchen. Now comes Zain’s favorite part: sprinkling on the powdered sugar like snow.
The next day he takes a box of ka’ak to school. The kids all love the cookies, and Ms. Bryan even asks for the recipe. Zain can’t wait to rush home and tell Teita what everyone said about the ka’ak. That night, while Zain and Teita write down the recipe, they nibble on the ka’ak and other Eid treats. Zain is about to reach for the last cookie, but instead of eating it himself, he offers it to Teita with a kiss on her right hand and an exclamation that “‘This is the best Eid ever!’”
Back matter includes descriptions of Eid al-Fitir and Eid al-Adha and the history of ka’ak as well as an Author’s Note, complete with photographs of her family celebrating Eid. Aya Khalil also shares a simple Ka’ak recipe.
Aya Khalil’s story shines with family love and the passing down of traditions from one generation to the next. Zain’s excitement to have his grandmother share this special holiday and to be included in baking the ka’ak for the first time is infectious and will resonate with all readers who enjoy helping out with preparations for holidays, big events, and even family meals. In her engaging and detailed storytelling, Khalil packs in lots of information about Eid, family traditions, Egyptian Arabic dialogue, favorite songs, and the history and recipe for this delicious treat. Following the mishap with the ka’ak mold, Teita’s gentle and wise counsel is comforting while also allowing Zain to devise his own solution to his problem. His classmate’s and teacher’s reaction to the cookies and Zain and Teita’s sharing their recipe creates a perfect, heartwarming ending.
Rashin Kheiriyeh’s vibrantly hued illustrations highlight the close family bonds as Zain and Mama get ready to share the traditions of Eid with Teita. From images of the ingredients for ka’ak in Teita’s suitcase to Mama’s childhood experiences in Egypt to Zain’s active participation in baking, Kheiriyeh provides readers with dynamic insight into the traditions of Eid and, particularly, the history, making, and fun of ka’ak. Kids will enjoy following the antics of Zain’s cat, who wants to be part of the holiday preparations too.
A joyful and well-conceived story that’s sure to please kids and inspire some baking fun, The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.
Ages 4 – 8
Christy Ottaviano Books, 2023 | ISBN 978-0316319331
About the Author
Aya Khalil is a freelance journalist and educator. She holds a master’s degree in Education with a focus in Teaching English as a Second Language. THE ARABIC QUILT is based on true events growing up, when she moved to the US from EGYPT at the age of one. Her articles have been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Post & Courier, Toledo Area Parent, and more. She’s been featured in Yahoo!, Teen Vogue, Verona and more. She was named one of Arab America’s Foundation’s 40 under 40 in 2021. Visit her at ayakhalil.com.
About the Illustrator
Rashin Kheiriyeh was born in Khorramshahr, Iran. She received a PhD in illustration and an MFA in graphic design from Alzahra University in Tehran. She has published over eighty books in countries around the world and created illustrations for The New York Times. Rashin was named a 2017 Maurice Sendak Fellow and was the winner of the New Horizon Award at the Bologna Book Fair. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and lives in Washington, DC. You can connect with her on Twitter.
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