by Nadia Cassim
As editor of a South African online magazine I am usually reluctant to engage in book reviews by international authors. However, when Prolance Publishing sent me a preview of The Blessed Bananas, a Muslim Fable by decorated author Tayyaba Syed, I knew that I needed to learn more about it. Not only are the illustrations by the talented Melani Putri superbly done, but the storyline is equally captivating.
At first we meet Rico, a grumpy monkey who spends all his time hoarding his bananas. Rico is abundantly blessed, but his selfishness results in him being very ungrateful. No one, including the villagers dare to go near him. However, things are about to change for Rico when three strangers, Chico the little white mouse, Tucana a toucan and Simón a large, grey elephant pay him a visit. Through the power of prayer and the kindness shown by these three strangers, a disaster is averted and Rico learns the error of his ways.
The Blessed Bananas, despite being a Muslim fable, carries with it a universal message of kindness, gratitude and forgiveness. The characters themselves do not carry Arabic names, something strikingly different from other Islamic stories, enhancing its appeal to those outside the faith as well. Another wonderful personal touch that will get the kids more involved and creative are the yummy banana recipes at the end of the book for them to try out!
Getting to know the author Tayyaba Syed:
Tayyaba Syed is an award-winning author and freelance journalist. Her writing has been featured in well-known publications such as Azizah Magazine, Chicago Crescent, Islamic Horizons, NPR… and that’s just to name a few! She works as a Research Specialist for Daybreak Press and is the Creative Developer for Noor Kids educational books. She is married and has three children.
I asked her a few questions about her story, The Blessed Bananas:
What inspired you to write this book?
Since childhood, I have loved crafting stories and sharing them with whomever is willing to listen or read them. Growing up as one of the few or only Muslims in my public school, I stood out as a misfit and used stories as a means for others to get to know me. I didn’t see myself in the books I read and figured that’s just how American kid lit was – it didn’t include everyone.
When my kids would ask me to read books to them at bedtime, I noticed not much had changed. There was still a lack of books with proper representation of our faith and culture. That’s when I decided I’ll just come up with my own story with Muslim characters that my kids can connect to. The Blessed Bananas was a simple bedtime story I came up with one night, which my kids immediately fell in love with and asked me to share it with them over and over and over again.
The book has a strong focus on the power of prayer and forgiveness. Why have you chosen these themes in particular?
We all need gentle reminders on how to rely on Allah (SWT) for our needs, and help or change can come only through Him. Also, we can overcome obstacles through kindness and over-looking the faults of others.
What was the rationale behind using a story with animals as a means of conveying the message?
I have been sharing the story as a puppet show for almost 2 years now. The lessons in the story stick so much better with the kids through the voices of the animals. That age group is fascinated with the animal kingdom, so it just seemed natural to use cute animals to portray the story.
How long did it take you to complete the book?
The story was picked up for publication by Prolance in the spring and it took roughly 6 months to finalize the book for print. Once we had confirmed an illustrator, we formed a story board to share with her. Once we received the final illustrations, the editing process began. It took 11 drafts for me to finally say, “Okay, it’s ready!” Alhamdullilah, overall, it was a fairly smooth process as my publisher and my illustrator (the award-winning and super-talented artist Melani Putri) helped bring my story so beautifully to life.
Getting to know the art illustrator Melani Putri
Melani Putri is an award-winning illustrator from Jakarta, Indonesia. In 2016 she was the recipient of the National Folktale Illustration award.
At what age did you realise that you had a passion for illustration?
I am not sure, because I always loved drawing as a child. But I think when I was in high school I realized that drawing is something that I really enjoy doing and probably something that I can pursue professionally. I took it seriously by enrolling into art school, and then when I graduated, I tried to make it a living by applying for illustration projects to many publishers. My passion for illustration has been growing since and I have realized that illustrating is an activity I really enjoy and love to do over and over again.
What were the challenges that you faced, if any, when illustrating The Blessed Bananas?
Basically there was no significant problem because the story itself is beautiful and already well- written. I think when visualizing the characters it was a bit challenging. I had some doubts and tried to change the visual style, but Tayyaba (the writer) was very clear with the direction that she wanted for the book, and it guided me to have the same vision about the visual style. At the end we were both satisfied with the result.
What medium did you use for the illustrations?
The Illustration was done digitally with a computer program, like a digital painting. I have been using this medium for quite a long time and I’m always exploring to improve my illustrations.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years as an illustrator?
I would love to have my own book published, with my own story and illustration. I actually did this for a short story in a magazine, but an own book would be a great personal achievement for me. Also I would like to keep producing more illustration artworks Inshaa Allah (God-willing).
More about the author can be read on www.tayyabasyed.com
More about the illustrator can be read at www.memels.com