Saturday, March 8, 2014

"My Friend Suhana" by Shaila Abdullah and Aanyah Abdullah

My Friend Suhana
by Shaila Abdullah and Aanyah Abdullah

My Friend Suhana is written and illustrated by mother-daughter team Shaila and Aanyah Abdullah. The book is on currently tour with Mother Daughter Book Promotions. The tour stops here today for my review and interview with Shaila Abdullah. You can also enter the giveaway for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card (or PayPal cash). Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

A simple tale of love and friendship to warm your heart. Award-winning author and designer Shaila Abdullah teams up with her 10-year-old daughter Aanyah to bring you this heart-warming tale of a little girl who forms a close bond with a child with cerebral palsy. The girl finds that, through her art, she can reach her special friend Suhana.

The colors are just like her many moods.
I imagine that red is for when Suhana is upset and blue is for when she is calm and resting in my arms. pink is for when she feels she is loved.


By Lynda Dickson
My Friend Suhana tells the story of a girl and her special friend, Suhana, who has cerebral palsy. It is written from the point of view of a seven-year-old girl, relating the experiences of co-author Aayah Abdullah, author Shailah Abdullah's daughter.
This book takes the reader inside both the narrator's and Suhana's worlds and gives us an insight into the life of a child with cerebral palsy. It illustrates with specific examples how children with cerebral palsy act and how they are just like other children in their need for companionship and stimulation. My Friend Suhana is the perfect aid to help parents begin a conversation with their children about children with disabilities.
The delightful illustrations by Shaila Abdullah complement the simple narrative, making this book suitable for younger as well as older children. The book also includes some easy-to-understand information about cerebral palsy.
My Friend Suhana is an inspirational and uplifting book about friendship suitable for the whole family.

Hi Shaila, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, My Friend Suhana.
Thanks for having me. I am happy to introduce you to my latest children’s book, My Friend Suhana, co-authored with my 10-year-old daughter Aanyah Abdullah. It is a story about a little girl who forms a close bond with a girl who has cerebral palsy. The protagonist finds that through her art, she can reach her special friend Suhana.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
My Friend Suhana is recommended for ages 6-8 years, although I have found that its message of inclusion and diversity resonates with both the young and the old.
What sparked the idea for this book?
My daughter, Aanyah is the spark behind this project. Back in 2011, when she was barely 7, she wrote an essay in class about her friendship with a non-communicative girl with cerebral palsy. The essay touched me deeply, as did the friendship between the two girls. Art, I observed, played a major role in strengthening their bond.
Around the same time, I noticed an alarming gap in children’s literature dealing with disability, especially those that encouraged friendships between mainstream children and children with special needs. I felt that a book like My Friend Suhana would be instrumental in providing tips and tools for both children and parents of special needs children who often find it hard to explain their children’s disability to other children.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the book?
In the case of My Friend Suhana, the inspiration came from my daughter’s special friend who is nonverbal but able to show her love and delight through gestures and facial expressions.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
Even though the protagonist is herself a really positive child, she had to come to terms with the fact that her special friend Suhana would never be able to play with her like other children. The protagonist continues to harbor a simple but realistic dream that Suhana might be able to walk one day.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
My hope is that by reading this book, children would feel equipped to connect and bond with children with disabilities.
How long did it take you to write this book?
A picture book might not have many words but those few words take a long time to be manicured and fine-tuned into an appealing picture book. I also created the illustrations for My Friend Suhana with Aanyah serving as a creative director, offering suggestions and tips. That process alone took over a month. Each night after putting my then-9-month-old to bed, Aanyah and I would rush to do the illustrations. We first developed the storybook, then the sketches, and finally colored in the digital renditions. It was a fun process with frequent interruptions since the baby was not sleeping through the night at the time. In case the readers are wondering, the baby is now happily sleep-trained.
That's great! What is your writing routine?
Even with three books under my belt, I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t have a set writing routine. I am a working mom with two active kids - which leaves little time for writing. Oftentimes I find myself writing late at night after the children go to bed. When you are passionate about something, you have to make time for it.
True. How did you get your book published?
My Friend Suhana was picked up by Loving Healing Press and found home in their Growing With Love Series. The editor and I have worked together in the past and he was impressed with the story when I pitched it to him. My second book, Saffron Dreams was also published by the same company in 2009, and is part of the Modern History Press imprint.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Please keep writing and don’t be discouraged by rejections. We in the publishing field have had our fair share of rejection letters as well. Glancing at those letters from time to time keeps you humble. In the world today, there are many avenues to get your work published and industry stats should not drive your decision to pursue or abandon your writing. Make time to perfect your craft. If your day does not have enough hours to accommodate your creative endeavors, make the nights matter.
Great advice, Shaila. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
A whole lot. I am a designer for a nonprofit and have a graphic and web design business on the side. When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my family. My children are my most prized possessions.
What does your family think of your writing?
My husband is super-supportive, as are my children, parents, and siblings. I feel very blessed. I would not be where I am if I did not have this incredible group of cheerleaders around me.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and moved to the United States in 1995, after getting married. My parents are these amazingly supportive folks who gave me wings to fly and pursue my dreams. I always had an interest in both writing and design. When I chose design as a career, I promised my father I would not stop writing. I have tried to keep that promise. My childhood memory board is full of various creative endeavors that were lovingly supported by my parents.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
I was a voracious reader growing up. My siblings and I had an insatiable appetite for books and needed them like oxygen. In my teenage years, I remember going through a phase one summer where I read my father’s entire library of books dealing with new age.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew that I would be a writer one day. At school my favorite activity was writing. When writing assignments were handed out in class, I secretly cheered while my friends mumbled and groaned. For birthdays and special occasions, I made little storybooks for my friends. At age 14, I was already writing for major English magazines in Pakistan. By the time I turned 18, I was writing commissioned articles for them.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Oh yes. I grew up in a home where diversity was actively celebrated and practiced. It influenced my writing and my confidence in what I could do in the world. Why limit yourself when your life is your drawing board? I firmly believe that my childhood home fueled the creative bug in me. As a teen I remember my mom going to great lengths to provide me a peaceful place to write, making sure no one distracted me and made me lose my precious train of thought.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
Chitra Divakaruni and Bapsi Sidhwa are two writers whom I deeply respect and admire. I have learned immensely from their work. I always talk about Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. It is one book that everyone should have on their bookshelf.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I love to receive fan mail and do my best to answer each one personally. I am amazed by how the Internet has brought us so much closer together. My favorite letters are those from far distant lands - from a teacher in Australia, a bookseller in Bangladesh, a scholar in Poland, and even a doctoral student in India. I can be reached at
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
This is a busy year. I have two more titles lined up for 2014 with Loving Healing Press. Stay tuned.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Shaila. Best of luck with your future projects.
Thanks for having me. For more information and to join our mailing list, please visit

About the Authors

Shaila Abdullah is an author and designer based in Austin, Texas. She is the author of two award-winning books: Saffron Dreams and Beyond the Cayenne Wall. The author has received several awards for her work including the Golden Quill Award, Norumbega Jury Prize for Outstanding Fiction, Patras Bukhari Award for English Language, Reader Views Award, Written Art Award, and a grant from Hobson Foundation. My Friend Suhana is Shaila’s first children’s book. In her free time, Shaila loves to run around with her children, Aanyah and Aaliyana.
Aanyah Abdullah is a creative and compassionate 10-year-old, who is drawn to children born with physical and mental disabilities. When she was in second grade, Aanyah along with her mother Shaila, started volunteering out at a local community center where they helped assist special needs children. Later Aanyah wrote an essay about her friendship with a girl in the class who had cerebral palsy. That essay is the inspiration behind My Friend Suhana. Aanyah dreams of establishing a special school for children with disabilities one day. She is known to always stand up for what is right and is - in her parents’ and teachers’ eyes - a perfect role model for her baby sister.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice).