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Blessings, Big and Small

Zahra's Blessing, a Ramadan Story written by Shirin Shamsi and illustrated by Manal Mirza, published by Barefoot Books.

Shirin Shamsi's lyrical language immediately speaks to the reader in tender language. "A prayer rose from Zahra's heart like a sigh and floated up into the starry sky."

Like many children, Zahra prays for a sibling. It's the start of Ramadan, and like many children, she awaits a special blessing at the end of this holiday season on Eid Al-Fitr.

As Ramadan is a month to practice patience, self-control, and charity, Zahra helps her mother gather clothes to donate to a shelter housing refugees. While this is happening, Zahra is searching everywhere for her teddy bear. She misses her loyal friend and is heartbroken by this loss. She even laments that if she had a sister, she would surely help her look for her teddy.

As the story progresses, Zahra befriends a young refugee girl named Haleema who has lost her parents. They draw pictures, tell stories, and share their desserts at iftar. This friendship lifts both girls' spirits.

The night before Eid, Zahra's parents share a very special secret that is revealed the following day. Without giving away any spoilers, both girls are blessed with answers to their prayers.

Manal Mirza's illustrations, painted digitally, are exquisite with vibrant colors and details. From borders to fabric designs, the reader is transported into the story to share in the beauty and charity of the Ramadan holiday.

Backmatter includes descriptions of important aspects of the story: Ramadan, fasting, Eid Al-Fitr, displacement, shelters, and foster care.

Imagine It!

On the way to the shelter, Zahra's heart still hurts from misplacing her teddy bear. But she also recognizes that the hearts of the people in the shelter must be hurting also.

So, Zahra paints pictures with Haleema as the young girl talks about her Baba who was an artist. She later stacks blocks with her as Haleema remembers her mama who was an architect. Sharing these moments helps both children feel a little better.

Our hearts can hurt for so many reasons.

Imagine how you can help someone's heart hurt less.

Imagine playing with a classmate who is often alone at recess... and how much fun that could be!

Imagine drawing a picture for a neighbor who lives alone... and how much you both would smile when you deliver it!

Imagine calling a relative who lives far away and who is sad not to see you very often.. and all the stories you could share!

Just being present with someone can help fill up the hole they may feel in their heart.

In doing so, imagine how full everyone's hearts can be.

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