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Promise by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams

A review by Nalini Haynes

Bridget Hodder was a guest on DMZ’s International Women’s Day 2022 podcast, talking about her collaboration with award-winning Muslim author Fawzia Gilani-Williams. (Time zones and Fawzia being a busy woman meant she could not join us). Hodder talked about how our differences should excite us not divide us. Now Hodder and Gilani-Williams have released another book about friendship between Jews and Muslims during fraught times in our history. This book, The Promise, is based on a true story of friendship during a time of danger, World War Two.

Historical fact woven into a charming fiction

Jacob and Hassan live in a Moroccan village, attending separate schools, and yet their families are good friends. The children play together daily. Their families eat together in a beautiful garden created by the Jewish family. This garden, they say, is a promise.

But war comes. And with it, both Jews and Muslims are persecuted in Morocco.

The authors’ note at the end delves briefly into the historical circumstances and the real-life friendship that resulted in an elderly Muslim man caring for the graves of his Jewish neighbor’s family decades after the Jews moved to Israel in the wake of WWII.

The illustrations

Cinzia Battistel, an Italian artist, illustrated The Promise. Her vivid colors, including her signature use of royal blue, creates a charming visual canvas upon which the story rests. I wrestled with her website because Translate wasn’t working. So I perused her Saatchi gallery, which reveals her style and vibrant palette. Definitely a children’s illustrator/artist worth watching.

Building bridges

A Sephardic Jew and a Muslim wrote this charming children’s fiction based on historical fact. (For more on this, listen to Bridget on this podcast.) But more than that: NetGalley listed the publisher as Lerner Publishing Group, Kar-Ben Publishing. I recognized “Kar-Ben” as a Jewish name so googled. There has to be a story here.

Lerner Publishing Group began as a family business in 1959. I wondered if Lerner was a Jewish name but their “about Lerner” page doesn’t mention anything.

However, their imprint Kar-Ben Publishing explicitly states that it is Jewish:

“Founded in 1974 and with over 400 titles in print, Kar-Ben is the largest publisher of exclusively Jewish-themed children’s books in the world, publishing 18-20 new, high quality children’s titles each year…”

It’s worthwhile reading the full Kar-Ben description.

So basically a Jewish publisher with a focus on quality Jewish stories published a story about Jew/Muslim friendships written by a Jew and a Muslim.

Excuse me.

via GIPHY

Also crying inside for the thousands killed in Israel and Gaza in the past 2 weeks alone. We need more building of bridges and fewer people hurling bombs. Kudos to everyone involved in bringing us The Promise.

The verdict

The Promise is a charming children’s book intent on building bridges in these fraught times. Beautifully illustrated and brought to us by Jews and Muslims working together, I highly recommend it.

Book details

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Kar-Ben Publishing (Lerner Publishing Group)
Released: 2023
Format: I read the ebook but it’s also available in hardcover, audiobook and Kar-Ben read-aloud.
Category: children, picture book, emotional learning, historical fiction, friendship

The Promise book cover: two children, one Jew and one Muslim, play in a fountain in a lush garden

Nalini
Nalinihttps://www.darkmatterzine.com
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.

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