Author Spotlight: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

This week we are excited to feature debut author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and her debut picture book, MOMMY'S KHIMAR, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (Simon & Schuster/ Salaam Reads, April 2018) . Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter to win a copy of her book.

Welcome, Jamilah!

Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.

I’ve always loved writing and I think in the back of my mind, I always dreamed of someday becoming a professional writer (although not specifically for children till later). However, for many years, I also didn’t think becoming a writer was a realistic dream. So, I worked as an English teacher for a long time and only did a little writing as a hobby. I was passionate about being a teacher--still am although I’ve changed careers recently--and felt fulfilled. 

A few years ago I started getting sick. I was fatigued all the time and had near constant headaches. Teaching became nearly impossible because of my health issues. Around that time, I had also gotten a little recognition for writing I had done for publications targeted to Muslim American audiences. I was then diagnosed with lupus. I suddenly didn’t want to do any kind of writing besides the kind of writing that brought me the most joy: fiction. I wanted to prioritize joy. As a mother of two, I also started to become aware of the dearth of children’s literature representing Black children, Muslim children, and especially Black Muslim children like my own. I’m not sure why I felt I could address it, but I did and so I started writing for children. I found picture book writing to be especially enjoyable.

Congrats on your picture book, MOMMY'S KHIMAR. Tell us about it and what inspired you.

Thank you. MOMMY'S KHIMAR is about a little girl who uses her mother’s Islamic headscarves (also known as chimers or hijabs) to dress up and engage in imaginative play. Through her play, we get to experience her world and we get exposed to a typical Black American Muslim family. For example, the family is interfaith,
I wrote MOMMY'S KHIMAR because I wanted to demystify the headscarf. I wanted to tell a different kind of story about this often controversial topic and just have fun with it. 

How do your activities as an educator and anti-racism activist influence/reflect in your creative writing?

I would say I’m an educator and my experiences have been more as an anti-racism educator than activist. I definitely think this work has given my writing a focus and purpose. I can’t just write a story featuring dogs as the main characters like other authors can, for example. I’m not knocking authors that do write these stories but my experiences have given me a very specific focus. I know what it is to have children in a classroom who never get to see themselves positively in literature and who have learned to hate themselves because nothing in our society teaches them that there is something to love. 

And I’ve seen how a book like THE SKIN I'M IN (Sharon J. Flake) can completely change a child and her perception of herself. And as an anti-racism educator, I know how important developing an appreciation of diversity is to becoming anti-racist. There aren’t enough children’s books though that educators can use to help students develop that. I’m invested in that work and it does show in my choices of writing topics.

What projects are you working on now?

I continue to write PBs and I’m now working very seriously on MG writing. I’ll still relatively new to the field of children’s books--I’ve only been doing this for about 2 to 3 years--and I’m spending a lot of time learning craft right now, especially in MG.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I would say be relentless. Be relentless in learning how to write and and be relentless about becoming a stronger writer. And don’t be afraid to fail. Instead, see failure as opportunities to learn. 

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m reserved about what I share. So, there are a lot of things most people don’t know and I like it that way! I would say most people don’t know that my sense of humor is pretty low brow. Bathroom jokes (and sounds) crack me up.

Where can people find you online?

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is the debut author of the picture book, MOMMY'S KHIMAR (Simon & Schuster/ Salaam Reads,  April 2018). She worked as an English teacher  in high schools and middle schools for over a decade. She has also worked as an anti-racism educator through her work as a fellow with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. She now works in the nonprofit world, helping kids learn how to write outside of the classroom. In her writing, she strives to portray children who are Black American and Muslim, two identities that she is proud to represent.  She received her bachelors degree in  English Education from Temple University and a masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. She resides with her family in Philadelphia, PA. 

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  1. Your book sounds wonderful. I can't wait to read it.

  2. The world needs this book!

  3. I am so excited to share this book with my kiddos!

  4. Wow! This sounds delightful! (I love the illustrations too.) Thanks for sharing the backstory.

  5. I am definitely looking for books with diverse, caring parents

  6. Thanks for sharing. I’m excited to read!

  7. This looks like a wonderful book. I work on an elementary school in semi-rural University town of Illinois. Our school is the main multi-cultural school with many Muslim families. This book will be added to our collection. So glad you created it.

  8. This book is a must read for me. I love finding family relationships with diverse characters to get to know. Thanks for sharing with us. I also share your sense of humor :)

  9. Hi Jamilah,
    This book sounds fantastic. I would love to learn more about hijabs. Thanks for sharing your publishing journey. :)

  10. This book is much needed today. It looks darling.

  11. I build interfaith engagement primarily between Muslim and Jewish communities and am drafting my first PB based on an interfaith relationship between children. I love the idea behind your book. Thank you for writing it! <3

  12. I have a large population of Bengali children at my metro Detroit school who would absolutely love this book!!

  13. Congratulations on your picture book! It looks lovely! Thanks for sharing with us!


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