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The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale Book: A CBC Favorites Awards Top Pick

As part of our ongoing fight against book bans, the CBC is thrilled to shine a light on an important new picture book: The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale, written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, from Tilbury House Books.

The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale deserves as wide a readership as possible and should be a part of every elementary school and community library picture book collections for young readers ages 7-10.” – Midwest Book Review

Of note, the book is a #1 pick by children and librarians in the 3rd -5th Grade categories of the just-announced 2024 CBC Favorites Awards, a national annual reading and voting by thousands of young people, teachers, and librarians. Read more about this year’s winners here.


Kanzi, the immigrant girl of Aya Khalil and Anait Semirdzhyan’s bestselling picture book The Arabic Quilt, has come to feel welcome in her American school—that is, until an entire shelf of books about immigrant kids and kids of color suddenly disappears from the school library.

Upon learning that books with kids who look like her have been banned by her school district, Kanzi is overcome by confusion and fear. But her classmates support her, and together— with their teacher’s help—they hatch a plan to hold a bake sale and use the proceeds to buy diverse books for libraries. The event is a big success; the entire school participates, and the local TV station covers it in the evening news. Prodded by her classmates to read the poem she has written, Kanzi starts softly but finds her voice. “You have banned important books, but you can’t ban my words,” she reads. “Books are for everyone.” The crowd chants, “No banned books! No banned books!” and the next week, the ban is reversed.

Tilbury House has given us permission to print here the back matter of the book:

For years I struggled to find books with characters who looked like me and my kids: Arab, Muslim, American. That struggle led me to write The Arabic Quilt, which, like this book, is illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. The Arabic Quilt has won numerous awards and honors, and I have been flooded with messages and emails from parents and teachers telling me their students and kids relate to the story and love seeing themselves in a book. My own kids have been inspired by diverse books to be unapologetic about who they are. Books like these make them feel seen and validated. Every time I walk into their school library, I find beautiful books about Black, Brown, Asian, Native American, and immigrant children. I could not have imagined these affirming, inclusive books being banned.

And yet, in September 2021, a school district in Pennsylvania did just that, banning a number of books with diverse characters, including The Arabic Quilt. This was just one of many book bans instituted around the country, and it hit me hard. Much like Kanzi, I wasn’t sure what to do. My friends Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (author of Your Name Is a Song, illustrated by Luisa Uribe) and Tameka Fryer Brown (author of Around the Way on Neighbors’ Day, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb) suggested we write a statement about the Pennsylvania ban.

The lovely illustrators of our books quickly made graphics of our story characters protesting the ban, and we shared away. People continued to protest, write letters, and buy more of these banned books. Organizations and community members all over the country collected donations to distribute banned books to Little Free Libraries (LFL), a nonprofit organization that provides neighborhood bookcases for the swapping of books. There are 90,000 Little Free Libraries around the world, and millions of books are
exchanged every year. Thanks to everyone who purchased our banned books and reemphasized their importance, the Pennsylvania school district soon reversed its ban. I’d like to offer a special shout-out and thank you to the groups and students of PARU, the Panther Anti-Racist Union, who organized protests and book donation campaigns.

Many books included in the Pennsylvania book ban featured food, including Ramadan Around the World, Bilal Cooks Daal, Fry Bread, the Meet Yasmin series, and others. Some people will continue to try to silence diverse voices, but we will always be here with compassion and with a love of sharing our stories and our food!

$18.95 hardcover / ISBN 978-0-88448-967-2 9 x 10 / 32 pages / Ages 6-8 / PICTURE BOOK / FICTION


Aya Khalil is a freelance journalist and blogger who has taught at all levels, from preschool to college.  Her first book, The Arabic Quilt, is based on events from her childhood, when she immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt with her parents and siblings. She lives in Toledo, Ohio, with her husband, Abdalrahman, and their two children.

Anait Semirdzhyan grew up in a multicultural family and lived in several countries with diverse cultures before settling in the Seattle area with her husband and twin daughters. Her illustrations begin as pencil sketches on cold-press watercolor paper. She then inks the outlines, paints with watercolors, and scans the illustrations in order to edit them in Photoshop. She is the illustrator of The Arabic Quilt and other works that can be viewed on her website.

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