Constable: Mom and 7-year-old spin a bedtime tale, then see it published as a book
The bedtime story is a tradition played out nightly between kids and parents across the suburbs, the nation and the globe.
In the Woodridge home of Hafsa Naz Mahmood, her husband, Haroon Sheikh, and their sons Ayaan, 7, and Azeem, 2, that tradition includes stories the mom and her second-grader make up on the spot.
"Every family has their bedtime stories, so we just sort of created our own," Mahmood says, explaining how she and Ayaan concocted a whimsical tale titled "Little Birdies Lose Their Colors," which also teaches a valuable lesson. "This one was especially fun to write."
It was such a good story, Ayaan had a question.
"Why isn't my story in the library?" the boy asked.
"Oh, ours is just in our heads," his mom explained.
But Ayaan wasn't happy with that answer. "His dream is to have it in his library," Mahmood says.
Mission accomplished. The boy and his mom wrote the story, created the artwork for the birds and clouds, worked to get it published, set up the little-birdies.com website and @littlebirdiesstories sites on Facebook and Instagram, recorded a YouTube video, and recently got the book on the shelf at the Woodridge Public Library.
The story starts with a flock of many colors -- black, brown, gray, orange, yellow, red, blue, white, pink, purple and green. The birds are good friends and always play together in spite of their differences.
"It talks about diversity and self-identity and pride and being inclusive of everyone. It's a really good message to drive home with kids," Mahmood says.
As the bird's adventures evolved, Mahmood had them fly into a cloud, where they lost their colors. Ayaan was stunned.
"He gave the biggest gasp ever," the mom says. "So I basically had until the next night to figure out what happens."
At first the birds loved looking all the same. But it was difficult to play games when they couldn't figure out who was who. They realized that they loved being different and unique.
Since Ayaan has always been a healthy eater who loves his vegetables and fruits, he had the green bird, also named Ayaan, come up with an idea.
"They get their colors back from the fruits and vegetables," Ayaan says. "Green is my favorite color. Grass is green. I eat so much stuff that's green, like lettuce and cucumbers."
So the bird named Ayaan did the same.
"Maybe if I eat one green fruit and one green vegetable, I'll get my color back!" the bird says. He ate a pear and a cucumber, which restored his green color. The blue bird, named after Ayaan's brother, Azeem, couldn't find a blue vegetable but was able to restore his color by eating two blueberries. All the other birds followed their lead.
The gray bird couldn't find any gray foods. "How sad is that?" Ayaan says. But they figured out the gray bird could restore his color by flying into a tiny, gray cloud.
"Finally, all the little birdies were back to their original colors," the book concludes. "They were more proud and appreciative than ever of their very own -- and each other's -- bright, vibrant, beautiful and different colors."
Even with the story written, the pair needed to illustrate it.
"I had the most fun when we were at the library and home making the artwork," says Ayaan, who spent hours with his mom buried in felt, glitter, glue and all sorts of construction paper. "We got to make the fluffy clouds, apple, pear, cucumber and other fruits and vegetables."
Much of the work was done together at their kitchen table.
"Here's my tomato," Ayaan says of the red cutout he drew and colored.
Mahmood, who grew up in Naperville and once was a reporter at the Daily Herald, now works as the director of communications and diversity, equity and inclusion for a global management firm. Ayaan has been attending the DuPage Montessori School in Naperville since he was 2 years old.
The book proves that "nothing is impossible," Mahmood says. "Make your dreams happen. Always."
The diversity celebrated in the book is evident in the suburbs, where people observed the Islamic holiday of Ramadan in the spring, celebrated the Hindu holiday of Diwali in November, and are preparing for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the Christian holiday of Christmas this month.
Proceeds from the book will support First Book and LitWorld, charities that advocate for children's literacy and gender equity, and UNICEF USA, which supports healthy eating and children's health.
"Their colorful words provide us with a proactive example of how we can honor and celebrate equally what we have in common and what makes us unique," writes Michigan State University professor Teresa Mastin in the forward to the book.
"Be proud of who you are. Be happy with what you are," says Mahmood, who says she hopes people get that message from reading their book. "It's a gentle way to do it. It's a soft way to educate. I think it's important to show kids and not just tell them."