Tempe author weaves plot line around native Algerian customs into her new book for kids

Tempe’s Nouha Deliou, a native of Algeria, wrote a children’s book that reflects her culture. –Photo courtesy of Nouha Deliou

As Tempe resident Nouha Deliou searched for children’s books for her kids, she looked for works by or about people of color or from different ethnicities or cultures.

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Deliou, a native of Algeria, couldn’t find children’s books that highlighted Muslims — her faith tradition — or North African or Algerian culture. She recalled privately writing a short piece 13 years ago, before she was married, that could be spun into a children’s book.

It became Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure.

“I put the story away under my cabinet, and I didn’t open it back up until just a few years ago, after I had my children,” said Deliou, who is the mother of 5‐year‐old daughter Rahma and 3‐year‐old son Nabeel. “It was a big goal of mine once I had my children to publish this book because I wanted my children to see themselves in the books that they read.”

The story features Mona, a young Algerian‐American Muslim girl who lives in New York, who becomes excited when her older sister, Layla, is getting ready for her marriage. Mona then is saddened when she learns Layla will be moving to Arizona with her husband, both from Deliou’s own life.

To make Mona feel better, Layla suggests her sister help with the wedding planning, and the two take pictures to turn into a scrapbook.

This also was inspired by Deliou’s life.

“As a gift, we used to give each other scrapbooks,” she said. “When I got married, I was gifted scrapbooks by my friends in New York.”

Deliou wanted to highlight the unique cultural aspects of an Algerian wedding. This includes the dresses the bride changes into during the reception that represent the regions of Algeria, as well as making an Algerian cookie called “Arayech” and wearing “henna,” a dye used to decorate hands during celebrations.

The book includes a glossary of Algerian terms.

Deliou contracted local illustrator Kadhima Tung, a Muslim woman of Chinese descent, to bring her characters to life.

“She sent me a bunch of reference photos for what she wanted to interpret each dress,” Tung said. “Some of the longest discussions were on that dress page.”

Deliou also wanted to bring a religious aspect to the storyline. This includes the actual Islamic marriage before an imam that happens at the engagement but before the couple begins living together.

“I wanted to make sure I added a little bit of my faith in there because my faith is a big part of who I am,” she said.

In theory, a wedding isn’t required because the couple has met all of the requirements to be married under Islamic law. It’s still customary to have the wedding, according to Deliou. She likened it to a church ceremony in the morning with a reception in the evening.

“Except we don’t do it all in the same day,” she said. “We do it months apart.”

In 2021, Muslim Book Reviewers, a team on Instagram, highlighted the lack of stories within mainstream published books in North America by or about Muslims. In that year, there were no books by or about North African Muslims for any age group. This trend was true for East Asian or Latin American Muslims. Other groups of Muslims lacked representation in some children’s literature categories.

“I grew up seeing who knows how many images of Muslims portrayed so negatively in books, movies and TV,” Deliou said. “We’ve always been portrayed negatively, and I absolutely want to change that for our children.

“Our children need to see themselves in books that have happy, beautiful moments.”
Tung also endeavored to represent their shared faith in her illustrations.

“It’s got a lot of subtle call‐backs,” said Tung, who grew up in Surprise. “None of these stories are super central to an Islamic experience, but there’s a lot of cultural subtext. I love it any time I can contribute artistically back to the community.”

Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure is self‐published through Ingram Spark. It premiered at a bazaar for small businesses to celebrate Eid al‐Fitr — the end of Ramadan —at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, one of the mosques Deliou attends with her family.

Deliou’s husband, Faisal Halis, a Palestinian‐Canadian, who is a mechanical engineer, said he was emotional upon reading the first draft because it brought to mind leaving his family. Halis helped Deliou with the business of getting the book published.

“The vision she had for quite some time is extraordinary in that she was able to create something inspirational to teach children who are Algerian or who are not Algerian,” he said. “It was so great to see the final product that can relate to many different families and many different cultures.”

The premise is universal, she says, as all people can relate to a loved one moving away as well as finding ways to make memories. One woman — who is not of Algerian descent — bought a copy of Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure and reached out to Deliou that she cried when she reached the end.

“We’ve all experienced people moving away or just creating fun memories with our siblings and being able to share that with each other,” Deliou said. “I’ve had some people buy multiple books after because they wanted to give it away as gifts. So, it made me happy someone was able to be touched by my book and find themselves in it.”

To purchase Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure: nouhasbooks.com.

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