Local children’s author takes on interfaith themes with latest picture book

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Jane Zalben's new book features two young boys of different religions who go by the same nickname, though Moe is short for Moses and Mo is short for Mohammed. (Photo courtesy of Jane Zalben)

Six years ago, local children’s author Jane Zalben was in line at Brooklyn’s classic Sahadi’s purchasing ingredients for Rosh Hashanah while a woman wearing a hijab stood in line next to her.

Zalben marveled at the experience – how a Middle Eastern grocer could provide food specialties for two distinct religions.

Her newly published picture book “A Moon for Moe and Mo” opens with a scene in Sahadi’s and is dedicated to the granddaughter she was shopping with when inspiration struck.

Zalben, who lives in Port Washington, has written over 50 picture books, many of which feature Jewish themes.

This book follows two boys, one Jewish and one Muslim, who develop a friendship that begins at Sahadi’s and ends with an interfaith celebration of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan.

Beyond intercultural experiences in New York, Zalben said she gained inspiration from invitations to speak at schools internationally in the late 1990s, which landed her everywhere from Eastern Europe to Africa.

“To think that I’ve been invited to Africa for my Jewish books is pretty amazing,” she said.

Zalben is also a visual artist and illustrates most of her books, but given the theme of this one and her Jewish background, she wanted to partner with a Muslim artist.

Mehrdokht Amini, an artist who lives outside London, illustrated “A Moon for Moe and Mo.”

“When I read the story of Mo and Moe I was overjoyed by the possibility of having the chance to work on a book which talks about the beauty of understanding and similarities and the fact that children find it far easier to form deep friendships,” Amini wrote in her illustrator’s note in the book.

Zalben said appreciation for the illustrations has been “overwhelming.”

And for her granddaughter, now 8 years old, who was with Zalben at Sahadi’s six years ago, the book is extra special.

“She loves it,” Zalben said.

Zalben will be signing copies of the book at Bryant Library on Sept. 15 at 2 p.m.

Reach reporter Teri West by email at twest@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 215, or follow her on Twitter @mango266.

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