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Book Life

Rachael Walker

In this special series, children's literacy consultant Rachael Walker and many of the authors, parents, and educators she’s met and worked with talk about how books have changed their lives, how to bring books to life for young readers, and how to enrich kids’ lives with good books. You can also visit Rachael at her blog, Belle of the Book.

Where Is the Music in Your Life?

August 16, 2022

Earlier this year, Barakah Beats by Maleeha Siddiqui made it to the top of my “to be read” stack. The cover had caught my eye and I’d heard good things about it from friend and author Madelyn Rosenberg, who has excellent taste in books. 

Middle-grade book Baraka Beats

I totally enjoyed it! But I enjoy a lot of books. What makes a book work for me is if it really sticks with me. If it opens up new ways of thinking and looking at the world. If it gets me asking questions. Barakah Beats got me wondering about all the different reasons people make music, why it appeals to some people more than others, and how it fits — or doesn’t fit — into people’s daily life.

For me, for example, music is never top of mind. And if I’m doing something else, I often find it distracting. Others in my family would have music playing all the time if they could and are really interested in the lives and legacies of musical artists. And another family member likes to make music, picking up the guitar and delighting in mastering complex chords.

Happily, Maleeha Siddiqui has come to Book Life to share her own perspective on music. Maleeha is an American writer of Pakistani descent who loves to tell unapologetically Muslim stories for all ages. By day, Maleeha works as a regulatory affairs professional in the biotech industry. She grew up and continues to reside with her family in Virginia. When she’s not working, reading, or writing, she likes to try new food and snuggle cats. Barakah Beats (Scholastic 2021) is her debut novel. Her latest title, Bhai for Now, releases in October.

Music to My Heart by Maleeha Siddiqui

Middle grade author Maleeha Siddiqui

Summer. For me, the season conjures up images of white sand, blue water, fireworks, ice cream, grand Pakistani weddings, mangos (again, the juicy Pakistani variety), sleepovers talking to my cousins until sunrise, and concerts. Well, I imagine concerts are staple events for those who attend them. Growing up, I was not allowed to go to concerts.

I am almost thirty years old, and I still haven’t been to a single concert. As a kid, I hated being the only one left out while all my friends got to watch our favorite musical artists live. As an adult, not attending concerts is a choice I make on my own.

In my debut middle grade novel Barakah Beats, my main character Nimra is raised in a Muslim family whose views surrounding music were like my family’s. Essentially, we believed the interpretation that Islam doesn’t allow the use of musical instruments. My parents weren’t that strict about it. My siblings and I still casually listened to music, but we had set boundaries. Going to concerts, dancing in public, and playing instruments were out of the question. I only played the flute for three years in middle school because I was required to take a music elective. Believe it or not, some Muslims abstain from music entirely. Others don’t. I respect both sides and all shades in between.

Photograph of a waterfall

I know what some of you are probably thinking: No music? How do you live? Pretty normally! I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, and I don’t think that’s strange.

I do still listen to music. Taylor Swift’s “August” is playing softly in the background as I write this blog post. Over the years, though, I’ve cut back on it a lot. It doesn’t bring me the same level of joy that it used to, and I noticed that it was taking away from parts of my life that were important to me because it became an obsession.

I would constantly have my headphones in and tune the world out to the point of negligence. I knew something needed to change, but I was worried that giving up music entirely would negatively impact my writing. That I wouldn’t be able to come up with words anymore. But I’m discovering that’s not true.

“Music” is defined as a combination of sound that produces beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. I’m learning that there are so many non-instrumental sounds that invoke the same strong feelings in me: the rushing torrent of a waterfall, ice clinking in my latte, my kids’ laughter when they see something that delights them, my daughter sounding out words as she learns how to read, my husband’s melodic voice reading the Qur’an somewhere in the house, the fan in my bedroom lulling me to sleep at night. You know the phrase “music to my ears?” Life’s little moments like these are music to my heart. They bring me peace.

toddler looking at books, woman's hand holding blue-beaded necklace, and sign that says good vibes only

I still have a playlist whenever I sit down to write, but they’re usually throwbacks, so you could say I do it for the nostalgia. I just watched the animated movie “Turning Red,” and I couldn’t help but smile at all the fond memories of my own adolescence resurfacing. If I could go back to being a boy-band-obsessed tween, would I still be dying to go to a concert like Mei and her friends? I don’t know. Maybe. Guess I’ll never find out. I’m happy right where I am.

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