Behind The Button Box: A Time-Travelling, Cross-Cultural Adventure

The Button Box is a new middle-grade novel about cousins, one Jewish and one Muslim, who travel back in time to ancient Morocco. Below, co-authors Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams discuss their hopes for the book, what inspired them, and more.

Where did you get the inspiration for The Button Box?

BH: It began with my wish to write about my own beautiful, mysterious Sephardic grandmother. She was born in the Ottoman Empire and Ladino was her first language. Her stories about the past and our Sephardic Jewish heritage have always been a linchpin of my identity.

I also wanted to pique readers’ curiosity about Sephardic Jews. Our stories are often not told, or they are told by others.

I asked Fawzia to join me on the writing journey because I knew we could work together, with our different experiences and backgrounds, to create real characters, a meaningful story, and an authentic world. It’s been a joy.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing The Button Box?

BH: I literally sobbed when I learned of the many cultural treasures that were lost, along with Jewish and Muslim lives, when the Muslim caliphate of Spain’s Golden Age was destroyed. I learned once again that we must never become complacent and think it can’t happen here or now.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?

FGW: Our message of peace and goodwill.

How do you hope The Button Box will impact children?

BH: I hope it is a story that will transport kids to a world of magic and adventure. In a world where anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism are surging, we hope kids will see themselves in our Jewish and Muslim characters.

FGW: I hope our book will impact Jewish, Muslim, and other children by empowering them to promote peace and to be active bystanders in their classroom and community.

Do you have any advice for future authors? 

BH: We are all storytellers. Take the time to find your voice and what you truly want to say. Then use your voice to speak to the world. We need to hear you.

What are you working on now?

We are working on a picture book called The Promise. It’s based on a true story about two best friends, a Sephardic Jewish boy and a Muslim boy, who are separated during WWII.

Delve deeper into the themes of The Button Box with our free downloadable Educator Guide.

The Button Box

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 7
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

After Jewish fifth-grader Ava and her Muslim best friend Nadeem are called hateful names at school, Ava’s Granny Buena rummages in her closet and pulls out a glittering crystal button box. It’s packed with buttons that generations of Ava’s Sephardic ancestors have cherished. With the help of Granny’s mysterious cat Sheba, Ava and Nadeem discover that a button from the button box will take them back in time. Suddenly, they are in ancient Morocco, where Nadeem’s ancestor, Prince Abdur Rahman, is running for his life. Can Ava and Nadeem help the prince escape to Spain and fulfill his destiny, creating a legendary Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians?

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