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Our City

This book expands the narrative around what good fortune looks like, and shows that there is not a single standard to be measured against.

Photo of Sahar Muradi
4 1

Written by

My house is so big, it has six floors. And 20 families live inside.

My cousins live in a little house. It has only two floors. And their family has to live in it on their own.

When we go visit grandma, we can take the train. It has 10 cars, and 1,000 friends can ride in it at the same time.

When my cousins visit grandma, they come in one lonely car.

Our garden is so big, it goes from one street to the next. When we show up, there are already 50 kids to play with.

My cousins have many gardens on their street with fences all around. When they go outside in their garden, there aren’t any friends waiting to play.

On Saturdays we do our laundry. There are 12 washers and 12 dryers. And always friends there at the same time.

My cousins have to do their laundry at home, with only one washer and one dryer. And no one else to do it with.

I have so many books, I have a whole building to keep them in. Every three weeks we exchange them for new ones.

My cousins have a shelf with the books they get on their birthdays. They are always the same books that they have read before.

I heard the grown ups say my cousins are rich.

I am glad we are not rich like them, and that we have the city instead.

Describe the intended vision for your early childhood book manuscript in 1-2 sentences

"First word" books generally show house/car, but not apartment/subway, which are more relevant for urban families. The narrator is a small child with an unreliable understanding of material wealth, so while it is easy for a caregiver to project society’s “normative” desires – for a house, car, garden – onto their child’s measurement of their success as providers, causing unhappiness, this book seeks to reframe that narrative by highlighting the joy without those things.

Share your suggested book title

Our City

How has this book been informed by early childhood language development research and evidence? (response minimum 250 Characters)

We do not have prior experience writing children's books, but we used the reading suggestions and the word list provided in the competition instructions as a guide. By highlighting and celebrating urban living, the book supports a child's social and cultural development. According to NebGuide's "Culture Matters" article, for example, culture includes the "values we use to express ourselves and engage in the world around us." These values can include our attitude toward our neighbors, our environment, and money--attitudes that we feel our book shares in a refreshing way for urban caregivers and educators and those interested in culturally responsive education. Also, effective for the 0-3 age range, the book follows a repetitive structure (parallels between the narrator-child's life and their cousins'), uses vocabulary from the child's daily life, as well as some numbers--all helpful in supporting language development with infants and toddlers.

Please describe any familiarity you may have with Philadelphia and its residents? (optional question)

One of our team members has over the last decade often traveled to Philadelphia for work and visiting friends and works daily with a team of colleagues based there, but none would claim a special level of familiarity with the city and its residents. But all three members of our team have substantial experience growing up in and/or living as adults in similar urban environments, such as New York City, San Francisco, Denver, and Cape Town.

How have you crafted this manuscript to resonate with and/or reflect the experiences of those living in urban contexts? (optional question)

The team working on this book are all immigrant parents with infants living in urban environments. In our personal experiences, we have not often come across books that reflect our lifestyles, such as small apartments, reliance on public spaces, institutions, and transportation. The illustrations combined with the narrative will make it clear that the book is not judgmental of the "cousins'" lifestyle, and that, in fact, everyone can be happy in their own way.

Location: Country


Location: State or Department

New York and Colorado

Location: City

New York City and Denver

Website URL (optional question)

Sahar Muradi's poetry can be found at Lise Anthonissen's illustrations can be found at

Tell us more about you / your team

Sahar is a poet and immigrant from Afghanistan. Nico is an immigrant from South Africa. They live in an apartment in New York City and had their first baby in October, which informed their text. Lise is a multi-media artist, illustrator, and psychologist from South Africa. She lives in Denver and had her first baby in December. Lise and Nico have been friends since birth. They are raising their babies with the values expressed in this book about community and sharing public spaces in urban environments and the importance of this lifestyle for addressing wealth inequality and long-term environmental sustainability, and have recently noticed the absence of these relevant stories in the existing literature for children, which focuses on more "traditional" wealth and success. They are also excited about their first collaboration, not just as new parents, but also as artists.

Provide an example visual identity for a look and feel you might like to achieve. ( (optional question, 3-5 visuals)

This unfinished illustration by Lise of a caregiver and child on the subway conveys the envisioned style for the book. The final illustrations will show, for example, that the "big house with six floors" is an apartment building, and the "building to keep the books" is a library, etc. The characters in both urban and suburban lifestyles will be very happy with their respective lives, supporting the broad theme around not judging happiness based on others' material possessions.

Multiple Choice - Have you been previously published (online, self-published, and print included)?

  • Yes

If yes, please list titles and publications.

One of the team members is a published poet and editor, two are unpublished. Sahar Muradi's publications include: A Ritual in X Movements, Montez Press [ G A T E S ], Black Lawrence Press One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Halal If You Hear Me, Bodega Magazine, Brooklyn Rail, Pinsapo Journal, and others.

Do you have an agent?

  • No

How did you hear about the Challenge? (optional question)

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)

What best describes you? (optional question)

  • I am/we are creatives, writers, or artists


Join the conversation:

Photo of Robyn Campbell

I like it. But I wonder. Is the voice is a bit older than 0-3? Best of luck.

Photo of Dawnnbooks .

The concept of wealth may be a bit advanced for toddlers.

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Sahar Muradi ,

A final reminder the Challenge closes today at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time (that's in a few hours!) Currently, your submission is in draft mode and thus, not officially submitted to the Challenge.

To ensure your manuscript is included, you can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post.

Photo of Sahar Muradi

Thanks, Lauren. We are just finalizing our submission and will get it in by the deadline. :)