The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams

Hello, Bridget Hodder! Hello, Dr. Fawzia Gilani-Williams! Thank you for celebrating The Button Box together today.

Bridget and Fawzia: Hello, Mr. Schu! We are so glad to be here together. Thanks for having us.

Bridget, what is your favorite thing about the trailer for The Button Box?

Bridget Hodder: My personal favorite thing about the trailer is the mood–positively golden, like the Golden Age of Sephardic and Muslim Spain that shines in the historical part of The Button Box. The mood also captures the spirit of our Muslim and Jewish characters, who must travel back in time to learn how to face down hate, so they can use that wisdom to deal with bullies in the present.

As a side note, Fawzia and I both could not believe how much the children in the video look like our Middle Grade characters on the book cover! They’re absolutely perfect. And the magical Abyssinian cat, Sheba, deserves a special acting nod. Well, and the camels, too. We love camels.

This trailer is our gift to teachers and librarians who are seeking ways to help kids make diverse and thoughtful reading choices, as summer reading lists come out.

Fawzia, please take us on a tour of Harshad Marathe’s wonderful cover illustration.

Fawzia: We were thrilled when we first saw Harshad’s magnificent cover! Set in the tranquility of Granny Buena’s living room, it captures the exciting moment when Nadeem discovers the astonishing time-traveling secret of the Button Box. Meanwhile, Ava and Sheba encounter a window into the past, about to be whisked away.


The peach color throughout represents gentle care and love, a theme that flows from Granny Buena to her two grandchildren. Harshad uses the brighter color, orange, to signify warmth, energy, and the fire of adventure! He also uses some khaki in the furniture, a color that relates to Nadeem and Ava’s down-to-earth qualities and the green of their ever-growing friendship. The artist’s sensitivity to the story shines through in every aspect of his art. We are very grateful to him.

Bridget, imagine you’re telling 5th-grade teachers about The Button Box. What do you share with them?


Bridget Hodder: Every day, clouds of prejudice hang over Jewish and Muslim kids, partly due to a simple lack of information about their religions and cultures. The Button Box opens a window that shines a clear light on these beautiful, diverse communities and traditions. The view from that window is also colorful and exciting enough to spark discussion, promote new understanding, and make all kinds of dynamic learning happen!

The Button Box introduces us to Ava, a Sephardic Jewish girl, and her Muslim cousin, Nadeem. After a bully makes them unsure of themselves and their friendship, their Granny Buena lets them in on the secret of the family’s thousand-year-old Button Box. Each button in the box can take them back to the time and place of the ancestor who wore it!

With Granny’s mysterious cat as their companion, Ava and Nadeem are transported through time to ancient North Africa to meet their ancestor, a Jewish spice seller girl. She’s trying to help a fleeing Muslim prince escape his enemies. Can Ava and Nadeem help save the prince, too, and change the course of history?

The answer holds the key not only to the prince’s royal fate, but also to the problems of identity and belonging that still wait for Nadeem and Ava back in the future.

As a multicultural #ownvoices exploration of a genuine and enthralling moment in ancient history, Fawzia and I think The Button Box belongs in your classrooms… and in your hearts.

There are maps, a glossary, a learning section and photos in the book to help class discussions. Watch for a Core Curriculum guide, coming soon!

Fawzia, please finish the following sentence starters:

Nadeem thinks His Granny Buena’s traditional Sephardic orange honey cakes are absolutely delish! But I’ve never tasted one. I’m going to ask Bridget if she can share the recipe… but it might be a family secret. Let’s hope not!

Prince Abdur Rahman was a real prince in the ancient world; This book is based on a true story. In The Button Box, we encounter the prince while he is running from enemies who will capture him if they can, as he tries to make his way to safety in Spain. Yet Prince Abdur Rahman is not a man of anger or fear. When hes wrong, he feels for those who choose a path of injustice, rather than feeling hatred in his heart. He knows how to value his friends, both old and new. And his love for his family is as deep and strong as Ava and Nadeem’s.

Bridget, please finish the following sentence starters:

Ava is A strong, determined Middle Grader from an unusual diverse family, who isn’t quite sure where she belongs in the wider world. The magical journey of the Button Box comes at a perfect time in Ava’s life, emphasizing how deeply special her heritage is, and helping Ava take pride in her multi-faceted identity.

I wish I’d had a Button Box when I was a kid. Because like Ava, I was a Sephardic Jewish girl with a beautiful, slightly mysterious grandmother who spoke a “funny” version of Spanish. Unlike Ava, I did not belong to a Jewish congregation. My family was unusual; only about 1% of all Jews in the US are Sephardic. I had no mirrors for my experience of Jewishness. It took me a long time to understand that the things I thought were “weird” about my background were actually things to take pride in and to pass on to my own children.

Through this book, Fawzia and I can now pass it on to children everywhere.


Story is one of the main things that make us human. We tell stories to make sense of our world. Fictional stories inspire us to change that world for the better, by showing us what we, ourselves, might someday become– with a little help from our imagination.

So…keep reading.

Thanks, Mr. Schu!

Thank you, Bridget and Fawzia!

Fawzia Gilani was born and raised in England where she became a teacher. She is the author of many children’s books, including A Treasury of Eid Tales, and is currently working on an Islamic fairy tale series. She serves as an international educational consultant with a PhD in children’s literature and character development. She is a Global Representative for the International Positive Education Network and works for the Abu Dhabi Education Council. She spends her time in the United Arab Emirates, Ohio, and England with her daughter and husband. She looks forward to the day when world conflict is no more.

Bridget Hodder, a self-described dreamer and do-gooder, began her career as an Aztec archaeologist, translating ancient documents telling the stories of people from long ago. Then she realized she had her own tales to tell. She has a History degree from Mount Holyoke College, as well as MAs in Archeology and Anthropology from UCLA and Vanderbilt University, where she chairs the Research & Education Advisory Board for the Vanderbilt University Graduate School.

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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