Mother Essentials: Author + Mother Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
Renowned author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Mommy’s Khimar, Your Name is a Song) is back at it again this week, with a just-released book that is sure to be a hit! Abdul’s Story is the tale of a young boy who loves to tell stories, but struggles when it comes to writing them down (“Making lowercase b face the right way was tricky. P and s, too,” says Abdul). Luckily, when an author, Mr. Muhammad, visits his school, Abdul is inspired to persevere and write “new stories with new superheroes”—himself included. The rainbow-hued story—brought to life in luscious illustrations by Tiffany Rose—will be relatable to all elementary-aged children who are learning it’s okay to struggle and make mistakes. Like Jamilah’s other books, Abdul’s Story centers young Black Muslim protagonists in a beautiful, powerful way. Below, the Philadelphia-based educator and mother to sons Isa, 12, and Adam, 8, shares her top 20 Mother Essentials of the moment!
Simon Game. “When my kids’ grandmother bought this ’80s-era toy, I was doubtful my modern kids would like it. However, this toy probably gets more play in my home than any other, including the video games. It truly is an undying classic.” Simon Game, $20.99, Target.
The Laundress Products. “These products are great for removing stubborn stains and protecting fabric. Even better, they delay the need to visit the dry cleaners. While these concentrated products are strong, the scents are gentle and ingredients are plant-derived.” Laundry Products, $13 to $22, The Laundress.
Supportive + Affirming Wall Art. “Before I started setting up my home office six months ago, I wrote at the dining room table, on the couch, in bed, in spaces that weren’t necessarily made for me as a writer. My office is still a work-in-progress but I know I’m on the right track: Recently, Isa walked into my office, looked around, and said, ‘This room feels like ‘Yay, Black women!’ I thought, yeah, this is a space that says ‘yay’ to me!” Make Dua Wall Art, $35, Haute & Muslim. Stay Home Wall Clock by Domonique Brown, $36.75, Society6. Sunshine Wall Hanging by Domonique Brown, $29.75, Society6.
Discussion Cards. “Isa is usually the one who asks us to take these conversation-starter cards out at dinner time. We use them multiple times a week. With 150 cards in the categories of emotional intelligence, hopes & dreams, likes & dislikes, random, reflection, and self-expression, these are a tool to understand each other better, have important conversations, and get our kids talking.” Little Talk Discussion Cards, $25, BestSelf.
Post-Poo Drops. “Hey, stop laughing! Hear me out on this one. Once I too didn’t know how essential post-poo drops were. NOW, I know. NOW, I am obsessed! How do just a few drops of this potion make rank smells disappear? This is a bottle of magic for poo.” Post-Poo Drops, $29, Aesop.
Reading Socks. “Adam picked these out for me as a gift because he knows I read for long periods of time and that my feet are always cold. That and the soft faux-fur lining make long days of reading or writing feel like a hug for my feet.” Crème Reading Socks, $19.99, Barnes & Noble.
Super Mario Plush. “Adam snuggles and plays with Super Mario all the time. While he loves playing the actual video game too, I am glad he has this option, which allows him to engage in more imaginative free-play when it’s time to end screen time.” Jumbo Plush Mario, $19.99, Target.
Abdul’s Story. “I dedicated this book to my sons whose similar appearance is largely a model for the Abdul I described in the story. Abdul’s Story is about a child who develops the confidence to write the stories he has to tell about his community in spite of his struggles with writing and learning. In the end, Abdul learns he is the superhero of his own story and I hope my sons and other children who read this book will feel that way about themselves too.” Abdul’s Story, $17.99, Simon & Schuster.
Scotch Porter Hair Products. “My boys have become so proud of their thick, textured hair as of late, and these products have so much to do with it. While this Black-man-owned company’s products are marketed to masculine clientele, I do occasionally use their hair serum to make my strands shine!” Hair Products, $11.99 to $61.50, Scotch Porter.
Baked Mac N Cheese. “As a team, Isa and I put our own spin on this family recipe, handed down from my husband’s side of the family, and it’s possible we brag about our baked mac to an obnoxious degree. Baking this dish is something we always do together, and as Isa says, ‘No one makes better mac n cheese than us, Mom!’ The kid said it, not me. (It’s true though!)”
Floor Pillows. “I use floor pillows as another seating option to protect my sofa and nice living room chairs from the damage two rambunctious boys can do. Love these for movie nights!” African Styles Pattern Pillows by Juliana RW, $67, Society6. Antique Bookshelf Pillow by Magenta Rose Designs, $67, Society6.
My Salah Prayer Mat. “This electronic, interactive prayer mat is a cool way for kids to learn the Muslim prayer, which is pretty intricate. Adam has been using it to learn, but also sees it as a fun toy.” Interactive Educational Prayer Mat, $89.99, EastWestSouk.
LEGO Sets. “Isa is a builder. It is something he has to do. Detailed LEGO sets like this one help him satisfy that urge.” LEGO Super Heroes Marvel Avengers Classic Iron Man Helmet, $135, Amazon.
Speckled Mexican Glass Hurricanes. “Candlelit dinners aren’t just for romantic dates. Our family loves to share meals occasionally with candles only, which has meant collecting hurricanes and special candle holders to set the perfect, calm family night mood. Here is one of my favorite hurricanes.” Speckled Mexican Glass Hurricane, $19.99, West Elm.
Dried Hibiscus. “With half my family being from the West African countries of Liberia and Guinea, this herb is hugely important to us. Hibiscus has a variety of proven medicinal uses, and it also can be brewed into a tasty tea. You can find it in your local ethnic market or herbal store for less than $10.”
Learning Clock. “Adam doesn’t like figuring out analog clocks and thinks, why not just use digital clocks? I am the passive-aggressive mom who hung this up in his room.” Learning Clock by Textility, $37, Society6.
Peloton Membership. “While lots have been said about the Peloton bike and tread, the full suite of Peloton classes on their app don’t get enough mention. Including cardio, meditation, strength, stretching, and yoga, it’s a hefty app with exercises that can be done anywhere—with or without Peloton exercise equipment. My kids like to do quick stretches with me from the TV in the living room.” Peloton Membership, $12.99/month (App Only) or $39/month (All Access), Peloton.
Bigelow Teas. “While we are on the subject of teas, our family has some major tea drinkers. Adam and Isa see hot tea as a treat. While we have multiple varieties of loose-leaf and bagged teas, one brand, though enjoyable, might be overly represented on our shelves. If you had a tea with your last name on it, wouldn’t you buy lots of it, too? And no, we are not related to the makers of this brand!” Bigelow Teas, $2.99, Target.
Rittenhouse Square Park. “This busy, beautiful park in downtown Philadelphia is where my husband and I began getting to know each other many years ago as a new couple. Our kids toddled through it as tots and now run roughshod through it as older kids. It’s where we’ve picnicked, watched live music, climbed on sculptures, and made countless special memories as a family.” Rittenhouse Square Park, 210 W Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA.
Wissahickon Valley Trail & Creek. “One of the best parts about living in Philadelphia is just how woodsy it is. While we live in a very urban, busy neighborhood and we love it, this trail and creek is within easy walking distance when we need to get away from city life.” Wissahickon Valley Trail & Creek via My TrailLink.
For more Mother Essentials, peep our recent past columns with ByHeart co-founder Mia Funt, Backdrop founder Natalie Ebel, Oui The People founder & CEO Karen Young, author-illustrator Grace Lin, the co-founders of ODDOBODY, Happy Family Organics’ CEO Anne Laraway, YA author J.Elle, kid-lit authors Karen Chan and Suzanne Greenlaw, the founders of EADEM, Minimalista author Shira Gill, Domino’s Chief Content Officer Kate Berry, the two-mom duo behind Morrow Soft Goods, mega-influencer Nabela Noor, Angela O’Brien of Cleobella, Nikki Osei-Barrett of District Motherhued, Blair Paysinger of Post 21, Idia Lanlokun of Ola & Mide, Karam Kim of Bluecut aprons, children’s authors Evan Sargent and Joanna Ho, Eli Yonas of Toki Mats, Shaina Kerrigan of Molly J., Jenna Levine of LINNÉ botanicals, Eunice Byun of Material, and Sandra Lin of Kiwi Co.
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