Muslims in Children’s Literature
Today marks the commencement of Ramadan, one of the most significant months in the Islamic faith. Ramadan is a 30 day period during which Muslims engage in ritual fasting, from dawn to sunset. The practice of fasting is present in various religions around the world. For example, Lent is the Christian practice of fasting and sacrifice for forty days. Additionally, in Judaism, worshipers fast for 25 hours during Yom Kippur, as an act of atonement. Fasting is a time for Muslims to devote themselves to God and to reconnect spiritually through prayer and worship. Ramadan also emphasizes drawing closer to family members and friends. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with The Festival of Breaking of the Fast, Eid. Learn More
The devotion and sacrifice of Islam are part of what makes it such a beautiful religion. As such, it is unfortunate that children’s literature, in particular, lacks the representation of Muslim characters and narratives that accurately portray challenges and daily life of Muslims. Children’s book author, Rukhsana Khan explains some of these issues in the article “Muslims in Children’s Books | Up for Discussion” published in the School Library Journal. She expresses frustration at the adoption, by authors, of simplistic approaches to stories featuring Muslim characters, the reliance on shallow stereotypes, and how such an approach does little to create genuine understanding.
Accurate and insightful children’s literature about Muslims is fundamentally important in creating a diverse collection of children’s literature. According to the Pew Research Center, “Islam is the second-largest religion in the world” and 24% of the global population identifies as Muslim. Additionally, there are 3.45 million Muslims in the United States alone as of 2017 and this number has been growing at a rate of roughly 100,000 per year. As such, it is vitally important that Muslim children, who make up a significant part of the world population, not only see themselves represented in literature but are visible and understood by children who have different religious and cultural backgrounds. Research has shown that a diverse worldview encourages children to be more empathetic and culturally aware of the people around them. As shown in the study by Cohen and Peery, students who read texts about Muslim women began to dispel their preconceived assumptions. These students ultimately had “more fair and realistic” perceptions of Muslim women afterward.
The state of children’s literature featuring Muslim characters has certainly improved over the years. The emerging diverse landscape of literature is wonderful to witness as more books become available that not only serve as mirrors for Muslim children, but also serve as windows for them. Books that showcase different types of Muslim characters are important so that children of all backgrounds can learn about the rich diversity that exists within that culture.
We’d like to showcase some of these books which depict more realistic and truer narratives of Muslim people written by the people who would understand those experiences best, Muslim writers. Happy reading and wishing all who celebrate, Ramadan Kareem!
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad, Hatem Aly (Illustrator), S. K. Ali (With)
With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab—a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.
Paired with Hatem Aly’s beautiful, whimsical art, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and Morris Award finalist S.K. Ali bring readers an uplifting, universal story of new experiences, the unbreakable bond between siblings, and of being proud of who you are. (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi, Lea Lyon (Illustrator)
Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won’t understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom.
Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs. This gentle, moving story from first-time author Reem Faruqi comes to life in Lea Lyon’s vibrant illustrations. Lyon uses decorative arabesque borders on intermittent spreads to contrast the ordered patterns of Islamic observances with the unbounded rhythms of American school days (Tilbury House Publishers)
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Amal has big dreams, until a nightmarish encounter . . .
Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their estate.
Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them—so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself. (HarperCollins Publishers)
At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.
But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.
This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself. (Penguin Young Readers Group)
The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
Azad’s debut YA fantasy is set in a city along the Silk Road that is a refuge for those of all faiths, where a young woman is threatened by the war between two clans of powerful djinn.
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population—except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.
But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.
Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences. (Scholastic Inc.)