Posted in Reviews

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan

Khan, Hena.Cresent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes. Mehrdokht Amin, Illus. Picture Book. Chronicle, 04/2018. 32 pp. $17.99. 978-1452155418. RECOMMENDED. TODDLER – 8.

This review was written and published in June 2018 for The Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California (ACL) 

“Cone is the tip of the minaret so tall. I hear soft echoes of the prayer call,” begins this charming picture book which explores a variety of everyday shapes and angles, as experienced by Muslims of diverse skin tones, who are depicted living, playing, and worshipping together.

Written and illustrated by the author and illustrator duo responsible for Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors (2012), the colorful and multidimensional images feature mixed media illustrations in deep hues and majestic colors. Amini brings her distinctive style to the work, which includes traditional Islamic geometric patterns and sacred calligraphy. While most of the shapes highlighted are easily detected, a few require a keen eye or re-positioning of the page to see them clearly. Some structures represented within the work are clearly identified, while the architectural style of others suggests that the setting could be in any Muslim community across the globe.

Amini takes care to give detail to demonstrate the ethnic diversity of Muslims: a dark-brown complexioned woman, who appears to be of African descent, has neat cornrows with traditional hair accessories, while some light-brown complexioned women have intricate henna markings on their hands and faces. These subtle cues, as well as the different styles of head coverings worn by the men and women in the book, deftly acknowledge the myriad Muslim cultures that exist.

Every other page of the book features a shape, with a short lyrical description of its role in a Muslim’s life that includes Islamic terms which will be familiar to Muslims but may be unknown to non-Muslim readers. A glossary explains those Islamic terms, while an author’s note offers context and a brief history of the Islamic art tradition. Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes is a welcome addition to a variety of collections and may be enjoyed by those familiar with Muslims and Islamic culture, as well as those wanting to learn more about the everyday joys of Muslim life.

 

Posted in Reviews

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Mommy’s Khimar. Ebony Glenn, Ilus. Picture Book.
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, 04/2018. 40pp. $17.99. 978-1534400597. RECOMMENDED. Toddler – 8.

“A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears,” explains a young African-American girl in the opening pages of Mommy’s Khimar, a new picture book from Simon and Schuster’s Salaam Reads imprint, written by first-time author, educator, and activist Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn.

The term “khimar” may be new to many who know the headscarf worn by Muslim women as a “hijab” based on public discourse about the garb, but for some, including many African-American Muslims, “khimar” has long been the preferred term for the head-covering.

As an African-American Muslim myself, I have eagerly awaited the publication of Mommy’s Khimar. Finally, a book with characters that look like me and my family, and uses familiar language. Turns out, I’m not alone.

In a mother’s group of African-American Muslims that is on Facebook, information about Mommy’s Khimar has been excitedly shared over and over again, with many planning to purchase a copy to read with their daughters.

The two copies ordered for our branch were checked out immediately; a quick look at my library system’s online catalog shows that half of the system’s copies are currently checked out.

Written in the first-person voice of a young unnamed African-American girl, Mommy’s Khimar explores a little girl’s fascination with her mother’s khimars. In some picture books, the text or illustrations, outshine the other. In this case, both are truly are stellar.

The digitally rendered illustrations are bold, eye-catching, and exude joy. Rich yellows, vibrant blues, and soft pastels jump from every page.

The text includes short, lyrical sentences about her imaginative adventures with her mother’s collection of multicolored mother’s scarves. Eventually, she finds one that’s yellow, her favorite color, and begins to imagine the possibilities:

“When I wear Mommy’s khimar, I shine like the sun. I dive and become a shooting star into a pile of clouds.”

“When I put on Mommy’s khimar, I become a queen with a golden train.”

“When I wear Mommy’s khimar, I am a superhero in a cape, dashing from room to room at the speed of light.”

These scenes authentically capture the delight that Muslim girls find in playing in their mother’s scarves. My social media feeds are full of proud mamas showcasing their daughters doing the exact same thing. Mommy’s Khimar, however, does more than just demonstrate how Muslim children have fun playing with their mother’s scarves. It captures and gives voice to the beautiful dynamic of a typical African-American Muslim family. It depicts a loving relationship with the girl’s father, who lovingly “snatches her up” and “tickles” and kisses her.

Subtly, Mommy’s Khimar challenges beliefs about Muslims and expands the perception of what it means to be Muslim. For example, In the discourse about Muslim women’s clothing, what is often left out is that many Muslim men often also wear head coverings of religious significance. In Mommy’s Khimar, the father wears a head cap often worn by Muslim men. This detail normalizes wearing a head covering for both men and women.

When the girl’s grandmother comes for a visit, she says: “When I wear Mommy’s khimar and Mom-Mom visits after Sunday service, she sings out, “Sweet Jesus!” and calls me sunshine Mom-Mom doesn’t wear a khimar. She doesn’t go to the mosque like Mommy and Daddy do. We are a family and we love each other just the same.”

These just might be my favorite lines in the book.

The interaction between the girl and her grandmother captures so much of the African-American familial experience: multi-faith, intergenerational families, loving each other and respecting their religious differences and choices. I am reminded of my own family members who edit favorite recipes to make them pork-free and who wear their Sunday church best at mosque functions.

At the mosque, a group of elder Muslim women, themselves dressed in colorful and flowing khimars, make the child feel special:

“When I go to the mosque, the older women coo, “As Salaamu alaikum, Little Sis!”

There, a group of children with differing skin tones also admire her scarf, while her Arabic teacher, herself with dark skin, exclaims, “Beauti-ful! Beautiful hijab!” It’s important that the Arabic teacher in the book is depicted as having dark skin. It is a thoughtful and deliberate choice that challenges that common fallacy that Arabs and/or Arabic is only the domain of light-complexioned peoples.

At the end of the day, the young girl and her mother remove their scarves. Her mother’s hair is illustrated like hers is, black, and curly. That her mother is pictured with a scarf on and without,  is meaningful. A common question for many Muslim women who cover their hair in public is: “Do you have hair under there?”

Perhaps the only thing that would have made this book more perfect for me was to see more variety in the representation of khimar styles, as it’s quite common for Muslim women of African descent to elaborately style their scarves. This absence of variety, however, doesn’t distract from the beauty, grace, and joy within the book.

Ultimately, Mommy’s Khimar succeeds in simultaneously being a “mirror” into African-American Muslim families and communities, as a well as a “window” for readers who are less familiar with families and communities represented in the book. It certainly can serve as a “sliding glass door” for anyone who has played dress-up with a parent’s clothing.

Mommy’s Khimar is a welcome addition to the canon of children’s literature about Muslim children and families because of what it doesn’t do.

It doesn’t apologize for khimars/hijabs.

It doesn’t seek to justify or rationalize why they are not oppressive.

There is no hardship in being Muslim and no space is given to Islamophobes.

Mommy’s Khimar celebrates the unbridled happiness of one Muslim child, her family, and members of her Muslim community.  

Authors and publishers, take note. More books like this one, please.

The book succeeds as both a one-on-one read between child and caregiver, as well with a group, such at a storytime, and would be a wonderful and unique addition to personal collections, as well as those of school and public libraries.

 

Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Hena Khan

Hena Khan is an author of Picture Books and Middle Grade books for children, and range from her Scholastic Worst-case Scenario books to her books about Islam and Muslim identity. Her latest series Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream focuses on third-generation, Pakistani-American Zayd and his dreams of playing professional basketball. You can find out more about Hena on her website, following her on Twitter or checking out her author pages on Salaam Reads, a Simon & Schuster imprint or Chronicle Books.

Interview Questions were compiled by Hadeal Salamah and Ariana Hussain

  1. When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? What inspired you to become a writer?
    I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a little kid who wrote stories, plays, and epic poems because I thought it was fun! I’m pretty sure that my love for books and reading for pleasure, which was a big part of my childhood, was what inspired me to want to write myself.
  2. How did you decide to write for youth and what is your main message to them?
    I started to write for kids because that was the time in my life when books impacted me the most and helped shaped who I am today. I love the idea of my books resonating with kids the same way my favorites did with me. I don’t think I have a message for youth as much as I want to create books with relatable characters they can connect with, and content that excites them and makes them want to keep reading. At the same time, many of my books do have Muslim themes and characters as I think we need these stories that didn’t exist when I was a kid. I hope my stories help bring understanding and hopefully foster compassion and tolerance in addition to serving to represent kids who haven’t always been included in the literature.Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns
  3. For Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns and Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets what was your thought process in deciding which Islamic elements to relate with different colors and shapes?
    When I wrote Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, I picked concepts and objects that represent the major tenets of the faith, like prayer, fasting, charity, etc and linked them to various colors. Some of the elements were obvious color choices, like dates for brown, while others aren’t necessarily correlated in real life. When writing Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets, I kind of wished I had saved a few things from the first book that would work great as shapes! But I tried again to focus on things are very significant in the Muslim faith or Islamic traditions and link them to shapes.
  4. When you talk about Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets, you mentioned that the people in the book are Muslims from all over the world and mention specific countries. If you can, please tell us which countries, if any are represented in each spread, particularly rectangle and hexagon. Was this your choice or preference, your illustrator Mehrdokht Amini’s choice, an editorial decision or a collective one? In the book you do not mention specific countries, why? Was that an intentional choice?
    The idea to represent different countries was a natural fit when presenting shapes and highlighting Islamic art and architecture. It was my initial suggestion, but everyone agreed and was on the same page. It was a way to highlight the diversity that exists among Muslims and include things that are found in different parts of the world. We considered mentioning which countries are depicted in the author’s note, but chose not to since many of the spreads could represent more than one. In other cases, like the Ka’aba spread, it’s obvious where it is. I’ll tell you that the rectangle spread is Zanzibar, Tanzania, and that we might include a list of countries on the discussion guide that is being finalized.
  5. This is your second collaboration with Mehrdokht Amini are beautiful in being both visually striking and having textual flow. We understand that editors/publisher pair authors and illustrators together. Was is just luck that Amini was able to work with you on the second book, a request from you, or a decision to create continuity?
    We were overjoyed to work with Mehrdokht on Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, which was actually the first children’s book she published in the US. Both my publisher and I discovered her portfolio, were blown away, and wanted her for the project. And she did such a phenomenal job. When it came to a sequel, we couldn’t imagine anyone else illustrating it, and luckily she agreed since she has been busy working on a number of gorgeous books.
  6. Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets has a lovely author’s note that we appreciate for its references to geometry and shapes in Islamic art and architecture, which we know from school but many readers will not. It is a great discussion point and may create further curiosity and inquiry in students. We noticed that Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns does not have an author’s note. Is there a reason why it does not? Was the decision to include an author’s note in Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets based on a need you saw for further information?
    Shapes and geometry have a special significance in Islamic art and architecture that I felt was important to highlight, which is why we included an author’s note in Crescent Moons. For Golden Domes, there wasn’t the same need to delve deeper into the role of colors.
  7. Because there are so many extensions that can be done with these books for Muslim and non-Muslim children did you ever feel like you had to include teaching resources or more back matter?I’ve been delighted to see all the ways that my books have been used, and the creative lessons, crafts, and activities people have developed over the years. Chronicle Books is in the process of developing comprehensive teacher guides for Night of the Moon, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, and Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets which will be available for download soon, including on my website.Amina's Voice
  8. Your middle grade book, Amina’s Voice, features a Pakistani-American middle schooler whose experience, while representative is also quite universal. Have you seen it resonate with children of different religious or ethnic backgrounds from Amina?
    Absolutely! I’ve had children and adults of all backgrounds, races, genders and ages tell me that they connected with Amina and her story and could relate to her on many levels, which is enormously gratifying. I’ve had a librarian in upstate rural New York tell me that a little white boy in her book club said he could sympathize with Amina, a teacher working with a Somali refugee in Atlanta say that the book was the first her student was motivated to read in full, and immigrants from all backgrounds, from Ecuador to Ethiopia, tell me that they could relate to her experience. It was really important to me to create a character that people could see themselves in and connect with, despite differences.
  9. You mentioned on your website that the masjid in Amina’s Voice reflects elements of your masjid growing up. Did your community also have a similar demographic? What is your community like now?
    When I describe the physical structure of the masjid inAmina’s Voice, it’s actually the masjid that was constructed while I was in grade school located in Maryland. It was primarily attended by the Pakistani immigrants who built it back in the 1980s but it has shifted to have a more diverse population over the years. There are a lot of communities in my area now, including some that are trying to overcome ethnic divides and create a more unified community.
  10. You have spoken before about how your parents were supportive of your dreams and did not pressure you to become a doctor or an engineer. (Ariana: Those were my Pakistani-American husband’s two choices). Not everyone has parents who are as supportive of choosing different careers. What words of encouragement do you have for children (or families) of aspiring writers, whose families may not be as supportive?
    As a parent, I can understand the desire to steer your children towards careers where they will have a stable income. My parents recognized that I was more verbal than scientifically or mathematically inclined, and even though they didn’t push me to be a doctor or engineer, my mother would have loved for me to be a lawyer, which I considered for a little while. I ended up worked in international health communications, writing and editing and disseminating research findings, and writing children’s books on the side. I only started writing full-time as an author in the past few years. I would encourage anyone who loves to write to DO IT! Do it in your spare time, even if you have another career to pay the bills (which you will likely need). And hopefully what is a passion can turn into a profession eventually. You don’t need to study creative writing or get an MFA to succeed as a writer. Just make sure to keep reading and working on your craft. And families will come around when they see you are serious about it and have skill and hopefully some success. But it take a lot of hard work and commitment.
  11. We talk a lot about windows and mirrors for marginalized readers/reader’s of color. Where and when did you first see yourself in literature? We recognize that identity is intersectional, so please do list multiple titles, if applicable, that coincide with your identity.
    I saw aspects of myself in some of the books I read as a kid. I loved the book Little Women, probably because that family was more traditional and conservative than modern American families, and I could relate to it on many levels. But I never saw a true reflection of myself, a Pakistani American Muslim girl, in the literature. When I was in college I searched for myself and found South Asian authors, but most were women from India, so I could only relate to a point. I saw elements of my experience in other literature I read–African American, Caribbean, and East Asian. But the first time I truly recognized myself and my life in a book was The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri when I was in my 30s.
  12. Do you feel that books featuring Muslims are being created and marketed in a positive way? Are there trends you like or hope will change?
    zayd saleem.jpgI think there are books that feature Muslims both positively and negatively, written by Muslims and non-Muslims. I hope the trend will be to move away from books related to the terrorist narrative, and away from books that highlight pain, oppression and discrimination, or “otherness” and in favor of more books that feature other themes or kids who aren’t struggling with identity issues. That’s why I’m excited about myZayd Saleem: Chasing the Dream series–it’s fun and lighthearted and I think Muslim kids deserve to be heroes in books and deal with regular kid issues.
  13. What books are on your #Muslimshelfspace?
    I have a lovely and pretty extensive collection of picture books, since I bought everything I could find from mainstream publishers over the years, including early Ramadan books like Ramadan Moon and My First Ramadan, Eid stories like Nabeel’s New Pants and The Best Eid Ever, folktales and poetry like The Conference of the Birds and Mulla Nasruddin, and successful self published titles like Ilyas and Duck. I have non-fiction books, and books published by Muslim publishers of varying quality. And now I’m happy to have a growing collection of middle grade and young adult fiction, including everything by N.H. Senzai, Sheba Karim, Randa Abdul Fateh, G. Willow Wilson, and more, along with my fellow Salaam Reads authors, Karuna Riazi and SK Ali. Plus it’s exciting to see a new crop of Muslim writers publishing new titles that are coming out this year!
  14. Have you ever felt pressure to edit anything out of your books or fulfill a certain image of a Muslim or Muslim family? Do you feel like Muslim writers are pressured to include or not include specifics about Muslims or Muslim communities in their narratives from publishers, editors, agents or even readers?
    No, but it took me a while to accept the fact that I cannot and don’t have to represent all Muslims in my work, especially since early on I was one of the few Muslim children’s writers out there. I put that pressure on myself and worried about writing things from a Pakistani perspective, and how others might react to that or question their authenticity. In general, I have tried to challenge stereotypes in my work, for example by requesting a variety of races, cultures and styles in the illustrations of my books. I think we all hear things or get feedback from readers from time to time about what should and shouldn’t be included, but I haven’t been pressured by my editors, agent or publishers.
  15. What is the best way to support Muslim authors, agents, editors, librarians and those involved in creating Muslim literature? What do you hope the literature world looks like for Muslims in the coming years?
    Honestly, the best things you can do are buy books written by Muslim authors (preferably from independent bookstores, but anywhere will do); leave reviews and help promote them among readers, librarians, bloggers, and others; be positive and encouraging; and celebrate the success of others. We need more Muslim librarians, agents and editors as much as we need Muslim writers, if not more, so I hope to see more of them in the years to come. And in the future, I hope Muslim writers just be seen as writers and that “diverse books” are just seen as books that reflect the world we live in and don’t need to be called out for what they are.
  16. What is something that you would like your readers to know about you?
    I’m so incredibly grateful to everyone who has read my books, made them a part of their lives and their families, and shared them with others. I have days where I feel low or insecure or anxious about the future, and alhumdulilah I will get a note or a message or something that reminds me that my work is valued and means something to people, and it makes all the difference in the world to me and keeps me going. Thank you so much for your encouragement and support. I need it more than you know!
Posted in Author Interviews

Author Interview: Alexis York Lumbard

Alexis (Rabiah) Lumbard York is an author of mostly children’s picture books that are aimed at younger readers, but reach readers of all ages. Many of York’s tales have Middle Eastern origins but transcend religious labels, conveying an ethereal sense of the divine that is be accessible to children of many religious and non-religious backgrounds. For more information about York, please visit her website or her featured author page on Wisdom Tales.

Interview Questions were compiled by Ariana Hussain and Hadeal Salamah

  1. If you feel comfortable with this question, how do you identify yourself? (i.e. religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual identity, gender, etc.)
    I feel most comfortable identifying myself as a simple human being. I like the Quranic word
    nafs, or soul, because it is related to your mental state and character and that is what I’d like to be identified the most with–at least that part of us which strives be more–the higher nafs. Outwardly we can be any ethnicity, nationality, gender or orientation–none of which I think matters all that much. It’s the stuff on the inside which matters. But outwardly, yes, I’m American, white, heterosexual and female. My inward life is very much defined by my religion (Islam) but it isn’t the only expression of truth which speaks to me. I guess you can say I am a human trying to enjoy life and not leave too much of a trace, except for those traces which are beautiful and harmless. 
  2. You say on your blog that if it weren’t for motherhood that you would not have become an author and that the books that you wanted to read to your daughters did not exist. Could you expand on this?
    Sure! Over a decade ago, when I was expecting my second daughter and my first was old enough to move from board books to longer stories, I was searching for titles which could expose her to Islam or Muslim characters. I was especially looking for something to teach her about the life of the prophet (peace be upon him) and apart from Demi’s book there was nothing of quality in English. And while Demi’s book is beautiful, it was too mature (too long and too complex) for a young child. So I thought I should write one myself! Haa! I soon realized that writing was difficult. I also realized that I loved the process and kept to it–attending SCBWI conferences and reworking the story. Because it was faith-based I decided to self publish it as an app. It is still one of my favorite books, but it never really took off, I think in part because we chose to illustrate the Prophet visually (face covered, though). At any rate, it was a valuable experience and I hope to resurrect the story in some form shortly.
     
  3. Two of your books The Conference of the Birds and When the Animals Saved the Earth are illustrated by Demi. Demi’s illustration are a perfect pairing to your text, which is so lovely, lyrical and spiritual. Was this a choice that your editor made alone? Did you have any input or was it just a lucky pairing?cover of Conference of the Birds
    Great question. Typically speaking, books are first accepted by a publisher in manuscript form. A writer painstakingly creates a story, submits it to publishers and hopes someone grabs it. It is then the responsibility of the publisher to find an illustrator. Most larger publishers do not seek the input of the author. They have a design team and the design team executes the choice. There are exceptions, though, especially with smaller publishers. In my case this book had many exceptions to the rule, for after I wrote a final draft for The Conference of the Birds, I first contacted Demi and she pounced on it (having always wanted to illustrate the book). She told me to sell it and I did (Wisdom Tales Press, 2012). It was an unusual pathway to publication.
     
  4. The Conference of the Birds and When the Animals Saved the Earth are both based off of Persian Sufi poetry and a century old fable respectively. How did you come to select these works to interpret?
    My husband is an academic. His speciality is Islamic studies, especially classical Islam, so he often feeds me interesting story ideas. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t! I have to be able to first wrap my head around the original story and feel compelled to adapt it for children (and then to figure out how exactly to do that!). I also enjoy browsing academia.edu for ideas, which can lead one in fascinating directions. The site posts more articles than full books, which I find easier to digest.
  5. Your books are very spiritual and sophisticated, yet Conference of the Birds is labeled as being for readers ages 4-8. There is a sense of love for God, humility, and longing. When you have presented the story to younger readers what has their perception been of the story, especially the trials of each of the birds (i.e. the hawk and the partridge)? What do they take away from the book and its message?Image result for conference of the birds york
    It is true that there is a vast world of difference, cognitively and developmentally speaking, from age 4 to 8. This is one of the challenges of picture books. How do we create a story that can be understood and enjoyed by such a wide range of little people? Honestly, when I adapted The Conference of the Birds, it was easier in my mind to focus on the higher end of that age group. But as I toured schools and mosques and read the book to audiences who were closer to the younger end of that spectrum, I realized that little kids can and do understand–though it is more visceral–less “academic.” We stop and talk about the size of the bird or the speed of a bird and how or why that might symbolize some of the ideas presented in the book. They get it. You can see it in their eyes–the way they light up and widen. It is magical to see and has taught me to never underestimate your audience.
     
  6. We talk a lot about windows and mirrors for marginalized readers and readers of color. Where and when did you first see yourself in literature? We recognize that identity is intersectional, so please do list multiple titles, if applicable, that coincide with your identity.
    As a child I wasn’t an avid reader. I read what I needed to–for school and homework–but I didn’t read freely and spontaneously as my own children do. Most of my memories are of playing outside and getting dirty in the creek behind our northern Virginia townhome or as a teen hiking in the Shenandoah mountains. Nature was my favorite book and nature never discriminates. Once I actually converted to Islam (as an older teen–18), I was focused more on academic books–on learning my new religion. So the issue at that time was moot to me. And that was pre-September 11th. The world has changed a great deal since then. But now, as a parent and an author, I’m undoubtedly passionate about intersectional books–fiction and nonfiction–which speak to the wide experience of American Islam. There are more books coming out which reflect this, but it is still a small percentage (then again we’re a tiny group). I’m curious how my own kids would answer this question. Only my eldest, now a teen, remembers what it was like growing up in the states. We currently live outside Dubai and are moving soon to Doha. Both countries are very international. My kids are third culture kids. Back home they are religious minorities. Here they are ethnic minorities. Most of their classmates (who are mostly Arab or South Asian) cannot believe they are “actually Muslim.” Because they are “white” and ‘American.” In a way, we are constantly “explaining” ourselves (overseas and at home). On that level our identities are flexible and I think that is a healthy approach.
     
  7. What other authors and titles in the area of “spirituality” for children do you appreciate or recommend reading? How does their work impact your own?
    Sometimes I find the word “spiritual” to be off-putting. So rather than recommend books which are “spiritual” I think it is much easier to speak of books which are written from the heart (so much less pressure on the writer and the reader). To that end, I highly recommend picture book author and illustrator Leo Lionni, middle grade authors Kate DiCamillo, Pam Munoz Ryan and Sharon M. Draper, and YA authors John Green, Renee Watson, A.S. King, and Jacqueline Woodson. A book which recently brought tears to my eyes is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I love it when a book compels me weep. I also have to give a shout out to Canadian author Rukhsana Khan and British writer Naima B. Roberts–for they write with soul and are true survivors (of this crazy industry called publishing). They give me hope.
     
  8. Do you feel that books featuring Muslims are being created and marketed in a positive way? Are there trends you like or hope will change? For children?
    Yes. On the whole the direction is positive. Children’s book editors are generally speaking some of the kindest, most thoughtful people you will work with–much like librarians! They’re our strongest allies. The only caution I’d give editors and the kidlit world in general is to be careful not to tokenize. Islam is not monolithic and Muslims are complicated human beings just like any other group of people. We are nuanced and diverse–in our beliefs, practices, and make-up. Demographically speaking, the majority of the American Muslim community is not of an recent immigrant background. The majority is 24% white and 24% black–from convert backgrounds. I’d like to see more of their stories, too. I’d also like to see more non-fiction coming out–especially the forgotten history of American Islam from old slave narratives to contemporaries stories about the influence of indigenous Muslim Americans on contemporary American culture.
  9. What is the best feedback that you have received from a reader? What is surprising (good or bad) feedback that you have received about your books?cover of Angels
    I have a really simple concept-book called Angels. I wrote it for toddlers to comfort them before they go to sleep, but I’ve had a quite a few people write to me and tell me how much the story meant to an elderly person in their life–someone who felt alone and was approaching death. If I can bring someone comfort at the end of their life, too, then mashallah…I feel like I’ve done something meaningful… something good. 
  10. As a child what book helped shape your sense of spirituality or your sense of God? As an adult, what books help you to reinforce and grow in spirituality?
    I grew up in a secular, Protestant household. There weren’t many books in my home which shaped my sense of the divine. I was, however, raised on a steady diet of the Berenstain Bears. I still have some of those books. They’re not very well written and can be both hokey and didactic, but something about them always resonated with me. Maybe it goes back to the nature-thing and how I’ve always wanted to live in a tree. They also present a world that is wholesome and family-based and I think that is wonderful. As an adult, my go to spiritual books are often collections of poetry–usual Persian. I love both Rumi and Hafez, but so, too, my namesake, Rabiah (not Persian).
     
  11. What are you reading now?
    I’m finishing up my first YA novel and I’ve been reading a ton of academic journals and online blogs about the history of religious and white supremacy in the United States. It’s very depressing. On a positive note, I’m reading Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson via my kindle. Strong women who have known struggle give me hope. Hope and strength. Such qualities are needed. Especially in our current political climate.
  12. What books are on your #Muslimshelfspace?
    I read and support everyone, especially the ladies. In no particular order here’s a sampling: Samira Ahmed, Randa Abdel-Fattah, S.K. Ali, Sadiya Faruqi, Karuna Riazi,  Nayyirah Waheed, Uzma Jalaluddin, Ilyasah Shabazz, Hena Khan, Intinsar Khanani, G. Willow Wilson and Jamilah Thompkins Bigelow. Now these are the contemporary kidlit authors. We’ve got lots of books in Arabic, too. Mostly from the past. For that I’d have to take up a lot more of your time!
     
  13. What do your children think about your books?
    They are wonderfully supportive and age-wise they span all the genres I love working with from picture book to Middle Grade to Young Adult. My eldest is a teen and she’s a fine critic of everything–my own work included.
     
  14. What are you working on next?
    Big secret! But it will be my first non-fiction series and the main character is a horse. A very, very smart horse.
  15. What is the best way to support Muslim authors, agents, editors, librarians and those involved in creating Muslim literature?
    Read, read, read. Seriously, put your money and your time where it matters the most–the future of our kids.
     
  16. What do you hope the literature world looks like for Muslims in the coming years? In 20 years?
    I hope it is thriving. And I hope a Muslim wins the Newbery Medal and another the Caldecott (seriously, where are all the Muslim illustrators?) and that we become heroes and role models for non-Muslims, too. I’d also like to see Muslims putting money toward writing grants and scholarships. Writers need all kinds of support. Mosques should support these endeavors, too. 
  17. How do you hope your work can impact the Muslim community? How do you hope your work can impact perceptions of Muslims?
    I few years back at RIS (Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference) I met a young Somali girl who wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She also wanted to take a photo with me (and I with her!). I hope that I meet her again, in ten to fifteen years, and see that she has made it. In short, I’d love to see that work that I do and others like me continues to inspire younger Muslims to share their voice and their stories. I hope this has a ripple effect with society at large so people stop seeing us as boogeymen.
     
  18. Are there any words of wisdom that you would like to pass on to young writers?
    Don’t limit yourself to one genre. Try your hand at a genre you don’t even read. The best parts of life are “accidental” discoveries. You are capable of so much more than you think. 
  19. What is something that you would like your readers to know about you?
    I know what it is like to approach a group of strangers and to have them give you the cold shoulder for no reason at all (at least not a valid one). I know what it is like to learn a second language and to be laughed at when you’re struggling to communicate. I know what it like to move far from home and start over–broken and hurt. But I also know that all of these things can make you stronger…even if it doesn’t feel like it. Don’t give up. Don’t quiet down. Always be you. That in itself is a wonderful gift to the rest of us. We need your story–all the bits–good, beautiful and still-in-the-making.