Posted in Books

Favorite Books of 2019

This list represents some of our favorite Children’s and Young Adult books that we read and were published in 2019. We chose these works based on their thoughtful and nuanced treatment of Muslims and Islam.

Picture Books

Image of Picture Book - My Grandma and Me

Javaherbin, Mina. My Grandma and Me. Illustrated by Lindsey Yankey. 32 pp. Candlewick. March 2019. Tr. $16.99. ISBN 9780763694944 

The narrator recalls her childhood growing up in Iran with her beloved grandmother, who lives with the family. Original Review published in November/December 2019 issue of Horn Book.

Image of picture book, Under My Hijab, by Hena Khan

Khan, Hena. Under My Hijab. Illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel. 32 p. Lee & Low Books. January 2019. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781620147924.

A young girl looks at different women in her family and community and who they are in their public and professional lives while wearing hijab and private moments when they do not. Aaliya Jaleel’s illustrations depict empowered women and girls of various ages, body shapes, and skin tones, going through their day and also relaxing in situations in which they don’t cover. A much-needed book that demystifies the lives of hijab-wearers and shows that hijab doesn’t preclude women from actively participating in public life and living their lives to the fullest extent.

The Gift of Ramadan picture book imageLumbard, Rabiah York. The Gift of Ramadan. Illustrated by Laura K. Horton. 32 p. Albert Whitman & Company. April 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807529065.

Sophia is excited to try fasting for Ramadan, wanting to achieve the “sparkly” heart of a fasting person, but learns that it is harder than she expected. Lumbard captures the joy and essence of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims, and what it looks like in many Muslim households. The love and tenderness between Sophia and her grandmother are palpable and her grandmother provides important lessons in growth-mindset for children. Sophia learns that Ramadan incorporates much more than fasting, including other acts of worship such as reading the Quran, charity, kindness, and caring for others. A beautifully illustrated, wonderful intergenerational read. 

Muhammad, Ibtihaj. (With S.K. Ali.)The Proudest Blue. Illustrated by Hatem Aly. 40 p. Little, Brown. September 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9780316519007

Image of the picture book, "The Proudest Blue"The first day that a young woman wears a hijab requires a scarf befitting the momentous occasion. Fortunately, Asiya finds just the perfect scarf that’s the “brightest blue” and “color of the ocean” while on a shopping trip with her mother and younger sister, Faizah, who serves as the narrator of this inspiring story. Throughout Asiya’s first day of wearing a hijab, Faizah admires her beauty, confidence, and resilience in the face of questions and taunts from classmates, and imagines a day when she too will be a “princess in hijab.” The all-too-common experience of Islamophobia in the schoolyard setting is addressed with courage and strength. The combination of Muhammad and Ali’s prose with Hatem Aly’s brightly colored illustrations, makes The Proudest Blue a beautifully executed celebration of the everyday experiences of Muslim families and a delightfully authentic representation of a part of the Black American Muslim experience.

Sullivan, Rosana. Mommy Sayang. 48 p. Disney Press. April 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781368015905. Image of the picture book, "Mommy Sayang"

Aleeya and her “Mommy Sayang” (dear mommy), enjoy their daily lives in their Malaysian kampung (village), doing daily chores, watering plants, and spending time with friends and family. Aleeya is always by mommy’s side whether it is staying by her during her five daily prayers or in her dreams while eating curry puffs. But when Aleeya’s mommy gets sick she spends time alone and tries to come up with a way to make her mommy feel better. Doing some minor research into this book led to other sketches depicting a separation between mother and child, with imagery that suggests a longer period of being alone, rather than a temporary stay, which made the fact that this is a semi-autobiographical picture book, a debut from Pixar artist Sullivan, a bit more heartbreaking. As it is, this is a beautiful book to share with a child that might be experiencing separation from a parent due to illness. Few picture books depict the Malay Muslim experience, this is a welcome addition to the cannon.

Early Readers 

Image of Early Reader, "Yasmin the Superhero".Faruqi, Saadia. Yasmin Series. Illustrated by Hatem Aly. 96p. Capstone. 2018-2019 Pb. $7.95. ISBN 9781684360222 (Meet Yasmin!) 

Yasmin, a second-grade Pakistani American, is curious and creative. She loves to solve problems. From creating a map of her neighborhood in “Yasmin the Explorer” to using her mother’s hijabs, saris, and a new kameez to put on a fashion show in “Yasmin the Fashionista,” Yasmin has many adventures. She doesn’t always have the answer or knows exactly what to do, but takes time to think, discover and create. Aly uses bold, bright colors to portray Yasmin and her multi-generational Pakistani American Muslim family. 

Nuurali, Siman. Sadiq and the Green Thumbs. Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar. 64 p. Capstone. August 2019. Tr $6.95. ISBN 9781515845676.

Cover image of Sadiq and the Green Thumbs early readerSadiq and the Green Thumbs is part of an early reader series about a 9-year-old Somali American Muslim boy who lives with his family in Minnesota. In this volume, the arrival of summer signifies the end of the school year, but not for Sadiq and his Muslim friends who will be attending Quran school four days a week. Sadiq is not a fan of his teacher, Mr. Kassim, because he is strict and never seems to smile. So when Mr. Kassim asks for help, Sadiq turns away. Through the example of his mother, father, and brother, Sadiq learns an important lesson about helping others. One of the few works which feature a Black Muslim family.

Middle Grade

Cover image of More to the Story by Hena KhanKhan, Hena. More to the Story. 272 p. Simon and Schuster/Salaam Reads. September 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781481492096.

In a novel inspired by Little Women, thirteen-year-old Pakistani American Jameela Mirza, the second oldest of four sisters and an aspiring journalist, lives with her family in Atlanta. Original Review published in September/October 2019 issue of Horn Book.

Warga, Jasmine. Other Words for Home. 352 p. HarperCollins Children’s. May 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9780062747808.Cover image of Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga.

Life in a tourist town on the Syrian coast has been good to Jude and her family; watching videos of American movies, singing, and hanging out with her best friend at her father’s store are some of her favorite pastimes. As the Syrian civil war intensifies throughout the country, however, change is in the air, and the future in their hometown seems uncertain. The decision is made that Jude and her mother must leave Syria, and her father and brother behind, to live with extended family in Ohio. In the United States, Jude learns what it means to be brave and to call a place home. In breathtaking prose, this novel-in-verse brilliantly explores myriad topics, including the complexity of the Syrian conflict, immigration, and what it means to Muslim and Middle Eastern in contemporary America.

Young Adult

Cover Image of Internment by Samira Ahmed.*Ahmed, Samira. Internment. 400p. Little, Brown. Mar. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316522694.

“Exclusion laws” imposed by an Islamophobic president have upended the lives of Muslims across the United States, including Layla’s. Removed from school for her own good by her parents, Layla circumvents state-imposed curfews to see her boyfriend, David, who is Jewish. When she and her family and other Muslims are rounded up by the authorities and forced to live in an internment camp in the California desert, Layla learns what it means to survive—and to fight. This cautionary tale for our times draws parallels between the situation Muslim Americans face today and the horrors of the Japanese American internment.

*Ali, S.K. Love From A to Z. 352 p. Simon and Schuster Bks./Salaam Reads. May 2019. Tr. $18.99. ISBN 9781534442726.Cover Image of Love from A to Z
Two Muslim students, Zayneb and Adam, meet during their spring break in Doha, Qatar. Zayneb, a high school, lives in Indiana and has an Islamophobic teacher. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Adam, a college student in London, stopped attending his classes. Both write their thoughts and experiences in journals divided into sections on Marvels and Oddities. This is a poignant love story between two practicing Muslims who stay true to themselves and to their beliefs.

Cover image of The Weight of Our Sky*Alkaf, Hanna. The Weight of Our Sky. 288p. Salaam Reads. February 2019. Tr. $18.99. ISBN 9781534426085.

Set during the Malaysian race riots of 1969, sixteen-year-old Melati struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, believing that she is being tormented by a djinn whose threats against her mother can only be appeased with counting rituals. When actual violence arises between ethnic Malays, Chinese, and Indians in Kuala Lumpur, Melati feels that her fears will manifest. A powerful and raw exploration of mental illness in relation to religious beliefs, Malaysian history, and rising above prejudice and hate.

*Azad, Nafiza. The Candle and the Flame. 416p. Scholastic. May 2019. Tr $18.99. 9781338306040.Cover Image of the Candle and the Flame

Fatima is human but carries the fire of the djinn within her. She lives in Noor, a vibrant, multicultural city along the Silk Road that has risen from the ashes of destruction by the Shayateen but faces threats to its existence. Azad seamlessly blends Islamic concepts and Middle Eastern mythology with a cornucopia of other traditions to create a magical musing on identity, community, friendship, love, and loss.

Cover image of "All American Muslim Girl".Courtney, Nadine Jolie. All-American Muslim Girl. 432p. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. November 2019. $17.99 ISBN 9780374309527.

Circassian American Alia, known as Allie, passes as white and doesn’t face the same Islamophobia her father does, to her shame and his relief. But despite fitting in well at her new school, where she has developed mutual feelings for Wells Henderson, the perfect “all-American” boy, Allie longs to connect to her heritage and her religion. As she explores more about Islam, however, the reactions from those closest to her leave her wondering if she will ever truly fit in or belong. The complexity of identity is fully developed in this narrative and builds space for Muslims to explore intersectional identity. Courtney examines ideas about Islam, Muslim women, Islamic feminism, sexuality, apologetics, foibles, and complexity of character with finesse. Characters and discussion in the book speak to outsider critiques of Islam, but also insider critiques, calls for reform and oversimplification. Muslim women throughout the book, including Allie’s relatives, her friends, herself, and her mother who converted to Islam, have agency and counter stereotypes of Muslim women as naive and dependent on men. 

Khan, Sabina. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali. 326p. Scholastic. January 2019. $17.99 ISBN 9781338227017. Cover image for "The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali"

When Bangladeshi-American teen Rukhsana is caught kissing her white girlfriend, Ariana, her parents are livid. Under the pretext of visiting her sick grandmother, Rukhsana travels with her parents to Dhaka only to find that they plan to get her engaged. In her efforts to escape and take control of her life, she finds support in others, including in her grandmother, who reveals her own traumatic history, and in an observant Muslim cousin, among others. When tragedy strikes, Rukhsana must decide what she can bear to hold onto, while Ariana and her other white female friends must learn to understand Rukhsana’s upbringing and culture, and how both are inextricably tied to who she is. Khan’s descriptions of Dhaka and elements of Bangladeshi culture and family are beautiful and examine the hard truth of how queer people of color and Muslims can be cut off from when coming out. Khan avoids depicting Islam as the sole driving force behind her parents’ actions, instead considering how culture, religion, tradition, gender roles, and community expectations and judgment play into acceptance, oppression, and violence.  

Graphic Novels

Cover Image of Satoko and NadaYupechika and Marie Nishimori. Satoko and Nada. 128 p. Seven Seas. June 2019. $12.99. ISBN 9781626929852.

Originally published by Kodansha in 2017, with two volumes of the manga translated in the United States, Satoko and Nada is the story of two roommates, a Japanese national, Satoko, and a Saudi Arabian national, Nada, who live together and study in the United States. Episodic, and written for a Japanese audience, stories create an opportunity for Satoko, who knows little about Islam, to learn from Nada about both religion and culture while reflecting on her own Japanese culture. Some of Nada’s explanations of Islam and culture are framed by her Saudi Arabian identity and are generalized at times. Overall, however, the work is warm-hearted and a gentle experience of cross-cultural learning. Yupechika is the primary author and illustrator, while Marie Nishimori is cited as a supervisor. Nishimori’s credits list her as being a journalist, who majored in comparative psychology at Cairo University in Egypt, and a Muslim. Yupechika includes in the second volume, her trip to Saudi Arabia, her interactions with students in her drawing/manga classes, and her reflections of the trip.

Non-Fiction

Mir, Saira. Illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel. Muslim Girls Rise: Inspirational Champions of Our Time. 48. Simon and Schuster/Salaam Reads. October 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534418882.Cover image of Muslim Girls Rise

Nineteen illustrated biographical profiles of Muslim women of different nationalities and national origins in various fields from science, education, fashion, sports, entertainment, politics, and activism. There is a strong sense of continuity, asserting that Muslim women have always been extraordinary, empowered and have a place and right amongst other women throughout history who persevere, contribute, and change the world for the better. Though the women included are of various national origin, most are American.

Cover Image of I Am the Night SkyNext Wave Muslim Initiative Writers. I Am the Night Sky & Other Reflections by Muslim American Youth. 192pp. Shout Mouse. May 2019. $14.99 ISBN 9781945434938.

An anthology of short stories, poems, and collages by ten Muslim American teens in the greater Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area highlights everyday realities and expressions of identity and faith. Writers take pride in asserting multiple identities and questioning assumptions about race, gender, colorism, assimilation, immigration, and positivity around religion.

Yousafzai, Malala. We Are Displaced. 212 p. Little, Brown and Company. January 2019. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316523646.

Malala’s story is now known across the world. However, this work shines a light on other girls and women who have known the trials of war.Malala journeys across the world meeting others, including other Muslims, who have become displaced due to violence. The stories accounted for are spoken from a place of anguish for what was lost but can be at times filled with hope for what has become. 

*Annotations for titles with an asterisk first appeared in the School Library Journal article, “Muslims in YA”

Posted in Reviews

“Great Books” article in School Library Journal

 

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to highlight some recent Young Adult (YA) titles for School Library Journal (SLJ)

The criteria for the SLJ list were YA titles published within the last year or two that had Muslim protagonists and/or authors. Typically, these types of SLJ articles highlight 10-12 titles. 

We looked at two dozen possible titles, narrowing the list down to 14, to include different genres/formats, publishers, and a range of authors of different racial and ethnic identities. 

In the article, we mentioned the lack of African American protagonists in the works of fiction. 

Another observation was that most titles feature female protagonists. 

Two of the titles on the list include male protagonists, one who is perceived as being Muslim because of his family background but does not identify as a Muslim.

We know that Islam has been racialized; even if someone doesn’t identify as a Muslim, or practice the religion, because of their ancestry, nationality, or ethnicity, islamophobia and bigotry can still affect them. 

While we hope that this piece is helpful in identifying titles of interest, it’s not comprehensive, nor is it meant to be.

You can find it here.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave us a comment.

 

Posted in Author Interviews

Interview with Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Mommy’s Khimar was one of our favorite books published in 2018. We had the wonderful opportunity to have a conversation with the author, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, this past fall.

jamilah-thompkins-bigelow-2120035660

What follows is a transcript of our conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Hadeal: 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?

Jamilah: When did I first see a book that mirrored me? I think I was in fourth grade when I felt that I really found a book that reflected my experience, it was called The Shimmershine Queens, I don’t think it’s very well known but I kept it for a long time, it’s by Camille Yarbrough. And I liked that book because it dealt with different things like colorism. It’s about two black girls and one black girl was getting picked on a lot; she had even gotten into a fight. It was in an urban environment as well, which was something that I could connect to – knowing kids who got into fights and went to urban schools and lived in apartments and were black.

I hadn’t seen a book like that before. Before that, in all the books that I read, there were white kids who lived in the ‘burbs and not using the kind of language that was in the book it just changed my worldview for a little bit. So that was my first experience.

Then a lot in high school, when I first discovered Maya Angelou — I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Toni Morrison – those books helped me to see myself.

One thing I didn’t see when I was growing up were books about Muslims. It was just not something that I saw at all. Some titles that are out right now that coincide with my identity, definitely Saints and Misfits is one that represents a young Muslim teen. I still remember that scene where she is feeling embarrassed in the opening of the book because she was in a burkini and she’s swimming at the beach and she doesn’t want to come out and be stared at. I know that feeling, so that is definitely one. Ilyasah Shabazz has a few things out that I think are good mirrors as well. Jacqueline Woodson always, she always has some great work that reflects that experience of being a Black girl. I love Brown Girl Dreaming very much. I’m sure I’m missing so much I could name; we could be here all day going from picture books to YA.

Judy Blume also wrote a lot of books that I loved growing up. I read everything by her. I could connect and relate to the characters, but those books were definitely windows for me in a lot of ways because of their living situations; they were always white, so it wasn’t something I was used to.

Mahasin: I wish I had known about The Shimmershine Queens because I was reading Sweet Valley High. (laughs) When did you decide to be a writer and what inspired you to write Mommy’s Khimar?

Jamilah: I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a writer someday, growing up, as a child, but I just kind of shoved that dream away as not being very practical. And so I didn’t really do it for a long time. I published a few things here and there but it was nothing serious. But then I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, with lupus, and it made me focus a lot, I had to focus my energy on what I wanted to do with my time. I hadn’t thought about writing for children until I was actually in a Facebook group. This story is a little weird to me because I feel like I should have some mind-blowing, great source of inspiration. But actually, my inspiration was being in a Muslim Moms group where most of the moms were African American and the moms just complaining about a lack of books for Muslim black kids that they could share with their children, books that talked about our history and stuff like that. It was just the weirdest feeling because all of a sudden I started having all of these ideas, thinking, “I could write a book about this or that” and kept jotting down different ideas for books that I wish I had as a kid or that I wanted for my own children.

Mommy’s Khimar was one of my ideas – and I felt like I needed to do something related to hijab. It’s one of the most seen things but one of the least understood aspects of Islam. I felt like people would want a book about hijab, but it kind of was bothering me that I felt like you had to write a book about hijab, there was an urge to write it – that you have to write it because I know all of the things, there is so much pressure to write the book and the conversation is often fraught. And writing a book about hijab, what kinds of expectations would people have about it? What kind of language would they want us to use? Do I have to defend it? Do I really feel like defending it? I came to a point in my life where I was like, “I just like wearing hijab and I am going to wear it anyway.” And even the language, you know, “khimar,” there were just a lot of those things. When I sat down to write it I was just like, “what if I wrote a story that didn’t really match the expectations that people wanted in a book about hijab. What if I just wrote a story about it as if I’m writing it for the Muslim kids that I know, especially the Black Muslim kids I know and ignore the other pressures and expectations?” That’s where Mommy’s Khimar came from. I thought, who was I as a little girl and how did I look at khimar, and as a little girl we called it a khimar. So how did I look at that? And I remembered playing with my mom’s khimars and seeing it that way, there wasn’t all this political stuff around it, it was just these beautiful pieces of cloth and I thought, I wanted to write the story I wanted to write. I don’t really want to write a defense or something like that.

Mahasin: I think that’s what makes the book so great is that it’s not a defense. I think I wrote that up in my review of the book, is that what is left out of it is also what makes it so great because it just is. You don’t have to defend it. You don’t have to make it an issue. It just is.

That leads into the next question which is. We have read about some of your work as an anti-racist advocate with MuslimARC and we were wondering how your activism is translated into your writing? We noticed that there a few points in the book that challenged stereotypes about Muslims, for example, the Arabic teacher being a Black woman. I was thinking, “Yes! We can be Arabic teachers! So I was hoping you could talk about if that work translated into the content of the book if it did.

Jamilah: It did. So, one of the reasons I joined MuslimARC, of the different reasons, was because I felt like there was erasure of Black Muslims, within the conversation around American Muslims whenever there is any representation of Muslims, it is as if we don’t even exist. There are always immigration stories and not people who are African American and that legacy. So I wanted it to be the blackest thing ever. I wanted there to be no doubt whatsoever. I was so happy to see that the mother and daughter are dark-skinned, the family is dark-skinned and yes, there is no doubt, no question that these characters are Black Muslims with textured hair. You know, some of the things I wanted to put in with the way of putting on khimar with all of the plaits, I wanted it to be unmistakably Black.

Mahasin: It is a beautiful thing.

Hadeal: That leads into the next question, like we have said what is great about Mommy’s Khimar is the text and illustrations and how well they work together. In a way you can’t have one without the other, it is almost impossible to read them separately because they compliment each other and flow so well. Can you tell us a little bit about your collaboration with Ebony Glenn. You had mentioned that you wanted your characters to be unmistakably Black. Did you have to emphasize this to the illustrator? How did you work on this together? A separate question is: the color yellow stands out so much throughout the text and the illustrations. Did you choose that?

Jamilah: So the first question, the answer to which, is always shocking to people is there isn’t really much collaboration with the artist at all. This is my first children’s book so I didn’t realize how much of a lack of collaboration there would be. The process is really that I had my editor and there is the art director, and they really act as the mediators who are having the conversation and they did not want me to direct. Which is common with these big publishing houses is that they don’t want the author to direct much and the reason why is because you have to see the illustrator as an artist too and at times an author can be very limiting.

I think if I had had more ability to talk about what I wanted it would not have come out as well because I am not a visual artist, I’m a writer. I was very surprised by how well she did and how much she got it. And really it was just a couple of times that I gave a little bit of feedback and that was to the editor who talked to the art director who talked to Ebony. So they just kind of kept us separate so she could create in her own space and it just worked out really well. Zareen Jaffery who is the editor at Salaam Reads is just an amazing editor, she really listened. She really wants to depict the diversity of the Muslim community with Salaam Reads and I think that is why it came out the way that it did.

The yellow color, I chose yellow because it was sunshiney. That was pretty much it. When I had first started out with the book I had chosen read because I like red. But it felt stalling, like, no this book isn’t going anywhere. But when she wears mommy’s khimar she can be the sun and that really changed a lot, there was so much she could do with the color yellow.

Mahasin: I would have never guessed that you and Ebony had been so limited in contact. In my mind, you two were on the phone, like, vibing off both being Black. That’s really interesting. Thank you for that. So our next question is: how do you hope that your work can impact the Muslim community? And how do you hope that it may affect perceptions of Muslims?

Jamilah: For me, I really do write for Muslim kids, especially Black Muslim kids. I’m just hoping that they have books. That I can give them more books. That they can see themselves as worthy as being celebrated and that our stories are worth being told. And a lot of times kids may not feel like their stories are worth being told or are as important as people from mainstream and dominant culture, because all the stories seem to be about them. When I think back to when I was a little girl, and I wanted to be a writer then and I was writing a lot of stories about white kids, because what I was reading in books was white kids. They were never Muslim because that was not what happened in books, right? And it was very important to me to have our books, not only in Muslim shops but also in the public library, at Barnes & Noble, in those places to kind of say, “you know what? This is an acceptable identity, and your story is worth being told.” So that’s really the hope with the writing that I do, that our kids see themselves there. And you know, the book is a window and I do want to let other people in to see this culture and to appreciate it as well.

Mahasin: What is the best feedback that you have received from a reader and what has been the reception in your community?

Jamilah: So, the best feedback was someone who told me that they got emotional when they read the part about the grandmother and that the grandmother also got emotional reading the book. People saw themselves and cried. This was their book. This was their family’s book and that was special to them.

Mahasin: That is one of my favorite parts in the book. I loved all of the book but I was at work when our copy came in and I was flipping through it and when I got to the part with the grandmother saying, “Sweet Jesus,” I started to tear up because it felt so personal. I felt like, this is somebody who gets my story and gets my life. So I’m not surprised to hear that. Sorry, I sort of cut into your answer. Has the reception in the community been very positive?

Jamilah: It’s been positive. It’s a little surreal because I have been waiting for that really negative review to come in and someone saying something about it and I haven’t gotten that. I’m sure that there are some Islamophobes and bigots, that if they see it, they have comments for it but I haven’t gotten that from, pretty much anyone. It’s been so amazing to get that much positive feedback and really with some of the major critics, like starred reviews and things like that. I keep waiting for something to happen, but wow, I am in awe of the whole thing.

Hadeal: How did you decide which settings/vignettes to include, for example, the masjid, with the little girl and all the Muslim ladies looking at her and her hijab, her khimar, and there is also the scene at home with her father, who is embracing her and holding her up.

Jamilah: I just wanted to show this girl going through her day. And this is why the settings came about, thinking about the people a child would be interacting with. I wanted people to see everything, to see her father and the people in the mosque, that was really important to me and the settings really fall into place with those things. In a lot of ways I wrote this book as a poem at first, and there was a pattern to the little girl interacting with people and then those things start to take on settings, so that is really where that came from.

So as far as being based on people, the grandmother is definitely is my kids’ grandmother, my mother-in-law. She says, “sweet Jesus” all of the time. She was the person that I had in mind for that character. The little girl is really kind of me as a little girl. I was really very active (laughs).  And the dad is kind of my father, he was really the kind of dad that would snatch me up and give me a kiss, that kind of thing. The mother…so this is the thing that people don’t expect, my mother didn’t actually wear hijab full-time, she wore khimar to the mosque, so it’s a little weird to write about a mother wearing khimar every day, since it wasn’t really my experience, so she wasn’t really based on my mother. Though my mother had a lot of nice khimars and I did play with those.

Mahasin: You told us a little bit about the publishing process with the artists, but we were wondering if you could tell us about whether you intended to publish with a mainstream publisher or did you consider self-publishing or publishing with an Islamic publishing company? Were there other publishers that you looked at? How did you come to work with Salaam Reads?

Jamilah: A friend told me about Salaam Reads because she knew that I was writing children’s books at the time and I was kind of experimenting with my writing and ideas. And then there was the call from Salaam Reads, so I submitted directly to them. I had talked about a few things and they accepted Mommy’s Khimar. And that was really how I got started.

I didn’t really go through the process like a lot of writers do, applying and submitting and then getting rejection after rejection. I am kind of in that phase right now. There are some things that are coming down the pipeline and I can’t talk about them yet, but in 2020 I think you might see some cool things coming out. Having my work accepted by Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster really made me feel like I should continue to submit to mainstream publishers. Kids deserve to see their books on library shelves and in bookstores, not just on Amazon. They deserve to have their books illustrated by the best illustrators that are out there, that are in the industry. That is really why I have stayed on this sort of path and in that direction.

I think that there is always a space for self-publishing and I am considering doing some more Islamic books through self-publishing – when you are doing things for the mainstream, you’re doing anything that proselytizes or is Islamically pedagogical, so that is a reason why I would do something in self-publishing/Islamic publishers. But as far as telling stories about Muslims with Muslim kids in them, it is worth trying; it is worth the effort to get it into the mainstream.

Hadeal: Definitely. And thank you for that, whether it is independent or big publishing, to keep trying is so important. As a child, I would have loved to see Muslim characters and really anything to do with Islam. We’re seeing some Ramadan books in younger children’s books, going to the mosque, and we are seeing more voices in YA, but this is amazing and I hope that it continues to grow and that more people see the need for it.

Paired with that question, we understand that you had to work closely with Zareen Jaffery (editor at Salaam Reads/Simon& Schuster) but not with the illustrator. Was there anything you had to edit out of the book or in general, that you feel that there are specifics that Muslim writers are pressured to include or not include in their narratives?

Jamilah: I don’t think Zareen is someone who wants you (the writer) to edit out that Muslim voice. She was really encouraging in including that “Muslimness.” Salaam Reads is very clear that they don’t want proselytizing books, and I wanted to write that book to be a representation of a Muslim family, and didn’t want to write in things like, “Allah commands us to wear hijab and read the Qur’an,” but that is not the place for it. There is a place for that and a place of just being. I guess there is that pressure if that is your intention, but I understand that that is not going to be a mainstream, general thing. Just like I wouldn’t go to a bookstore and expect to see books on display in the Children’s section that are encouraging my kids to be Christian, that’s not really what’s going to be on the bookshelves there.

Mahasin: What books are on your #Muslimshelfspace? Are they books that you would encourage others to check out? And it’s fine if they are not published by a major publisher.

Jamilah: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi is on my shelf. Going to shout out all the Salaam Reads people! Salaam Alaikum (Harris J), Rashad’s Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr (Lisa Bullard), Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie (Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins), Golden Domes and Silvers Lanterns (Hena Khan) such a beautiful book! I have a lot of children’s books because I love reading Children’s books and it’s part of being a children’s writer. Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip Hop in the United States by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is an adult title that I have. Also, children’s X by Ilysah Shabazz.

Mahasin: Have you read Betty before X yet? Ilysah Shabazz’s newest book.

Jamilah: No, not yet! I will check it out.

Hadeal: What do you hope the literature world looks like for Muslims in the coming years?

Jamilah: I just hope that there is a broad array of literature for Muslims, even books that I might not necessarily like and care for, but they are different expressions of Muslimness. There may be some books that don’t really go along with how I express or view Islam or being a Muslim. But I think that there should be a variety, a diversity of texts, diversities of the cultures that are represented by American Muslims, the diversity of the practices. There should not be a single story all the time about what Muslims are. So if we could get that, that range, that would make me happy.

Mahasin: Are there any words of wisdom that you would like to pass down to young writers or other Muslim writers?

Jamilah: Shoot high. Submit your work to the big five publishers. Your stories are worth being in these places. Don’t lower the bar or your standards. Take your time to learn craft and industry standards of writers. Muslim people deserve high-quality books, just as any other people do. There are so many resources, especially free resources, that are available for those who want to write children’s books, picture books, and novels. You don’t necessarily need to invest thousands of dollars to learn how to do it. Take it seriously though. You can write those books, you never know if they will be best sellers but we need to shoot high.

Hadeal: This interview may be read by librarians and other library professionals. Is there anything you want to say to those librarians that are responsible for getting books into the hands of children?

Jamilah: Fight for the kids that are in your libraries, your readers, fight to have them be represented. Buy those books; support those books. Care about those kids that come in every day and think about what they might not be seeing on the bookshelves.

*Photograph by Michael E. Gray, Jr.

Posted in Reviews

Hats of Faith by Medeia Cohan

Cohan, Medeia. Hats of Faith. Walsh, Sarah, Illus. Picture Book. Chronicle Books, 08/2018. 12 pp. $9.99. 978-1-4521-7320-7. Ages 2-5

Review by Mahasin Abuwi Aleem

Not too long ago, I received a wonderful gift of a book that I’d been eagerly waiting to get my hands on: Hats of Faith, written by Medeia Cohen and illustrated by Sarah Walsh.

(Thanks to Chronicle Books for sending copies our way!)

In the past year or so, images of Muslim women wearing headscarves in popular media have increased exponentially; I assumed a Muslim woman would be included and couldn’t wait to see how it would be done.

Would the headscarf be called a hijab, khimar, or something else?

What style of covering will be?

Would the diversity of the Muslim community be represented in illustrations?

 

I was immediately struck by the cover: there are people of various hues wearing a variety of head coverings (ot none at all), including a dark-skinned woman wearing a scarf wrapped upward and a pair of gold-colored hoop earrings, an image that resonates with me, but isn’t often represented when Muslim women are depicted.

Hats of Faith begins with a simple introduction, “Many religious people share the custom of covering their heads to show their love for God.”

The work includes brightly colored illustrations of nine distinct individuals wearing headcoverings that reflect their faith traditions. Simple text at the top of each page, above each individual’s head, explains the name of each “hat” and who wears it.

I admit that it took me some time to figure out how I felt about the term “hat” being used for the variety of religious head coverings that exist. Ultimately, I came to feel the same way about the term as the author does, that the word makes a lot of sense for teaching about diversity in head coverings to young children.

Men and women from the Sikh, Muslim, and Jewish faiths are depicted, as well as a Rastafarian man. Interspersed throughout the work are the illustrations of three individuals wearing head coverings attributed to Muslims.

The first illustration in the book and of a Muslims is of a young woman with light beige colored skin and dark colored eyebrows and long lashes. Her “hat” is a soft pink scarf which is draped around her ears, neck, and falls softly over one shoulder. A white under scarf peeks out from beneath the pink scarf, above her forehead. “This is a Hijab (he-jaab), which many Muslim women wear,” the text states.

The second illustration of a Muslim is of a medium brown-skinned male with a thick grey beard, who appears to be at least middle-aged. His “hat” is white with grey stripes and sits snugly upon his head. The accompanying text reads: “And this is a Topi (Tou-pi), which many South Asian Muslim men wear.”

 

The last illustration in the book is of a dark-brown skinned woman who wears a multi-colored scarf which is wrapped up and tucked into a neat bun, except for a few small barely noticeable pieces of hair which frame her face. She also wears a necklace and matching hoop earrings. The text above her states, “And this is a Head Wrap, which many African Christian and Muslim women wear.” This illustration, the last in the book, is the only one to use a head covering to represent more than one religious tradition.

Both the dedication page included at the end of Hats of Faith and the book’s accompanying website acknowledge the help of people and experts of various faiths who helped make the book possible. Their help is clearly manifested in the authentic details included in each illustration: the white under scarf on the woman wearing the “hijab” and the manner in which her scarf is draped over her shoulder; the well-kempt beard and warm eyes of the Topi wearer, remind me of many a South Asian “Uncle” I’ve known, as do the color and jewelry worn by the woman in the African head wrap. I particularly liked that the authors noted that head wraps are worn by both Christian and Muslim women.

Overall, Hats of Faith does an excellent job representing the diversity of Muslims in such a short work. Still, I would have preferred that the authors be a bit more precise with their language. For example, it would have been better to write, “And this is a Head Wrap, which Christian and Muslim women of African descent wear” instead of “And this is a Head Wrap, which many African Christian and Muslim women wear”. It’s a very particular distinction, but one that is infinitely more accurate: women of the African diaspora can be found wearing this style all over the world.

I would have also liked for a wider diversity of words for the first Muslim woman’s head covering to have been included; “hijab” just isn’t the only word used for a Muslim woman’s headscarf and it isn’t used for only one style of scarf. It’s time that literature reflects that. If the first image in the book is supposed to represent a woman of a particular ethnicity or region who might call her headscarf a “hijab”, it would have been better to state that. Furthermore, some Muslim women who wear their scarves wrapped in an up-do such as the woman illustrated in this book, would certainly call their own “head wraps”, hijabs.

In the FAQs on their website, the team behind the book notes that they hope to issue a future edition that includes other head coverings; perhaps that edition can also include the diversity of names used for the head covering worn by Muslim women.

Hats of Faith is recommended as a good introduction some commonalities between faith traditions. Children and adults alike will enjoy finding and discussing the similarities between the various “hats”. The “hijab” depicted in the book is strikingly similar to the “Chunni” worn by a Sikh woman in the book and the “Head Wrap” is very similar to the “Tichel” worn by the Orthodox Jewish woman in the book, which is part of the beauty of the book.

The book concludes: “Learning about each other makes it easy to be more understanding. Being understanding helps us spread love and peace.” Agreed!

 

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.