Posted in Blog Posts, Books

Ramadan Reads: Recommended Books

Ramadan Reads

In 2019 we did a series of Instagram posts of kidlit books about Ramadan. This year we have curated and updated our list to include new titles and our favorites. Books are listed by format and in alphabetical order by title.

Picturebooks

Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie: A Celebration of African American Muslim Culture by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins: At Bashirah’s Islamic school all of the students will bring in a dish to share after Eid to celebrate Muslim cultural diversity. Her classmates, Mustafa and Fatima, will bring jollof rice and biryani respectively; Bashirah decides to bring bean pie, a family recipe that her Pop-pop is teaching her. Her family gets together for Eid prayers, all beautifully dressed and then return home for food: fried chicken, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and green beans, while Bashirah and Pop-pop make bean pie together. Bashirah’s father calls the family together for dhur prayers where “three generations of Muslims—aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents-all prayed together.” Bashirah takes food to share with a neighbor and the family enjoys Bashirah’s very first bean pie. At school, Bashirah proudly brings in her pie, and teacher Nafisah reminds the students that Allah made us into nations, encourages us to get to know each other, and that no Muslim is elevated over another except by faith and deed. Included is a recipe for bean pie.

Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood: In a Turkish village, the musaharati drummer has the important job of waking Muslims for their pre-dawn meals during Ramadan. Najma has followed the beat of the drummer and longs to be a musaharati herself, but a girl has never performed this role before.

Eid Breakfast at Abuela’s by Mariam Saad: Sofia, her mom and dad spend Eid with her Mexican grandmother who throws them a festive breakfast which includes traditional Mexican food, decorations, and activities. Her grandmother and other family members who join to celebrate with Sofia and her family are not Muslim.

The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard: Sophia loves all things sparkly including the decorations her family puts up during Ramadan and the heart of the person that fasts. When her first attempt at fasting is harder than she anticipates, Sophia’s grandmother reminds her that there are more opportunities to try again and that there are other ways to celebrate the month and equally important acts of worship and ways to help. With Sophia’s multitude of feelings and the encouragement of her family, Lumbard captures the feelings of Ramadan and what the month means to believers. The story also reminds us that for those who cannot fast there are other ways to make Ramadan meaningful, to nourish the sparkles within the heart.

Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid by Yasmeen Rahim: In another story about Hassan and Aneesa, they are excited to celebrate Eid, decorating the house, attending Eid prayers in new clothes and hosting an Eid party with family and friends.

Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan by Yasmeen Rahim: Brother and sister Hassan and Aneesa, British Muslims, are excited for Ramadan. At night Aneesa hears noise from the kitchen and sees her parents eating sahur, the pre-dawn meal. In the day they observe their parents reading Qur’an and giving charity. Having iftar with their cousins, they see their cousins fasting, and want to try as well, their mother agreeing but saying that they can stop if they feel too hungry because children don’t need to fast. While younger Aneesa breaks her fast with a banana, Hassan wants to try to fast the whole day, and they have their evening meal with a special treat. Glossary included.

Ilyas & Duck: Ramadan Joy! by Omar S. Khawaja: The fourth book in the Ilyas & Duck series features Ramadan, the joy of the month as well as the difficulty of fasting and the empathy and compassion that comes as a result. All the while readers familiar with the antics of the duo and a new villain in town, Mr. Mean.

Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi: Having recently moved from the UAE to Peachtree, Georgia, Laila is excited to fast this year for Ramadan with her family but is hesitant to tell her teachers and classmates. Instead of sharing a note from home, Laila first goes to the lunchroom and then to the library, before the school librarian encourages her to express her feelings. This lovely and relatable book is a gentle introduction to Ramadan that helps to equip children with language and tools to advocate for themselves and reminds the adults in their lives to advocate and listen to them. The term sehri is used for the predawn meal instead of suhoor, adding another layer of identity to Laila and her family’s immigration story.

A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben: Two neighbors, Moses Feldman, and Mohammed Hassan, both known as Moe/Mo by their families, share a picnic in the park when the Ramadan fast coincides with Rosh Hashanah.

Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle by Reza Jalali Shirin: watches for the moon with her family and wants to participate in the fast, but at 9 years old she is told that she’s too young to do so. She concentrates on doing good deeds like trying to get along with her older brother.

The Most Powerful Night: A Ramadan Story by Ndaa Hassan: A Ramadan story about Laylat-Al-Qadr, the night Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (saw). This is a special night that occurs once a year during the month of Ramadan.

My First Ramadan by Karen Katz: My First Ramadan is by Karen Katz. This story follows a young boy as he observes the month of Ramadan with his family.

Night of the Moon by Hena Khan: Seven-year-old Pakistani American Yasmeen and her mother observe the tiny crescent of the moon signifying the start of Ramadan. As the month goes by Yasmeen tracks the phases of the moon as passage of time while highlighting the various events that take place during Ramadan through the eyes of a child capturing the spirit of Ramadan, familial and community love and fellowship.

Owl & Cat: Ramadan Is…by Emma Apple: A brief note introduces readers to the concept of fasting during the month of Ramadan, indicating its specialness and being a time of generosity and gratitude. The sixty pages that follow indicate one action, deed, and an illustration on the opposite page of Owl and Cat and their various friends. After 60 pages (30 days), Ramadan is over and it is Eid.

A Party in Ramadan by Asma Mobin-Uddin: Leena is excited to participate in Ramadan. Not old enough to fast the entire month, she decides to participate by fasting on certain days with her family. When a birthday party of one of her friends falls on a fasting day Leena is determined to fast, even though her mother asks if she would like to fast on another day. Leena enjoys the party and finds fasting easy at first, but as the afternoon goes on and grows hotter she finds herself longing for a glass of lemonade and birthday cake. She is able to keep her fast and has the opportunity to do a good deed and share a test with her sister after breaking fast.

Ramadan by Susan L. Douglass: Ramadan by Susan L. Douglass, illustrated by Jeni Reeves and published by Lerner Books gives an overview of Ramadan for readers. Susan is an incredible source for Islamic education for K-12 educators in social studies, history, and religion and apart from her many accomplishments is currently the K-14 Education Outreach Coordinator Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

Ramadan Around the World by Ndaa Hassan: Ramadan Around the World looks at Muslim children around the world and their celebration of Ramadan in prayer, charity, and fasting.

Ramadan Moon by Nai’ma B. Robert: Ramadan Moon by Na’ima B. Robert. This story captures the wonder and joy of the month of Ramadan from the perspective of a child.

Rashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr by Lisa Bullard: Rashad is fasting this year for Ramadan with his family. The simple story of acts of worship during Ramadan are coupled larger text boxes that explain broader ideas and actions. Includes a glossary of words.

The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan: A child reflects on the shapes they see on Eid. Told in rhyme, this book features a South Asian family and the city of Chicago.

Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman: Presents information about actions taken during Ramadan for the very young, in lyrical rhyme and repetition of the phrase “under the moon, under the Ramadan Moon.” Great read aloud for young children who can watch for the moon waxing and waning during the course of page turns.

The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi: Noor and her family are preparing for the festival of Girgian, celebrated in Kuwait on the three consecutive nights in Ramadan, when the moon is fullest. The family prepares sweets together, a nut brittle made of honey, powdered sugar, and roasted pistachios for the children that will come to their door that night. Noor and her brothers prepare as well, decorating their candy bags and put on traditional clothing, the brothers- dishdashas and Noor a dress “so bright that Noor thought she could see the red with her eyes closed.” In a tender moment between Noor and her grandmother, grandmother reminds Noor that the true meaning of Ramadan is spending time with family and sharing with those less fortunate. After a night of treats Noor and her grandfather take a basket of food to the masjid for the poor. As they walk together they admire the beauty of the moon.

Board Book

Ramadan (Celebrate the World) by Hannah Eliot: A board book that describes the every day actions taken during Ramadan including prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family. As part of a series of holiday board books it actually has a significant amount of text in the small format, varying from one to three sentences per page. Illustrations are colorful and show people of various skin tones, ages, and wearing clothing from suits and school uniforms to thobes with agal and ghutrah or a fez.

Fiction

Badir and the Beaver by Shannon Stewart: An early chapter book about Badir and his family who have recently immigrated to Canada from Tunisia and are celebrating the month of Ramadan at home. Badir sees what he thinks is a giant rat. When he is is told that it is a beaver, a symbol of Canada, Badir tries to find out what he can about this interesting animal. He also finds out that some of the locals think it is a nuisance and want to move beaver out. Badir, knowing what it’s like to leave your home, embarks on a campaign with his classmates to save the beaver and its home.

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia: In this coming of age book set during Ramadan, Aliya is thinking about growing up, and finding her place and identity as a Muslim in her school and beyond.

More to the Story by Hena Khan: In a novel inspired by Little Women, thirteen-year-old Pakistani American Jameela Mirza, second oldest of four sisters and an aspiring journalist, lives with her family in Atlanta and her father is missing Eid for the first time ever to look for a new job.

Once Upon an Eid ed. S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed: A compilation of fifteen short stories that celebrate, the most joyous of Muslim holy days! Groundreaking for the diversity of authors and experiences, including a story told as a graphic novel.
Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet Zanib Mian Imaginative Omar and his family have moved to a new home in London and he is nervous about starting school, especially since a bully seems to have targeted him and their new neighbor is not so nice.

Non-fiction

Crayola: Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr Colors by Mari Schuh: A simple and effective introduction to Ramadan for younger readers in a series that connects holidays by colors. Readers are still introduced to some concepts of Ramadan like sighting the moon and fasting. Photographs of smiling Muslim children around the world are featured throughout the book as well as colorful visual elements. Back matter includes the usual glossary, index and further resources as well as crayola colors used in the book and a coloring activity page.

Ramadan: The Holy Month of Fasting by Ausma Zehanat Khan: This nonfiction chapter book, targeted for children ages 9-14, is divided into four chapters, filled with pictures and personal anecdotes (including Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad), along with explanation of religious practices during Ramadan and beyond. Chapter three details projects and charity undertaken by youth during the month while chapter four details traditions from different countries across the globe. Valuable for school and public libraries as well as Muslim home libraries in a way that validates Muslim children and the variety of ways that Muslims experience Ramadan both on a personal and cultural level without diminishing the universal experience.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi

This review was originally published in the November/December issue of Horn Book magazine and can also be found on the Horn Book website.

I Hope You Get This Message
by Farah Naz Rishi
High School    HarperTeen    420 pp.    g
10/19    978-0-06-274145-5    $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-274147-9 $9.99

When the world learns that omnipotent aliens will decide humanity’s fate in eight days, chaos erupts, and three teens strive to make their (potentially) final days count. Cate is charged by her mother, who has schizophrenia, to find the father who abandoned them — and who her mother believes is an alien. Adeem, an amateur hacker, searches for his sister, estranged from their Pakistani American Muslim family after she came out as a lesbian. Crossing paths in Reno, Cate and Adeem head to Roswell, where Jesse, the third teen, is convincing desperate people that he can (for a fee) transmit their pleas for salvation to the aliens, using a machine created by his now-deceased ne’er-do-well father. Rishi’s debut novel skillfully addresses complex contemporary issues on both the global (environmental damage, war, greed) and personal (identity, mental health) scales. It also tackles prejudice and the ways existential fatalism can inordinately affect marginalized people. But even given these themes and the novel’s dark story line, Rishi ends on a hopeful note of possibility, using an adapted quote from Rumi: “Your pain is where the light enters you.”

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin

This review was originally published in the November/December issue of Horn Book magazine and can also be found on the Horn Book website.

My Grandma and Me
by Mina Javaherbin; illus. by Lindsey Yankey
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
8/19    978-0-7636-9494-4    $16.99

The unnamed narrator recalls her childhood growing up in Iran (where the author also grew up) with her beloved grandmother, who lives with the family. The child accompanies her grandma on her daily routines (“When she swept, I swept. When she cooked, I cooked. When she prayed, I prayed like her, too”), through which the child experiences joyful elements of Iranian Islamic culture and acts of faith. They also spend time with friends (Grandma’s best friend’s granddaughter is our narrator’s best friend); and as the older women laugh, drink coffee, and knit blankets for their mosque and church, respectively, the children (and readers) witness a beautiful interfaith friendship. Yankey’s muted illustrations work well to convey cherished memories and love, with thoughtful cultural details incorporated throughout — a hopscotch board with numbers in Persian, a henna stain on the back of a hand. Striking Persian patterns providing an eye-catching, but not disruptive, contrast to the quotidian activities. Appended notes on the copyright page provide heartfelt details about the author’s and illustrator’s grandmothers. A lovely homage to the unconditional love and wisdom of elders.

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: More to the Story by Hena Khan

This review was originally posted in Horn Book on September 24, 2019

More to the Story
by Hena Khan
Intermediate, Middle School
Salaam/Simon    262 pp.   
 g
9/19    978-1-4814-9209-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-9211-9    $10.99

In a novel inspired by Little Women, thirteen-year-old Pakistani American Jameela Mirza, second oldest of four sisters and an aspiring journalist, lives with her family in Atlanta. This Eid holiday has brought changes: their beloved father is missing Eid for the first time ever to look for a new job, and Ali, a (good-looking) nephew of a family friend, arrives from London. At school, Jameela is named newspaper features editor but is in constant conflict with the editor in chief, who never approves her hard-hitting pitches. When her father takes a job overseas, the family is distraught, and Jameela is determined to write an article that will make him proud. Her assigned piece on Ali goes awry, complicating her feelings for him and her journalistic aspirations. But when her younger sister Bisma is diagnosed with cancer, Jameela must reevaluate her priorities and figure out how she can truly support what matters. Khan (Amina’s Voice, rev. 3/17) tells the story of a modern-day Pakistani American family while retaining the charm, familial warmth, and appeal of Alcott’s classic (this novel’s first line is, “This is the worst Eid ever!”). Cultural norms about dating, clothing, food, and prayer in the family’s Atlanta community and overseas are subtly alluded to, while characters grow and impart valuable lessons without sounding overly didactic.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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 Author Interviews

Author and Illustrator Interview: S.K. Ali and Hatem Aly

S. K. Ali is the author of YA novels, Love from A to Z, and the 2018 Morris award finalist, Saints and Misfits, which won critical acclaim for its portrayal of an unapologetic Muslim-American teen’s life, and was on many top ten YA novels of 2017 lists, including from Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the American Library Association. Her picture book THE PROUDEST BLUE, co-authored with Ibtihaj Muhammad, debuted on the NYT bestseller list, and she’s the co-editor of an upcoming Middle Grade anthology, ONCE UPON AN EID, releasing on May 5, 2020. She has a degree in Creative Writing and has written about Muslim life for various media. She lives in Toronto with her family, which includes a very vocal cat named Yeti.

Hatem Aly is an Egyptian-born illustrator whose work spans editorial cartooning, animation, book and magazine illustrations worldwide. He currently lives in New Brunswick, Canada, with his wife, son, and many pets. The Inquisitor’s Tale, written by Adam Gidwitz and illustrated by Aly, was a 2017 Newbery Honor and winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. You can find out more about Hatem and view many of his beautiful illustrations on his website or following him on Twitter or Instagram.

Interview Questions were compiled by Hadeal Salamah and Ariana Hussain.

Questions for S.K. Ali

1. This is your first picture book collaboration. How did it differ for you from writing for young adults? How was the process different in terms of you choosing prose for the book?

I found the process much like writing poetry, which, yes, I’m fortunate to have had experience with – but that experience was from over twenty years ago when I was doing my degree in Creative Writing! So while initially I was confident and excited (Picture Book! Short text! Yay!), as I worked on the process of telling a story with a limited word count, I realized that each word had to be carefully considered, that the flow had to be maintained in a manner that carried the story while delivering necessary emotional notes and, that while I could allow the art to carry some of the weight of the narrative, I had to be strategic on how to incorporate the illustrations for optimal effects. Fortunately, I was able to draw on my experience of being a primary grade teacher for over two decades, having read countless picture books, to apply the aspects I loved about these texts in my own writing. While it was challenging, I ended up enjoying the process and am eager to try writing another picture book text in the future, insha’Allah!

2. The pride and love around the idea of hijab is beautifully portrayed in The Proudest Blue, was your journey in wearing hijab similar? Different?

Ibtihaj and I had similar experiences in observing hijab in North America and this is what ultimately led us to a strong text. We both grew up wearing hijab from a young age in environments that weren’t always receptive to our choices.

There’s a duality that exists when you have an identity that’s not “accepted” by mainstream society; you juggle the comfort and pride you get from following your family’s teachings and traditions, from the warmth and happiness you feel from fitting in with your community (in this case, Muslim), from the safety you find in your faith to all the ignorance, negativity, and even outright hate you find outside these circles of security. I remember feeling so excited about favorite scarf styles and colors with friends at the mosque and then having to dampen that passion at school because I wasn’t “supposed” to be happy in my scarf. There’s a huge cognitive shift that happens internally and, when I was growing up, we didn’t have public discussions about what was happening to us. We had internal Muslim community discussions, yes, but we didn’t have the kind of public conversations about code-switching and slipping in and out of personas that we have now in wider contexts. We also didn’t have the mainstream images of confident visible Muslim women that we’re currently blessed with, Alhamdulillah.

THE PROUDEST BLUE is an exploration of the pride, warmth and happiness that many Muslim girls feel, twinned with the reality of a world that doesn’t accept that this could be the case. It’s reflective of the way I grew up – being constantly pushed to figure out whether I was allowed to feel happy in my skin as a Muslim girl. But while this was all true, this constant internal turmoil didn’t and doesn’t now erase the beauty we found in being Muslim, and the strength we developed in sustaining that belief in an increasingly hostile world.

That’s why THE PROUDEST BLUE ends on a note of the kind of gutsy resilience that’s carried Ibtihaj and I and all our sisters in the faith to who we are today as strong women, women who don’t let others dictate the terms of our happiness.

3. This is a story of familial love and pride as well as one about facing Islamophobia and bullying. Did Asiya’s experience resonate with you or connect to any real life experiences?

There’s a point in the book where Asiya is bullied about the “tablecloth” she’s wearing. This is drawn from Ibtihaj’s experience wearing hijab at school. For me, it was “curtain”. I was constantly called “curtain-head” and told to take off my curtain. While it was certainly hurtful to be bullied in this way, on hindsight it was also so strange and silly that harmless household items, table linen and drapery, were used to taunt us both. In my case, as a young girl, it made me go home and think about how being called “curtain-head” didn’t even make sense. The taunts also made my friends and some peers see the absurdity of being bullied in this way for my religious identity. They tried to join together in shutting it down as much as possible but as we know too well, bullies gonna bully. This is why we wrote the book the way we did – not centering the bully’s transformation or change to become a better person (as many books on bullying tend to do) but focusing on the internal process by which a young person can move on from being attacked for who they are.

4. 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? What do you think the impact of Muslim-centered literature has on readers?

I get emails every week from young readers grateful for the books they’re seeing in the world now. Each and every one of these letters (from Muslims and non-Muslims) have moved me to tears because at the heart of their correspondence is gratitude for a profoundly simple act: that of being seen.  My tears come from a mixture of spaces – that of happiness for reader glee at connecting deeply with characters I’ve written, that of sadness for their excitement at what is an everyday occurrence for readers of non-marginalized backgrounds, that of personal grief for not ever having seen my Muslim self growing up in a fictional narrative (not even believing that this could actually be the case!), and then, the tears of hot anger.

It’s unconscionable that a) it took so very long for books representing our full humanity to be published (well, the marginal increase since the We Need Diverse Books movement of 2014), that b) it hasn’t made a transformative effect yet, that c) publishing continues to be so homogenous. These young readers are writing me with passion and emotion, so grateful for being accepted as characters on a page, for being human, for being a part of the world. This is unbelievably sad. And has real-world consequences as we see from the increase in publicly shared hate.

I’d like to see the publishing industry move forward and do the work of upending the status quo in their own organizational structures. I’d like to see books featuring marginalized characters, written by marginalized authors, to get more backing from publishers – whether it be with awesome covers, marketing, publicity, becoming lead titles, etc.

The We Need Diverse Books movement was grassroots. People doing the work on the ground. Making things happen.

This shouldn’t be the case once a publishing company is involved; marginalized authors shouldn’t be expected to do the heavy lifting – after being accepted for publication – for their titles to be “seen” by the mainstream. We need diverse books but we also need them pushed like the titles we grew up reading were.  Even if, nowadays, publishing has “evolved” to become equally driven by author publicity initiatives, righting the wrongs of years of erasure and misrepresentation requires this kind of an investment.

That’s what equity is. And that’s the only way we’re going to sustain this movement for books reflecting humanity and not white supremacy.

Questions for Hatem Aly:

 1. Hatem, we feel so fortunate to be able to interview you again for The Proudest Blue. All of your work is beautiful and powerful, and this book is no exception. Obviously blue is the central color of this story, what was your process for choosing the blues for your illustrations?

Thank you very much, it is a pleasure to speak with you again! Yeah, Blue is everywhere in the book and it a central color. I tried different shades of blue at first and settled on a strong and “happy blue” if you may call it. I was trying to show a blue that is present, strong and confident. A shade that is refreshing and empowering. I hope it shows, even to a degree.

2. What was your favorite scene to illustrate in The Proudest Blue? What scene(s) did you find most difficult to create? Why?

I enjoyed very much the dreamy scenes that show Faizah in the context of how she felt..the 2 scenes that come to mind are the one showing Faizah in a paper boat just like the cover thinking: “Asiya’s hijab is like the ocean waving to the sky. It’s always there strong and friendly”. The other scene is when Faizah was looking for her sister after school right before she found her..this scene will overlap with the most difficult scenes which are the ones with the shadowy figures saying hurtful words about Asiya and laughing at her. I wasn’t sure how I’m going to illustrate these and decided to keep them faceless with no significance at least to Faizah. They disturb her but it doesn’t matter who they are, how they look like, or their age or gender and she chose not to pay too much attention to them.

 3. In both Meet Yasmin and The Proudest Blue you are looking at many layers of identity; Identity being central but accepted in Meet Yasmin, and challenged in The Proudest Blue. Did Asiya’s experience resonate with you in your experiences or those of Muslim women that you know? Did Faizah’s?

It is an everyday story to struggle not to give power to hurtful perceptions, actions, and assumptions while maintaining a level of equanimity and pride. As a Muslim man, I can only imagine what women go through. Both Asiya’s and Faizah’s experience is relatable and reoccurring in many versions. I find this book is a great representation of what happens on the other side of acceptance or the lack of it or in spite of it all.

4. Where do you prefer to create art? What are your most useful tools (physical or virtual) or habits that help you in your work? What is your favorite part of the book making process? Most difficult?

I like to work where I can have my tools available and a reasonable degree of isolation with the help of a pair of headphones, so working from my home office is my preferable workspace at the moment. Sometimes I enjoy sketching or taking notes when I’m out in a quiet place especially at the public library. I mostly work digitally since it is convenient and easy to fix if the time is right (and it usually is) I use Adobe Photoshop most of the time with occasional use of Clip Studio paint. However, I love working with pen and ink with some watercolors and pencils as well and find myself longing to use them more often while also exploring and experimenting with other media. So maybe you’ll see some of this in future books.

My favorite part of bookmaking is the most difficult, which is the first stage of trying to translate thoughts into scribbles that make sense, and gradually mapping and giving visual existence to everything. It could be both frustrating and satisfying! The rest is not relaxing but you can always count on a map when you’re lost.

5. You have a background in fine arts. Did you always know that you wanted to be in the arts? Was there something that inspired you to be an artist?

I can’t say it was that clear in my mind, I have always been drawing since I can’t remember but I was pretty bad at being goal-oriented and approached the arts very intuitively making up stuff as I go. I made comics all the time and drew characters from books and cartoons as a child then created my own as I grew older, but until High school I wasn’t sure what should I study or what should my work be and it stressed me out and took me time to trust that I pull off being successful in the arts and it was challenging but the best decision I’ve done.

6. What was an early experience/book where you learned the power of art/illustrations?

This might be an irrelevant answer since I have a very bad memory but I can strongly recall some notebooks my father bought for me to use at school which I found the covers were too beautiful to use so I never used them! The covers were clearly inspired by fairy tales with a Grimm Brothers vibe to them.

7. Who are some of your favorite illustrators? Are there any illustrators that inspire/influence you? As a child, what was your favorite genre to read?

There are so many to add to this list! To mention some I’d say: Laura Carlin, Jon Klassen, Marc Boutavant, Oliver Jeffers, Carson Ellis, Shaun Tan, Tove Jansson, Jillian Tamaki, Beatrice Alamagna, Maurice Sendak, Bill Watterson, Naoki Urasawa, and much more. So many brilliant artists that inspire me.

As a child, I was into fantastical or mythical fiction, Science fiction, humorous writing and pretty much anything else..but I wasn’t very patient with historical or factual events and realistic drama for some reason..this came later. I adored an abridged version of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as a child and was so intrigued by it.

8. Did you receive a lot of encouragement from your family in pursuing art? What is the first piece of art that you made that you were incredibly proud of (or that your family was proud of)?

YES! Probably even far more than I encouraged myself and I’m greatly thankful for that! I can’t remember specific ones that they were proud of but I do remember annoying my mother to draw me something instead of me doing all the drawing. While she thinks can’t draw at all she drew a green oval shape that I couldn’t recognize. When I asked her what is it she said: “why, it’s a mango!” I laughed and thought it was the sweetest thing ever.

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.