Books by and for young Muslim readers — the missing links


Writing in the Star Tribune last week Norman Draper, with the assistance of local school librarians, raises an issue and reinforces the myth that there are few images of Muslims in today’s children’s literature. The fact is that excellent authors are writing and publishers are publishing good books — great books — on the topic. There are no funds, much less librarians with the time or the budget to purchase the fine books that young readers deserve. The ten years since 9/11 have actually seen promising rise in books about Muslim history, Muslims in America, and books about young Muslims, particularly stories that debunk myths about Muslim girls and women.

One of the most interesting articles I found dealt with this last issue. Ozlem Sensoy and Elizabeth Marshall, writing in the Canadian publication Rethinking Schools Online, address the challenge to Save the Muslim Girl! They address three stereotypes:  1) Muslim girls are veiled, nameless, and silent, 2) Veiled=Oppressed, and 3) Muslim Girls and Women Want to be Saved by the West.  Though this is for adults, parents and teachers, the article sets a context for thinking about the issues.

Some years ago I had the opportunity to work in college library for young women at the Abu Dhabi campus of Zayed University. What I learned through the experience is reflected brilliantly in this timely article.

Perhaps the most thorough treatment of the topic is The World of Arab and Muslim Children in Children’s Books compiled by Judith V. Lechner of Auburn University. Lechner focuses on picture and chapter books that are told from Arab and Muslim perspectives and sympathetically portray these cultures and avoid stereotypes. The extensive listing is organized by age of the reader with clear indications of the country portrayed in the book

Current listings of books for children that reflect Muslim history and thinking are legion. The highly regarded Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin suggests some classics: In Pearl Gaskins book, I Believe In Christian, Jewish, and Muslim young people speak about their faith. Coming to America by Bernard Wolf tells the story of a Muslim family in America. The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, written by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix, will broaden children’s understanding of historical relaetions between Jews and Muslims.

And there are lists upon lists. Rukhsana Khan is a recognized authority on children’s books with Muslim and related cultural themes. Khan compiled an extensive booklist on the fifth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. The list, published in School Library Journal, is still available online. Kahn has now produced a more inclusive list, designed for teachers, librarians, “conscientious parents” and anyone with an interest in Islam and Muslim. The list is divided into contemporary picture books, contemporary novels and short story collections; folktales, and non-fiction.

Khan is also an author with a raft of published titles including King of the Skies, The Big Red Lollipop, The Roses in My Carpets, Ruler of the Courtyard, and Silly Chicken. Though some of Khan’s books are about Pakistani and Afghan children, the Big Red Lollipop, published in 2010, tells the story of a Pakistani-American girl who has to take her little sister to a birthday party to which she has been invited. In A New Life (2009) Khan writes about a young girl and her brother’s arrival in Canada as immigrants. Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smile describes the struggles of a Muslim girl trying to appease her classmates. All of Khan’s books are described in detail on her website.

The Muslim Family is a website devoted to providing Muslim books for readers of all ages.  They offer a Children’s Catalog, a Muslim Children’s Book Club, a Muslim Family Book Club and an annotated list of favorite Islamic books for children. For pre-schools there is the Akeed Series, a “labor of love” of the author Sister Shamima. Tell Me About Hajj captures the history and essence of Hajj for children.

The most rudimentary Google search displays a host of publishers that specialize in books about and for young Muslim readers. For this post I focused on the ones that offer some evaluation. There are hundreds upon hundreds of other titles that could be readily reviewed.

If funds, time and commitment were to permit, these good books might even be purchased for young readers, locals and newcomers alike,  in Minnesota schools. We all face the challenge to read, learn and share the stories.