Children’s Literature about the Islamic World
Arwa Alhumaidan, Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Source: Pew Research Center
In 2010 there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. They are the religious majority in 49 countries. However, less than .2% of Muslims live in North America. However, over recent years the Islamic population of the United States has grown significantly. According to Pew Research Center there were about 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2015. Washington DC and New Jersey both have larger Muslim populations and the total U.S. Muslim population is projected to reach 8.1 million by 2050.
Most recent Muslim immigrants came to the U.S. came from Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, or Iraq. Many left their homelands to escape from poverty or war and want to become a part of the United States and American citizens. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Muslims have faced, and continue to face, stereotyping and prejudice across the nation. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reports that between 2014 and 2016 “anti-Muslim bias incidents jumped 65 percent.” Writing in Rethinking Schools (v. 32, n. 2, Winter 2017), Alison Kysia, a Muslim educator and curriculum developer, argued “The increasing violence against Muslims, suggests we, as Americans, are becoming less tolerant and need educational interventions that move beyond post-9/11.”
Multicultural education provides a point of identification for marginalized groups, including Islamic children in American schools, and is an essential tool for promoting diversity and challenging Islamophobia. The younger children are when they are exposed to new ideas and people, the more receptive they will be, which is why exploring children’s books about Muslims and the Islamic world is so important. The books I recommend explore different major themes, such as, wars, poverty, immigration, celebrations, Muslims’ achievements, and illustration of Islam.
War: War and its consequences play a significant role in shaping Islamic literacy, since many Muslim countries have been conflict sites for several years. These books help children consider the terrible living conditions people are exposed to in war areas, what it means to live in a refugee camp, and also understand why many people want to immigrate to the United States and other safer countries. In many of the war-torn countries children are major victims, unable to receive an education and sometimes forced to take on family responsibilities, including work, at a very young age.
Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford.
This book is about Ali from Baghdad who is living in a war zone. He tries to escape from the terrible life by doing his favorite hobbies; playing soccer and writing calligraphy. This book also teaches about the beauty of Arabic calligraphy. It includes a story about Yakut, the most famous calligrapher who lived in Baghdad 800 years ago.
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter.
The book is about a brave woman named Alia Muhammad Baker who is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. She believes in the value of books for future generations. During the invasion of Iraq, Alia put herself at risk and saved the library’s books by hiding them in her house and in a neighbor’s store. The library was destroyed and Alia saved 30,000 books. The book shows that everywhere there are good people who want the best for everyone. It is also worthy story about the role women can play in an Islamic country.
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadre Mohammed tells about the war in Afghanistan.
It is about two girls who share a pair of shoes that the relief workers brought to the refugee camp. This book successfully describes the refugees’ daily lives, waiting on a long line, washing clothes in the river, scrambling to grab anything from the relief workers, and waiting for their names to appear on the list for immigrating to America. Teachers can use this book to explore why refugees want to leave their countries.
The story in Sami and The Time of Troubles by Judith Heide Gilliland and Ted Lewin takes place in Beirut, Lebanon.
It compares life before and after the war. Peace and happiness are transformed into fear and terror. The story explains how children take major responsibilities, such as working to support their families. The illustrator, Ted Lewin, succeeds in depicting Lebanese’ culture. Some examples include the tradition of sitting on the ground and the type of food they were eating.
The Roses in My Carpets by Rukhsana Khan and Ronald Himler is about a young Afghani refugee who was facing a terrible life under war. It is a good book to get an idea about war from the sense of the people who are experiencing it. It illustrates the Afghani culture and the way people live.
Books about Immigration
Coming to America: A Muslim Family’s Story by Bernard Wolf.
This book describes the immigration experience of an Egyptian family that came to live in New York. The book illustrates how this family has integrated the American society while remaining true to their Muslim beliefs and Egyptian customs.
Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye; illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.
The book tells about a girl who went to visit her grandmother who lives on the other side of the earth. The girl and her grandmother couldn’t communicate orally, but they found another way to understand each other. In the end, the girl wrote a letter to the U.S President telling him that Palestinians only want peace.
Islamic Religion and Culture: These books focus on illustrating the Muslim religion. They present an accurate image of the Muslim cultures and how people celebrate around the world.
Night of The Moon is a Muslim holiday story by Hana Khan and illustrated by Julie Paschkis.
Teachers can use this book to invite children to experience the traditions of the month of Ramadan through the eyes of a Pakistani-American girl named Yasmeen.. It explains how in the Islamic calendar the months follow the lunar cycle. Through this book, the author why Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. It is a rich source available for teachers to use in their classrooms to present the Muslims’ holiday of Eid Al-Fitr and its traditions.
The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi takes place in Kuwait.
It is about a traditional festival called Girgian that comes in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. In this festival, children dress in traditional clothes and go from house to house collecting treats from their neighbors. Teachers can use this book to introduce children to a different cultural experience of celebrations. Children can identify the similarities and differences in people’s celebrations. Most people around the world celebrate by eating sweets use lights as symbols and signals, and gather with each other. Children can also identify cultural differences.
The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide, Judith Heide Gilliland, and Ted Lewin.
Ahmed lives in Cairo, Egypt. The book describes the city and his daily life. Ahmed helps his family financially by driving a donkey cart to deliver butane gas. In the end, he shared his secret that he can write his name in Arabic. This is a very realistic book that makes it as if you traveled to the actual place.
My Own Special Way by Mithaa al Khayyat; retold by Vivian French; illustrated by Maya Fidawi.
This is a story about Hamada who is a young Muslim girl who wants to be like her sisters and wear the veil. Each sister suggested a different way to wear veil, but in the end, Hamada chose her own way. Teachers can use this book to illustrate that it is not necessary to be like others. It is wonderful to be different. This book is a great addition to build cultural literacy.
Deep in the Sahara written by Kelly Cunnane; illustrated by Hoda Hadadi.
The book is about Lalla a little girl who lives in Mauritania. She wants to wear a malafa like the Mauritanian women. Through the story, Lalla discovers that wearing a malafa is more than being beautiful and mysterious and valuable. It is an expression of faith. This book is a valuable book with realistic illustrations about Mauritanian culture.