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Narjas Zatat

International Children's Book Day: Books by Muslim authors every child should be reading

Celebrate reading today [TNA]

Date of publication: 2 April, 2020

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From teenage novels to stories for younger readers, here are a few books by Muslim authors children should be reading right now.
As children, we learned early on the markers of a good story; the blueprint is embedded in the DNA of our collective histories and we are a species of storytellers, weaving narratives and escapism into the fabric of our societies.

A story cuts across politics and culture, and can bring light to underrepresented voices, be they black and minority ethnic (BAME) characters and, in recent times, Muslims.

There has been a real move towards representation and diversity not only in characters but in authors in the UK, and nowhere else is this more keenly seen than in an explosion of Muslim authors, and stories with Muslim and Arab main characters.

The growth of Muslim writers and stories is, in part, a response to the rise in Islamophobia in the UK, and to combat damaging stereotypes about Muslims.

But there's also a simpler reason: Children want to read stories where they can see themselves – and Muslim characters are part of this diversity.

As it's International Children's Book Day, here's a list – which is by no means exhaustive – of books by Muslim or Middle Eastern authors that children should jump on.

Some of these books are for younger children, whilst others are for teenagers – but then, adults ought to read them all, too.

1. Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed

Aisha Saeed is a Pakistan-American author who has several New York Times best-selling books under her belt, including her 2015 young adult novel called Written in the Stars.

Amal Unbound follows a girl called Amal, whose dreams of becoming a teacher are dashed after she is forced, as the eldest child, to pay off her family's debt by indentured servitude in her small Pakistani village.

Read more: Muslim women writers who are changing the narrative one book at a time

Saeed had been in part inspired by the story of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who had stood up to the Taliban when she was just a schoolgirl.

"As a former teacher, Malala's story reminded me of the strength and resilience many young people show every day in the face of unspeakable difficulties," Aisha told Cracking the Cover.

"In Amal Unbound, Amal is a strong girl who faces challenging and unjust circumstances but who, despite everything, never loses hope. I never knew this fierce desire to hold on to hope would ultimately be so timely in our current times I hope it gives hope to young children who are worried and struggling."

2. Other Words for Home, Jasmine Warga

Jasmine Warga's children's book follows the story of Jude, a Syrian refugee who left her brother and father behind when she and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

In escaping the war, the story follows Jude as she struggles with identity in an alien land: America.

Published in 2019, Other Words is a free verse children's book by Jasmine Warga, an American author whose Jordanian grandmother inspired her to write.

The story is about a family of Syrian refugees and the book won a 2020 Newbery Honor.

3. Love from A to Z, S.K. Ali

A School Library Journal Best Young Adult Book of 2019, Love from A to Z follows the budding romance between Zayneb, an 18-year-old Muslim student, and a classmate Adam.

Zayneb, who wears a hijab, is suspended from school for standing up to her Islamophobic teacher. Disgruntled, she travels to Doha to spend two weeks with her auntie.

It is there she meets Adam, and so their romance begins.
Sajidah "S.K." Ali is a Muslim Canadian author who was born in South India and immigrated to Canada when she was three.

Read more: Planet Omar: Why it's about time young Muslims saw themselves in children's literature 

The recipient of several awards including the Asian/Pacific American award for her debut young adult novel Saints & Misfits, she created the hashtag #MuslimShelfSpace as a way to highlight books by other Muslim authors.

4. Internment, Samira Ahmed

Internment tells the story about the forced detention of Muslims in America.

Ahmed's take on internment is unique; set in a dystopian alternative universe, it follows the life of Layla Amin after she and her parents are forced into an internment camp – one of many which was created after Islamophobia became enshrined in law.

The young adult novel, written by the Bombay-born author, is described by Ahmed as "fifteen minutes in the future" and has echoes of reality in its construction of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Internment is a response to the growing Islamophobia sweeping the globe.

5. A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi

This contemporary teen fiction is set in 2002, a year after the events of 9/11 and follows Shirin, a young Muslim girl and her brother as they start a new school.

Whilst her brother is quick to make friends, Shirin struggles with being accepted because of her hijab, which makes her the target of bullies.

Mafi inserts a bit of herself into Shirin's character by having her start a breakdancing club in school – the author was a breakdancer in high school herself.

Tahereh Mafi is an Iranian-American, New York Times and USA Today best-selling author based in Santa Monica, California.

Narjas Zatat is a staff writer for The New Arab with a particular interest in minorities and how China, Malaysia and Indonesia interact with the Middle East

Follow her on Twitter: @Narjas_Zatat


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