Celebrating Islamic Culture Through Children’s Literature

The Children and Teens Department at Politics and Prose has long recognized the power of books to introduce young readers to different cultures. Stories geared to kids have a tremendous ability to celebrate human diversity and promote the common humanity of people around the world.

A recent example is Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan, who is scheduled to appear at the store on Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m. The book, for ages 8 to 12, addresses Islamophobia and prejudice in the United States. It depicts a middle-school girl who, despite her wish to blend in, encounters bigotry against her and her faith when her mosque is vandalized. The ultimate message is one of hope and inclusion as people of all faiths and backgrounds rally to assist. We hope you will join us for Khan’s talk. 

Conveying the richness of Islamic culture is especially important in this moment when, all too often, Islam is discussed in the United States in the context of politics and terrorism and tends to be portrayed as a monolithic threat. New publishing imprints such as Salaam Reads are attempting to counter this distorted perspective, as are works by a number of Muslim authors. Our Children and Teens Department features books from a diverse range of Muslim voices. Among those recommended by P&P’s booksellers are:

The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina by Fatima Sharafeddine. This picture book, with lovely illustrations by Intelaq Mohammed Ali, uses first-person narration to tell the story of Ibn Sina, who was born in Persia more than a thousand years ago. He had an insatiable love of learning and wanted to know everything about literature, philosophy and the sciences. His special interest was medicine, and he was one of the first practitioners to administer anesthesia before surgery. (Ages 7 to 11)

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan. This beautifully illustrated picture book introduces readers to the centuries-old spring festival of Basant and the traditional sport of kite-fighting. It also features a spirited, determined young boy named Malik who masters the sport while finding his own way to confront and overcome life’s challenges. (Ages 6 to 10)

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai. In the summer of 2001, twelve-year-old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to leave Afghanistan and move to the United States. Fadi’s sister accidentally gets left behind. The family then faces the events of September 11th while Fadi holds to the hope of seeing his sister again. Based on real life experiences of the author’s husband, this story is one of endurance and hope. (Ages 8 to 12)

The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al Mansour. Set in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this book follows Wadjda, an eleven-year-old girl who dreams of buying a bicycle in a society where it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes. Although she faces setbacks in achieving her goal, her perseverance pays off in the end. The story depicts shifting social attitudes in the Middle East, addressing gender roles, conformity, and family. (Ages 10 and up)

X by Ilyasah Shabazz. Co-written by the daughter of Malcolm X, this novel tells the story of Malcolm Little and his troubled teenage years in Boston and New York. Bad influences and decisions landed Malcolm in prison for theft, where conversion to the Nation of Islam and a positive mentor channeled his energy into social action. 

Watched by Marina Budhos. In this thrilling coming-of-age story, Naeem was in middle school when he moved to New York from Bangladesh. Now 18 and in the final term of his senior year, his grades have slipped and, like many teenagers, he has made more than a few mistakes. Threatened with arrest and presented with a choice by local police, Naeem believes he has been provided an opportunity to switch from victim to hero. But in a time of uncertainty, deception, cultural differences, and constant surveillance, who is truly worthy of his trust? (Ages 12 to 17).

— Brad and Lissa