With over 3.3 million Muslims living in America today, there is very little representation of Muslim kids in children’s books. For a child, not seeing someone like them in the books they read can often make them feel invisible. An even bigger concern arises when other children don’t see stories with Muslim kids in them, because then they think that those people are insignificant.
The first theme in our ‘Countering Islamophobia through Stories‘ campaign, highlights diverse children’s books featuring ‘Muslim Kids as Heroes‘. We showcase stories of children in their unique cultural contexts where their Muslim identity merely serves as a backdrop to more pressing issues of fighting with siblings, making it to the baseball team and carving their own little niche to fit in.
These stories feature Muslim children and teens who succeed despite feeling excluded and misunderstood, weave magic, mystery and fantasy into multicultural tales, who show you the humanity of children living as refugees and who find love, friends and healing despite fear, racism and prejudices.
We hope that reading these relatable stories about the lives and hopes of Muslim kids ( Who doesn’t want a world full of chocolate?) will help counter prevalent stereotypes of Muslims. For Muslim kids we hope it will reflect their reality, create a sense of inclusion and introduce them to heroes and heroines that inspire them.
MUSLIM KIDS AS HEROES
King for a Day: In this beautifully illustrated book, the textured landscapes of Lahore come alive to celebrate the spring festival of Basant with a kite flying competition. Malik, a young disabled boy, too has been planning for this day by making a special kite with which he wants to rule the skies. The story focusses on Malik’s strength of character – a thoughtful boy who stands up to the bully, works together with his siblings, and shows kindness to a young girl. Author Rukhsana Khan is a connoisseur of telling great stories about young children while subtly weaving in their cultural contexts. (Picture book, suited for ages 2–6, lesson plan available here)
RELATED: Read Rukhsana Khan’s interview here.
Amira’s Totally Chocolate World – Young Amira wonders what it would be like to live in a world full of chocolate. On Eid, her dream comes true – chocolate grass, chocolate flowers, chocolate rainbows and rivers full of hot chocolate! However, Amira begins to miss the colours, sights and smells of her once multihued world and prays for her world to return just as it was. A whimsical book with a gentle voice that helps us understand and appreciate diversity in the world. (Picture book, suited for ages 5-8)
Big Red Lollipop: Selected by the New York Public library as one of the 100 Greatest Books in 100 Years, this multi award winning book needs to be on your bookshelf! Big Red Lollipop is a simple story about an older sister’s reluctance to taking her bratty younger sister to a birthday party with dynamic and vibrant visuals that complement Rukhsana Khan’s charming story. A deep and well observed tale about immigrants, assimilation and identity. (Picture book, suited for ages 4-8, lesson plan available here)
Four Feet, Two Sandals: A serious yet hopeful story about two girls living in a refugee camp who each find one of the pair of sandals among the used clothing pile. They decide to share rather than fight over the sandals and this leads to a lifelong friendship. This story is a sensitive introduction to the refugee crisis around the world, and honors the lives, struggles and humanity of refugees despite their desperate situation. (Picture book, suited for ages 7-10, lesson plan available here)
Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education: An inspiring story drawn from a real life hero who runs a girls’ school in Afghanistan. Razia longs to go to school but faces objection from the men in her family. A determined Razia manages to convince them and truly shows us how one person has the power to make a difference. The mixed-media illustrations bring Razia’s world to life and adds dimension to the thought-provoking book.
Another great book based on a true story from Afghanistan is Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan; this inspiring book touches readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love. (Picture book, suited for ages 7-10, both lesson plans available here)
The Hijab Boutique: When Farah, a young Muslim growing up in Los Angeles has to present a object that defines her mother for International Women’s Day; she wonders how her modest mother would compare to her friend’s glamourous and accomplished moms. Learning about her mother helps her to discover her own cultural and religious identity. A wonderfully written book that illuminates individual choice around the hot button issue of wearing a headscarf or hijab. Written from the perspective of a young girl, her transformation and realization that what is different about us makes us unique is a lovely inspirational message. (Chapter book, suited for ages 8 and up)
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic – Two girls on opposite sides of the world have a shared adventure through the pages of a magical book. Kai currently visiting her grand-aunt in Texas finds an old book and begins writing in it and the words magically appear in Leila’s copy of the book in Pakistan. As both girls struggle to fit into their worlds- Kai a loner, and Leila an outsider, they connect with each other through writing, magic and mystery. This fantasy tale combines issues of belonging and finding oneself with humor and shows us how we are more alike than different. (Chapter book, suited for ages 8 -12)
Shooting Kabul: Fadi’s family immigration from Afghanistan to California is beset with tragedy as his younger sister gets left behind. In trying to adjust to a new home, school and a new culture, Fadi also bears the burden of guilt of losing her. Winning the photography contest featuring a prize to India is his best chance at redemption. Written with an eye for realistic detail, and an authentic portrayal of Afghan Pashtun culture, Shooting Kabul manages to educate readers on Afghan history, the Taliban and Islam while skillfully telling us a universal story about family, love and belonging. Read an interview with Naheed Senzai here. (Chapter book, suited for ages 8 -12).
Ask Me No Questions: This gripping tale puts a human face on the issue of illegal immigration. Narrated by Nadira, the teenage protagonist, in a tense voice that recalls her Bangladeshi-Muslim family’s immigration to the US, overstay after their visas expire and the sudden exposure of their life of living in the shadows post 9/11. When their father disappears, the family is shattered. The novel showcases how Nadira steels herself against prejudice and the long shadows of fear. (Young Adult novel, suited for ages 12 and up)
Ms Marvel Vol. 1: A true blue (ok brown) teenage Muslim superhero? Bring her on! Kamala Khan is your average New Jersey teen trying to balance fitting in with her traditional family’s expectations when she is endowed with extraordinary powers. Will she use it to help herself and her community? A gutsy non-traditional heroine buoyed by strong writing and visually popping art and did we mention a cape? (Comic book, suited for ages 8 -12).
Nine, Ten: A September 11 story: A look at the intersecting lives of four kids from across America and how 9/11 changed their lives and ushered them into adulthood. Told from four different perspectives – Naheed struggling with her religious identity, Sergio who lives with his grandmother in Brooklyn, Aimee from California whose mother is flying to New York for a meeting and Will who recently lost his father. A powerful account of young lives interrupted and the journey from hate and fear to a realization of our similarities. (Chapter book, suited for ages10 -14)
A Long Pitch Home: When Bilal has to move suddenly from Pakistan to America, he encounters many unfamiliar things that confuse him. Enrolling in an ESL course, a summer baseball camp and having to make new friends, Bilal struggles with language, foreign customs and a longing for home and family. A moving and realistic depiction of the immigrant experience through the eyes of a child. (Chapter book, suited for ages 9 -12)
For updates to this list, look up our book Muslims in Story: Expanding Multicultural Understanding Through Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Our book will equip public and school library staff, including educators and collection development librarians, to make real change in their communities by validating lived experiences of Muslim kids and building a stronger sense of empathy, respect, and understanding towards Muslims.
Support our ‘Counter Islamophobia through Stories’ campaign and help us make a difference:
(i) Spread the Word: Share our booklists and author interviews with friends, teachers, librarians and parents.Gift copies of Muslims in Story: Expanding Multicultural Understanding through Children’s and Young Adult Literature.
(ii) Buy One, Donate One: Support diversity in the classroom and at home by buying books from the Counter Islamophobia through Stories collection. Get one or more of these books for your home, and/or donate them to schools and libraries around you.
(iii) Start a Discussion with children in your community. Use our books coupled with lesson plans to move from stories to ideas to action.