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Religious Observance & Beyond: Muslim Life in Children’s Picture Books

Many children's books with Muslim characters focus on aspects of religion, such as those about Ramadan recommended in this blog post by our Advisory Council member, Islamic school librarian, Kirin Nabi. Other titles show Muslims in a wide range of human experiences beyond practicing their faith. Together these titles can provide a rich portrait of those who follow the world's second largest religion.

How representative of Islam and its 1.8 billion followers are the portrayals of Muslim characters in children's picture books?

Do picture books reflect the diverse experiences of Muslims across the world?

Based on a survey of the 104 titles with Muslim characters in the Diverse BookFinder collection (at the time of this post), the answer is a mixed one.

The good news is that some twenty to thirty countries are represented in titles with Muslim characters. Pakistan, one of the four countries of the world with the highest number of Muslim residents according to WorldAtlas.com, is the most frequent setting with 12 titles -- though half of these are biographies of Malala Yousafzai! The second most-featured country, with 6 titles, is Afghanistan (possibly because war has brought it to the attention of Americans, including book creators and publishers).

Only 3 titles are set in Bangladesh, which has the fourth largest number of Muslims worldwide. One is a very recent title:

Iqbal and his ingenious idea

2018

by Elizabeth Suneby and Rebecca Green

It's monsoon season in Bangladesh, and that means Iqbal's mother must cook indoors over an open flame, even though the smoke is making her and the family sick. When Iqbal learns about the district science fair, with the theme of sustainability, he is determined to win first prize. With the cash reward, he can buy a pipe stove that draws smoke out of the house. Then Iqbal is struck with an ingenious idea! For his science fair project, he will build a cook stove that doesn't produce smoke. He researches solar cookers and finds the winning design - one that harnesses the sun's energy and do away with those harmful fumes. But the competition at the science fair is fierce - will Iqbal bring home the prize? Award-winning author Elizabeth Suneby offers a child-centered look at a global health problem that affects more than three billion people. |cProvided by publisher

Any Child Informational

However, of the two countries with the highest population of Muslims, Indonesia doesn't appear in any titles with individual Muslim characters (either as a book setting or with Indonesian characters), and there is only one, 2-book series about the same Bengali Muslim character from India celebrating Ramadan and Eid. To put this into context, our collection currently includes a number of titles set in Indonesia [8] and a few characters of Indonesian ethnicity [4], and many titles set in India [58] or with characters of Indian [72] or Bengali [4] ethnicity.

In addition to the 6 titles about Malala, three of 16 biographies of Muslim figures are of Muhammad Ali. Two of the remaining five are of historical figures, including 14th-century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta.

One book tells the contemporary story of a Malaysian mother and her mixed race daughter set in Malaysia.

One title celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the people who make up Islam worldwide, including in Latin America.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a collection of books published or distributed in the U.S., Northern America is the most frequent setting of books with Muslim characters, and titles set there explore myriad aspects of life. The first two are notable because they feature contemporary multiracial and African American Muslim families:

Mommy’s khimar

2018

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Ebony Glenn

A young Muslim girl puts on a head scarf and not only feels closer to her mother, she also imagines herself as a queen, the sun, a superhero, and more.

Beautiful Life

No books with isbn: 9780670062874

Notably, we have begun seeing more books featuring Muslim characters in our Any Child category -- in which the narrative is not dependent on culture or religion -- particularly from independent publishers, like these two titles from Ruqaya's Bookshelf:

Mr. Gamal’s gratitude glasses

2018

by Asmaa Hussein

Mr. Gamal’s students are grumpy. He wishes he could help them look at their lives more positively! After a visit to the dollar store, an idea strikes Mr. Gamal like a bolt of lightning: Gratitude Glasses! Will these special spectacles help his students see things they couldn’t see before? We love the idea of a kid's book that emphasizes gratitude! Whether from an Islamic perspective, or a more secular one, this book will get your kids thinking about what it means to be grateful. --publisher's site

Any Child Cross Group

Yasmine’s belly button

2015

by Asmaa Hussein and Charity Russell

It’s Yasmine’s first day of school and she has butterflies in her tummy! Speaking of her tummy, what’s that little round thing on it called again? And what is it for anyway? A touching story that explores the depth of love in a mother-daughter relationship, all told through the wild imagination of a 4 year-old. Along the way, little Yasmine discovers just how connected she is to her mom and all her new classmates. -- publisher's site

Any Child

For more titles featuring the rich and varied lives of Muslims around the world, search our collection!

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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