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?
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:
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
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  and a few characters of Indonesian ethnicity , and many titles set in India  or with characters of Indian  or Bengali  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.
Ibn Battuta recalls his amazing journey and the fascinating people, cultures, and places he encountered. He traveled extensively, throughout Islamic lands and beyond -- from the Middle East to Africa to Europe to Asia nearly 700 years ago
One book tells the contemporary story of a Malaysian mother and her mixed race daughter set in Malaysia.
Aleeya, concerned when her beloved mother becomes sick, remembers and returns the promise Mommy has made to her-- that she will always be by her side.
One title celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the people who make up Islam worldwide, including in Latin America.
A lyrical celebration of multiculturalism as a parent shares with a child the value of their heritage and why it should be a source of pride, even when others disagree.
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:
As a young girl observes that each of six women in her life wears her hijab and hair in a different way, she considers how to express her own style one day.
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.
Having to take her younger sister along the first time she is invited to a birthday party spoils Rubina's fun, and later when that sister is asked to a party and baby sister wants to come, Rubina must decide whether to help
When Bilal and his sister transfer to a school where they are the only Muslims, they must learn how to fit in while staying true to their beliefs and heritage
A young girl describes a visit to see her grandmother in a Palestinian village on the West Bank
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 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
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
For more titles featuring the rich and varied lives of Muslims around the world, search our collection!