arabic, book list, culture, muslim

Book List: Muslim Lives

Mommy’s Khimar (Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn

For ages: 4-8
This lovely text is all about finding beauty in your culture. The young girl who narrates the tale loves her headscarf or khimar. For our young friend, the scarf can be many things: a bird’s wings, a queen’s cloak, and a superhero’s cape. The family is presented as Black, and there are rich details about the girl’s braided hair and the scent of coconut oil and cocoa butter that will connect with children who have these sensory experiences in their lives. The book even addresses people outside the Muslim community, like a Christian grandmother on her mom’s side. She loves her sweet granddaughter even though they practice different belief systems. There’s so much joy and warmth in this text I expect most readers will be unable to resist a smile.

Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam (Kar-Ben Publishing)
Written by Fawzia Gilani-Williams
Illustrated by Chiara Fedele

For ages: 4-8
While governments may use cultural differences to spur wars, regular people often find ways to connect while appreciating each other’s differences. Fatima is a Muslim girl who lives in the same community as Fatima, a Jew. The text uses words and pictures to show how each girl lives a life different from the others through clothing, food, and other cultural signifiers. The more we learn about their differences, the more connections start to form. They both pray, wear unique clothing important to their cultures, and seek safety and happiness in life. The book cleverly never talks about any specific nation; adults may infer one. Still, I think the ultimate purpose here is to show how we can celebrate how we diverge as part of the beauty of being human.

My Grandma and Me (Candlewick Press)
Written by Mina Javaherbin
Illustrated by Lindsay Yankee

For ages: 4-8
Many people have had an elder in their life that shaped them in their formative years. Our narrator is a little Muslim girl who follows her grandmother everywhere. She’s there at dawn when Grandma does her prayers and even likes to help with sewing. The story is a slice of life following this little girl as she watches her Grandma engage with the larger world. The older woman is very involved in her community, helping prepare Ramadan meals at the mosque and being good friends with a Christian grandma in the neighborhood. You walk away from this book, realizing that despite the outward appearances in clothing and skin, grandmas are the same across all cultures.

The Best Eid Ever (Boyd Mills Press)
Written by Asma Mobin-Uddin
Illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

For ages: 4-8
For those who do not know, Eid marks the end of the month-long fasting period that leads to Ramadan, one of the major Muslim holidays. Aneesa is not having a great Eid because her parents have traveled abroad as part of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Her Nonni (grandma) gives Aneesa three new outfits for each day of Eid to cheer her granddaughter up. At the mosque for prayers, Aneesa notices two other girls in clothes that are too small for them. She learns from others that these girls and their father are Muslim refugees who came to America with very little. This information sits with Aneesa, who realizes she should do something as she has so much to share. This beautiful realistic fiction tale can serve to introduce unfamiliar students to Islamic traditions but also shares a universal message of kindness & giving.

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story (Tilbury House Publishers)
Written by Reem Faruqi
Illustrated by Lea Lyon

For ages: 6-9
Lailah has recently moved from the Middle East to Georgia and misses her friends back in Abu Dhabi. However, she is excited to be old enough to participate in Ramadan fasting. Then she starts to worry, what if her class doesn’t understand Ramadan? Lailah has a note to give her teacher to explain her fasting but is too scared when she first arrives at school. She’s told she has to get a meal from the cafeteria, but her kind new classmates offer to share treats they brought from home. Lailah stays true to the fast but feels increasingly alone. Finally, the school librarian is the one to encourage Lailah to write down her feelings and share them with her teacher. And like magic, understanding and empathy flourish. 

A Party in Ramadan (Astra Young Readers)
Written by Asma Mobin-Uddin
Illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

For ages: 6-9
This follow-up to The Best Eid Ever is another slice of tale about life as a Muslim-American. Leena finds out her best friend, a non-Muslim, is having her birthday party on the first Friday of Ramadan. She’s too young to be required to fast, but she still wants to be like the grown-ups. The temptations are strong during the party, with chocolate cake and ice-cold lemonade, but Leena holds to her fast. That night, the little girl can break from the fast with her family, and her friend’s parents bring some leftover cake to the house for Leena to enjoy. This book is a wonderful picture of life for young Muslims. It shows ways that non-Muslim people in their community can support them as they follow the guidelines of their religion.

My Name is Bilal (Astra Young Readers)
Written by Asma Mobin-Uddin
Illustrated by Barbara Kiwak

For ages: 6-9
Of all the books here, this has the heaviest themes. It’s Bilal and his sister’s first day at a new school. She’s harassed early on because of her hijab, which scares Bilal into wanting to hide his identity. He introduces himself as Bill to his new class and teacher. Later, he reads about Muslim hero Bilal Ibn Rabah and finds himself feeling prouder about his heritage and name. He stands up to his sister’s bullies but also seeks out the students who don’t carry those prejudices. By the end, Bilal and his sister have made brand-new friends. This is another excellent slice-of-life story that will spark meaningful conversations with children about bigotry and the need to accept others.

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