Book List: Picture Books about Muslim or Middle Eastern Characters

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the need for more diversity in books. We already know that the population of the United States is rapidly changing, and people have been demanding books that reflect this. From the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to this recent article from School Library Journal, the demand for diverse titles grows louder every day. One category we often get asked about is recommendations of books featuring Middle Eastern and Muslim characters, so we thought we’d put together a list of some favorites:

coming to america

  1. The Butter Man, by Elizabeth & Ali Alalou, ill. by Julie Klear Essakalli: As young Nora waits impatiently for her mother to come home from work and for her father to serve the long-simmering couscous that smells so delicious, her father tells her about his childhood in Morocco.
  2. Coming to America: A Muslim Family’s Story, by Bernard Wolf: With captivating photographs and engaging text, Bernard Wolf invites us into the life of this close-knit family — a family whose love and courage speak for all immigrants who work hard and make sacrifices in the pursuit of a better life. 
  3. Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane, ill. by Hoda Hadadi: Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. 
  4. The Flag of Childhood: Poems From the Middle East, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye: In this stirring anthology of sixty poems from the Middle East, honored anthologist Naomi Shihab Nye welcomes us to this lush, vivid world and beckons us to explore.
  5. Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed, ill. by Doug Chayka: Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet and decide that it is better to share the sandals than for each to wear only one. As the girls go about their routines washing clothes in the river, waiting in long lines for water, and watching for their names to appear on the list to go to America the sandals remind them that friendship is what is most important.
  6. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, by Hena Khan, ill. by Mehrdokht Amini: This picture book for young readers celebrates Islam’s most colorful traditions.
  7. The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust, by Karen Gray Ruelle, ill. by Deborah Durland DeSaix: This nonfiction picture book tells the story of how the Grand Mosque in Paris was used to hide Jews and escaped prisoners-of-war during the Nazi occupation.
  8. King For a Day, by Rukhsana Khan, ill. by Christiane Krömer: This lively, contemporary story introduces readers to a centuries-old festival and the traditional sport of kite fighting, and to a spirited, determined young boy who masters the sport while finding his own way to face and overcome life’s challenges. king for a day
  9. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, written & ill. by Jeanette Winter: Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library–along with the thirty thousand books within it–will be destroyed forever.
  10. Mystery Bottle, written & ill. by Kristen Balouch: A boy in Brooklyn receives a package from Iran. When he opens up the mysterious bottle that lies within, a great wind transports him over the oceans and mountains, straight into the arms of his grandfather.
  11. Nadia’s Hands, by Karen English, ill. by Jonathan Weiner: The morning of her aunt’s wedding, Nadia’s hands are decorated with “mehndi.” But Nadia is worried. When she goes to school on Monday, what will her classmates think of her hands? Will they understand that “mehndi “is part of her Pakistani heritage?
  12. Ruler of the Courtyard, by Rukhsana Khan, ill. by R. Gregory Christie: The chickens in Saba’s yard are especially mean, chasing her and pecking at her toes. But when she sees a snake in the bathhouse, Saba realizes that she has to act fast to protect herself and her nani, her grandma, from the snake. Can she conquer the chickens and the snake to become the Ruler of the Courtyard?
  13. Sami and the Time of the Troubles, by Florence Parry Heide & Judith Heide Gilliland, ill. by Ted Lewin: A ten-year-old Lebanese boy balances his life in a war-torn city.
  14. Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp, by Trish Marx, photographed by Cindy Karp: Sharing Our Homeland gives an inside view of how one summer camp is working to create a foundation for peace. sharing our homeland
  15. The Sifrah Glider, by Ahmad AbdulGhani Al Redha, ill. by Joanne Mendelski: A class of children is in for a treat when their class guest turns out to be an Emirati man who teaches them about his traditional dress and the significance behind each item.
  16. Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, by James Rumford: Like other children living in Baghdad, Ali loves soccer, music and dancing, but most of all, he loves the ancient art of calligraphy. When bombs begin to fall on his city, Ali turns to his pen, writing sweeping and gliding words to the silent music that drowns out the war all around him.
  17. Sitti’s Secrets, by Naomi Shihab Nye, ill. by Nancy Carpenter: When Sitti, an American girl, goes to visit her grandmother in her small Middle Eastern village on the other side of the world, they don’t need words to understand each other’s heart.

Note that we have not read every book on this list, so we always recommend doing some of your own research to determine cultural accuracy. A great place to find top-quality books is the Middle East Book Award, the Bridging Cultures Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, and this recent School Library Journal article.

And if you have any additions, please do leave them in the comments!

More book lists:

Children’s Books About Transracial Adoption

Picture Books About Travel


25 thoughts on “Book List: Picture Books about Muslim or Middle Eastern Characters”

  1. From twitter, @citymousedc recommends BIG RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan, ill. by Sophie Blackall.

  2. Thanks for this list. Read some thoughts re: Deep in the Sahara at the Global Reach Libraries blog:

    Other recommendations:
    Jahanforuz, Rita – The girl with a brave heart: a tale from Tehran – Folktale-esque story of a girl, her stepsister and mother in an Iranian setting. The author is a famous Middle Eastern singer.

    Krebs, Laurie and Anne Wilson – We’re sailing down the Nile: a journey through Egypt – sing-song rhyme leads a boatload of modern kids to tour historical sites on the Nile. Simple, for 1st-2nd grade. Nice that the characters have Arabic names and look Egyptian.

    Mobin-Uddin, Asma – The best Eid ever – A girl staying with her grandmother while her parents are on the Hajj learns about giving. (One of the few books about Eid al-Adha)

  3. Discovered The Day of Ahmed’s Secret today. Picture book (probably for 5 and up) about a boy going through his day in Cairo with a happy secret (spoiler: he can write his name). It’s a simple story but a very positive portrayal.

  4. Moon Watchers:Shirin’s Ramadan Miracles by Reza Jalali, ill. by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Tilbury House Publishers; First hardcover edition May 11, 2010
    From Booklist:
    This moving picture book for older readers about a young Muslim girl and her family at Ramadan weaves together the traditional observance and its meaning with a lively drama of sibling rivalry. In her backyard in Maine, Shirin, 9, and her father watch for the new moon that starts the holy month. Shirin begs to be allowed to fast, like her older brother, Ali, 12, but she is furious when her family tells her she is too young. Then her parents decide to let her fast for part of the day, and she is thrilled. She also learns that Ramadan is about doing good deeds to help others. The unframed, intricately detailed, mixed-media illustrations show the siblings’ ugly standoffs (Shirin’s jealousy, Ali’s smugness), as well as the family at prayer, at the dinner table, and in warm close-ups. Along with the information about the holiday, there is a real story here: when Shirin helps Ali, it changes their relationship and reveals the meaning of the holiday. Grades 2-4. –Hazel Rochman

  5. I’ve enjoyed Shooting Kabul, by N. H. Senzai. 12 year old Fadi loses his little sister Mariam when she stops to pick up her Barbie doll as their family escapes Taliban- controlled Afghanistan to come live with relatives in the US. When he learns about a photography competition with a grand prize of a trip to India, Fadi comes up with a daring plan to get her back. School life, family life, and the challenges of adjusting to post 9/11as a Muslim in a different culture are told in an authentic child’s voice and perspective.

    1. I’d recommend BIG RED LOLLIPOP by Rukhsana Khan and GOLDEN DOMES AND SILVER LANTERNS by Hena Khan. Both would be great for very young readers.

  6. Another wonderful book is Mystery Bottle by Kristen Balouch about a boy living in the US who received a package from his grandfather living in Iran.

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