Gauri Manglik and Sadaf Siddique, co-founders of the South Asian book blog KitaabWorld, wrote this guest post on how to tackle Islamophobia with children’s literature.
With the swearing in of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib in the House of Representatives, Muslim voices now have representation in the corridors of change. On the ground however, it remains a different story. With growing hate crimes as well as an increase in the bullying of Muslim children in schools, Islamophobia is on the rise. One of the first policies that President Trump instituted after coming into office in 2017 was the Muslim ban which continues to this day.
Troubled by the anti-Muslim rhetoric that fueled much of President Trump’s campaign and the increased Islamophobia, we at KitaabWorld wanted to work toward building bridges of cultural understanding. Our work had helped us find ways to help children make connections with one another and so we wanted to do our part in helping reduce Islamophobia by rebuilding from the ground up. In January 2017, we launched our ‘Counter Islamophobia Through Stories’ campaign to flip the narrative and feature positive stories of Muslims. Giving children different perspectives through books and stories opens up their minds and enables them to appreciate and respect diversity in our multicultural world.
Our “Counter Islamophobia Through Stories” campaign provides curated booklists around four different themes: Muslim kids as heroes, Inspiring Muslim leaders and thinkers, Celebrating Islam and Folktales from Islamic traditions. With the misinformation and misconceptions that exist around Islam and Muslims, having own voices authors is critical to telling authentic and culturally rooted stories.
The campaign resonated with many educators and parents trying to make a change. We received emails from teachers and librarians all over the world about how they were unaware of most of the books we had spotlighted in our campaign. Many of them were able to use these titles to discuss issues of immigration, refugees and cultural differences in their classrooms. A librarian from Massachusetts told us how a 2nd grade girl in her school was thrilled when she saw the cover of the “Hijab Boutique” which showed another girl wearing a hijab – the first ever book she had seen herself in. Another teacher shared a story of how a child was so happy when he heard the words “Salaam” in the book she read with him.
Since then, we have presented our work at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, the NCTE in Houston and Teachers for Social Justice conferences in San Francisco and conducted numerous storytimes and teach-ins. For the teach-ins, we have used books such as King for a Day, which tells the story of a young disabled Muslim boy on the day of the kite flying festival, and addresses issues of bullying and kindness. Another popular title Drummer Girl, tells the story of a young Muslim girl who defies gender stereotypes with the support of her family. For older children, we used books such as Twenty Two Cents based on the inspirational story of Nobel prize winner Mohammed Yunus touches on issues of breaking the cycle of poverty. 1001 Inventions and Awesome Facts from the Muslim Civilization is an excellent title to examine the spirit of scientific inquiry and inventions from the Muslim civilization.
We have often paired these books with fun and engaging activities such as making your own kite, or researching where coffee was invented. Our focus has been on books that counter myths about Muslims, and titles that feature Muslim protagonists but touch on universal issues help challenge the negative rhetoric surrounding Muslims. We actively sought books by own voice authors to provide more authentic stories. Over the last two years, we have seen an increasing focus and request by literary agents and editors for Muslim “own voices” authors. A number of publishers too are coming out with many titles such as the upcoming Under My Hijab book by Lee & Low that speaks to the Muslim experience.
Encouraged by the success of the Counter Islamophobia Through Stories campaign, we expanded on the ideas of the campaign into a book titled: Muslims in Story: Expanding Multicultural Understanding through Muslim Children’s and Young Adult Literature which was released a few months ago. The book is written as a resource for teacher, librarians and educators of all stripes to bring about tangible change in their communities. In addition to detailed book lists, we have provided ideas for educators and librarians to share these books with children for year-round engagement. With a short history of Muslims in America to the present issues they currently face, this book offers a look at a more hopeful future of creating empathy, respect and understanding towards Muslims.
Gauri Manglik and Sadaf Siddique are the co-founders of KitaabWorld and authors of Muslims in Story.