Children’s book author and former teacher Kate Messner has always had a passion for sharing books with kids, so when she recommended Hena Khan’s beautiful Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns(Chronicle, 2013) to her Twitter followers for its portrayal of Islam, she did not expect the backlash she received. A few days after her original recommendation, a user who does not follow her on Twitter initiated an intense multiday exchange with her about what he or she believes to be “the real Islam.” The person went on to cite aspects of the Islam religion as “very dangerous,” and stated that Messner seemed to be promoting books that “like telling children only good things about Islam and ignoring all bad parts.” The user has since changed the account’s Twitter handle.
Despite her usual policy of abstaining from heated political interactions on social media, Messner continued the conversation, refusing to be intimidated.
“I’m a writer. Recommending books is probably what I do most in my social media life. Those who follow me are accustomed to that,” Messner tells School Library Journal . “This book connects with what’s going on in the news today. I didn’t think anything of it.”
She explains, “I was at first perplexed about how someone from outside of my Twitter feed, who does not even follow me, could have found my tweet. And when I looked at the person’s feed and profile, I realized that he or she had to be someone that has set up a search for Islam, and made it their mission to seek out anyone that had something positive to say about the religion.”
The Twitter battle of words was witnessed by many of the author’s supporters and friends, including educators and librarians. A few of them added the title to their future purchase lists, or brought awareness of the book to their own audiences.
Educator and writer Michelle Cusolito, who teaches at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, was spurred on to suggest Golden Domes to her local bookstore, Eight Cousins in Falmouth, MA, and to create a Pinterest page for World Religion resources, with Khan’s title its first entry. “What most upset me about the situation was that all Kate wanted to do was promote openness and diversity, and this person was trying to stop that and intimidate her,” Cusolito tells SLJ. “My immediate response is, ‘I have to buy it.’ The second it hit my table, both my kids read it.”
Lauren Strohecker, a school media specialist at McKinley Elementary outside of Philadelphia, PA, tells SLJ that she sympathizes with Messner’s situation, and was disappointed that what Messner meant to be an act of sharing incurred such blowback. “It’s really hard to find books on religion appropriate for younger age groups in a K-6 school library,” Strohecker says. “But it’s important to have these titles available. Kids should have the opportunity to expand their worldview at any age.”
Strohecker has already added Golden Domes to her purchase list for the next school year because of its broad appeal, and plans on using it in a unit about colors. “It’s a book that I can integrate on subjects other than religion,” she explains.
The discussion took place over the course of a few days, with both sides coming to a standstill. Messner says she was shocked at the other party’s continuous harassment and religion bashing, but ultimately chose not to block the person, “Because that conversation—the fact that it happened—opened a lot of people’s eyes to the need for more conversations. Sharing books is powerful, and I think responding to hate with poetry and education is just about the best we can do in this world.”
Strohecker agrees. “We have the choices every day. How do we respond to hate? More hate? Or hope and stories and education? That’s a better route. And if we have that conversation with kids now, we’ll be less likely to see reactions like this one in the future.”
For a list of resources that can be used by parents, classroom teachers, and librarians, see also: Islam in the Classroom
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