Muslim Representation in Picture Books

With increasing Muslim representation in picture books, all readers can explore the diversity of Muslim communities, identities, and cultural backgrounds.

Picture books enable readers to see themselves reflected in the larger world. With increasing Muslim representation in published books, all readers can explore the diversity of Muslim communities, identities, and cultural backgrounds as they intersect to create unique expressions of Islamic cultures and practices. Picture books also offer a visually intimate look into Muslim experiences and places where individual and private family traditions, conversations, and interactions flourish.

These books were published in 2019–20 (with one from 2018) by mainstream publishing houses. In searching for books published during this time frame, we found few Muslim male authors and protagonists. In some books, characters are not explicitly Muslim, but nomenclature and context (often a headscarf on a female character) offer clues. In some representations of Muslims in stories, a khimar or hijab (to name a few of the terms used for headscarf) on a female character is still the prevailing identity marker but serves to identify only Muslim girls and women. Also, books may depict Muslim girls wearing hijab at young ages, when it is commonly not worn, or portray girls and women wearing hijab in situations where it is usually not worn. Because there are fewer identity markers for Muslim boys, they often remain invisible.

#OwnVoices representation provides nuanced authenticity as well as subtle allusions to racial diversity in Muslim communities and families, with characters of varied skin tones and clothing styles. As we stated in our 2019 SLJ piece about Muslim representation in YA literature, we hope that publishers will release more books about Muslims and amplify the voices of Muslim populations that are less frequently heard from or seen.

Dee, Noor H. I Say Collection with Nabil and Noura. illus. by Iput. Islamic Foundation. May 2020. ISBN 9780860377825.
PreS-K –This collection of board books follows siblings Nabil and Noura as they explain how common Islamic phrases such as as-salamu’alaykum and bismillah are used in everyday life. Each title includes the phrase written in Arabic with diacritical marks to indicate vowels and stops, transliteration, and translation into English. Simple but profound, these cheery offerings will foster understanding of words used by Muslims and Arabic speakers across the globe. Nabil and Noura are light-skinned, and Noura wears a headscarf; their ethnicity is unclear. Dee and Iput are both Indonesian.

Javaherbin, Mina. My Grandma and Me. illus. by Lindsey Yankey. Candlewick. 2019. ISBN 9781406384949.
PreS-Gr 3 –In this tender, autobiographical story, Iranian American author Javaherbin recalls cherished moments with her grandmother in Iran. Through daily chores, acts of faith like attending mosque and doing charity work, and a beautiful interfaith friendship between the narrator and her grandmother and their Christian friends, her grandma exudes wisdom, generosity, and love. Soft, muted illustrations are made richer with cultural detail, conveying a nostalgia-tinged reminiscence of precious time spent with a loved one.

Khalil, Aya. The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story. illus. by Anait Semirdzhyan. Tilbury. Feb. 2020. ISBN 9780884487548.
K-Gr 3 –Kanzi, an Egyptian immigrant to the United States, worries about not fitting in at her new school, and her fears are heightened when a classmate mocks her and her mother for speaking Arabic. Wrapped in her Teita’s (grandma’s) quilt, Kanzi writes a poem that inspires a classroom quilt project, with her teacher facilitating a discussion of English words that come from Arabic, language appreciation, and acceptance. Muted illustrations and gentle, reassuring text tell a story of a young girl finding pride and love in the languages she speaks. A glossary of Egyptian Arabic terms is included.

Khan, Hena. Like the Moon Loves the Sky. illus. by Saffa Khan. Chronicle. Mar. 2020. ISBN 9781452180199.
PreS-Gr 1 –In eloquent and expressive poetic verses inspired by the Qur’an, a mother shares wishes for her child using the Arabic phrase inshallah (“if God wills it”). She hopes that her child will find wonder in the natural world, seek and reflect on knowledge, and speak “truth [while] working for its sake”—in short, become an integral part of the world and contribute to its betterment. The family is depicted as brown-skinned, and an older woman and a younger child wear headscarves, though their ethnicity is not directly stated; the author is Pakistani American. With vibrant illustrations, this book celebrates a parent’s unconditional love and faith.

Khan, Hena. Under My Hijab. illus. by Aaliya Jaleel. Lee & Low. 2019. ISBN 9781620147924.
PreS-Gr 3 –In a powerful narrative that demystifies hijab and individualizes its wearers, a brown-skinned young girl examines the private and professional lives of the women in her life. Jaleel’s warm illustrations feature women from a multiracial family and community, of different ages, skin tones, and body shapes, depicted with and without headscarves. This delightful portrayal of the different styles of hijab also demonstrates how personality can be conveyed with each twist of fabric.

Latham, Irene & Karim Shamsi-Basha. The Cat Man of Aleppo. illus. by Yuki Shimizu. Putnam. ISBN 9781984813787.
K-Gr 4 – Ambulance driver Alaa stays in his beloved Aleppo, helping the injured while many flee the ongoing war. Noticing how the cats of the city are also affected, Alaa cares for them; as his story reaches others, he obtains funding from all over the world. Soon he helps the cats, other animals, children, and adults to find a home and moments of joy and hope. Based on the true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, this is an inspiring tale of compassion. Shimizu's breathtaking illustrations and notes from Alaa and the book's creators add nuance. 

Lumbard, Rabiah York. The Gift of Ramadan. illus. by Laura K. Horton. Albert Whitman. 2019. ISBN 9780807529065.
PreS-Gr 3 – When Sophia’s family puts up lights for Ramadan, her grandmother calls them “Pretty and sparkly. Just like the heart of a person who fasts.” Though Sophia finds fasting difficult, with the help of her grandma, she learns that there are many different ways to celebrate Ramadan. Seeing her mother reading the Qur’an and her father assisting neighbors, she finds a way to become involved, help others, and earn something very important to her, the sparkly heart of a believer. Sophia’s family is depicted as multiracial (Sophia’s mother has pale skin and her father has dark skin, while Sophia and her brother and grandmother are the same shade of medium brown). Colorful illustrations enhance this lovely story about Ramadan and its special place as a month of celebration.

Mir, Saira. Muslim Girls Rise: Inspirational Champions of Our Time. illus. by Aaliya Jaleel. S. & S./Salaam Reads. 2019. ISBN 9781534418882.
K-Gr 5 –This collection of illustrated profiles highlights 19 contemporary Muslim women in science, education, fashion, entertainment, politics, activism, and other fields. The women represent various national origins, body types, and skin tones (some wear headscarves; others don’t). Mir notes that these individuals are part of a long line of empowered Muslim women who have made their mark on the world. A quote from each subject is paired with Jaleel’s dynamic illustrations of them in action.

Muhammad, Ibtihaj with S.K. Ali. The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family. illus. by Hatem Aly. Little, Brown. 2019. ISBN 9780316519007.
K-Gr 4 –Shopping with her mother and younger sister Faizah, African American Muslim Asiya finds the perfect scarf for her first day of wearing a hijab and first day of school. Faizah is equally enamored of her older sister’s choice, a blue scarf the “color of the ocean.” Told from Faizah’s point of view, this tale depicts the highs, lows, and ultimate triumph of Asiya’s first day covering her hair at school. Bright, bold blues evoke strength, pride, and love, with details that respectfully capture the characters’ African American heritage.

Ramadan, Danny. Salma the Syrian Chef. illus. by Anna Bron. Annick. Mar. 2020. ISBN 9781773213750.
PreS-Gr 3 –Salma and her mother, Syrian refugees living in Vancouver, Canada, miss home, so, with the help of friends at the refugee center, Salma attempts to prepare her mother’s favorite dish, foul shami, to finally make her mother laugh again. Striking illustrations and use of Syrian motifs frame Salma’s heartwarming story as she adjusts to her new home and finds moments of joy with the help of a loving community of refugees from around the world.

Saeed, Aisha. Bilal Cooks Daal. illus. by Anoosha Syed. S. & S./Salaam Reads. 2019. ISBN 9781534418103.
PreS-Gr 3 –Creamy, garlicky, slow-cooked daal is Pakistani American Bilal’s favorite meal. But his friends, who have never eaten the spiced lentil dish, are unsure about how it looks and smells, causing Bilal some apprehension, even as more friends join to help him and Abu (his father) prepare the meal. Bilal’s story speaks to the anxiety of children whose food is often othered, while instilling pride and love in their culture. An author’s note includes a recipe and information about daal as a staple food in South Asia, including Pakistan, where Bilal’s grandparents grew up.

Sullivan, Rosana. Mommy Sayang. illus. by author. Disney. 2019. ISBN 9781368015905.
PreS-Gr 1 –Aleeya and her Mommy sayang (dear mommy) spend every waking moment together in their Malaysian village—and even sleep can’t part them, as Aleeya dreams of her beloved parent. When Mommy gets sick, Aleeya feels the separation acutely. Remembering her dreams, she finds a way to help her mother feel better. Featuring delicate linework and centering Malaysian Muslims of different skin tones and body sizes, this tale is both a beautiful example of representation and a sensitive way to explain and process feelings around parent-child separation.

Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Mommy’s Khimar. illus. by Ebony Glenn. S. & S./Salaam Reads. 2018. ISBN 9781534400597.
PreS-Gr 2 –A young African American Muslim girl admires her mother as she covers her hair with a khimar, or “flowing scarf.” Exploring her mother’s closet, the girl adorns herself with a sunshine yellow khimar over her braids, awakening her imagination to multiple possibilities. Illustrated in radiant colors and brimming with universal appeal, this is a joyful and much-needed representation of a loving, intergenerational, interfaith, African American Muslim family and their multiracial mosque community.

Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Your Name Is a Song. illus by Luisa Uribe. Innovation. Jul. 2020. ISBN 9781943147724.
K-Gr 5 –At the end of the first day of school, a young Black Muslim girl is upset because her classmates and teacher “could not say her name.” As she and her mother walk home through their bustling, multiethnic neighborhood, her mother teaches her that “names are songs,” each conveying an innate melody. Soft, flowing illustrations complement lyrical text affirming that all names are valid and worthy of respect. The narrative reflects a common experience for many BIPOC families, who must uplift their children’s identities and teach them tools to defuse and defend against microaggressions from both peers and teachers.

Sara G. Ahmed is a general services librarian in Delaware County, PA. Mahasin Abuwi Aleem is the children’s collection management librarian for the Oakland (CA) Public Library System. Ariana Sani Hussain is a teacher librarian at the Blake School in the Minneapolis suburbs. Hadeal Salamah is a librarian at Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC.

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