CAIRO – Giant American published Simon & Schuster has announced the creation of new imprint for Muslim-themed Children’s books by 2017, in a move that is likely to further fuel the discussion about diversity in children’s publishing.
“We have a chance to provide people with a more nuanced and, in my estimation, a more honest portrayal of the lives of everyday Muslims,” Zareen Jaffery, an executive editor of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, told New York Times on Thursday, February 25.
Jaffery recalls her experience as a young Pakistani-American Muslim girl growing up in Connecticut who used to read novels by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume.
For the young girl, looking in those stories for a representation of American Muslim children always failed.
“I remember looking at books to try to figure out, ‘What does it mean to be American? Am I doing this right?’” Jaffery said.
“The truth is, I didn’t see myself reflected in books back then.”
Though three decades have passed on her experience, Muslim characters remain scarce in mainstream children’s literature.
Therefore, now 37-year-old Jaffery works on changing this by heading a new children’s imprint, Salaam Reads, dedicated to publishing books that feature Muslim characters and stories.
“It was hard not to notice that none of those books really reflected their experience,” she said.
The imprint, which Simon & Schuster announced this week, will release nine or more books a year, ranging from board books and picture books to middle grade and young adult titles.
The new imprint comes in the middle of a polarizing political debate about immigration and racial and religious profiling.
Up to date, Salaam Reads announced four books coming out in 2017, including “Salam Alaikum,” a picture book based on a song by the British teen pop singer Harris J.
Other books planned for release next year are “Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin,” a picture book about four kindergarten friends who learn about one another’s holiday traditions; “The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand” by Karuna Riazi, about a 12-year-old Bangladeshi-American who sets out to save her brother from a supernatural board game, and “Yo Soy Muslim,” a picture book by the poet Mark Gonzales.
“As a person who was born as the child of Mexican and French immigrants, I grew up being invisible to society, and if not invisible, demonized,” Gonzales, an alumnus of HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” who converted to Islam, said.
“It was important to me, thinking about what it would mean for every child to have a book when they’re growing up that they can see themselves in.”