By Razeena Gutta
Richard Robinson, President and CEO of Scholastic Inc., in his keynote address at the inaugural Children’s Publishing Conference 2012 noted that a great book has the following 5 characteristics-
A few years ago we would have found it difficult to find any Islamic book for children that possessed these qualities. Many that may have possessed one or two would have been sorely lacking in other aspects.
As a lover of books myself, particularly children’s books (I have spent many visits to bookstores and libraries in the kid’s corner, looking for and reminiscing over the books I read as a child), I thought that I would compile and pen down some of the things to look for in a good book. These are qualities that are widely agreed upon as well as those I looked for as a young reader and that I now look for when deciding what to read to my young children.
This is in the hope that Muslim parents will actively seek out the great books available for Muslim kids – there is a changing approach to teaching Islam to young children and these resources can be the first, very captivating introduction to being a Muslim that young children will have.
The key to drawing a child into a book is emotion. Whether it is through an emotional attachment with the character or an emotional reaction to the language (think Dr. Seuss), a great book is one in which a child becomes attached to because of its ability to make us laugh, cry or just simply want to care about. A great book is also one in which we can identify with the emotions of the character.
In The Apple Tree by Mariam Al Kalby, Little Shaima, the main character, does not like the idea of sharing her apples. We can all, young and old alike, remember a time when we felt possessive about something special and did not feel the desire to share. The way her father patiently explains and helps her understand the concept of sharing and the reward of charity will draw anyone into this book.
Mind expanding illustrations, vocabulary or concepts
Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah by Omar Khawaja is a book that possesses all three of these qualities. The illustrations are fantastic and very appealing to young minds. Children are introduced to new words such as ‘Alpine Ibex’ and ‘Mandril’, and one of the most difficult concepts to explain – the question of where is Allah? – is investigated and concluded by the adorable characters.
The Story of the Elephant by Hajera Memon is another such example. The artwork is outstanding and the pop-up and tab features really draw the child in to the story and make it easier to relate and teach an otherwise difficult concept to children.
How Big is Allah? By Emma Apple also takes on the task of explaining another difficult concept with great success. Children are able to visualise and put into context their size with that of the planet, galaxy and universe, which allows them to appreciate the sheer greatness of Allah as the creator.
A great book helps a parent to teach – whether it teaches concepts such as numbers, letters and shapes or whether it teaches values and norms such as acceptance, diversity or manners. Books that can teach without sounding preachy are marvellous resources.
Ilyas and Duck and the Fantastic Festival of Eid al Fitr by Omar Khawaja is a fun book that again, with the use of the two adorable characters, seeks to make Eid fun while also explaining to children the differences between religions and their celebrations.
Circle of Sandcastles by Mariam Al Kalby is another fantastic book by the author. ‘Shy Maimuna’ the main character has to deal with bullies and she goes through many personal realisations before she feels that she can stand up to them. It is a great way of explaining and examining a very difficult concept.
It is the subtlety in teaching that is very important in children’s books. Adults do not like to be preached to, and neither do children.
Fun and adventurous
Books for kids need to be fun and filled with adventure. Whether it is real or imaginary is beside the point, but in order to keep a child interested there must be some thrill. Even subtle experiences such as the characters planting a tree and watching it grow, all the way to the characters traveling to space in makeshift rockets, will keep a child entertained. A sense of adventure and the characters’ enthusiasm will be contagious.
The best of books allow children to explore other worlds and lives. Books that are fantastical and imaginary are wonderful ways to captivate a child’s attention but at the same time they should be somewhat familiar to the children in terms of character, personality or conduct. This way, children will be able to identify closer with the characters and this will create a stronger bond with the book and develop a love of books and reading.
Razeena ia an editor with Muslimmatters. While researching about writing a children’s book, she came across many helpful hints and tips. After sourcing and examining the quality of the books that she now sells on www.readlittlemuslims.com, and after reviewing other great books targeted at Muslim children, she sees the trend is definitely changing in the world of Islamic books for kids.
Look out for her book for Muslim kids, coming soon. Faatimah and Ahmed – We’re Little Muslims is the story of two young children who love playing and telling stories. It is Ahmed’s first day at school and he has learned some very interesting things about the time that Prophet Muhammad was born. Faatimah is his younger, very curious sister. Join them as they discover the miracle of the Prophet and how important he is to Muslims!