Lynn: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing recently announced a new imprint, Salaam Reads. Their mission: “to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.” It couldn’t come at a better time.
The first book in this welcome new effort is the delightful Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan. Pakistani-American, Muslim sixth-grader Amina Khokar is beginning to wish she never left elementary school. Everything is changing and she doesn’t like any of it. Her best friend Soojin is hanging out with Emily, their elementary-school mean-girl nemesis. Amina’s parents have signed her up for a Quran recitation competition, and her visiting uncle insists that Amina shouldn’t be allowed to play and sing the music she loves so much.
Amina’s religion is just one facet of her rich life. Changing friendships, school issues, protective parents, and those first shaky steps toward independence are all things readers will recognize. Without a trace of pedantry, Khan skillfully provides information about Amina’s family, culture, and faith. As a result, Amina emerges as a girl readers feel they know.
When something horrible happens, readers experience it right along with Amina. When someone vandalizes Amina’s mosque and writes “Terrorist and Go Home,” Amina is deeply shaken. How could anyone do this and how can she go home when she is home? It is such a powerful moment, one that young readers won’t forget.
Cindy: Middle-school friendships can be fraught with jealousy, spats, gossip, and other pitfalls. Watching Amina adjust to her bestie’s friendship with an old nemesis will be helpful for sixth graders in similar situations. Forgoing judgment based on preconceived notions is an important theme of the book, one that extends to a visiting uncle’s ideas about America, and Amina’s family’s ideas about him.
We had the privilege to hear Hena Khan speak at ALA about finding her voice and using it in her fiction. I hope many of you will give a listen and will share her voice with your students and children.