Big U.S. publisher moves to push Islam to children

From the UK Guardian

Next year, at least nine books for younger readers focused on Muslim characters and stories will be published in the U.S. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing announced last week the launch of Salaam Reads, an imprint focused solely on stories about Muslims.

The publishing industry has long been known for its lack of diversity. It is rare to find books focused on Muslim characters. Salaam Reads, headed by Zareen Jaffrey, an executive editor of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, aims to change the landscape with stories that afford Muslim children a chance to see themselves reflected in a positive way in mainstream works.

“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,” Jaffrey told the New York Times.

The imprint takes its name from the Arabic word for peace will publish books aimed at young readers of all ages, including picture and chapter books and young adult titles.

Salaam Reads has already acquired four children’s books that will be released in 2017 including two children’s books: Salam Alaikum, a picture book celebrating peace, community and love, and Musa, Moises, Mo, and Kevin, a picture book about four kindergarten best friends who share their favorite family holiday traditions for various religious holidays. For middle-grade readers, The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand by Karuna Riazi tells the story of a 12-year-old Bangladeshi American who has to save her brother from a supernatural board game.

Mark Gonzales, an HBO DEF Jam poet and TEDxRamallah speaker, will write the fourth book Yo Soy Muslim, a lyrical picture book in which a parent writes to a child about the value of a multicultural heritage. The title comes from the poem Yo Soy Joaquin, where the narrator talks about the struggles of being a Chicano, Gonzales told the Guardian.

“The book is a letter to a child that simply says, ‘You are loved,’” Gonzales said.

Gonzales, who is part Mexican and part French and grew up in Alaska, said he spent his childhood trying to figure out his identity. He now has a daughter and said he worries about what she, of Mexican, French and Tunisian descent, will have to read growing up. Gonzales said he was excited about the launch of Salaam Reads precisely because it would reflect children like his daughter.

“Any person who has been on the receiving end of demonizing narratives or has felt invisible in existing narrative knows the pain that comes from being erased,” he said.

The launch of the imprint, Gonzales said, is “long overdue”.

“If the literary publications that are being released in the 21st century do not reflect what the 21st century looks like in terms of global community, they will be irrelevant,” he said. “Any industry that does not reflect the world won’t be embraced.”

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