People often ask me what inspired me to write my first picture book. I owe a lot of my motivation to a spider named Sammy. Over a decade ago, when my older son was attending a cooperative preschool, his teacher read a sweet book to the class about how Sammy wanted to spin a dreidel during Hanukah. As I watched the captivated kids shout out the refrain, “Spiders don’t spin dreidels, they spin webs,” I realized that Muslims also needed to spin some engaging tales of our own.
Up to that point, I owned a handful of picture books about Islam and Muslims, gifts for my son from my inlaws purchased at various conferences. Somehow, they all ended up buried at the bottom of our book bin. That evening I dug them up, searching for a Sammy Spider, or anything close to it. But all of the books lacked the charm of his simple story. Even worse, they were didactic, or boring, or simply unattractive. And none were appropriate to share with a general audience.
On the other hand, as I rifled through my budding home library with renewed interest, I realized that several other multicultural titles were already some of our favorites. My son often asked me to read How Nanita Learned to Make Flan, Ruby’s Wish, and Anansi the Spider—all rich and colorful stories that brought diverse cultures to life. It saddened me to realize we had no equivalent books about our culture to read together, or share with friends at school. I started to hunt for any I could find, and my goal became to create appealing books about Muslims that captured the attention of young readers and didn’t end up collecting dust.
Today, there is nothing more gratifying to me than to hear parents say their children request Night of the Moon or Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns repeatedly. Even better is when they tell me their little ones can recite them from memory. I’m thrilled to see the thought conversation around diversity in children’s literature include Muslims and am encouraged by the growing commitment to represent all voices. I hope to have more to add to the collection.
Thanks for the kick in the pants, Sammy Spider.
What are your favorite multicultural picture books?