Muslim characters in children’s books offer invaluable inclusion

Publishing company Simon & Schuster recently made attempts to tackle the lack of diversity in literature by promoting children’s books with Muslim characters. The diversity issue in publishing is one that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Exposing children to various cultures is extremely important and literature is an excellent medium to help them learn about traditions different from their own. There are consequences to this absence of cultural variations. If children are not exposed to different ways of life at a young age, they will have difficulty accepting them later on. Additionally, minority children who don’t see themselves represented in literature may feel alienated from their peers.

According to The New York Times, Simon & Schuster decided to create a new children’s imprint named Salaam Reads. An imprint is a trade name under which works are published and Salaam Reads is dedicated to publishing literature that centers on Muslim characters and stories. Newsweek reported that Salaam Reads will start publishing chapter and picture books as well as middle school and young adult titles in 2017.

Simon & Schuster Executive Editor Zareen Jaffery will lead this imprint. According to the Simon & Schuster Team Page, she focuses on “commercial and literary young adult and middle grade fiction, as well as teen non-fiction.”

Jaffery grew up as a Pakistani-American Muslim in Connecticut, noting her own personal struggles growing up with a lack of diversity in children’s literature. In an interview with Story and Chai, Jaffery discussed her personal views on the white-centric nature of children’s literature. “I acknowledge the industry has a long way to go to correct the current imbalance,” she said.

Under the direction of Jaffery, Simon & Shuster’s new imprint will work to neutralize the cultural inequalities in the publishing industry. To do so, they are specifically creating a platform for Muslim children’s literature—a great step in the right direction.

Jaffery made it clear that she is aware that children are not necessarily reading books to be “enlightened” about other cultures and ways of life. Books are primarily a means of entertainment for younger generations and that doesn’t need to change. It is ignorant, however, to believe that things such as the race, class, gender or religious beliefs of a character do not affect the child reading the book. The New York Times article clarified that the newly published books’ main focus will not be Islamic doctrines or theology, but instead will be the everyday experiences of young characters.

Simon & Schuster’s recognition of the lack of diversity in children’s publishing will likely fuel necessary conversations about the neglected topic. Jaffery herself urged individuals to “reflect on the role you play in the book publishing process and think on ways you can help create a more just and inclusive world.”

Increased diversity in children’s books can aid in the creation of more accepting future generations. It can also give minority children a sense of belonging and construct an environment in which they embrace their differences—instead of feeling ashamed of them.

Every child deserves to read a book that they can see themselves in and Simon & Schuster is working to make that possible.