American publisher Simon & Schuster has announced a new branch of its company that will be offering Muslim-themed children's books in an effort to share the culture and experiences of that community. The imprint is called Salaam Reads and will publish books intended for young children up through young adults and will feature Muslim characters and story lines.
Heading up the division is Connecticut-native Zareen Jaffery who told The New York Times that as a young Pakistani girl growing up Muslim in America, she always hoped to find out clues about fitting in through the novels by Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume. However, she said, "I didn't see myself reflected in books back then." She feels the same way now, she added.
And so, bothered by the lack of Muslim themes and characters in children's literature, Jaffrey, 37, met with the publisher for Simon & Schuster's young readers division, Justin Chanda, and together they decided not just to release a few books into the market, but to create an entirely new imprint that would be responsible for releasing at least nine titles or more each year. They chose Salaam Reads because salaam means "peace" in Arabic.
Chanda assured the NYT that the books won't "emphasize theology or Islamic doctrine" but will keep the plots focused on being a Muslim. In Jaffery's view, these books will be "a more nuanced and… honest portrayal of the lives of everyday Muslims."
The NYT notes the peculiar timing of the publisher's new line during this "fractious and polarizing political debate [where] American Muslims in particular, feel they are being targeted."
As is made clear over and over again in the story, the intended outcome is to reach out to this minority group not usually depicted as main characters in literature and bring them to the forefront. Here are the confirmed releases so far, via the NYT:
Salaam Reads has acquired four books that will come out in 2017, including “Salam Alaikum,” a picture book based on a song by the British teen pop singer Harris J. Others planned for release next year are “Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin,” a picture book about four kindergarten friends who learn about one another’s holiday traditions; “The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand” by Karuna Riazi, about a 12-year-old Bangladeshi-American who sets out to save her brother from a supernatural board game, and “Yo Soy Muslim,” a picture book by the poet Mark Gonzales.
Pamela Geller, known for being outspoken against the Islamization of America, reacted strongly to this news:
[W]hen I think how difficult it is for my colleagues and me to get a book published that is critical of jihad and sharia. But this?
American Muslim children can’t relate to American children’s books? Why not? And if not, we change the books? Insane.
More accommodation, more segregation — not assimilation. Cultural sharia.