Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing recently announced a new imprint: Salaam Reads. Aimed specifically for young readers, it explores the experience of Muslims through picture books, middle grade and young adult literature for readers of all faiths and backgrounds.
This new publishing initiative is an excellent way to introduce the Muslim faith and culture. The imprint can also serve as an affirmation for youth who seek to read literature reflecting their lives.
Congratulations to the publisher on this groundbreaking addition to the cannon of literature for today's diverse young readers.
Meet Amina Khan, a twelve-year old Muslim living in Milwaukee with her father, mother, and older brother. Her world is shattered when an act of violence targets the Islamic Center and mosque. This reshapes her views of community. "Why would anyone want to do this to us?" "I'm afraid I will never feel normal again."
As both a recipient and as a perpetrator of thoughtless actions, Amina experiences the pain of making rash judgments, the sorrow of unresolved guilt, and the relief of extending forgiveness.
Amina learns to trust herself, her friends, family, and faith. She finds her own voice.
"I ignore the trembling in my leg, find my voice, and hear myself softly and clearly sing..."
Hena Khan's Amina's Voice is a middle grade novel filled with warmth and quiet strength.
More Salaam Reads books, please.
This cover is gorgeous! I love the profile of Amina with eyes closed and hands clasped, surrounded by rich color shading and swirling patterns. This design captures the spirit of young girl, filled with hopes and dreams. The lyrical imagery matches the musical theme woven throughout the narrative. Ombré orange hues contrast with the turquoise-colored spine, echoing color palettes found in traditional Pakistani art. An eye-arresting package.
This is sixth grade in real life. Consider the following examples: Meet a girl juggling her love of singing with her fear of performing. Amina's embarrassment and sense of discomfort about family counterbalance her intense loyalty to family members. The uneasy feelings she experiences as her exclusive relationship with a best friend begins to evolve and results in a moral dilemma: is she willing to forgive and allow a new friend into her intimate circle? Her guilt when she discloses a personal secret that she should have keep confidential. This causes her to ask, "But wait - am I even a real friend?'
Khan makes clear that Amina's life in not the experience of all Muslims, that there are distinctions between people and cultures throughout the Arab world. However the luster of the Muslim faith shines through, like a glimmer of golden thread throughout the narrative. Consider inclusion of phrases such as "Insha'Allah" (God willing) and references to the teachings and poetic quality of the Quran. Kahn adds Pakistani American details such as descriptions of traditional dress and tantalizing Pakistani food: spicy spinach -and -lamb stew, curried chicken, gulag jamon (sticky, sweet doughnut-like treats) and tea scented with cardamom.
A climactic scene takes place when the Islamic Center including the mosque where Amina's family worships is vandalized. Witnessing the desecration of this cultural and holy space, now defaced with phrases such as "Go Home, Terrorists, Towelheads" Amina is fearful. Her dread is slowly replaced by gratitude as the greater community reaches out to their Muslims friends, offering the use of the neighboring church for an interfaith celebration to raise funds for rebuilding the damaged mosque and community center.
Current Events Connection
The rash of attacks on Jewish Cemeteries in early 2017 has inspired a group of Muslims to come forward, affirming their belief in the value of diverse communities working together.
Vandals targeted a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. and at least 170 headstones were damaged. One week later 75 to 100 tombstones were toppled at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia.
After learning of this news, Muslim activist Tarek El-Messidi immediately took action, posting on Facebook: "I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry,"
He visited the site of the tragedy and began to mobilize efforts to reach out to those affected by this vandalism. Funds were raised to begin repairing the headstones. Various religious and community groups worked together, offering support to their neighbors and friends.
El-Messidi stated that Muslims can relate to the effects of racial intolerance.
"We must stand together against these acts of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia," he wrote.