Missing Character in Kids’ Literature: Muslims

Norman Draper, Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), December 28, 2010

As the Muslim student population grows in Minnesota, some educators detect a glaring gap: a dearth of books the students can relate to and from which others can learn.

“There wasn’t a whole lot in our library that provided a sense of ‘this is what’s normal,'” said Julie Scullen, a reading intervention specialist at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, where she took stock of books about Muslims growing up in America.

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Many educators say it’s critical for students to have books in which they can see themselves.

“It is extremely important for young people to read stories reflecting their ethnicity and/or religion in order to feel like worthwhile human beings,” said Freda Shamma, director of curriculum development for the Foundation for the Advancement and Development of Education and Learning, based in Cincinnati.

“The absence of such stories leads to poor grades in school, feelings of loneliness and alienation, and low self-esteem,” said Shamma, who is working on an anthology of Muslim literature directed at middle-school-age students.

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Books oriented toward Muslim students are apparently more common at some grade levels than others. “They’re easier to find for elementary kids,” said Lori Saroya, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Minnesota. “There are a number of books out there focusing on Ramadan [the Muslim holy month], but they’re more targeted for younger kids. I’ve heard of some series of fiction books for junior high kids, but they are difficult to find.”

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