Children’s literature plays a critical role in shaping young minds and helping them develop empathy, curiosity, and a deeper understanding of the world around them. As part of our Arab American Heritage Month series, we are featuring five prominent Arab American children’s book authors and their books. It is critical for children to have access to books that feature characters they can identify with and stories that reflect their experiences and cultural heritage. Further, all children benefit from reading books that come from diverse perspectives and that feature diverse characters.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian American poet and author who has written many books for children and young adults. Her works often explore themes of identity, cultural heritage, and social justice. Some of her most popular titles, Habibi, Sitti’s Secrets, and The Turtle of Oman, feature characters who visit or move to unfamiliar countries, and learn to adjust to new cultures, languages, and realities.
Hena Khan is a Pakistani American author who has written both picture books and books for the middle grades. Her stories feature diverse Muslim characters and highlight the challenges they face in today’s world. In her middle grade novels, Amina’s Voice and More to the Story, the main characters explore their identities and find their voices as women living in a multicultural world. Under My Hijab is a picture book for younger readers. Its illustrations and rhyming verse explore the diversity of cultural expression among contemporary Muslim women
N.H. Senzai is an Afghan American author whose works explore themes of family, displacement, and cultural identity. Shooting Kabul, Escape from Aleppo, follow the stories of refugees from Afghanistan and Syria, respectively. In Ticket to India, a 12-year-old girl explores her family’s history as she journeys across India on a quest for a family heirloom. Please note: many of Senzai’s stories involve war, protest, and the refugee experience. While these realities are experienced by many children around the world, please be mindful of this when choosing books to share with your family.
Reem Faruqi is a Pakistani American author and illustrator. Her stories, featuring Muslim characters, explore themes of belonging and finding balance in a multicultural setting. Lailah’s Lunchbox, Amira’s Picture Day both take place during Ramadan and follow young girls’ efforts to balance their cultural and religious traditions with life in contemporary America. In Unsettled, a young girl struggles to fit in after moving from Pakistan to the United States until she finds her strength in competitive swimming.
Aisha Saeed is a Pakistani American author and the founder of We Need Diverse Books™, an organization that promotes diverse books through mentorship, advocacy, and distribution. Saeed tackles tough subjects, such as arranged marriage, poverty, and social injustice in her books for older kids including, Written in the Stars, Amal Unbound. Her picture book, Bilal Cooks Daal, tells the story of a six-year-old introducing his friends to his favorite dish, daal, and features themes of patience, sharing, and community.
We hope the authors and books described above start you on a journey of exploring more diverse and inclusive books. If you want to learn more about Arab American Heritage Month and get additional book recommendations, check out our post, Honoring Arab American Heritage