Youth activist Marley Dias was inspired to begin her #1000BlackGirlBooks after being assigned yet another book about “a white boy and his dog.”
To be fair, many of those books are excellent. Rather, her frustration was centered around her inability to find (or be assigned) books with characters who looked like her. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the phrase and idea “windows and mirrors” in literature, an idea backed by research regarding the benefits of seeing yourself in the books you read as well as the benefits of reading about people with different experiences.
On this note, the Children’s Department has a growing collection of books about young Muslim boys and girls and their search for what makes them special.
I have been eagerly anticipating AISHA SAEED’s first picture book, “BILAL COOKS DAAL,” since I first heard about it.
Anoosha Syed’s illustrations are fun, fresh and cartoon-like, an effect inspired by Syed’s animation work.
In “Bilal Cooks Daal,” 6-year-old Bilal invites his friends over to cook daal with his father, but his friends’ questions (“What’s daal taste like? Is it salty?”) and their observations (“It looks funny. It smells funny.”) make him self-conscious about one of his favorite foods. Saeed’s description of what daal is, including how to choose which type to make, reads like poetry, and Syed’s bright illustrations illuminate the excitement and near-sacredness of preparing the dish.
The last page reads: “Daal is tiny. Daal is tough. But with a little time and a lot of patience, it becomes the softest, tastiest, best thing in the whole wide world.”
Saaed and Syed’s book is beautiful and successfully works as both a window and a mirror.
If you’ve never had this dish and want to try it at home, Saeed includes a recipe in the back pages. Saeed’s story acknowledges both the cultural and familial importance of daal, as well as the comfort a good meal can provide. I recommend both the dish and the book.
It’s important to note that diversity in picture books has improved very slightly in recent years.
In 2017, 6% of new children’s books were written by people of color; that figure rose to 7% in 2018 (Lee & Low, 2018). From an observational standpoint, much of the diversity seems to be centered in picture books.
However, books for beginning readers can lack both diverse characters and a compelling story, so I was thrilled to find SAADIA FARUQI and HATEM ALY’s new early reader series, “MEET YASMIN.”
The book, which totals roughly 90 pages, includes four stories, including: “Yasmin the Explorer,” “Yasmin the Painter,” “Yasmin the Builder” and “Yasmin the Fashionista.”
In each story, young Yasmin struggles with discovering her talents. In “Yasmin the Builder,” she doesn’t know what her contribution to her class’s city will be but uses her experiences going on walks with her mom (who, notably, wears a hijab) to create sidewalks and bridges out of tinker toys.
In “Yasmin the Artist,” she struggles with her painting abilities during a school art contest; once she relaxes and ignores expectations, she creates an abstract painting of which she is very proud. “Yasmin the Fashionista” is a fun story about creating a fashion show with her Nani (which the back matter defines as Urdu for your grandmother on your mother’s side).
The last few pages of “Meet Yasmin” introduce Urdu words, facts about Pakistan and a recipe for a yogurt drink called a mango lassi. Hatem Aly, the illustrator of the Newbery Honor book, “The Inquisitor’s Tale,” creates fun and inclusive illustrations reminiscent of Japanese anime characters. “Meet Jasmin” is excellent and available in the Children’s Department’s easy fiction section.