Current events have me thinking so much about books as mirrors and windows. Rudine Sims Bishop first wrote about this idea in 1990:
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.
Throughout my teaching career, I’ve concentrated more on mirrors than windows. I’ve always taught in schools where most of the students are African American, and finding lots books that are mirrors hasn’t been easy. I’ve worked hard to find books in which my students would be able to see reflections of their own lives.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about windows and doors part of Bishop’s metaphor. She goes on in a paragraph that feels as if it could have been written today:
Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but they, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others. They need the books as windows onto reality, not just on imaginary worlds. They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. In this country, where racism is still one of the major unresolved social problems, books may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves. If they see only reflections of themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world – a dangerous ethnocentrism.
In a time when our country is filled with such xenophobic, ignorant, and flat-out-false rhetoric about people of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, and religions, teachers (and parents) have a responsibility.
We pick the books our students hear.
We decide if they see windows, or only mirrors.
We decide where where those windows face.
So let’s lead our students to these windows, throw them open, and cry, “Look! There are people out there!” For surely, by looking through these windows at stories of people of different races, ethnicities, and religions, our children will develop greater empathy for all people.
So today, I want to share with you some of my favorite books that feature Muslim characters.
I chose books that take place in the United States and around the world. I also chose some books whose plots center around war and the struggle of refugees and other books whose plots center around lollipops, friendship, and family dynamics. The variety is important; we don’t want students to think the view from one window is the singular story of a people.
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan
This is really a story about sisters and empathy. Rubina is invited to a birthday party. Her mother insists she take her younger sister along, even though Rubina insists that is not how things are done here. Both girls learn lesson about empathy.
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Farah is the new kid at school, struggling with the language and getting to know her new country. A field trip to the apple orchard reveals some of the ways her new country is similar to her home country–and reveals some of her new classmates as friends.
The Roses in my Carpets by Rukhsana Khan
A young boy describes his life in an Afghan refugee camp with his sister and mother where his only reprieve is learning to weave.
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan (can you tell I’m a fan?)
Malik is a kite fighter celebrating Basant. He takes down the kites of the bully next door–only to have the bully reappear, taking the kite of a little girl. This book tells the story of Malik’s generosity and of a centuries old festival.
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi
Lailah has moved from Abu Dhabi to Georgia, and is going to fast for Ramadan for the first time. She worries that the other students won’t understand, but with help from her teacher and her librarian, she comes up up with a solution.
What other titles would you add to this list?