August 1st is a special day for my fellow writer Saadia Faruqi; it’s the book birthday of her new young reader story MEET YASMIN! Kirkus Review and the School Library Journal give this book a starred review and I agree.
Faruqi’s book is a mostly light-hearted work about spirited second-grader Yasmin, her Pakistani-American family, and her school and home life. Young readers will sample some Urdu words along the way; they will learn that a kameez (pronounced kuh-meez) is a long tunic or shirt and that baba is a name for father.
Readers also get to see a spunky little girl in action as she encounters challenges at home and school and sets herself to solving them. And while Yasmin’s family may be the first Muslim family some readers have encountered, the main character’s feelings, fears, and imagination will feel very familiar to most kids.
That is intentional. Author Faruqi, who resides in Texas with her husband and children, said, “Hopefully the series will help kids see their Muslim classmates and neighbors as perfectly normal and just as American as them.” In writing the series, Faruqi’s goal is for readers to gain “empathy and the realization that they are all a part of this great country, that our political, religious and cultural differences are something to be celebrated, not feared.”
We need such books. I actually picked up Faruqi’s book on the same day the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s ban on travelers from certain majority-Muslim countries, a ban that casts entire populations as people to be feared.
The overlooked fact that most asylum seekers are seeking safety and the promise of the American Dream seems particularly unjust. In her strong dissent to the Supreme Court’s majority decision upholding the ban, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it “repeats tragic mistakes of the past” and “tells members of minority religions … that they are outsiders.”
Those “outsiders” include many children who long for safety or to be reunited with family in America. As detailed in a Washington Post article, Ramy Almansoob, an engineer who was born in the U.S. and returned here from Yeman in 2015 to start a new life for his family, was desperate to bring his wife and three girls to the U.S. Their war-torn country was not safe; last year the children mourned when their grandmother was shot and killed by a stray bullet in her own home.
Almansoob’s girls — ages 6, 9 and 13 — asked him every day for weeks: “Do we have a decision yet? Do we have a decision yet?”
The family was devastated by the Supreme Court decision and are now exploring a move to Canada, even though the father is a U.S. citizen. His first priority is to be with his family.
This story of one family’s separation is the sad reality for many other parents with families on the banned list; those seeking asylum at our southern borders are facing their own painful version, with 2,300 children separated from their parents at one point.
There is a scene early in MEET YASMIN when our heroine, always the explorer, wanders off from her mother to test the swings in a nearby park and finds herself lost. She uses a map she has drawn to find her way back to the farmer’s market and her mother’s familiar blue hijab.
Mama reacts as many mothers would: with a light scolding — “tell me where you’re going next time” and affection. The scene, written for an audience of 5-8 year-olds, was meant to reassure. But there are still tears, a close hug, and Yasmin’s thought that “next time she went exploring, she would bring the map and Mama.”
Readers will root for the girl with the handmade map; we want the lost child to reunite with her mother because we can see ourselves and our children in this familiar scene. Such tales remind us of a universal truth: that all children want normalcy; they want to feel safe and loved, no matter their country or religion of origin.
I recently saw the new Mister Rogers documentary, a must-see story of such a kind man, someone who told all of his viewers that we are enough, just as we are. That children’s feelings are as powerful to them as adult feeling are to us.
I think he would have given MEET YASMIN a starred review too.
Note: I received an advance copy of MEET YASMIN; it’s now available at bookstores and online. To read Saadia Faruqi’s heartfelt story of why she wrote MEET YASMIN, please click here.