A lot of people I know have been asking themselves this past week about how to talk to their kids about Islamophobia, bigotry, hatred, and violence. As the parent of a 5½ -year-old I can tell you I have a terrible sense that I am failing the world if I do not talk to my child about the violence that can erupt from bigotry and hatred, but no real sense yet of how to start telling him about mass shootings. On the first three thorny issues, though, I have found that it is really quite easy to talk to my child about bigotry and discrimination and why I’m opposed to them, once I start. And when I have a hard time starting, books are always there to give us a story, and usually some images, to bring life and reality to a conversation about some pretty complicated concepts.
It is in that spirit that I picked up two books for young children from my local library today, Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story by Hena Khan (illustrations by Julie Paschkis), and Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh. Saffron Ice Cream is about a child, Rashin, who has moved with her family from Iran to New York City. There are a lot of things to love about this book: Rashin misses her past, and tells us about the segregated beach that she used to love going to with her family (where her brother and father would go to their part of the beach, and she and her mother to the other part, separated by a curtain, and where the women took off their covers and tanned in the sun). The all-female space was a kind of refuge for her there.
Rashin is also excited about going to the beach at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, and appreciates the diversity of characters and the music she encounters on the subway ride. She makes a new friend and asks her what the rules are for this new beach. It’s a simple story, and fairly didactic as these stories sometimes are, but it’s bright and vibrant.
Night of the Moon is about Yasmeen, who celebrates Ramadan with her parents (though, as she explains to her friends at school, she is still too young to fast). Her family attends parties and give parties all through the month, and Yasmeen revels in it the way Christian-culture kids revel at Christmas. She is curious and asks her mother whether fasting is hard. Her mother acknowledges that it is, but says, “Fasting helps me remember to be grateful for the food I have and to be more patient.” I guess my heightened emotions are not entirely from the book, but that line made me tear up, reading in the library. This book too is full of bright colours and a diversity of skin tones and backgrounds, and it gives a matter-of-fact, informative and insider’s view of growing up in a loving, religious Muslim family. I’m looking forward to my kid getting back here from his week at his dad’s tomorrow so I can read both of these books to him.