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Book Aims to Help Young Americans Understand Islam


Middle school is a difficult time for many young people.

For Amina, an attack on the Islamic Center her family attends adds to the problems she already has. And a visiting uncle from Pakistan says Amina should read the Quran more often and stop playing the piano.

Anima is the main character in the fictional story, "Amina's Voice" by Hena Khan. Khan was at a Washington, D.C area bookstore recently talking with children, parents, and teachers about the book.

Hena Khan signing books in Washington, D.C.
Hena Khan signing books in Washington, D.C.

Khan hopes Amina's story will help young readers understand what it is like for a young Muslim girl to live in the United States. Khan talked with VOA about her book.

”So I think it’s really important through storytelling and through a character that they can relate to and identify and see themselves in, and realize that, 'Ok, this little girl Amina and her family isn’t as different from mine as I thought…and her community and her friends and her family look very similar to mine.' And hopefully that helps develop more understanding and more tolerance of Muslims."

Khan says that the media usually show negative actions of Muslims, so people fear their Muslim neighbors.

The writer grew up near Washington, D.C. and had problems with finding a balance between being both Pakistani and American at the same time. Khan remembers a friend who wanted to change her name to one that sounded "more American."

Jeanette Collier is a teacher at a local Jewish school. She plans to add the book to her school's library.

“Books are the second-best way for kids to learn about other people and to gain empathy and understanding of other people who are different than they are. Meeting those other people is the best way, making friends and having conversations, but I think our biggest challenge is getting the kids to read the books, because they go to what they know.”

One of the young readers at the bookstore, Mia Endelman, told VOA what she learned from the book.

"I kind of learned a little bit about Muslims, like, I didn’t know what Muslim churches, or a mosque, I didn’t know it was called that before."

"Amina's Voice" is the first book published by a new publishing company, Salaam Reads. The name "Salaam" means "peace" in Arabic.

Hena Khan says that finding a publisher was difficult. Now the book is part of a series. It will show young readers "a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves" in positive stories.

Greater understanding between Americans of all religions is a goal for both the writer and publisher. "Amina's Voice" comes at a time of intense debate over issues such as immigration and concerns over extremist speech targeting religious and ethnic groups.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Yahya Albarznji wrote this story for VOA News. Jill Robbins adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

uncle – n. the brother of your father or mother or the husband of your aunt

character - n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

fictional –adj. something imaginative, not literally true

challenge - n. a difficult task or problem

positive - adj. thinking about the good qualities of someone or something

Are there children's books in your country that help kids understand people from different cultures? What are they about? Write to us in the Comments Section.

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