A self-published book by the founder of a tiny independent publisher in Harrow in west London has won the UK’s Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction. The award is run jointly by London’s Letterbox Library – a bookseller and education supplier that champions diversity; and radical London bookseller Housmans.
The Muslims by Zanib Mian tells the story of Omar who is proud to be Muslim and keen to apply Islamic teachings to his life, but who has to face problems of misunderstanding and prejudice from his fellow pupils at school.
Mian’s own publishing house, Sweet Apple Books, has published the title, which was written, she says, “to counteract the extremely damaging negative media portrayal of Muslims, and to correct some common misconceptions”. The title has not yet been translated into Arabic.
Mian believes that books are an important tool in improving understanding of people of other cultures and faiths, and that this “leads to respect and a celebration of diversity”.
She hopes the book highlights the fact that “we all have more in common than we realise” and that it “reassures children that the differences that we do have are perfectly fine and in fact, make life more colourful!”
She adds: “We’re extremely excited about giving young Muslims a character that they can see themselves and families like theirs in. This is a book that celebrates both their Islamic and British heritage, a book that makes them feel that they are understood and welcomed in the environment in which they live.”
According to Mian, the UK charity Childline revealed that children as young as nine are being branded terrorists in the wake of recent terror attacks in the UK.
“Muslim children have told Childline they’ve endured constant name-calling, been accused of being associated with Isis and been threatened with violence. Young girls have frequently been victimised when they wear a hijab or headscarf, the helpline said.”
Mian is Pakistani by origin but was born and raised in London. She studied Molecular Cell Biology at University College London and went on to teach Science in secondary schools before she made the decision to give up her teaching career to create change within children’s publishing. She felt that diverse characters from all minorities and backgrounds weren’t being fully represented in books for young children and she launched Sweet Apple Publishers in 2014 with a clear commitment to publishing inclusive books, many of which she has authored herself. She also runs Muslim Children’s Books, a successful publishing company for unique, quirky and inspirational Islamic books.
She concludes: “We, at Sweet Apple, feel that quirky and fun characters like Omar are the best way to break down the prejudice that leads to this type of bullying and name calling. We hope that this book will build bridges and help create a world in which we celebrate diversity and stand together.”