Publishing company Simon & Schuster announced this week it has launched Salaam Reads, a new imprint focused on Muslim characters and stories.
"The lack of diversity in children's books was something I noticed as a kid, but not something I thought I could ever impact," Zareen Jaffery, executive editor of Simon & Schuster, told NBC News. "I accepted it as the way it was, and internalized the message that certain stories are more worth telling and sharing than others. That changed once I got older and realized that everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in literature and in the arts in general."
Representation and diversity is particularly important in the realm of children's books, Jaffery noted. She joined the Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers imprint in 2011. "In the children's book world we talk a lot about books being mirrors and windows—mirrors that reflect the experiences of kids back to them and validate them, and also windows that offer kids a view into a character or family or culture that is very different from their life," she said. "Books also offer readers the opportunity to empathize with the characters in the stories, and expand hearts and minds in that way."
When Jaffery started looking for writers to work with on Muslim children's books, she turned to Justin Chanda, the vice president and publisher of the Young Readers imprint. Through their discussions, Jaffery said, they realized they could create a separate imprint specifically for these stories.
"By creating an imprint, we wanted to broadcast our interest in seeking out the diverse voices among the Muslim community, and our excitement about sharing these stories with the world," she said.
Salaam Reads, which will be part of the Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers imprint, will publish children's books with Muslim characters and experiences, with plans to publish at least nine books a year with its first titles launching in 2017, according to Wednesday's press release.
The four books that have already been acquired will be by first-time authors, including the British teen pop star Harris J. His book, "Salam Alaikum," will be based on his song of the same name. Other books slotted for 2017 releases are "Musa, Moises, Mo, and Kevin," about four friends who "share their favorite family holiday traditions;" "The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand," about a young Bangladeshi-American girl who saves her brother from a supernatural board game; and "Yo Soy Muslim," a picture book about taking pride in a multicultural heritage by HBO Def Jam poet Mark Gonzales.
"I knew the announcement of the imprint would be an important moment to highlight the diversity within the Muslim community, and I reached out to authors, and in the case of Harris J, artists, who I felt could reflect that right out the gate," Jaffery said of the initial list. "We hope to inspire many generations of artists from under-represented communities with the books we publish at Salaam Reads, and it looks like we're already off to a great start."