While she was growing up in South Florida, the Pakistani-American novelist Aisha Saeed said that she never read any children’s or young adult books that featured Muslim or South Asian characters.
“I remember reading books like Heidi and Little Women,” she recalled. “When I was in college I saw a copy of the book “Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind,” by Suzanne Fisher Staples. That was actually the first time I saw a book with a South Asian on the cover.”
Now a mother of two, Saeed recently walked into her local Barnes and Noble in Atlanta and her eyes were instantly drawn to a small display in the children’s section of Ramadan-themed books.
“It was just four books, but I wanted to buy them all,” said Saeed. “But I realized that if I did that, then there wouldn’t be any left in the display.”
Saeed and her sons-- ages 4 and 1 ½-- ended up selecting two of the four books to purchase and Saeed then mentioned their enthusiasm for the display to the manager in charge of the section.
“She said that the more people buy these books, the more the store will order them,” said Saeed.
So Saeed decided to write a blog post about her experience at the store and what it meant to see their culture represented positively in books, hoping other families would ask for similar books in their stores. That post planted the seed for what would become the Ramadan Reads campaign, which kicked off today on both Twitter and the Muslim blogs Love, Inshallah, Story and Chai and Muslimah Montage.
Readers are encouraged to visit their local bookstores and ask if there were any books for both children and adults with Muslim characters or themes and to share the titles they purchased using the #RamadanReads hashtag on Twitter. Participants are also encouraged to give books to family members on Eid-al-Fitr, the holiday that ends the month-long Islamic holy month. Story and Chai has an extensive list of suggested books.
“The goal is to get people to think about their buying habits,” said Saeed. “When it comes to selling books, every single person makes a difference.”