The awesome afternoon continued with a panel on Muslim Representation with educator and author Marian Hassan, teacher-librarian Ariana Sani Hussain, librarian Madeline Tyner from Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), and moderator Katelyn Martens-Rodriguez.
Muslims are a huge percentage of the global population, and are located all over the world; they are also the most ethnically diverse faith community. The CCBC is a research and evaluation library, and one of its research studies is on diversity statistics in youth literature. The panelists noted that Muslims are most often portrayed in the media in a negative light, while Muslim youth are revered by Islamic adults.
Hussain noted that YA and children’s books with Muslim representation are generally more positive than adult titles, but there are fewer titles in general, and many are not created by #OwnVoices. Representation provides windows, mirrors, sliding glass doors, and prisms. It builds positive identity and can be extended to both curriculum and discussions with other children.
The CCBC creates tags for all of the books they receive each year, such as “Muslim diversity.” Their goal is to share diversity statistics, but Tyner noted that those stats don’t comment on the quality of the content. In 2019, the data showed that only 1.2% (one point two!) of all of the children’s and YA the books received “Muslim diversity” tags, and many of those 1.2% were for middle grade or higher. Hussain mentioned that some of the representation includes stereotypes, cultural conflation, and “diversity for diversity’s sake.” Hussain said that Muslim readers may see these books and say, “this is not my culture… this is not my people.” We need to expand the narratives so we can see a full representation of Muslim. Hassan described “absent narratives:” missing stories in the dominant culture. Sharing these stories is a necessity for young people.
Librarians can work to develop their collections to include native-born Muslim authors, and use tools such as Muslims in Story and The Hijabi Libarian’s Toolkit. The panelists emphasized the importance of ensuring representation, but “there is no quick way” accomplish this. Their hopes for the future are cross-cultural understanding; they need more opportunities to tell their stories. Hassan said in closing that “librarians hold the power to change people’s lives.” Tyner said that “the books are there to entertain but also educate us.”
Finally, at the end, the Edible books were awarded (I won “Most Terrifyingly Tasty” – haha!), and we were treated to some tricky Minnesota-literary-themed trivia.
I can’t express how grateful I am to have received a 2020 Friends of ALSC Virtual Institute Scholarship; it made it possible for me to attend this amazing event. I have been to all kinds of conferences, but this children’s-focused Institute is where my heart lies. I’ll be thinking about, processing, and making plans from what I have learned in these whirlwind two days for ages. And, I can’t wait to do it again.