Yo Soy Muslim
Written by Mark Gonzales
Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
2017 32 pages
Yo Soy Muslim is a touching picture book for children 4–8 years old. Written as a letter from a father to his daughter, it explores themes of religion, culture, and language, and describes the world as a place his daughter belongs in.
The illustrations are by Mehrdokht Amini, who also illustrated Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, and are absolutely stunning.
My favorite thing about this book is the way that it represents the intersectionality of culture that is a reality for so many Americans. It references Mayan pyramids and mosques, mi abuelo and crescent moons. The father instructs his daughter to say: “I speak Spanish, Arabic, and dreams.” He wears Converse and his daughter wears Crocs.
In such a heartfelt, accepting story, it would have been easy to skirt around the problems inherent in differentness. But instead, he tackles them head on—he tells her that the world will ask her questions, like “What are you?”
He encourages her to relate to others on the basis of their humanity, and to be proud of her place in the world: past, present, and future—“Yo soy Muslim. I am from Allah, angels, and a place almost as old as time. I speak Spanish, Arabic, and dreams. Mi mama creates life. Mi abuelo worked the fields. My ancestors did amazing things and so will I.”
Because the prose is more poem than it is a story with a beginning, middle, and end, I ended up enjoying this book more than my children (6 and 7 years old). While they were excited to hear Spanish words in an Islamic context (they are very interested in Spanish), they generally like books that have a narrative story line more than those that don’t.
Parents writing letters to their children is a common theme in literature in the last few years, and I think that it reflects the terror that we sometimes feel when we look at the world around us. We want to reassure our children that they belong here, that they have a place, and that they are wanted and loved in that place, no matter what the sociopolitical climate might suggest.
I highly recommend Yo Soy Muslim for every school, library, and home. It describes a world that belongs to all of us and presents an empowering message about embracing identity in difficult times.
You can get your own copy of Yo Soy Muslim here.