Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, is something of a classic in the world of Muslim children’s literature, and rightly so.

This concept picture book for ages 5–6 uses stunning illustrations of the objects that fill a Muslim’s life to teach about colors, connecting an everyday lesson with an introduction to Islam that small children can understand.

It is a wonderful read-along book for both Muslim and non-Muslim groups. Muslim children will find the illustrations familiar and think about the prayer rug they have at home or the last gift they got for Eid. Non-Muslim children will get a very concrete idea of what it means to be a Muslim. And everyone will be able to see how colorful and beautiful Islam is.

The book opens “Red is the rug Dad kneels on to pray, facing toward Mecca, five times a day.” From this simple  spread, children can learn so much—Muslims pray five times a day; kneeling is a part of praying; Muslims face Mecca when they pray. Also, the picture depicts a family scene—our protagonist is praying with her father on her own little rug.

The featured items and colors are a red rug, a blue hijab, a golden dome (of a mosque), a white kufi, black ink (to write Allah), brown dates, orange henna, a purple gift (for Eid), a yellow (zakat) box, a green Quran, and a silver fanoos.

I love that Khan chose to use the words that are most often used in Muslim American communities. Only when we insist on calling things by their names can those things become a part of mainstream American life. Words like hijab, Allah, Eid, and henna have already entered mainstream English in many circles because Muslims insist on using those words. Other words in this book, like zakat, kufi, fanoos, and deen, will hopefully join those other words soon. And this book is doing that important work.

Something else that I really like about this book is that it doesn’t choose to focus on the cultural aspects of Islam and shy away from the faith-based ones. Prayer, hijab, a mosque, and the name of Allah are all prominently featured.

Mehrdokht Amini is one of my favorite illustrators. Her work speaks for itself; it manages to be both bright and soothing, and it walks the line between realistic and fantastical. Something really special about the illustrations in this book is that rather than the featured item alone being the right color, the entire spread takes on that hue. Another way her illustrations are fantastic in this book is that one side of the spread shows a close-up of the item, and the other side shows that item in a social or functional situation—in other words, in real life.

There is a glossary at the back of the book so that non-Muslim teachers, librarians, and parents can familiarize themselves with any terms that are new to them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has or works with children and anyone who loves beautiful, diverse art. You can get your own copy here.

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