If we want the world to be a more compassionate place we need to foster inclusive communities. Middle grade readers love to learn about the world and others and this list of middle grade books with muslim characters features books that offer kids ages 8-13 a variety of role models. Some kids reading these books will enjoy seeing themselves reflected in the pages. Others will open their hearts and minds to the experiences of others.
I've broken the list into two parts. In the first you will meet families who live in the West, in the second, readers will learn about the experiences of families living in the Middle East and Africa.
The majority of these books are Own Voices novels, but not all, so you can keep that in mind when deciding which books you prefer to give your kids.
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Books set in Western Countries with Muslim Protagonists
The following books with Muslim characters are set primarily in western countries, although some of them open in the family's country of origin.
by Hena Khan
A thoughtful story about a Pakistani-American middle schooler, Amina, who must balance the love of her cultural identity with her anxieties about fitting in with her peers. An attack on the local mosque puts the community on edge and Amina, her family and friends struggle with their feelings. No matter what their cultural or religious identity, all readers will relate to Amina’s coming of age story.
Khan has another book, More to the Story, about a Muslim-American family living in Georgia. It was inspired by Little Women.
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
by Firoozeh Dumas
In 1970s California, a young Iranian immigrant tries to figure out how to be American without rejecting her heritage. Zomorod Yousefzadeh's (who now wants to be called "Cindy") attempts to fit in with her peers. Her father works for the oil industry and the Iranian revolution features prominently in her family's life. I loved this moving and funny book and I think all kids will relate to Zomorod, I mean, "Cindy."
Other Words for Home
by Jasmine Warga
This free-verse novel begins in Syria around the start of the Arab Spring. Jude and her pregnant mother decide to emigrate to live with her uncle in America. Her older brother, caught up in the protests against the government, stays behind with their father. In America, Jude meets new friends and discovers an interest in theater. With unflinching honesty and a keen perception, Jude describes the transition from Syria to her experiences adjusting to living in America. A splendid book.
The Garden of My Imaan
by Farhana Zia
Aliya’s family is Muslim and Indian-American. Aliya, in the beginning of puberty wonders about how to navigate being old enough to fast during Ramadan, if she wants to wear a headscarf and what it might mean to draw attention to her identity as Muslim. A new acquaintance from Morocco seems so secure in her choices to display the outward symbols of her faith. This is a great book to discuss the different ways families may practice the same religion.
A Long Pitch Home
by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Bilal and his family move from Pakistan to Virginia. His father, however, stays in Pakistan. Back in Pakistan, Bilal was an excellent cricket player; in Virginia he joins a summer baseball team, but of course he must figure out the differences and adjust to the new game. This is a wonderful story about adjusting to a new culture.
by N. H. Senza
After Fadi's father is pressured by the Taliban, the family claims asylum and moves to San Francisco. Horrifyingly, on the way over the border to Pakistan, Fadi's six year old sister is lost in the chaos. Fadi feels responsible and enters a photography contest in the hopes of winning a trip to India, where he thinks he can cross into Pakistan to search for her. A few months after moving, September 11 happens and Fadi feels the changes in the dynamic of the community and his school. Although Fadi doesn't win the contest, his photography efforts lead to a reunion with his lost sister.
Books Set in Muslim-Majority Countries
Our children can't become compassionate global citizens if they don't learn about the experiences of others all around the world. Here are a few of my favorite books with Muslim characters set in the Arab world.
The Turtle of Oman
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Aref Al-Amri is getting ready to leave his home in Oman. He is not looking forward to moving to Michigan and leaving behind all the things, places and people he loves. Instead of packing his suitcase as his mom requests, he and his grandfather, Siddi, visit a number of special places and along the way his grandfather helps him acquire momentos of home, while helping him learn to appreciate the adventure that is about to begin.
by Aisha Saeed
I could not put this book down! It is an important book remind our children that there are still boys and girls around the world who are denied an education and the freedom that comes with living in a developed country. In her Pakistani village, Amal dreams of becoming a teacher one day but an unfortunate event leads to her going to live as an indentured servant in the household of the village's corrupt landlord. Amal is a strong protagonist who takes matters into her own hands, determined to achieve her goals, despite her circumstances.
The Red Pencil
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Red Pencil contains some tough subject matter, but it is a marvelous book. 12-year-old Amira lives in the Darfur region of Sudan on her family's farm. It is 2003, just as war is breaking out in the area. She loves her family and dreams of going to school. When the Janjaweed arrive in her village, the survivors make the long walk to the refugee camp, where conditions are hard. Amira receives the gift of a red pencil and yellow notepad which becomes a catalyst of sorts, both for her spirit and for her mind. The most difficult scene in the book is when the Janjaweed terrorize the village and Amira sees the death of her father. The ending of the book leaves a lot of questions unanswered but curious and thoughtful children will want to learn more.
by Deborah Ellis
I loved this book, and every page was full of suspense. In Kabul, Afghanistan, 11-year-old Parvana's father, a former teacher, is arrested for having a "foreign education." Parvana disguises herself as a boy and takes over her father's space in the market to try and earn money for the family.
The Breadwinner was made into an Academy Award nominated animated film. I haven't seen it, but it looks great.
More books you may enjoy: