I share this book from 1996 to show how far we have come in telling our own stories with accuracy and emotion, as well as to celebrate those that featured Muslims in a positive, unapologetic light when there wasn’t a standard yet established. It is easy to harp on the negative, but truly the only way forward is demanding better of ourselves and of our representation. The book is disjointed-pulling in random details to focus on, and is very text heavy, slow, and dry. It does feature a Muslim family, though, and shows both Abdul (albeit in his underclothes) and his father praying salat. The text even mentions thanking Allah (swt). I honestly have been searching for past Islamic representation or mention in mainstream juvenile fiction, it fascinates me to see where the seeds first were planted: Sport by Louise Fitzhugh (1980) has a one line mention of a character being Muslim, Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird (1991), Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye (1997), Ruhksana Khan’s The Roses in My Carpets by a Muslim about Muslims(1998), The Hundredth Name (1995) by Shulamith Oppenheim.
Abdul is a seven-year-old little boy in Freetown, Sierre Leone. He sells oranges so that he can pay for school. School is not free, and selling oranges requires a lot of patience to save up enough to return to the classroom. One day he returns having not sold any, and his grandmother reminds him to be patient and to try a new market. His mother tells him to take his little sister Maryama with him. She is five and slows him down.
In the evening Abdul’s father prays in their yard and then tells them about an upcoming parade to celebrate the anniversary of their country’s independence. Abdul’s mom will be in the parade. After more days of low and no sales, Abdul worries that school is a faraway dream. Maryama however, sells some oranges for him and he dares to hope he can sell a lot at the stadium and during the parade.
Momma is marching in the parade, the family watches her. Abdul gets tired of waiting for her afterward and walks him. His dad has a good day of driving his taxi for people trying to get to the stadium and home from it. At the end of the day, they count up their money and there is enough for Abdul to return to school.
The final page shows Abdul praying and thanking Allah for the oranges to sell, the taxi passengers and for patience. I have no idea why he is wearing an undershirt and underwear while he prayers, clearly his awrah is not covered, nor does it radiate reverence.
The point of the book is to humanize another culture and perhaps make western children appreciative of their life, the ability to attend school, and not having to work from such a young age. The book I checked out from the library, doesn’t show that anyone in 1997 until today, or at least whenever the library switched from the stamped dates to electronic ones, ever checked out the book. And while yes it offers very little to the catalogue of memorable books of our time, it does show the early indications of our presence in literature.