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On Children’s Books: The Victory Boys

July 19, 2011
Ah, children’s books. What is the publishing story with these books?Reading Jamal Orme’s The Victory Boys has made me ponder the question and what it means in terms of publishing for Muslim children. I reviewed the book here and was lucky to get follow-up comments from the author himself.

I haven’t had a lot of training specifically for children’s literature, but I recall the following highlights regarding such books from my substantive editing class:

  • Children’s books are the way we are initiated into the reading world. When one writes a book that resonates with a child, she has not only succeeded in telling a compelling story: she’s also played a part in making this child a potential lifelong reader.
  • The protagonist of a children’s book should be at least two years older than the targeted age group for the book. Kids are big on ages and are more likely to look up to figures who are older than them.   
  • Having kids or being around kids a lot doesn’t necessarily make a good writer or editor of children’s literature. And because an adult can never completely themselves in a child’s shoes, there will always be a shortcoming with her readerly take on the book.  

While I see the validity of the last point, I would like to think that as an older sibling of a 16-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, I’m a better judge of what makes a good child’s book. It is from the firsthand knowledge of seeing what these two like that I understand why it is more important than ever for books to have an arresting, addictive quality, content that is relevant to their times, and at the same important lessons and experiences that are best learned through stories as opposed to painful personal experiences. For example, my earliest memory of understanding the realities of heroin addiction came from the novel consists of reading Burgess’s harrowing novel Smack when I was twelve.

There are other things that should be important in the writing and creation of a children’s book. Because the writer and publisher are working together to turn children into lifelong readers, children must become judges of what it is that makes a good book. And the way they become good judges is, quite simply, by reading good books. It is very important, therefore, that children’s books are competent in terms of structure and literary devices like themes, symbols, and motifs.

I think the challenge when it comes to writing for Muslim children is establishing that fine mixture of:

  • Literary richness
  • Relevance to the realities children are facing today
  • The ability to serve as a moral compass and a means to spiritual engagement

Along the same lines, Jamal Orme, the author of the Victory boys, held a poll that posed the very interesting question of what makes the most important ingredient in a novel for young Muslims:

  • Remembrance of God
  • Entertainment
  • Language quality (which translates into literary richness)
  • Morals/good role models
  • Relevance to one’s life

While relevance seemed to be perceived as the key ingredient by most voters, one can perhaps divide the ingredients a book for Muslim children should have and those that they need to have in order to be successful. Relevance and entertainment can be characteristics that are needed, whereas moral teachings, remembrance of God, and literary richness are what should be in the book as well. It’s the “should” ingredients that really are what make reading worthwhile.

When I look at The Victory Boys in this light, I realize that in terms of what a book for Muslim children should do, this book is stellar. As I discuss in my review, it could use a bit of work in the literary richness department, but its important teachings should be celebrated and applied to books written for Muslim children.

Those were my two cents on faith and children’s publishing. I’d love to hear Brother Jamal’s thoughts as well as the thoughts of those who do Muslim book reviews or book reviews for Muslim children.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2011 2:58 am

    Interesting post Sr. Sarah! I should probably check out your review. 🙂

  2. July 20, 2011 3:35 am

    Wow, loved your review. As you said, I think it’s a good start and of course, there is always room for improvement. It’s great that it provided a chance for someone like your brother to look into a world that he could identify with. Sounds like Br. Jamal is going to make improvements and that’s great that he solicited your input for the sequel (great that he is writing another one). Thanks for writing about this, probably would have never come across it otherwise.

    • July 20, 2011 9:29 am

      “Thanks for writing about this, probably would have never come across it otherwise.”

      I think that is, hands down, the best feedback a blogger or writer can ever get. Thanks! 🙂

  3. July 20, 2011 10:54 am

    Aww, you’re welcome! I’m not sure I ever got that during my blogging days – but that’s ok. Glad I could provide you that happiness for you! 🙂

  4. July 21, 2011 3:55 am

    Salam all, I think once again you’ve provided a most astute mini-analysis of a topic. Evidently there is quite a bit of overlap between what you highlight as important ingredients and those that I identified (although I wonder if your definition of “literary richness” is not so close to my “language quality” as you might think – perhaps the latter is a large strand of the former rather than being an equivalent term). I certainly concur that, the more one can tick off this list, the better (in theory) the result. Children’s books which I find most unrewarding often cover too few of these. They might, for example, be full of God consciousness, but fail to reveal to the young reader any meaningful connection to their own lives. Thus, they hope that the reader will make a leap into the book – a leap they may in fact have no motivation to make – whereas a story that comes to the child’s world, so to speak, will already have conquered the reader’s apathy/sense of irrelevance.

    Br. Anees, lest there be any misunderstanding, I should say that it’s a bit too late to make improvements to this particular book, as it’s already well and truly out there! (Perhaps you meant general improvements to my writing? Fair enough. I hope you’ll read the book!)

    And, at the risk of sounding like someone who’s sulking in the corner (!) I must reiterate that the assertion that it “could use a bit of work in the literary richness department” is just one (respected) person’s opinion. I addressed the parameters in which I worked, in my reply to Sarah on Goodreads. There are no doubt others who would agree with Sarah on this point, but there are also plenty who do not!

    Wa Jazak Allah khayr for your intention to discuss a worthy topic – and for any publicity that comes the way of my book as a result! COUGHavailablefromallgoodbooksellersvisitthewebsitehttp://thevictoryboys.comCOUGH
    🙂

    Wassalam, Jamal

    • July 21, 2011 10:26 am

      This post would not have been complete without your comment, Brother Jamal! And of course it should be emphasized that my take was just one person’s opinion. I highly encourage readers to read your response to my review on Goodreads. You have some very good reasons for telling the story the way you did and I greatly respect the writer who preserves that integrity with grace.

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