On Children's Books: The Victory Boys

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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