#IamCharlie Responding with understanding, empathy, children’s literature and illustration

Yesterday’s events in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo were terrible (the word seems rather pathetic as I type it), and today’s post is my (somewhat insignificant but personally important) way of standing up for freedom of expression.

Rather than responding with derisive ridicule I feel that a response where we make efforts to better understand those we portray as enemies and those we simply don’t know would be much more constructive. Although humour has a place in helping us deal with the shock and horror of it all, laughing in the faces of those who acted yesterday isn’t going to stop this sort of thing happening again. Building understanding and reaching out might.

To that end, here’s a list of books for children and teenagers which might help spread understanding of what life can be like for Muslims living in the west. I haven’t read them all, but where possible I’ve indicated the (approximate) target age group. If you’ve further suggestions to make please leave them in the comments to this post.

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan (3+)
I don’t want to blow you up – a colouring book (3+)
My Own Special Way by Mithaa Alkhayyat, retold by Vivian French, translated by Fatima Sharafeddini (5+)
Ramadan Moon, written by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Shirin Adl (5+)
Wasim the Wanderer by Chris Ashley (5+)
My Friend Jamal by Anna McQuinn and Ben Frey (5+)
The Perfect Flower Girl by Taghred Chandab and Binny Talib (5+)
Mohammed’s Journey: A Refugee Diary by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young, illustrated by June Allen (7+)
Cinnamon Grove: The Black Cat Detectives by Wendy Meddour (7+)
Dahling if you Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile? by Rukhsana Khan (10+)
An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons (10+)
Mixing It by Rosemary Hayes (10+)
Head over Heart by Colette Victor (10+)
Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan
Rashid and the Haupmann Diamond by Hassan Radwan
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos Corona
Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian
Just Like Tomorrow by Faiza Gueve (12+)
Mind set written by Joanna Kenrick, illustrated by Julia Page (12+)
My Sister lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher (12+)
Drawing a veil by Lari Don (12+)
Just Like Tomorrow by Faiza Guene (12+)
I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn, translated by Y. Maudet (teenage).
She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Robert (teenage)
From Somalia with Love by Na’ima B. Robert (teenage)
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (teenage)
Ten Things I Hate About Myself by Randa Abdel-Fattah (teenage)
Boy Vs. Girl by Na’ima B. Robert (teenage)
Persepolis (especially book 2) by Marjane Satrapi (15+)

http://www.thisiswhereineedtobe.com/pages/resources_f.html provides further resources offering “more information on the Muslim community in the United States.”, including non-fiction books.

With the rise of Pegida in Germany, and the continued anti-immigration, anti-Muslim commentary that fills much political “debate” around the world it seems more urgent than ever to me that we find ways of talking about multicultural life, its richness and challenges. I’d also like to see more exploration why people commit acts of terror in books for children and young people. Over Christmas I read Palestine by Joe Sacco, a graphic novel aimed at adults about life in Palestine. It was utterly depressing but essential reading, and I wish more of this sort of thing, which looks at injustice, conflict (and the West’s role in this) were available for children and young people. [UPDATE 10 Jan: Joe Sacco has responded to this week’s terrible events in France with this comic strip that I urge you to take a look at.]

As several of those murdered yesterday were cartoonists, lots of illustrators have responded how they know best. Here are some cartoons created by children’s illustrators:

Response from Chris Riddell
Response from Chris Riddell. “I am Charlie”.
Art Spiegelman and Oliver Jeffers hold the eyes of Cabu, one of the cartoonists murdered in Paris.
Art Spiegelman and Oliver Jeffers hold the eyes of Cabu, one of the cartoonists murdered in Paris.
Tomi Ungerer's response. "There's no freedom without press freedom"
Tomi Ungerer’s response. “There’s no freedom without press freedom”
Response from Stephanie Blake
Response from Stephanie Blake. “Mum, who’s Charlie Hebdo? It’s Freedom, Simon.”
Response from Benjamin Lacombe: "One can cut off heads, but not ideas"
Response from Benjamin Lacombe: “One can cut off heads, but not ideas”
A response by @TheMagnusShaw rather than Charles M. Schulz, but referencing of course Charlie Brown
A response by @TheMagnusShaw rather than Charles M. Schulz, but referencing of course Charlie Brown, “I am Charlie”.
A response from Albert Uderzo (shared by Wolfgang Luef)
A response from Albert Uderzo (shared by Wolfgang Luef)
A response from Tad Hills
A response from Tad Hills
A response from Sarah McIntyre
A response from Sarah McIntyre

Sarah McIntyre also responded with a great post about how to start drawing comics and cartoons

A response by Benjamin Chaud
A response by Benjamin Chaud


Other responses I’ve seen from authors include Je suis Charlie by Keren David and Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s I Am Charlie post.

My thanks go to Farah Mendlesohn, Rukshana Khan, Anabel Marsh, Marion, Melanie McGilloway, Melinda Ingram, Janice Morris, Anamaria Anderson, Tad Andracki, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Judith Philo, Ann Dowker, Anna McQuinn, Sandhya Nankani, Sharon Levin, Keren Joshi, Alison Baker, Helen Watts, Gabriela Steinke and Alexandra Strick for their suggestions. I’m left thinking today especially of my French bookish friends Melanie and Sophie, and the families of everyone involved in yesterday’s events.

17 Responses

    • Zoe

      Thank you John. It feels completely inadequate, but I felt I had to respond somehow.

  1. Fen- Letterbox Library

    Great post, Zoe. I would add The Most Magnificent Mosque and Ben Zephaniah’s Terror Kid. Also children’s books by the wonderful Islamic Foundation (IF) in Leicester. During a particular tide of Islamaphobia in the early 2000’s we delib. sold a bookpack for early years/primary entirely made up of IF books to try & support teachers in challenging prejudice. Proved v popular. Keep up the fab blogs!

    • Zoe

      Thanks Fen. I don’t know The Most Magnificent Mosque http://www.franceslincoln.com/the-most-magnificent-mosque but I like the sound of it. I think Terror Kid is definitely good for generating discussion. I personally was a little disappointed with the book as I felt the writing was rather flat (perhaps due to my high expectations), but I agree as a vehicle for discussion it is excellent.

  2. juliette saumande

    Thanks for this, Zoe. Chris Riddell’s picture is so heart-breaking…. Wendy Meddour’s A hen in the wardrobe and The black cat detectives are also great (if lighter) reads for 8/12 ages. Also, for younger readers, Bob Graham’s A Bus Called Heaven and Vanilla Ice Cream for much-needed optimism.

    • Wendy

      Thanks for the recommendations, Juliette. ‘A Hen in the Wardrobe’ in probably the more pertinent in the French/North African context – but both use humour to tackle heavy topics (concerning living Islam in the West) with what I hope is a light hand. And Zoe – thank you: this an important reading list in such difficult times! x

  3. Lyn Miller-Lachmann

    Thank you for this thoughtful post and the illustrations from around the world. On Instagram yesterday someone asked me the same question as in the Stephanie Blake cartoon, and hers is the perfect response.
    Lyn Miller-Lachmann recently posted..I Am Charlie


    We can only respond with what we have. Zoe, thank-you for this post. I live in Sydney. I have tried to avoid thinking about the enormity of this heart-breaking and devastating event out of fear it would e too much. The grief that these above images encompass have brought me humbly about face to face with it. I trust Jesus Christ’s teaching here, that me must love and forgive and love again, because hate and violence will not conquer hate and violence.

  5. Anna McQuinn

    Like you, I feel helpless in the face of these atrocities, but I like your instinct – and you might like the article below – a study by author Krista Maywalt Aronson reveals that children who looked at picture books showing children from different races together reported more interest in playing across difference. This will not come as a surprise for those of us who are passionate about writing and publishing books which we believe encourage tolerance, respect and friendship, but it’s nice to see research backs us up. To read the article, click here:thttp://www.slj.com/2014/05/diversity/how-cross-racial-scenes-in-picture-books-build-acceptance/#_

  6. Debbie Reese


    Western institutions have long portrayed other as enemy or evil. For us (American Indians) I think the first example of being shown that way is from ORBIS PICTUS where we’re included in what is widely recognized as the first nonfiction picture book for children, but the way we’re shown is wrong. Comenius shows us kneeling before a devil.

    I could point to books since then, where author or illustrator has shown us as not human, or as more animal than human. I’m glad to see your list of children’s books that push against that kind of imagery, but I think it is equally important that we root out the books that show other as evil. Ancestors of today’s American Indians were not primitive savages. I say that with a deep wish that I did not have to say it, but, children’s books planted that seed so well that many–maybe even a majority–of people think it to be true. Our ancestors fought to protect homelands, mothers, wives, children, elders…

    Here in the US, “savage Indian” ideology seeps out in wartime. In the Iraq war, soldiers said “we were like Custer” which meant that they were brave soldiers surrounded by savage Indians. In a workshop for teachers on how to teach America’s wars, a presenter showed side-by-side photos of terrorists and their rifles with photos of Apache men and their rifles.

    That less than human savage Indian is seen in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, especially towards the end where they yip and howl and scare Laura and her family. Those Indians are the ones people wanted dead. The ones they wanted alive were “good Indians” — which are embodied in that book by an Osage Indian who speaks French and tells the savage ones that he’ll fight them if they try to attack Pa and his family.

    There are other strands of “good” Indians, like the “mystical” ones so in touch with Mother Earth that people want to worship Mother Earth and are inadvertently misappropriating and misusing Native ceremony or culture. We see that, too, in children’s books.

    Neither one is ok but Western institutions keep on with these representations. Each year we find them in children’s books. It has to stop. As I noted earlier, your list of books will help humanize other, but we’ve also got to pay attention to classics that planted the savage-other images in the first place.
    Debbie Reese recently posted..Time Magazine’s Almost All White 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time

  7. Alya

    Thanks for compiling this list; it’s extremely helpful and necessary, I think.

    May I recommend SHOOTING KABUL, by N.H. Senzai? And I have not read them yet, but the newest Ms. Marvel series, written by G. Willow Wilson, featuring a Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel.

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