The Journey to Our Debut Picture Book

On the eve of Ramadan 2019 (or 1440), we successfully funded our Kickstarter campaign to bring this debut picture book to life!

In our campaign, we billed this book as: “A children’s picture book that introduces a non-Muslim audience to a misunderstood Islamic concept to help fight Islamophobia.” That misunderstood concept is jihad. Although the various revisions have made jihad less central to the overarching themes, it remains an important part of the text.

We would like to extend our gratitude to those who supported us financially and by promoting the project. Thank you so much for believing in what we’re trying to do! There were many people involved, and not all of them wanted to be recognized, but we want to acknowledge some of them here (alphabetically by last name):

Tom Barber, Liz Breadon, Cassie J. Brownell, RW Cleveland, Marcia Dambry, Matthew R. Deroo, Sarah Rose Fitzgerald, Matthew Funtime, Yassine, Dos Papitos, Margaret M. Grady, Nathaniel and Margaret Harrison, Robert and Manju Hertzig, Emmy Maddy Johnston, Bert Jones & Mary Bilz, Maverick Ma, BMAC, Dan & Jill McCarthy, Henry & Yvelyne McCarthy, Mary Ann & Helen, Tyler Nusbaum, Kayla R Nygaard, Elise & Mark, Jennifer Hoffman Pegouske, Keith “Pan Da” Petit, Ryan and Quinn Piche, Bevin Roue, Lindsay Joseph Wexler.

Other key supporters include: DC, LA, KN, KW, Fatima, Cusstin, JC, and B Gold.

The Illustrations

As of May 2019, Gemma Gould has signed on to illustrate the book. On Monday, May 20, she received a draft of the manuscript and began conceptualizing the characters and environment.

On June 11, I received the initial character sketches to go with the most recent draft. These characters will remain throughout the revisions that follow and I shared these sketches with the Kickstarter Backers who opted to receive sneak peeks. Here’s an example:

Initial concept sketches of two ancillary characters.

After a look at some environment sketches, I provided some overall feedback and received the character revisions on June 19, 2019. As of June 25, I approved the final character designs and the environments. We next moved into the storyboard phase.

At the completion of the storyboarding, Gemma began full designs of the artwork. The final art is set for delivery on January 25, 2020. Here’s a look at one of the pictures:

The Text

The initial idea for this story emerged from the author’s continued learning about Islam. Muslims are often vilified in the USA, especially regarding the concept of jihad.

Jihad means more than “Death to America!” Even so, citizens of the USA are complicit in a foreign policy that helps foster a hatred for their country. While the author does not support violence as a method for change, there are aggressors throughout the world who utilize violence–terrorist groups associated with many communities, and armies alike. Importantly, each of us should be able to distinguish between a people, a message, and the methods by which individuals attempt to enact that message. A practice of jihad is not exclusively violent, nor should terrorism be defined as jihad. The author would like to open up dialogue about this concept and others so that readers can critically engage the dominant narratives that are used to promote divisive partisanship.

Before drafting the story, the author consulted with a representative from the Georgia office of CAIR–a human rights organization often disparaged through an inaccurate parallel with extremist Muslim ideologies. The biggest takeaway beyond a clarification of the concept of jihad was that the inclusion of a white character is important for addressing the target audience and for not intending to speak for a community of which the author is not a part.

The resulting first version of the story was then read by a few scholars of children’s literature and went through a few versions. As various comments and critiques were incorporated into the text, the plot shifted to one in which the narrative arc follows a shift in the central character: from ignorant bigotry to anti-racism. This change is precipitated by an interaction with the Muslim girl next door whom he never knew was Muslim.

I want to extend my gratitude to Bevin Roue for his ongoing support of the idea and his thoughtful comments on drafts of the text. The text will be published under a pseudonym.

In February 2020, we made our final edits, designed the layout and sent the files to the printer. We made mistakes and changes, and eventually got a product we are happy to call our first book!