The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which this year starts May 5 and runs through Eid al-Fitr, a celebration of the completion of Ramadan, on June 4, has become a significant book-shopping season for Muslims. For publishers such as Yosef Smyth, children’s commissioning editor at Kube Publishing in Nottingham, U.K., it’s not a time to slow down. “Although staff at our small British publishing house will be fasting for 18 hours, often heading to the mosque at night, and sacrificing sleep to get in some extra calories, it is our busiest time of year,” he says.
Ramadan, Smyth explains, is a time for Muslims “to put worldly desires to one side and focus on developing their spiritual, faithful life.” In many Muslim-majority countries it is considered a holiday, where charitable giving is recommended and family gatherings are commonplace.
Fasting from sunup until sundown is also customary. Children are exempt from the practice, but parents often look for other ways to connect them to their faith. “And with 30 religiously significant days to fill, more than those in a Christian Advent calendar, parents are left to create activities to keep the children engaged,” Smyth says, asking, “Is it any wonder many parents are turning to books?”
Kube’s Ramadan sales have been especially strong in the U.S. and have been growing; titles such as The Ramadan Fasting Activity Book by Aysenur Gunes, illus. by Ercan Polat, and Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid by Yasmeen Rahim, illus. by Omar Burgess, are proving especially popular. These titles are selling alongside other Ramadan-centric books from publishers such as Learning Roots and Muslim Children’s Books, both based in London. Other publishers, such as Maqbool Books from Lahore, Pakistan, have seen a bump in sales of their prayer books for children during the holiday month.
“It seems many more traditional publishers have taken notice as well,” Smyth says, noting Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s publication of It’s Ramadan, Curious George by H.A. Rey and Hena Khan in 2016 as a turning point of sorts. “Not only did it sell well but retailers saw the potential of drawing new customers and are now more receptive to children’s books on Islam.”
Little Simon and Albert Whitman recently released titles of their own: Ramadan by Hannah Eliot, illus. by Rashin, and The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard, illus. by Laura K. Horton, respectively.
It is no surprise that publishers and, increasingly, retailers have noticed the market for Ramadan books. The Muslim population of America has risen from 2.4 million in 2007 to 3.5 million in 2017, according to a Pew Research study, and in Europe, the Muslim population has risen from 19.5 million in 2010 to 25.8 million in 2016.
KitaabWorld, an online children’s bookstore based in Menlo Park, Calif., is focused on offering hard-to-find books from South Asian countries and features a broad selection of titles related to Islam. “I struggle to find books for my child to learn about Islamic tradition, and you start looking for those kinds of books during Ramadan,” says KitaabWorld cofounder Sadaf Siddique. At the end of March, the retailer began promoting a selection of Ramadan-related titles, including board books, such as R Is for Ramadan by Greg Paprocki (Little Simon); picture books such as Cresecent Moons and Minarets by Hena Khan, illus. by Mehrdokht Amini (Chronicle) and Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi (Tillbury House); and novels, such as Amina’s Voice by Hena Kahn (Simon & Schuster) and Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif (Flux).
“We got a pop in sales” from the promotion, says Siddique, who is a particular fan of Drummer Girl (DayBreak) by Hiba Masood, illus. by Hoda Hadid, about a girl who becomes a musaharati—a drummer who wakes people during Ramadan, a role traditionally reserved for men—which she calls a “sweet and empowering story.”
Because the holiday falls during the school year this year, KitaabWorld has collaborated with the Muslim American Leadership Alliance to produce a guide for educators who want to host Ramadan-related events in their classrooms. Siddique says, “One of the books we like to highlight in this context is The White Nights of Ramadan,” by Maha Addasi (Boyd’s Mills), “which is about the festival of Girgian, a time during Ramadan in which kids go door to door asking for sweets and candy. So, there is a nice parallel with Halloween that children can understand.”
Overall, Siddique confirms the growing interest in children’s books about Ramadan and Islam in general. Though the books primarily come from small and independent publishers, both at home and abroad, she adds that there has been a notable “uptick in interest” from the Big Five publishers. “The result is that the overall quality of books is going up,” she notes. “The visibility of the festival is increasing and the publishers are trying to represent.”