The Little Rebels Book Prize was set up to reward kids fiction that challenges stereotypes and promotes equality, while still giving readers a cracking good story. Behold the 2018 winner, The Muslims. It’s the story of Omar, a 9-year-old Muslim Londoner, and his first encounter with bullying, prejudice, and the shock of feeling an outsider in his own country.
How Omar applies humour, imagination, and Islamic teachings to his situation makes for a memorable read, and the welcome arrival of a Muslim protagonist in general kids fiction. Despite raising some thorny issues, this is most definitely not a gloomy read. Full of warmth and fun, it’s presented in a comic-strip style, reminiscent of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
The domestic comedies of everyday family life take a Muslim twist. The tummy-rumbling tribulations of supermarket shopping while fasting, mum’s panic at mislaying her headscarf when the postman rings. Light is shed on Allah, daily prayers, and the hijab. Omar is comfortable with his heritage. Until the day Daniel, the schoolbully, turns his life upside down with that age-old refrain ‘Go home, back to your country.’
Subsequent events spiral to the point where a fearful Omar is beset with melodramatic questions. Could all Asians be kicked out of the country? Are we heading towards World War Three?
A disastrous school trip brings matters to a thundering head, and Omar needs to summon the two quiet strengths that define him. One is the inner calm that he can call upon through Islamic teachings. The other, delightfully, is a blue and green shimmering dragon, with almond shaped eyes.
Refreshingly, Omar doesn’t care if the dragon is a figment of his imagination, because this would mean he had ‘a pretty awesome imagination.’ How Omar wins through makes for an original and welcome prejudice-busting story.
The Muslims by Zanib Mian is published by Sweet Apple Publishers, 164 pages.