Alternate Summer Reading List: Samira Ahmed Shares Must-Read Muslim Middle Grade and YA Stories

In this Parents 2022 Alternate Summer Reading List, the author of Internment and the Amira & Hamza series picks eight stellar titles featuring Muslim characters for kids and teens.

Samira Ahmed - The Quest for the Ring of Power Book
Photo: Courtesy of Little Brown and Company

Summer's here, and as an antidote to those stale—and sometimes problematic—school-suggested summer reading lists (and continuing book bans nationwide), Parents has collaborated with some of the most stellar names in book publishing to offer Alternate Summer Reading Lists, curated by authors and educators to reflect the world as kids today really see it.

This one comes from author Samira Ahmed, who writes stories about revolutionary girls in award-winning books like Internment, Hollow Fires, and her middle Amira & Hamza adventure series, all of which center Muslim characters.

Here, Ahmed suggests eight titles that offer stellar Muslim representation—while also being superfun summer reads.

When I was a little girl, there was a small grove of lilac trees in my backyard. In the spring, in full bloom, the fragrant pale purple blooms would meet at their tops, forming a floral canopy. I imagined that magical space to be my portal to other worlds. Worlds where I could go on swashbuckling adventures, where I could be a glittery-winged peri fighting off jinn and all manner of fantastical beasts to save the world. But brown Muslim girls didn't get to save the world in the fantasy books I was drawn to as a child. We didn't get to come of age and fall in love and fight against injustice in the contemporary novels I gravitated towards as a teen. Simply, I never got to see myself on the page—definitely not as a hero, not even, really as a sidekick.

I still found ways to relate to characters in novels—after all, you don't need to look exactly like the hero in the novel you're reading to understand them, to connect to them in some way. I loved Lord of the Rings even though I wasn't a hobbit! I was a girl like all the other girls, I had doubts and hopes and dreams and wanted to believe I could fly. But, oh, what it would've meant to see myself as the protagonist in the story. As writer, that's a power I now have. Our shelves should reflect our world and I feel so lucky to be able to contribute to that goal. We are living during a renaissance in children's literature one where we are opening doors and windows to more diverse, inclusive stories for all readers.

Muslims are not a monolith. We are racially and ethnically diverse. Muslims have been in America before this nation was the United States and books with Muslim characters should absolutely reflect that. The middle grade and young adult titles on this list are but a few of the incredible stories with Muslim representation that populate our shelves—they're the books I longed for as a kid. They're the books I'm thrilled that young people can reach for now.

01 of 08

Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound
Nancy Paulsen Books

Amal is exactly the kind of revolutionary girl protagonist I love—an ambitious dreamer who sees a wrong and tries to right it. Set in rural Pakistan, Aisha Saeed writes a gorgeous story about power dynamics and socio-economic inequities as experienced by a 12-year-old girl who is just beginning to learn about life's complexities as she finds her voice. Amal is curious and courageous and such a winning character; I adored her immediately!

02 of 08

Nura and the Immortal Palace, by M. T. Khan

Nura And the Immortal Palace
Jimmy Paterson Books

I adore a portal fantasy—especially one that sweeps the main character away to a luxury jinn hotel, one that might have something nefarious lurking behind its glittery surface. Islamic folklore and legend is rich with fantastical creatures and opulent other worldly settings. I love that Khan sets out to explore such a world through the eyes of a young girl who must work in mica mines to help out her family while hoping she can change their fate.

03 of 08

Barakah Beats, by Maleeha Siddiqui

Barakah Beats
Scholastic Press

Siddiqui had me at middle grade Muslim hijabi girl joins a boy band. Truly, this novel is a delight. Hilarious and also serious, I loved that Nimra struggles with fitting into her new school while holding true to her beliefs and culture. A story that is quite literally about a girl finding her voice, readers from all backgrounds will be to relate to Nimra's struggles, triumphs, and humor.

04 of 08

More to the Story, by Henna Khan

More to the Story
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster

Little Women was one my favorite books in middle school and the immensely talented Khan puts her own spin on this story of four Muslim sisters living in Georgia. Jameela, the Jo-like character is a budding young journalist for her middle school paper and has to contend with a grumpy editor, a story she can't seem to get right, her loving father's need to take a job far away from the family, and, worst of all, her youngest sister's sudden illness. Jameela is a charming character and you'll be cheering for her all the way.

05 of 08

All My Rage, by Sabaa Tahir

All My Rage

You probably know Sabaa Tahir from her dazzling Ember in the Ashes epic fantasy quartet. But I am partial to this lyrical, wrenching, heartfelt love story about two complicated, imperfect, and deeply human Muslim teens—Salahudin and Noor—living in Juniper, California, trying to find their way in a world that is ready to crush their dreams, trying to find their way back to each other. An absolute must read.

06 of 08

Queen of the Tiles, by Hanna Alkaf

Queen of the Tiles
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster

A thriller set in the deeply competitive world of Scrabble competitions taking place in Malaysia? Yes, please. Najwa is a hijabi Muslim who loves word play and solving a good puzzle. But she's also grieving and anxious—attending her first competition since her best friend and Scrabble queen died at a previous competition under suspicious circumstances. Hoping to heal, Najwa finds herself embroiled in a mystery where she must uncover secrets, dig deep into the meaning of friendship and, maybe even save herself. A riveting page-turner!

07 of 08

Perfectly Parvin, by Olivia Abtahi

Perfectly Parvin
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

I laughed out loud so many times while reading this story about 14-year old Persian American Parvin, who is nursing a broken heart, trying to figure out how to be a freshman, and, as a biracial kid, navigating all the in-between spaces in her life. The charming, laughs-too-loud-to-be-demure Parvin never quite feels like she's enough and decides she needs to change her whole personality to make high school a success but things turn out very differently than she planned. And when the Muslim ban directly affects her family, Parvin realizes she needs to discover exactly who she is without having to apologize for it. A witty and smart read with the rare 14-year-old protagonist in young adult literature.

08 of 08

The Henna Wars, by Adiba Jaigridar

The Henna Wars
Page Street Kids

Swoony, sweet, and fierce, this multilayered queer enemies-to-lovers novel finds Bengali Irish Muslim Nishat and biracial (Black Brazilian and white Irish) Flávia setting up rival henna businesses at their Catholic girls school set in Dublin. Jaigridar skillfully weaves together themes of intersectional identities, Islamophobia, homophobia, and cultural appropriation with a charming first love story. I adore love stories where the characters have to face their mistakes and figure out how to move forward while righting them—Nishat and Flavia are messy and real and funny and I found myself racing through this charming novel.

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