An inspiring interview with debut author M.O. Yuksel.
Meeg Pincus here, founder of Solutionary Stories, and I'm excited to share with you today my interview with author M.O. Yuksel, whose debut picture book In My Mosque comes out in March 2021.
I met M.O. in 2017 at the Highlights Foundation Master Class in Writing Nonfiction for Children, and we've since become agent-mates and critique partners. I love her lyrical, emotional writing style and her passion for sharing "Muslim joy," if you will, through her books, as an act of social justice and cultural education.
Her book fits the broader definition of nonfiction we use here at Solutionary Stories, in that it's based on factual information about what happens inside of a mosque, presented in a creative, poetic way (some also call this informational fiction).
And her book fits our broader definition of a "solutionary story" in that it inspires kids to help solve problems facing people, animals & the planet. You'll see from what M.O. has to share here that teaching kids about diverse cultures and faiths through books like hers can help solve dire problems of prejudice and discrimination in our culture. That is definitely solutionary!
So, without further ado, here's my chat with author M.O. Yuksel.
M.O., I truly loved In My Mosque, from the first time I read a draft as your critique partner and even more so in its final version with such amazing art. Can you tell us a bit about what compelled you to write it?
Thank you, Meeg! I’m so grateful to have wonderful critique partners like you and I truly value your input and support.
I was compelled to write In My Mosque in the aftermath of a tragic and horrific event. I started writing the day the news of the New Zealand mosque massacre was broadcast on March 15, 2019. Innocent worshippers, men, women, children, and the elderly, were attacked and killed that day for practicing their faith.
There is so much misinformation about Muslims, people who practice the religion of Islam, and about mosques, that I wanted to help in some way. For me, that was by writing a story and sharing my personal experience about attending mosques in the hopes that it would help demystify and dispel negative myths, stereotypes, and misconceptions about mosques and Muslims.
I remember well that chilling time and I'm inspired by your move to action through art after such senseless, devastating violence.
On that note, this blog focuses on “solutionary stories” about making a positive difference for people, animals & the planet. I think In My Mosque, as a book itself, is doing “solutionary” work. Can you share a bit more about what you specifically hope to accomplish with this story, in terms of making a positive difference?
I love the term solutionary stories and what it implies. Words and images, especially in picture books, are powerful tools to aid us in making a positive difference in the world and the lives of children. Books help us understand ourselves and the world around us through understanding others. We live in such a wonderfully diverse planet, rich with a variety of cultures, flora and fauna, and animals. If we take time to observe, we’ll notice that no two things are alike in nature, and that’s the same with people. Even our own body parts are not symmetrical.
By writing about my experiences attending mosques in my debut, In My Mosque, I wanted to celebrate the diversity of people who practice the religion of Islam around the world and shatter the stereotype of a Muslim monolith. There is no one kind of Muslim. Muslims come in all colors, shapes, and sizes.
I also wanted to show the diversity of mosque architecture and that mosques are not only places of worship but also cultural and community centers that are peaceful, cheerful, and welcoming places. The book also includes extensive back matter with a list of famous and historic mosques around the world, glossary, and author’s note.
I hope In My Mosque sparks conversations to help us understand our shared humanity and the things we have in common even though we may worship different faiths, and in different settings.
You achieved all of this so beautifully in In My Mosque! I can't wait to see what the book does in the hands of kids and their teachers, librarians, and parents/guardians in the world.
I'd love to know how you see Muslim representations in children’s nonfiction books right now, and what you’d like to see going forward?
I’m a big fan of all the Muslim creatives currently producing beautiful work, but we represent a tiny segment of the books being traditionally published. We need more books to disrupt the one-dimensional narrative that the mainstream media, Hollywood, and politicians wield about who we are.
Muslims make up roughly 1.1 % of the total population in America but are among the most discussed groups in the U.S., and the least understood. Since we are a minority, most Americans don’t know a real Muslim person and therefore rely on the media for information. 90% of mass media portrays Islam and Muslims negatively. These negative portrayals create dangerous and dehumanizing stereotypes and misconceptions that lead to hate crimes like the New Zealand mosque shooting. This is why books about Muslims are important. With the global rise of Islamophobia, the need to break down stereotypes is more urgent than ever.
Islam is an ethnically diverse religion, practiced around the world by more than 1.8 billion people who speak different languages, celebrate different traditions and cultures, have different life experiences and perspectives, just like people who practice other religions like Christianity and Judaism. I would love to see more representation of Muslims from a variety of communities like Asian, Black, Latin, and White, and shatter the stereotype that we are all from the Middle East, or that we all look and dress the same, or speak the same language.
Books have the power to change the world by informing, demystifying, and dispelling negative myths, and allowing all children to see themselves and the diversity around them reflected in the books they read. I hope In My Mosque contributes to that endeavor.
I have no doubt In My Mosque will contribute to that endeavor in a powerful way, M.O.! And here at Solutionary Stories we aim to keep highlighting Muslim-themed nonfiction children's books as they come out as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us!