Welcome to the Q&A for the July edition of my Bartography Express newsletter (which you can sign up for here).
The title character in Meet Yasmin! is an imaginative Pakistani American second-grader who is, by turns, an explorer, a painter, a builder, and a fashionista.
In its starred review of this boldly colored, “utterly satisfying” book, Kirkus Reviews says, “Readers will be charmed by this one-of-a-kind character and won’t tire of her small but significant dilemmas.”
If you’re a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address and you want the winner of Meet Yasmin! to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on July 31, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.
In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly.
Chris: The four stories in Meet Yasmin! feel both universal and specific at the same time. We can all relate to smart, lively second-graders like Yasmin, but we also get to know the details of her particular family and school.
For those specifics, are there any elements of the art or text that your own family members, neighbors, community members, etc. are especially likely to recognize themselves in? Did either of you draw from the particulars of your own worlds?
Saadia: Yasmin is a character that’s very dear to my heart. She’s based on my own daughter, who was in kindergarten when I first began writing the story. Yasmin looks like my daughter and acts like my daughter. In fact most of the situations that Yasmin finds herself in are inspired by events in my daughter’s life.
The descriptions of Yasmin’s family are very much like the descriptions of my own family, and of course the everyday aspects of Pakistani culture that are woven into every Yasmin story are so similar to my own Pakistani American household.
At least in my family everyone will recognize those details, big and small, but also more importantly I think thousands of other children who come from first-generation Muslim or South Asian households will recognize themselves.
Hatem: The design process went on intuitively. I just went with what felt right putting in mind Yasmin’s character, family and background. There is, however, a collective nature of illustrating the stories since there are common aspects between myself and her.
I also added to the mix the inspiration of my own family members, especially my nieces, friends, and my life in Egypt in general and how by just looking at some pictures you could see attitude, cleverness and curiosity as well as culture!
There is a broad sense of relatability with Yasmin and also hints to her own experience as a part of a Pakistani Muslim family in America that I am hoping would be universal and also sort of recognizable by children of similar experience.
Chris: Saadia, you mentioned that your daughter was a kindergartner at the time you began writing Meet Yasmin!, and Hatem, you’re a parent as well. For either of you, did your child’s interest in books — or their identity as a reader, or your role as the parent of a budding reader — have any effect on you as you created this character and these stories?
Hatem: It took me a moment to think how to answer this question since there is no doubt my own experience as a parent affects the way I work one way or another.
What I want to say that it’s mostly unconscious since I also am a bit childlike, especially when I have to express a story visually. Though, I can see I sprinkled some humorous expressions and a comics-like style which could be elements influenced by my son.
Saadia: Yasmin was created because I’m a parent of two first-generation Muslim children. I want them to see themselves — their experiences, their lifestyle, and their traditions — in the pages of the books they read. So I wanted to write a story with a family that looked like theirs, and a main character that was completely familiar and comfortable for them.
I wanted this for all children, not just my own. Yasmin was inspired, not by something my children read, but by what they didn’t read, what wasn’t available to young readers before this series.