As promised (apologies for the delayed post), here is the guest blog post by Muslim author Na’ima B. Robert; part of the blog tour to promote her latest young adult novel, Boy vs. Girl:
Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved stories. My father, a stage actor and director, was an amazing storyteller, acting out all the different parts, lowering and raising his voice in time with the ebb and flow of the story, totally recreating the words on the page with his voice. His storytelling style stayed with me.
And his love for and respect for books and stories stayed with me. Just as he read to us, so he bought us books, plenty of them. My mother took us to the library. My aunt always sent books and old copies of Cricket, a literary magazine for children, as gifts. And my grandmother subscribed to ‘Storyteller’, a fantastic set of audio tapes accompanied by full-colour illustrated magazines, a set that I believe was a deciding factor in my ability to write stories. Through these wonderful books, magazines and tapes, I met the wonderful characters that fired my imagination for years to come: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Cinderella, Snow White, Ali Baba, the wicked Snow Queen and a whole world of other characters.
My father believed in good literature. He believed in its power to inform, to entertain, to enlighten and to enchant. When we had learned how to read and were reading independently, he introduced a system by which we earned points for the books we read and were awarded a prize when we reached 100. Shorter, less challenging books received fewer points; longer, more mature work earned more. I will never forget my excitement at finally reaching 100 after having read a ton of books one summer – and my annoyance at seeing my brother jump ahead of me, simply because he had earned a massive 50 points for reading The Hobbit!
It was due to this grooming in seeking out good literature that I read Tolstoy, Chekhov, Walker, Salinger, Brecht, Paton, Achebe and Austen in my spare time as a high school student. And through those books, those sometimes baffling classical texts, those plays full of obscure language, those adventures in far-flung places, I grew. My mind opened up and I looked at the world with new eyes, with eyes imbued with the experiences of the characters in the books I had read.
I still believe in the power of the story today. Alhamdulillah, as a Muslim, I am grateful for the criterion that Islam offers me, when filtering what I read, and a reminder of the important truths of this life and this world.
And yet, I am still taken by surprise by the ability of a story to touch me, to delight me, to reduce me to tears, to hurt me, to teach me. It is this power that I hope to harness in my stories. For what are stories but records of the human experience, reflections of life, ways to understand ourselves and each other a little better?
I am still delighted every time I hear from a reader that they recognised themselves or a family member in my latest book for teens, ‘Boy vs. Girl’; that they recognised the dilemmas, the mistakes, the challenges – that the story rings true and speaks to them at the level of their lived experience. That is so precious to me.
So, if you manage to get your hands on a copy of ‘Boy vs. Girl’, I hope you will one day think to get in touch with me and let me know whether any of the characters resonated with you, whether you learned anything from the story, whether it reminded you about your life’s purpose, whether it helped you grow.
For, if it did any of these things, I will have done my job.
And I do hope that my father would have given ‘Boy vs. Girl’ at least 10 points 🙂 What would you give it?
JazakumAllahu khairan wasalaam
– Watch the trailer for ‘Boy vs. Girl’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk6ATHZb3_M
Na’ima B. Robert is descended from Scottish Highlanders on her father’s side and the Zulu people on her mother’s side. She was born in Leeds, grew up in Zimbabwe and went to university in London. At high school, her loves included performing arts, public speaking and writing stories that shocked her teachers! She has written several multicultural books for children including ‘The Swirling Hijaab’, ‘Journey through Islamic art’ and the acclaimed ‘Ramadan Moon’. She is also the author of the popular ‘From my sisters’ lips’, a celebration of Muslim womanhood and editor-in-chief of SISTERS, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women. She also wrote ‘From Somalia, with love’, a novel for young adults and ‘Boy vs Girl’, her second books for teens, is due out in July 2010. She divides her time between London and Cairo and dreams of living on a farm with her own horses. Until then, she is happy to be a mum to her four children and keep reading and writing books that take her to a different world each time.