“I was inspired to write the book as a result of a tragic and horrific event. I started writing In My Mosque the day the New Zealand mosque shooting was broadcast in the news on March 15, 2019. I wanted to help in some way, and for me, that was by writing a story about mosques to help demystify and dispel negative myths about mosques, stereotypes about Muslims, and share my personal experience attending mosques.” — M.O. Yuksel

In My Mosque is a picture book created to spread joy and counter tragedy! I was so excited to get my hands on it because it has been so difficult to find #OwnVoices picture books featuring Muslim characters. And, M.O Yuksel filled that need so well! In My Mosque is filled with vibrant and colorful illustrations along with engaging and age-appropriate text.

After reading In My Mosque, I could tell there was a deep story and inspiration behind this book. Therefore, I reached out to M.O. Yuksel to see if she would be interested in an interview. And, luckily, she said yes! Check out our interview below.

Kaitlin Kamalei Brandon (KKB): Tell us a little bit about yourself, M.O. Yuksel!

M.O. Yuksel (MOY): I consider myself a life-long learner. I love research, and writing about diverse historical figures, and fascinating cultures. I’m married and have three children who are passionate soccer players. 

I became interested in picture books after I had my kids and started reading to them, many times reading their favorite stories on loop. One day, I was invited to read a picture book about our Muslim holiday at my son’s preschool, which I gladly accepted. But I was surprised that I couldn’t find any books appropriate for their young age group. So, I decided to write one and that’s when my journey to authorhood began many years ago.

Prior to becoming an author, I was an education administrator, teacher, and yoga and meditation instructor. 

KKB: What is your racial and cultural identity? How does your identity add to your work as an author and illustrator?

MOY: I’m a first-generation Uzbek American; I was born in Turkey and grew up in New York City. I came to the U.S when I was seven years old, not knowing any English, and I never imagined writing stories one day for seven-year-olds like myself – stories I wish I had as a child. I’m immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write stories like In My Mosque that reflect my Muslim identity and experiences. In this book, I get to share fond personal memories like being with my dad at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey and feeding the pigeons outside the mosque. Eating naan, samsa, and sweet melon slices after prayers in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Visiting the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with my mother and brothers, and being awestruck by the sight of so many ethnicities and cultures from around the globe becoming one as we circumambulated around the Kaaba. And walking into The Diyanet Center of America in Maryland and feeling like I traveled across continents to Turkey in a heartbeat. All beautiful memories that I get to cherish through the remarkable illustrations of Hatem Aly.

KKB: What do multicultural/diverse books mean to you? In your opinion, what is the importance of multicultural/diverse books?

MOY: Diverse books serve as a mirror for underrepresented groups to see themselves and their cultures reflected in books, to feel seen and affirmed. Growing up I didn’t see books about my culture, and I felt invisible. I’m glad we have more diverse books now that reflect the world around us. 

Multicultural books also serve as a window for us to look through and see what life is like for people different from us. For example, in In My Mosque, we see the diversity of worshippers in mosques around the world. Unlike the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the mass media, Islam is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse religions in the world. Muslims, or people who practice the religion of Islam, come in all shades of skin color from Asian, Black, Latin, and White communities. We speak different languages and represent a variety of rich cultures across the globe. Similar to other faiths like Christianity, Islam is practiced worldwide by many races, ethnicities, and cultures. 

When children don’t see diversity reflected in books and other art forms, they learn that marginalized groups are invisible and insignificant. Studies show that racism begins at a very early age, and one way to undo this is through reading diverse books and learning about each other.

Diverse books are important to counter negative stereotypes, to disrupt the one-dimensional portrayal and misinformation of marginalized groups, and to build a common ground and a sense of inclusion for all children by reflecting the diversity of the world around us. 

KKB: What’s next for you, M.O.? Any upcoming projects?

MOY: My next picture book is a biography about a 9th century Muslim woman who pioneered the oldest university in the world in Fez, Morocco. It’s titled One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University, illustrated by Mariam Quraishi (HaperCollins, 2022). 

On May 19, 2021, I get to speak with and moderate an author panel, Discover the World, at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. And I will be presenting on the Central Ohio SCBWI Journey to Publication panel on June 17, 2021. Details and registration information to these and future events can be found on my website, moyuksel.com. 

KKB: Tell us about your newest book, In My Mosque! I love how engaging and vibrant it is!

MOY: In My Mosque is an invitation to a mosque and an introduction to the services and rituals that take place there. Through Hatem Aly’s stunning illustrations, we see the diversity of people and mosque architecture on the pages of In My Mosque. Often, Muslims are presented as a monolith, and seen in a limited, negative, and biased lens. I wanted to celebrate the breath and diversity of the most ethnically diverse religion in the world, practiced by more than 1.8 billion people across the globe in every country, in every skin color, language, and culture. And Hatem Aly’s illustrations showcase diverse worshippers in various countries across the globe as they pray, learn, eat, help others, and play together. Through the text and illustrations, we see that a mosque is more than a place of worship; it’s also a cultural and community center.

KKB: What inspired you to create In My Mosque? There must be a really powerful story behind this window- and mirror-making book!

MOY: I was inspired to write the book as a result of a tragic and horrific event. I started writing In My Mosque the day the New Zealand mosque shooting was broadcast in the news on March 15, 2019. I wanted to help in some way, and for me, that was by writing a story about mosques to help demystify and dispel negative myths about mosques, stereotypes about Muslims, and share my personal experience attending mosques.

I hope In My Mosque broadens the scope of understanding and sheds light onto a much misunderstood and misrepresented faith and people.

KKB: As a Kindergarten Teacher, this is one of my favorite questions and one I know our readers really appreciate authors’ answers to! How would you like educators to use In My Mosque in their classrooms? How do you envision your book being used with students?

MOY: I hope that my book is used as a conversation starter and an invitation to discuss things students may not have known about mosques and Muslims.

Some ways to use In My Mosque might be to write or illustrate an “In My…” story describing a special place in a student’s community that makes them feel welcomed such as their school, a place of worship, a community center, or maybe a cultural or sports center. Some questions to consider might be: What do you do here? How does it make you feel? Include all five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. What do you love most about this place? What are some things people may not know about this special place? How can you explain it to them? What might be some similarities to other places?

The book can also be used to learn about geography by locating the different mosques illustrated in the book on a map, and learn about the various countries the mosques are located in. My ebsite, moyuksel.com, lists the mosques featured in the book, and has STEM and other fun craft activities related to In My Mosque.

Don’t forget to check out M.O. Yuksel’s newest book, In My Mosque! Use this powerful and engaging coutnernarrative in your classrooms, libraries, and homes.

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