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[Interview] Alexis Y. Lumbard on what inspired her to write children stories with Islamic themes

Children's Author: Alexis York Lumbard
Children’s Author: Alexis York Lumbard

There was a book Alexis wanted to read to her children, but it did not yet exist. Inspired by her experiences of motherhood and the gap in the market, Alexis Lumbard picked up her pen (or laptop) and began to write!

She has created an interesting range of spiritual and beautiful Islamic books for children including: The Conference of the Birds (Sept. 2012), Angels (Oct. 2013), and a digital app: The Story of Muhammad, based on the life and of Prophet Muhammad.

I talk to Alexis about the principles of good storytelling, how she overcomes challenges with her projects, and how we can tackle misconceptions surounding the Prophet Muhammad.

What inspired you to become a Children’s book author?

“When we were expecting our 2nd daughter and our eldest was ready for storybooks, I couldn’t find any that were Islamic-themed and well done.  So I picked up my pen (or laptop) and began to write.  It was a messy beginning and my first stories were terrible, but a few thoughtful individuals held my hand along the way.”

What are the principles of good storytelling and what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

“Please do not write for children because you think it is easy.  It is not easy and it should not be. Children’s literature has all the same meat as good books for adults—i.e. a tempting beginning, a middle that builds and an end that satisfies. And I’d have to agree with Jane Yolen, children’s books need not rhyme but they must be lyrical.

As far as basic principles go: 1) Less is more. 2) Do not talk down to children when writing. 3) Talk up—children need books that elevate, more now then ever before.  I created a little list on www.childforallseasons.com, perhaps some of your viewers will find it helpful.”

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Finally, our next book… Everyone make room for Rumi!

rumi

As a boy…

As a boy, whenever I heard of a quote by Rumi, though I never understood it, instinctively I knew that there is more to the saying than what meets the ear.  Rumi’s poems are not to be read with the eyes or even the mind.

They are matters of the heart.

And then one day…
As mine and Ali’s religious studies progressed and one day we were explained what it means to love God.  What it means to be Lovers of God.  Oh, Gosh, it’s as if another dimension of our soul had opened its eyes, blinked twice and gazed first time into the bright beautiful world.

The universe… it seemed so different.

Oh God, the universe, it’s alive.  Breathing.  Pulsating.  Trying to reach out.  To humanity, to mankind, to me.

It’s speaking, shouting, even screaming.  Am I listening?

From then on, when I read or heard the poems of Rumi, Hafiz, Iqbal, Saadi, I got a glimpse of the beauty that they saw.  A strand of the emotion that they experienced.

A moment of the ecstasy that they thrived in.

Since then on…
Ali and myself had always been fascinated with stories and poems by the Lovers of God.  Specially the poems of the greatest of all lovers… Rumi.

I had even taken up learning farsi for a while so that I could envelop myself in the authentic verses of Maulana.  Sadly, my learnings of the language were short lived, however, little did we realise that our love for the verses of maulana would manifest itself in another way.

Finally…
We knew what our next book should be on.  You see, since our last book, Wise Fool of Baghdad, we were always contemplating what should we work on next.  Six months ago, on our way to Jummu’ah (Friday prayers), Ali mentioned hearing a lecture of the great Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr and that he spoke of Rumi.  At that instant we both knew that our next book has to be a dedication to the great Maulana.

Returning from Jummu’ah  that afternoon, we scanned our libraries and deshelved all the books on Rumiand Sufism that we had.  We began shortlisting the poems that we would later have sketched to comics.

Over the past six months, God has been infinitely merciful to us.  Alhumdulillah we have made amazing progress on our book.

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