Art Installation Celebrates Muslim Voices, a Highlights Foundation Scholarship Recipient, and a Growing Community of Storytellers
Honesdale, PA (August 8, 2023) – The Highlights Foundation is celebrating the installation of its yearly Art Wall, now featuring art and story from IN MY MOSQUE, a picture book authored by M.O. Yuksel and illustrated by Hatem Aly.
Yuksel’s idea for IN MY MOSQUE was conceived after two mass shootings at mosques in New Zealand in 2019. She says, “That’s when I started writing the story, because during tragic events we feel helpless, and we want to help in some way. And for me, since I write picture books, I wanted to write about my experiences attending mosques. I’ve had the opportunity to attend different mosques in different countries, and I wanted to share that experience.”
Her hope was that IN MY MOSQUE would show both kids and adults what happens in a mosque, to create shared understanding. “I’ve had adults ask me what do you do in a mosque, because there’s lack of information or misinformation about this place of worship, and what goes on inside. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to share this not only with children, but with adults as well. And I came it at it from a place of joy, even though it was inspired from a tragic event.”
For the illustrations, Aly did research into architecture and mosque designs from around the world, and reflections into his own personal experiences. He also worked to infuse personality and commonality into each spread, through depictions of children in the mosques and subtle elements like textiles and their surrounding environments.
He shares, “I tried to connect all the mosques in a certain way. [I] put those birds all over the book, because I’ve seen a lot of birds in common amongst a lot of things, like churches. In my experience, when I went to different mosques, I always see pigeons, specifically. And they’re very, very comfortable around humans. In pictures, too. I checked with Mindy, and she had the same experience. So I thought, okay, well, I’m going to put birds, and sometimes cats, because cats exist in mosques a lot, too. [And it makes] a thread that connects the world together. Little elements like that make a big difference.”
Yuksel and Aly are happy to see their work featured at the Highlights Foundation, as the organization has played a big part in their lives as writers and artists.
Yuksel first came to the Highlights Foundation in 2017 as a scholarship recipient. She’s taken several courses on writing for kids since, which she credits among the key forces in the development of IN MY MOSQUE.
She was also on the program committee for the Muslim Storytellers Fellowship. Thanks to funding from the Doris Duke Foundation through its Building Bridges Program, the Highlights Foundation was able to host a Muslim Storytellers Fellowship with additional programming to come through 2025. The Building Bridges Program supports national efforts, working with U.S. Muslims, to increase mutual understanding and well-being among diverse populations for the benefit of building stronger, inclusive communities.
Aly joined the Muslim Storytellers Fellowship as a mentor in 2021, and has worked closely with Yuksel and other participants on the program’s initiatives since. They’ve built a strong cohort of Muslim storytellers within the Highlights Foundation community, which will continue on via the additional funded programming and other opportunities.
“It is fitting that the Art Wall will welcome visitors to the Highlights Foundation campus—since both the programs and IN MY MOSQUE seek to build bridges. We are creating space for more diverse, authentic Muslim narratives for children and young adults, and addressing common misperceptions of those narratives in the children’s publishing industry,” said George Brown, Executive Director of the Highlights Foundation.
Yuksel also loves its placement on the Highlights Foundation’s campus, in the main Barn area where everyone gathers to eat and spend time in community.
“[It] fits perfectly within the Highlights [Foundation] Barn because on that spread is the text, ‘We eat naan, samsa, and sweet melon slices after prayer.’ And then the text on the next page is, ‘We zigzag, sneak, peek and play hide and seek in our secret playground. I hope it’s never time to leave.’ And that’s how we feel when we’re at Highlights, especially in the Barn where it’s the dining area: we’re eating sweet, fresh, fulfilling meals, and we never want to leave.”
About the Highlights Foundation
The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves. The organization offers workshops and retreats to bring education, support, and encouragement to children’s authors and illustrators of all experience levels.
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CONTACTS: George Brown, Executive Director, Highlights Foundation (firstname.lastname@example.org)