In My Mosque is equal parts stunning art and beautiful, important text. It shares with the reader the joys and traditions found in mosques around the world and showcases the friendship and community found inside. I was so happy to interview author Mindy Yuksel about her stunning debut.
KC: Congratulations on your debut! What inspired you to write In My Mosque?
MY: Thank you so much, Kim! 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 news of the New Zealand mosque massacre was broadcast. Terrorist acts like this were taking place in mosques, synagogues, and Black churches one too many times, and I wanted to help in some way. For me, that was by putting pen to paper and writing a story about mosques, to help demystify and dispel negative myths and stereotypes about mosques and Muslims, and share my personal experience attending mosques.
KC: There has been so much tragedy all over the world. What a wonderful way to help make change. What has your journey to becoming a published author been like?
MY: My journey has been a long and winding one. But to tell you the truth, I never imagined becoming an author. I immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey at the age of seven not knowing any English. I didn’t grow up reading picture books, and we never had things like author visits at school or knew anyone in the publishing world. So, the publishing industry and becoming an author were obscure and unimaginable things for me.
I started reading picture books after I became a mom and didn’t think of writing a book until I was invited to read a book about our holiday, Eid al-Adha, at my son’s preschool. I was excited for the opportunity to share about our holiday, but I couldn’t find any traditionally published books for this young age group, so I decided to write one. That was almost seven years ago and I’m still working on that holiday story! But I’m happy to share that it’s under contract with a publisher and scheduled to be out in 2023.
KC: That’s wonderful news! I can’t wait to read it! Can you share a little bit about your writing process for In my Mosque?
MC: I originally wrote In My Mosque from the community perspective, what “we” do as a community in a mosque, the types of activities and services that take place. But to make it relatable to kids, I included a second perspective, that of a child’s and how they feel and what they see and understand when they are in a mosque setting. On each spread, I alternated between the point of view of a boy and a girl. I also included lots of back matter like a glossary of words, and a list of some historic and famous mosques.
Once I was done with my manuscript, I consulted with experts such as a university professor and an imam to make sure the information in the story was accurate.
KC: I love the alternating spreads from the POV of a boy and girl. That will really help kids see themselves in the characters. I love the vibrant art in the book. Hatem Aly’s illustrations are beautifully playful and inviting. Do you have a favorite page spread?
MY: I have so many favorite page spreads, starting with the endpapers! Hatem Aly’s beautiful and dynamic illustrations leap off the pages of In My Mosque. I especially love seeing the diversity of people who worship in mosques. It’s nothing like what you see portrayed in the media. The stereotype of Muslims is that we are all Arab, or South Asian, or that we all dress and look a certain way. This is a misconception. Islam is practiced by over 1.8 billion people around the world, in every country, and it’s a very ethnically diverse religion. Hatem Aly did a wonderful job highlighting the diversity of people represented in the book. It even showcases the diversity of architecture of mosques around the world.
KC: What are you working on now/next?
MY: I’m very excited about my next picture book, which is a biography of a 9th century woman, Fatima al-Fihri, who pioneered the oldest university in the world which is still operating today in Fez, Morocco. She was an amazing woman in history who contributed to the advancement of society, and when I learned about her, I had to share her story.
One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the Oldest University in the World, is scheduled to release from HarperCollins spring of 2022, and will be illustrated by Mariam Quraishi. Mariam Quraishi’s illustrations are brilliant, and I’m so thrilled to be working with her.
KC: Fatima al-Fihri sounds like an amazing woman and the world definitely needs to know her story. I’m so happy you are sharing it! What advice do you have for aspiring kidlit authors?
MY: The publishing journey is difficult and different for everyone. Some people take decades to get published, others take less. It’s not necessarily about having talent, talent can be learned and acquired. It’s about perseverance. This career requires a lot of patience and perseverance, even after becoming a published author.
It’s easy to get discouraged especially when it seems like everyone is celebrating a book deal. But what we see on social media – authors and illustrators posting about their achievements – is only the tip of the iceberg. Behind all the celebrations, and happy emojis are a lot of disappointments, rejections, sweat, and tears.
I like this quote by Robert Bach, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Even though some days it may seem like it’s a bleak uphill trek, continue putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t quit. Also, take breaks to enjoy the view! You’ve come a long way from where you started.
M.O. Yuksel is a multi-cultural children’s book author with a passion for research and writing stories about diverse historical figures, whimsical characters, and fascinating cultures. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Fordham University and an M.A. in Central Asian History and International Affairs from Columbia University.
When not writing, M.O. Yuksel is usually on the soccer field cheering for her kids, or traveling to exotic places and immersing herself in the local culture. She loves nature, bike riding, and eating shameless amounts of chocolate. She teaches yoga and meditation when she’s not bouncing off the walls from the sugar-high of indulging in too much chocolate. Once in a while, she’ll venture to teach her friends how to pronounce her real name – Munevver (Mar-vel-ous). But her friends never make it past the Mar and prefer to use her nickname – Mindy.
If you would like to connect with M.O. Yuksel, you can do so here: