Student in Texas illustrates book celebrating Muslim females
Sep. 13, 2018
RICHARDSON, Texas (AP) — Aaliya Jaleel was preparing for her first year of college, not work as a children's book illustrator.
But her work kept showing up under the "hijab" and "hijabi" tags on the microblogging website Tumblr, and that's just where Cheryl Klein had taken her talent search.
The Dallas Morning News reports Klein, editorial director for New York-based Lee & Low books, was in need of an artist for the upcoming children's book "Under My Hijab" in the summer of 2017. The story focuses on the different ways women wear the Islamic head covering, so Klein wanted to recruit a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman for the job.
When Klein saw Jaleel's art on Tumblr, she was drawn to its "bright colors and emotional warmth." To make things even better, Jaleel was a hijabi — someone who wears a hijab — who moved to the U.S. from Sri Lanka at age 2.
As she searched further, Klein also discovered Jaleel was just 18 and about to start college at the University of Texas at Dallas as an animation major.
Jaleel, now 19, illustrated the book as a freshman after Klein reached out to her that August. The artist said she'd always wanted to illustrate a children's book but never imagined she'd get to do so at such a young age and while pursuing a degree.
"Under My Hijab," written by Hena Khan and scheduled to be released in February, is Jaleel's first gig with a professional publisher. She illustrated a book as a sophomore at Brighter Horizons Academy in Garland, but it was self-published with her English teacher.
"It was my first big illustration project, and it helped me gain the skills I needed to work as a children's illustrator," Jaleel said.
Jaleel lived in Boston before moving to Richardson six years ago. She was drawing long before her college studies and book-illustration ventures, and she began to take the craft seriously when her parents bought her a tablet in the seventh grade. That's when she knew she wanted to be an artist.
"I started posting my art online through web pages like Tumblr and DeviantArt when I was 12, and through those, I met many artist that were studying or already working in the art/animation industry," Jaleel said.
When Klein approached Jaleel about "Under My Hijab," the editor didn't want the project to interfere with the freelance artist's studies. Fortunately for Jaleel, her college courses gave her a flexible schedule. But a different obstacle came her way several times: doubt.
"There were definitely a lot of moments where you're just like, 'Am I even the right person for this?'" Jaleel said. "'I don't want to let them down, they took this chance on me. I need to make sure I reach their expectations, as well.'"
It was a feeling Jaleel said she simply had to work through as she created illustrations that showed "there's no one way to see a woman in a hijab." She said each person's experiences shape the way they don the covering and live their lives.
Jaleel hopes that Muslim girls will see themselves or people they know in the characters of "Under My Hijab," which she said would've been a beneficial read for her younger self.
"Seeing this book as a child would've been a confidence boost — being able to see yourself reflected in fictional characters," Jaleel said.
The artist later found a Muslim character to connect with in the "Ms. Marvel" comic books by G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat. In them, young Kamala Khan is the secret identity of heroine Ms. Marvel. The challenges the teen faces while trying to strike a balance between her American and Pakistani heritages resonated with Jaleel.
Klein said that Jaleel never missed her deadlines, which were organized into different rounds of drafts and sketches Jaleel made on Procreate or Photoshop. Throughout the "matter of evolution" that is a picture book, Klein said, Jaleel was open to collaborating with her and the art director.
Now that Jaleel has finished illustrating "Under My Hijab," she's working on "Muslim Girls Rise" with Salaam Reads, an imprint of New York-based Simon & Schuster. The book will be comprised of 19 small biographies about progressive Muslim women.
With books like "Under My Hijab" and "Muslim Girls Rise," the sparse canon of Muslim children's books is growing, especially as publishers push for more diversity. It's a push that Jaleel welcomes.
It's important for Muslim girls "to be able to relate to a character and know that just because there's not a lot of representation in the media doesn't mean there won't be in the future," Jaleel said. "We're slowly building paths towards that, so it's like one of the smaller steps on the way there."
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com