In book one of the “What (Race) Are We” series, Ivorian-American Muslim author Papatia Feauxzar introduces readers to Nouredine on his first day of preschool. The boy, an only child, is elated to be around so many other kids — until one of his schoolmates asks him: “What are you!?”
An inevitable event for biracial and mixed-race children, such questions of ancestry can be confusing and hurtful, especially for those who aren’t prepared to handle them. Using a theist approach, this book helps parents discuss complex racial issues with their kids.
Nouredine turns to his own parents for answers about where he came from. His father, an American citizen, is originally from the Balkans. His mother, also a U.S. citizen, is of West African ancestry. Nouredine was born in Texas, U.S.A. and could be considered African American, biracial or multiethnic, depending on the reader’s perspective.
For book two, Feauxzar is joined by African-American Muslim author Asiila Imani, and together, they tell the story of 6-year-old Toa Idris. One of Toa’s favorite things to do is listen to his grandmother (G-Ma) talk about the ancestors, but sometimes he gets confused. G-Ma says his people come from many places: islands in the Pacific Ocean, the west coast of Africa, Europe, China, and America before it was called the United States.
So, what does that make Toa? Readers join in as he uncovers answers that hold the key to his identity.
“I would like the children who read this to realize that all of us have a varied and interesting family history,” Imani says. “As we know, there’s already a huge interest in ancestry, mostly among adults. I’m hoping this book will intrigue children to become interested in their current and past ancestors.”
Imani also hopes this will encourage children to ask their elders about their own childhoods, memories, distant relatives and so on. “The research could go beyond ethnic or racial connections,” she says. “I’d like children [and adults] to realize that all of us — as different as we can be — are ultimately connected and worthy.”