‘“Hmm…a new park in Maple Grove,” reads Amira’s father. “It has a silver bullet slide, crazy corn maze and beaming blue butterflies.”
“Let’s get going, mom and dad! Our time is precious,” Amira says.
Amira and her parents jumped into the van and drove to Bass Lake Park.’
Thus begins the adventure of one of four characters at the heart of a new series of books called Noor Kids. Created by two brothers who grew up in Maple Grove, Noor Kids is a Harvard University-funded book series that seeks to build American-Muslim integration. In a challenging environment for Muslims in North America, the books use four characters—Amira, Amin, Shireen and Asad—to model successful integration for 4-8 year olds. Since launching about two years ago, Amin and Mohammed Aaser have published seven books that have entered 12,000 homes across 12 countries internationally.
“Just as Dora the Explorer exposed many to positive impressions of the Latino-American community, we hope that Noor Kids can play that role for the American-Muslim community,” says Amin. “Our long-term goal is to use Noor Kids as a vehicle to foster Muslim integration between communities across North America, Australia, and Western Europe through publishing books, video games, and TV shows.”
This wider audience may soon become familiar with landmarks that Maple Grove residents recognize such as Bass Lake and Lake Calhoun, as well as the school the characters attend, Northport Elementary. “When I integrate aspects of my life into the production, I find that the plot comes a little more naturally and the execution becomes a little more authentic,” Amin explains. He has fond memories of hiking local trails and fishing on the neighborhood lake, but also of visiting Valley Fair to ride the rollercoaster, which figures prominently in the first Noor book, School is Out for the Summer. ”
Each book centers around a storyline that puts kids in complicated situations in which they must make decisions. Younger children can identify with the animal characters, Amira, a rabbit, Amin, a panda, Shireen, a bear, and Asad, a lion. It’s a 28-page professionally designed activity book that features games, activities and Islamic inspired stories. There are places to color pictures, read a question and fill in an answer, do word finds, learn Arabic words and their symbols, escape from a maze and learn fun facts about animals mentioned in the story.
The brothers envisioned Noor Kids as a resource that American and Canadians would benefit from. But when they started getting orders from Japan, South Africa, Australia, and the like, they realized that the books resonate with people all around the world.
They estimate 10-15 percent of their subscribers to be non-Muslims. Amin says that this is driven primarily by two trends: first, the building of universal character traits that take place in the book, such as honesty and gratitude. “Parents, irrespective of faith, aspire to instill these values,” he says. The second is a desire to better understand the culture, “There are a lot of folks who really don’t know much about Islam and are looking for simple resources to understand a bit more about what their Muslim neighbors believe in. Our children’s book series is able to fill the void.”
The remaining segment of readers includes Muslim kids and their parents. One such young person, Hassan Mehdi, is a 10-year-old who attends Al-Amal in Fridley. He says he likes the stories presented in the book and the fact that it is in color. “They are easy to read. It doesn’t take too long,” Hassan says.
While it might not take long to read a Noor Kids book, it’s taken a fair bit of focus and effort to get this dream to market. Amin says the ideas explored in the books are ones that have changed his life as a 25 year old. For example, the last book that he wrote was on patience. After having completed a strenuous 8 month process which included admissions exams, sourcing letters of recommendation, and drafting essays to apply to a top 10 business school, he had to deal with a waiting game—was he going to be accepted or not? This forced Amin to meditate on the concept of patience, building expertise on the characteristic and further applying it into his life.
On the day he finally finished and published Noor Kids Discover Patience, his mom was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. “The learning that I made with respect to patience while creating this book played an incredible role in my ability to cope with the situation,” Amin says.
Seeking to make a cultural difference is no easy task, but together the Aaser brothers are well on their way to having an effect. Amin says the single most important decision that a small company can make is with respect to the people you choose to work with. “It has been a blessing to work with my brother—he is the most capable, reliable, and honest person I know,” Amin says.
You can count on reliability and honesty popping up in a Noor Kids book as the Aasers’ lives are reflected on the pages. Keep an eye out for more from these brothers on a mission.