A heroic voice in children’s books
EMPOWERING: Zanib Mian
AUTHOR ZANIB MIAN DISCUSSES HER LATEST WORK
MORE lead characters from diverse backgrounds are finally being featured in children’s books and that is largely thanks to talented authors such as Zanib Mian.
She has successfully written a whole host of books, including her popular Planet Omar series, which has a young Muslim protagonist. The latest in that series is the newly released Planet Omar Epic Hero Flop, which once again sees the title character get into more trouble after heroically taking the blame for something he didn’t do. This is another successful chapter in the story of a children’s author who has helped to bring diversity into books for the young.
Eastern Eye caught up with Zanib Mian to discuss her latest book, inspirations, and the secret to writing a great children’s book.
What first connected you to writing children’s books?
It was in 2007, with the realisation, when building my son’s library, that some two decades later, things hadn’t changed since I was a little girl. Minorities were still missing from fun stories. There were no Asian heroes in books.
What led towards the creation of Planet Omar?
I had only written picture books before the Planet Omar series, perhaps, as my boys, who fully inspire my stories, were a lot younger when I started writing. As they grew, my imagination was tickled by how much fun I could have narrating a story in the voice of a young cheeky Pakistani boy. But my real impetus was Trump’s presidency campaign, Brexit, and all the racism fuelled by these both. I knew that the world needed to meet a regular Muslim family next door.
What has the experience of writing the books been like?
Just wonderful! It’s a dream to do what you love, day in and day out. Crafting each story has been an incredible experience – bringing interesting characters to life, with many layers of their personality; thinking up exciting plots with the unexpected; and of course, the real-life goofiness and comical moments – all of my mind’s choosing. It’s such fun.
Tell us about the latest book in the series?
The latest book is the fourth in the series, not including the stand-alone Planet Omar World Book Day 2021 that I had the absolute honour of writing. Epic Hero Flop features another of Omar’s edge-of-the-seat mishaps, when he gets blamed for something big at school, which he didn’t do. This book has some really important themes of mindfulness that Omar uses to get himself through this hard time. It’s something I wanted to include, because I feel adults and children alike need to nourish their mental and emotional health after the difficult times the pandemic has caused.
How does it compare to the other Planet Omar books?
Omar’s always facing some sort of lifechallenge, and he navigates his way through by using wit, integrity and unassuming charm. This one is no different, with life-challenge number four (five including the World Book Day book).
Does the success of the other books put pressure on you?
(Laughs) Thanks! A kind question. Yes and no.
Tell us about the fantastic illustrations in the book?
They are fantastic fun. Books one to three were illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik, but for book four, there’s a new illustrator, Kyan Cheng. It’s fabulous to have the doodles aid the words on each and every page.
So, what is the secret of writing a good children’s book?
Think like a child!
Have you learned anything new while writing these books?
You know something incredibly funny? I have learnt that I have been trying to empower children through these books. I’ve learnt to be comfortable in my own skin, and that being ‘different’ to everyone else around you is absolutely fine.
Is it a challenge to get kids connected to books in the technology era?
Not according to the many parents and teachers that send me messages to say how flabbergasted they are by kids not putting the books down. I feel so blessed to hear such things.
What can we expect next from you?
Oooh, I wish I could say! (Does fun evil laugh) Let’s just say I’m feeling villainous! I’m just starting to write Planet Omar book five, and hopefully, there will be a whole new book coming soon, too.
What inspires you as a writer?
Every day happenings and the people I meet or stare at like the nosey people lover that I am.
What do you enjoy reading and do you have a favourite book?
My favourite is Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I enjoy reading picture books (ahem, to kids).
Why do you love being a writer?
I love making a difference in a child’s life by empowering them with important life lessons and values, through an exciting and entertaining story that will make them giggle. That is a neat little gift to give a kid.
Zanib Mian, a World Book Day author this year, is the author of the Planet Omar series and her next book Planet Omar: Epic Hero Flop (Hodder Children’s Books) is out now.