I recently reviewed the book How Big is Allah? by Emma Apple. (Allah is simply the Arabic name for God!). Below are a few questions behind Emma’s thoughts. I’m always fascinated by the author’s thought process and she illustrated the book as well so her illustration process as well.
I didn’t have a chance to photograph Z reading the story, but you can see the Amazon LookInside! feature here or Middle Way Mom’s review with more in-depth photos here.
My quick thoughts: It’s a simple, but engaging read, and does answer the basic questions in a child-friendly way as well as has a great science feel to the book. Z is learning about planets in school so was excited to see the planets and hear words such as ‘Milky Way’ that she had recently heard at school. It’s a book for more Z’s age 4 and up, rather than toddler A who is almost 2.
The book is illustrated in B&W. It has a Shel Silverstein feel from the Giving Tree, and you can really focus on the concepts. I’m a huge fan of color, but I like the story in this style and the illustrations really make a point.
1. How did you get the idea to turn this concept into a children’s book?
The idea for the book actually came from helping my son to understand Allah. He’s autistic and can find some less concrete and literal concepts difficult at times. He’s also insatiably curious, he and his older sister are very much into science and he has always has a special love of space. When he started asking questions about Allah, some of his questions related to Allah’s size and how Allah looks (which will be answered in the next book in the series, due out in a few months inshaAllah). My husband and I found that a really great way to explain Allah’s size, is to explain how small we are in relation to the universe, which Allah created. Of course, there is no concrete answer to how big Allah is, that’s something we can’t know, but we found talking about relative size within creation helped both our children to understand the greatness of Allah. I come from a long line of teachers, poets and playwrites, so putting the concept down in writing for other children to learn from, was only natural and my husband encouraged me to turn it into a children’s book. The ayah we’ve used to reinforce our approach to teaching this concept is in the book as well, Surah 39 Ayah 67 where Allah talks about the universe being rolled up in His Right Hand: “They made not a just estimate of Allah such as is due to Him. And on the Day of Resurrection the whole of the earth will be grasped by His Hand and the heavens will be rolled up in His Right Hand. Glorified is He, and High is He above all that they associate as partners with Him!”
How did your love for illustration develop?
Ever since I could hold a pencil I’ve being drawing, it’s always just been something I had to do. I’ve always loved the visual arts and for most of us, our first real experience with visual arts are the illustrations in the books we read or are read to as children. I’ve always been drawn to the effortless style of Mercer Mayer (Little Critter) and the bold and simple coloring of Dr Seuss, I adore the minimalism of of Robert Lawson (Ferdinand) and E. H. Shepard (Winnie The Pooh) and have drawn on the latter two for inspiration when illustrating my books, which contain black and white pen and ink illustrations. I can’t say I always aspired to be a children’s illustrator, but I always knew I wanted to pursue art as a career, I just hadn’t figured out exactly what my options were. In my 20’s, when my kids (who are 9 and 7) were little, I spent a lot of time reading to them, picture books I grew up with and books I’d never seen before, I admired and studied the illustration styles in the books as I read them night after night and finally realized children’s illustration was what I wanted to do. As a self taught artist, it’s a skill that I’ve been working quietly at for many, many years. I probably started seriously working at my drawing skills in my early teens.
Do you live in New Zealand? What’s the Muslim population like ?
I don’t live in New Zealand anymore, I left after I got married in the early 00’s. I was a new convert when I left, so I hadn’t had much to do with the Muslim community, but the people I did meet were extremely diverse, friendly and welcoming.
Is your real name Emma Apple?
Emma Apple is a childhood nickname (well, the Apple part anyway), most people know me by only that name these days though (even my husband of 12 years first knew me as Emma Apple), so I consider it almost as much my real name as my family name is.
Do you have more plans for more books?
I have lots of plans for future books! InshaAllah! I’m almost finished the second book in this series (the Children’s First Questions series) which is tentatively titled What Does Allah Look Like? (of course, all the books are researched and written in accordance with Qur’an and sunnah, How Big Is Allah? is loved and endorsed by Salafi families all the way to non Muslim families alhamdolillah). I’ve also begun researching and drafting the third book in the series and initial planning for an educational activity book to accompany the series, inshaAllah. I have long term plans for other series’ but those are the books I’m currently working on. I’m really excited for everyone to see the next book! I’ve had a lot of fun working on it alhamdolillah.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to interview Emma and do check out her book!