Author Spotlight: Zanib Mian
March 6, 2020
We are excited to feature middle-grade debut author, Zanib Mian and her book, PLANET OMAR: ACCIDENTAL TROUBLE MAGNET, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik (G.P. Putnam's Sons, Feb. 2020).
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’m a British Muslim, of Pakistani heritage. I was born and raised in London, where I still live, with my two sons. I am very much in touch with my inner child, and as a consequence I can be quite silly at times, and laugh easily – probably the reason I’m so comfortable writing middle grade books! I studied Molecular Cell Biology at university and went into teaching Science at high schools, which I loved!
I came to write for children for when I had my first child and found that all the books I was reading to him were missing diverse characters. I began to write stories to tell him back in 2005! It took me a while, but because I didn’t see any positive change in representation in children’s books, I began to self-publish picture books, with the ambition to create books that featured everyone. I eventually gave up my teaching job, to take start my own little independent publishing house, called Sweet Apple Publishers.
Congrats on your debut middle grade book, PLANET OMAR: ACCIDENTAL TROUBLE MAGNET. Tell us about this story and what inspired you.
It’s a story of a young boy with a huge imagination who has been thrown into a new life when he moves home and has to go to a new school. He makes a great new best friend, but becomes the subject of the class bully’s attention, as well as having to live with a nasty new neighbor. We see Omar comically navigate this new life, with his goofy family, and his wild imagination; eventually turning things around with love and kindness and empathy.
The idea for PLANET OMAR was heavily inspired by my son, who was nine years old at the time. He has a clear Muslim identity as well as a clear British identity. He’s funny, cheeky, kind and can be quite a trouble magnet! With Trump’s campaign for presidency and Brexit talks in the UK, there was a lot of prejudice afloat, that even children in the playground were not sheltered from. So I’d say the impetus for writing the book came from wanting to give the world a regular Muslim family, which much like any other family, is full of quirks, silliness, sibling rivalry and mischief! I wanted the book to correct some of the negative stereotypes of Muslims.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Ooh, I’d say something in between and quite unconventional! As I mentioned, I started off by publishing diverse picture books under my own publisher, with the aim to publish other authors once I was more established. There were some ups, but also lots of downs. I was struggling, but couldn’t give up on my passion to create representative books. Finally, talks of the dearth of diverse books took off in the publishing industry. Change was slow to come, but it was happening! A problem had been recognized, and that is always the very first step. I had published Planet Omar under Sweet Apple initially, and it won the Little Rebels award in 2017, which got the attention of the larger publishers, leading to book deals with Hachette in the UK and Penguin in the US.
What projects are you working on now?
I’ve been working on Planet Omar book three, with book two already written and published in the UK. I’m having buckets of fun writing more adventures for Omar!
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
I would say, write from your own experiences, in a voice that feels genuine and authentic to you. Readers pick up on that and enjoy the story all the more. Don’t feel like you need to write the kinds of stories that are already on the shelves. Do your thing. Write something only you could have written.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Ah, I have lots of surprising traits! But perhaps what surprises people when they hear them is that they don’t ‘fit’ with their perception of what a Muslim woman in hijab is. For example, most people don’t know that I am nuts about driving sports cars! I find it therapeutic and will take my car out for a spin if I’m feeling stressed, stuck for ideas, or even happy!
Where can people find you online?
I’m on Twitter as @zendible and on Instagram as @zanibmian. I think it wonderful when readers reach out to me to share their experience of reading my books, and I always make a point to respond.
Zanib Mian was a science teacher before launching a small independent publisher, Muslim Children's Books. Passionate about representation in children's publishing, she is on the panel of judges for the prestigious Young Muslim Writers Awards.
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