A UNIVERSITY of Worcester graduate has claimed a silver medal at the internationally recognised Sydney Taylor Book Awards.
Fawzia Gilani-Williams, from Walsall, won the award for her adaptation of a classic folk tale, with her children’s book Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam – illustrated by Chiara Fidel.
The story of Yaffa and Fatima has its roots in both Jewish and Muslim culture, and for Fawzia, this was an important part of the story’s appeal.
“I chose to adapt this beautiful tale because its message of kindness and self-sacrifice immediately captivated me,” Fawzia said.
“Kindness, sharing, caring and friendship are all values that Muslims and Jews dearly hold, so it was my wish that it would resonate with both groups. I also saw potential in the tale as a peace story.”
Fawzia completed a PhD in Children’s Literature at the University of Worcester in 2016, after an extensive search for a university that could support her in her research.
“Proposal after proposal to university after university were made and the responses were always the same – no member of faculty seemed to have expertise in my field, which was education, children’s literature and Islam,” she said.
“When I eventually applied to Worcester and they approved my application, it was nothing less than a euphoric and utopian moment.”
Professor Jean Webb, Director for the International Forum for Research in Children’s Literature at the University of Worcester, and one of Fawzia’s PhD supervisors, said: “Fawzia was a delight to work with when she was a PhD student at Worcester. Her commitment was of the highest level. Her work on Muslim children’s literature within an educational setting demonstrated how understanding narrative can make a strong and positive difference to children’s lives.”
Despite her recent success, Fawzia does not make her living as a writer, instead working in education full time as a teacher, although she admits things are changing, and she is developing an increasing focus on promoting peace and diversity through literature.
“Early in my writing it seemed like a hobby but over time it has flourished into something more,” she said. “I now get invited to do author visits in schools which I really enjoy. Not only it is a great way to meet children from different countries but it’s also a way to promote literacy and diversity. I am also pleased to be associated with the nascent Eid Stories Institute for Literary Studies and Peace Research.”
“I think we live at a time when we need to work hard and work cooperatively to promote a universal message of peace,” Fawzia added.
“In this regard, it is helpful to share stories of peace with our children. I hope to empower children to become persons who could never oppress another individual and never say an unkind word.”
The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are presented annually by the Association of Jewish Libraries in recognition of outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.