For author Petra van Helden, Children of Adam is a "gift from heaven"
- 03 January 2018
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Photos courtesy of Petra van Helden
As a child, Petra van Helden had never even seen a Muslim in real life. “I didn’t know much about Islam. I thought it was so different from everything I knew and had nothing to do with my belief. I thought it was a religion for people from other countries.”
Today, Petra is a first-time children’s author thanks to the publication of Children of Adam (Kinderen van Adam, in Dutch), a collection of stories from the Quran. Released in September 2017, the book is available online and in bookstores everywhere in the Netherlands.
“There are lots of children’s Bibles, but hardly any children’s books about the Quran,” Petra told My Salaam. But she’s quick to point out that Children of Adam is not the Quran for children: she wrote it as an introduction to the stories and people mentioned in it. “My hope is that it will encourage readers to get curious about the Quran and read it.”
Photo courtesy of Petra van Helden
Petra grew up in a Protestant home in the Dutch city of Utrecht but converted to Islam about 20 years ago. She recalls her first encounter with the religion when one of her friends in primary school returned from a family trip to Morocco. This friend had discovered that Islam had the same stories about Abraham and Moses that were so familiar to people with a Christian upbringing.
When she finished high school, Petra borrowed a Dutch translation of the Quran from her local library and spent the next few months buried in it. “We went on a family vacation to France, and I remember that I sat reading it by the water.” She was astonished by how familiar the stories and characters were. “In school, we learnt about different cultures and traditions. But we didn’t learn about the common ground between Islam and Christianity. It is strange, because children should learn about the common ground, that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are branches of the same tree.”
Children of Adam is her attempt to glean stories from the verses of the Quran and tell them as linear narratives. Each chapter ends with a verse from the Quran, and at the end of the book Petra has provided a list of all the verses that she used as references for her stories.
Most children’s books rely a lot on illustrations. Petra’s challenge was to figure out how to illustrate Children of Adam while being respectful to Islam; for example, she did not want to show the face of the prophets. She contacted an illustrator, Els van Egeraat, whose work she really liked. Together, they discussed what was important, and the result is a set of colourful abstract pictures. “Because she was restricted, in a way it made her more creative,” said Petra.
“The seed for this book was planted 20 years ago, when I was looking for answers and trying to learn more about Islam,” she said. “To publish a children’s book is nearly impossible. So I see this as a gift from heaven.”
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