Hajera Memon, author, publisher and managing director of Shade 7 publishing.
The Story of the Elephant, Sarah Al- Feel (Shade 7 Publishing, 2014).
My First Wudu Book, Hajera Memon and Rose Hill (Shade 7 Publishing, 2015).
Hats of Faith, Medeia Cohan-Petrolino and Sarah Walsh (Shade 7 Publishing, 2017).
This is the latest in our series of interviews with publishers who reflect IBBY’s aims and contribute to inclusion and diversity in British publishing. Here we are proud to feature author and publisher Hajera Memon, the managing director of Shade 7 Publishing.
A former finance lawyer, Hajera Memon decided to follow her passion for children’s books and to create exciting titles for the youngest children that reflect her Muslim faith. Shade 7’s first book was The Story of the Elephant, Sarah Al- Feel (2014), a “pop-up and play” book based on a story in the Qur’an. In launching and building Shade 7, Hajera has shown huge ingenuity in forging mutually supportive partnerships for her books. Shade 7 was shortlisted for the Independent Publishing Awards in 2015 and has since gone from strength to strength. Her latest publication is Hats of Faith which introduces children to different faiths through their distinctive head coverings.
Hello Hajera, we see from the Shade 7 website that you see yourself as a Muslim children’s book publisher. What is your background and what brought you into children’s publishing?
My journey into publishing is rather unconventional, albeit very intentional! I set up my publishing company Shade 7 after deciding to resign as a banking solicitor. I wanted to pursue a new career in which I could learn more about my faith and make it more accessible and enjoyable for others. I really enjoyed Art and English throughout school and felt that children’s publishing was the ideal way to combine my passions. It was important for me to create a “wow factor” with every book we published and make our products truly outstanding. While growing up, I loved engaging with the stories from the Qur’an (the Muslim Holy book); I felt these stories of creation and of shared Prophets from the Abrahamic faiths were the best stories, and they formed such a memorable part of my childhood. So, focusing on the specialism of novelty publishing quickly became a way for me to rediscover and share these miraculous adventures and timeless lessons of faith in a unique and imaginative way.
Can you tell us a little more about Shade 7 and its aims?
Shade 7 is an independent, global, multilingual publisher with a special focus on Islamic and interfaith children’s educational books. We are the publishers of the world’s first, premium Qur’anic pop-up book, and create aesthetic, engaging, novelty books to inspire and expand young minds. Our aim and vision is to inspire and encourage children to learn about Islam through fun, creativity and play! Founded in 2012, Shade 7 strives to creatively make a positive contribution to the world by developing creative, interactive and high-quality publications and products that make learning about religion—particularly Islam—fun, and establish a legacy of long-term beneficial knowledge. Drawing on Islamic principles, Shade 7 seek to bring religious stories and principles to life in an interactive, memorable and inspirational way. Although specifically targeted to a younger demographic, our Qur’anic stories for children can be enjoyed by the entire family. We also aspire to touch all faiths, not just Muslims, and welcome those from all walks of life to gain a unique view and understanding of the Qur’an through our books that are accessible, fun, and filled with universal values.
And the name?
Shade 7 takes its name from a famous saying (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him): “Seven types of people will be shaded by God under His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His.” Of the seven groups, one is described as “a youth who grew up in the worship of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic”. It is on this principle that Shade 7 strives to support the religious, spiritual and educational development of all children. Our work seeks to provide children with fun and engaging activity books and novelty books based on Qur’anic and Prophetic stories that introduce the beauty, might and majesty of Allah (God) and His message.
Shade 7 has so far published titles for the youngest children. What qualities are you looking for in a possible Shade 7 book?
Creativity, innovation and quality education! We believe it’s so important for children to find books engaging and memorable—they’re tools for lifelong learning and inspiration. We all remember our favourite childhood books, whether it was the story or the person who read them to us, and this is what we want to build upon when it comes to sharing stories from our faith.
As a publisher, are you involved directly with the creative process of your books, in design and editing for instance?
Absolutely—it’s my favourite part. I usually have a vision for most of the books we publish and an idea of the interactive and creative play elements I want featured. Sometimes, I write the books too and then for the artistic side, work with a team of artists, illustrators, architects and designers to bring the entire vision to life. It’s a real team effort and I do get everything checked by editors, religious teachers and scholars and other industry professionals along the way!
With your books, you have collaborated with Muslim charities in a variety of ways. Please would you tell us about these partnerships and why they are important to you?
Charity is a huge part of the Islamic faith and Muslim identity. I wanted to engrain this principle into Shade 7 from the start—it’s so important to me! We make a commitment to donate at least 25 books for every 1,000 sold to various children’s charities around the world, in order to make our books accessible to children in all circumstances and from all walks of life. We have worked with the READ Foundation, Orphans in Need, the Muslim Foster Network, as well as local mosques and libraries around the world. Our partnerships with larger charities such as Islamic Relief UK and Penny Appeal are more focused on the strategic elements of supporting particular projects like Islamic Relief’s Water 4 Life campaign through donating profit from sales, or delivery of our Hats of Faith UK School Assembly Tour, which spread essential interfaith knowledge to teachers and students alike.
Would you tell us something about My First Wudu Book, to show us how you put your aims into practice?
My First Wudu Book is a great example of both the memorable interactivity and strategic charitable partnership elements of our publishing we pride ourselves on. This unique book is a colour changing bath book, suitable for babies and toddlers, and aims to captivate and educate young hearts about the order of washing the basic body parts for wudu — the ritual washing performed by Muslims in preparation for their 5 daily prayers. The beautiful hand drawn illustrations are white, and when water is applied, they change colour! From revealing a peachy skin tone for the hands, face, nose, ears and feet, to a red for the mouth and a dark brown for hair on the head, children can see these body parts come to life as they practice washing their own in the bath or generally through water play. We regularly receive photographs and videos from parents around the world of their children enjoying the book—usually faces of sheer delight, squeals of laugher from the kitchen to the bathroom—creating memories and inspiring a love of worship. Furthermore, 50% of all profits from the sales of this special Islamic Relief edition go directly to supporting Islamic Relief UK’s Water for Life projects around the world. A perfect and relevant partnership we believe!
As a Muslim publisher, are there particular challenges and opportunities for you in the present children’s market, even in financing?
Financing as a small independent publisher is definitely the biggest challenge. I don’t think it matters too much that we’re a Muslim publisher as it’s something all young start-ups face. As our books all have some form of a novelty element, many people don’t realise that production can be much more expensive than for a standard picture book title. However, with every challenge, there are indeed opportunities and being able to find strategic partners, whose aims and visions are aligned with ours, certainly helps! Most recently we’ve been able to sell the rights of our Hats of Faith title to Chronicle USA and Hardie Grant Egmont in Australia, which was a great achievement we are thrilled with. We’re currently exploring purchasing the rights of certain books and creative material that I came across during my recent trip to Bologna, so there are many exciting opportunities, including language co-editions, to look forward to.
Is it difficult to find general distribution for your titles? I couldn’t find them in my local libraries, for instance.
All our books are distributed by Gardners and Bertrams in the UK as well as through many independent bookshops, schools and parent networks. We do sell to some libraries directly, but most should have the books available to them via Gardners and Bertrams. If you can’t find the book in your local library, please do let them know it’s available here and they can order a few copies!
Your latest Shade 7 publication, Hats of Faith, is also a board book for the youngest children, but would we be right in thinking it is something different from your previous books?
Hats of Faith is very much a Shade 7 Publication! As we had so much material to share, we created a separate website where parents and teachers can download our FREE Interfaith Education Toolkit, and also book themselves onto the UK School Assembly Tour. Hats of Faith is a board book and so it contains that novelty element, and fits in well with our other titles—the illustrations in particular are beautiful. It is something different in the sense that it’s our first interfaith children’s book. However, given the present climate and circumstances worldwide, particularly the dire need for this kind of education to combat ignorance and rising hate, we felt we had to do something and this is our small contribution, which we hope will have a lasting impact in increasing understanding and fostering acceptance among communities. We see the positivity with which it has been received and embraced and are so humbled and grateful to have brought out a title that truly showcases and celebrates our commonalities rather than focusing on our differences!
Last question. Can you tell us something about what you have up your sleeve for the future?
We have some really exciting books coming up for later this year. My first book of Islamic Months—a fold-out, lift-the-flap book. It is a real work of intricate and stunning art—folding out to create a colourful display stretching over 2 metres! It’ll be perfect for classrooms, libraries, and home educators. We thought this book would be a fun way to introduce children to numbers, while exploring historical Islamic events by teaching the names of the months in Arabic and English, in a unique and imaginative way. Children can discover special facts about each month as they lift each flap. We’re really excited to see what the reaction to this one will be.
Thanks very much, Hajera. We look forward to that one. And to more Shade 7 books. Thank you so much for contributing to the IBBY website.