Faizel likes to bake, help his mother with the laundry, fit on his mom’s sparkly shoes and play with a one-eyed doll named Siela. The rugby ball his father has given him is gathering dust somewhere. Faizel knows he is different from other children and he’s heard his father tell his mother to not encourage him to be “like that”.
Faizel is a new character in a children’s book. He is the invention of Rafiek Mammon, 56, from Kenilworth. Rafiek created Faizel because while growing up he didn’t relate to the characters in children’s books.
“They were all about a very thin girl with blond hair. I never saw anyone in the books that was like me,” he said.
Rafiek, approached publisher Jacana with an idea to write a book about a character that was off-beat, like him, and they were open to the idea.
“They weren’t prescriptive except in things like word-lengths that are appropriate for children’s books and other publishing rules,” Rafiek said.
Rafiek then worked on Faizel’s story. Faizel comes from a traditional Muslim family and he is loved but he’s being “like that” causes friction in the home too.
The first book makes it clear that Faizel is different but doesn’t label his differences. Rafiek wrote it this way because there are many different kinds of different, he said.
“There’s the loner, the depressed person, the person that battles to make connections, they’re all different to the norm.”
He said the series is also for parents of children who are off-beat.
“It’s really for parents to think about how do you make sure that the potential of that child is also nurtured, even if the child is different? People like to ask children what they want to be when they grow up but how does a six-year-old know what they want to be when they grow up? I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I was 18, never mind 6. If the child likes baking, maybe he’ll be a successful baker.”
Faizel and the Stars is the first book in a planned series. In the next book, Faizel will go to school.
“Is he going to be bullied? How will he cope? What will he do? Must he struggle? What are his struggles and what are his successes?”
The idea of the series is to follow this child who doesn’t fit through life but its continuation depends on the book’s reception and sales. So far the book has been very well received.
“It has had lots of good feedback and traction,” Rafiek said.
Carol Bloomhall of Jacana, called Faizel and the Stars a “gentle story”.
“It’s about a little Muslim boy who is ‘different’, a more sensitive boy, and it teaches children about acceptance, respect and identity. It really is a beautiful story,” she said.
Originally, Rafiek wrote the book in Afrikaans, with Kaaps dialogue.
“He wanted readers to identify with the characters as they are in their own lives and their own homes, and to hopefully grow a respect, understanding and celebration of our different cultures. He draws on his life experiences growing up as a little boy on the periphery of District Six/Woodstock,” Carol said.
“Faizel loving the stars reflects Rafiek’s belief that ‘there is something bigger than us. Faizel is the star of his world just as we all can and should be the stars of our own world.’”
Rafiek also completed the English translation himself and Jacana commissioned a Xhosa and Zulu version too, so Faizel en die Sterre is available at bookstores and online in all four languages.
Rafiek was also very complimentary of the illustrator, Joan Rankin, whom he has never met in person but liaised with remotely.
“She asked me, ‘how do you see Faizel and his family? How do you see his father? His mom?’ and she really captured Faizel and his family so beautifully.”