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Medeia Cohan-Petrolino was looking for a book for her son which explained all the different religious head coverings people wear. He loves reading and the family were living in Tooting, London, at the time where he could see different headwear every day. “He was getting to an age where he was going to start asking questions so I was looking for a book that explained everything. That book did not exist,” says Medeia.
So she talked to her friends and decided to write it. Hats of Faith has just come out and is a beautifully illustrated introduction to the shared custom of head covering for children aged one to six.
“I felt at this time of increasing intolerance that it was really important that something existed that was secular and across all faiths. We have a tendency at the moment to demonise Muslims with regard to head coverings and I wanted to show that head coverings are a shared custom across many faiths,” says Medeia. “Parents have a responsibility to prepare children for life and it is easier to be fear mongered if you don’t know about things.”
Medeia’s background is in supporting creative people to be entrepreneurs. After her son was born three years ago, she has been freelancing. She wrote the book on the side over the last year and a half, often in the evenings.
Three women from different faiths
From the initial idea, the project gained momentum when Medeia spoke to other parents and to a publisher friend Hajera Memon, Founder of Shade 7 Publishing which focuses on Islamic and interfaith children’s educational books. She was very enthusiastic. “I thought how difficult can it be to write a children’s book,” says Medeia, laughing at her own naivety.“It is a huge responsibility to accurately portray people’s faiths.”
Hajera had the publishing know-how and helped put the book together. “Without her, it would have been a crowd-funded local book and now it is being sold all over the world,” says Medeia.
She researched her preferred illustrators and says she “practically stalked” Sarah Walsh who is based in the US, ironically in Medeia’s home town, until she agreed to do the book.
Fittingly for a book on hats of faith the three-woman team all had different faith backgrounds – Medeia is Jewish, Sarah is Catholic and Hajera is Muslim. “It was a happy accident,” says Medeia. “Sarah’s contribution brought the book to life.”
A lot of research went into the book. Medeia spoke to museums, academics and other experts to make sure she got the information right. “There is so much conflicting information,” she says.
Initially she was going to explain the background to all the different head coverings – the first version had a glossary which was a bit complicated for the target audience of children under six. It also highlighted differences between the religions which was not the purpose of the book. “It was hard enough to explain the different faiths and teach children to pronounce the words correctly. What was important, we felt, was early visual familiarity,” says Medeia.
In the end the team decided not to put too much information in the text, but they are producing some additional teaching tools for the website and some downloadable colouring sheets. “The book is an early jumping off point for conversations,” says Medeia.
The book is being sold half price to schools, children’s hospitals and community settings and the team are raising money for a UK-wide interactive workshop tour.
Medeia says it has been an all-consuming labour of love, but the work is paying off. The rights to the book have been licensed to publishers in Australia and the US and the book’s UK publisher is keen to do more books, for instance, on houses of faith or faith-based festivals. Next week Medeia, who is now based in Scotland, will do some inter-faith workshops in Scotland. The team also have t-shirts with the illustrations on as part of a Christmas promotion.
Medeia says the plan is to get out to less diverse areas and into schools so the book has a wider readership. “It has been really good doing it,” she says “It is lovely soul-satisfying work. As a parent I feel it would be nice if my son understood diversity and didn’t feel threatened or scared by it. This is my good deed against hate, my contribution to make the universe a nicer place for my son.”
*Hats of Faith is published by Shade 7 Publishing Limited, price £8.99. More information – http://www.hatsoffaith.com/