Now that jury deliberations are over, I think it’s safe to say that I was on my first award jury.

It was for an international award called the NSK Neustadt award given by the University of Oklahoma!

The prize is $25000.00 for a living writer who’s contributed to the quality of children’s literature.

What a process!

I am not at liberty to disclose who won. That will be done officially in September with a press release but I can say who I personally nominated.

The prize is given in a very interesting manner. Nine jurors are chosen from the field of children’s literature, and WE do the nominating.

It’s funny, when I thought of who I’d nominate, one name popped into my head immediately.

It was the author/artist Demi, who’d done the book Muhammad. A biography of my beloved Prophet (peace be upon him).

This was my nominating statement:

Rukhsana Khan’s Nominating statement for Muhammad  by Demi


It is said that children need two things: roots and wings.

There is plenty of literature written these days to provide for ‘wings’, to explore the myriad possibilities out there that children can strive to achieve, but ‘roots’ are another matter.

Roots are a matter of where we come from, where we’ve been, our history, our identity, that which is the foundation of all future accomplishments.

Oh how I wish Demi’s picture book biography Muhammad had been available when I was growing up! To see such a significant historical figure treated with such respect and dignity—by someone outside the Muslim community—would have been such a validation! When all the kids in my class were laughing at me and deriding my faith, I could have pointed to such a book and said, “See? That’s who I believe in!”

As a children’s author trying to be aware of the books out there that deal with Islamic themes, I picked up Muhammad by Demi expecting to be once again disappointed.

Before this book, I had never read a biography written about the Prophet (peace be upon him) by non Muslims that did not contain historical inaccuracies, insults, or petty little digs at his credibility.

And then there was the issue of illustrating him!

Since the Danish cartoon incident, the whole world knows just how sensitive Muslims are when it comes to depicting images of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)!

Demi earned my undying awe and admiration with her ingenious solution to the problem!

From the complete accuracy of her biographical research to the ingenious way she imitated the style of miniature art in medieval Islamic manuscripts and the brilliant idea of using a solid silhouette of gold to represent the Prophet in each of the luxuriant spreads, Demi shows such a conscientious understanding and profound respect for her subject matter—that I rushed out and bought half a dozen copies to give as Eid gifts to family members (even though the book was more than $40 a pop)!

In 2008 I presented a plenary speech at the International Board on Books for Young People Congress, when it was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I addressed the whole Danish cartoon incident and the issue of freedom of speech.

The day before my session on freedom of speech vs cultural sensitivity, I walked in on the instigator of the Danish cartoon incident himself, a Danish children’s author Kare Bluitgen who’d written an insulting and inflammatory biography of Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was complaining that he had tried to get Danish artists to illustrate it. They had all refused.

Kare Bluitgen insisted that despite Danish ideals of freedom of speech he was not ‘allowed’ to publish his biography of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Armed with my faith in Demi’s book, I challenged Kare Bluitgen during the question and answer period. I asked him if he’d ever heard of a book called Muhammad by Demi. He said he had not.

Then I told him that she had been able to respectfully accomplish what he had not. She had written a wonderful ILLUSTRATED biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and she had been sensitive to Muslim culture at the same time! I used this book as an example of how it could be done!

That is the ‘debt’ that I owe Demi! I was able to use her book to confront such contentious bigotry! That is what her amazing book has meant to me. That’s what she was able to accomplish!

The criteria of the NSK Neustadt Prize is to “recognize the writers and/or illustrators who have proven to be influential in some decisive way in the field of children’s literature”.

In my eyes, Demi embodies the type of tolerance and peaceful co-existence most children’s literature strives to encourage and achieve.

And Demi does not limit her conscientiousness to Muslim sensibilities!

Conscientiousness permeates all the work she does! From her biographies of Jesus, The Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Buddha, Mother Theresa, Saint Nicholas, and Alexander the Great (to name a few) she modifies her artistic style to respectfully reflect the subject matter!

She approaches each topic with sensitivity for the artistic and historical tradition of the subject matter.

Her writing is clear, succinct, and engaging for young readers—even when the subject matter she chooses is so profound!

She is the first introduction many young minds will have to historical personalities that have shaped and molded so many people in the world.

And in becoming familiar with these historical personalities, the young minds who read her work will be better equipped for their future. In the world they will eventually inherit, these young minds will have to deal with people of all these various backgrounds they’re bound to encounter.

I believe she should be acknowledged and rewarded for the tremendous work she has done in the field of children’s literature!

I believe that she has set the standard very high indeed! She has made an incredible contribution to the field of children’s literature, and in my opinion there is no one more deserving of the NSK Newstadt Prize!

You can check out some of Demi’s work at her website (which I urged her to make!)

But unfortunately the website doesn’t do justice to the beauty of her artwork!

For that you’ll just have to pick up one of her books!!!