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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hacket

The Backstory: IN MY MOSQUE

M.O. Yuksel joins The Backstory today to share the inspiration behind her picture book, IN MY MOSQUE (HarperCollins, 2021) with illustrations by Hatem Aly. Keep reading to learn where she finds inspiration and for your chance to win a query critique from M.O.

Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind IN MY MOSQUE.

First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.

In My Mosque is a glimpse into the kinds of activities and services that take place in a mosque, a Muslim place of worship. It’s told from two perspectives - that of the community and of a child. Through Hatem Aly’s stunning illustrations the reader takes a tour of mosques around the world, and is introduced to a multicultural cast of characters.

This is such a gorgeous book. Your lovely, lyrical language paired with Hatem's detailed illustrations pair perfectly. IN MY MOSQUE serves as an excellent introduction to what mosques are. I love the way you bring in the child's voice and beautifully relay the experience from a childlike perspective.

What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?

I started writing the story as a result of a tragic and horrific event, the New Zealand mosque shooting. Two mosques were attacked by a white supremist in New Zealand in March of 2019, killing over 50 people and injuring dozens of others including children. I was devastated and heartbroken, like many, and I wanted to help by writing a story about my experiences attending mosques in the hopes that it would help counter the misconceptions and negative stereotyping of Muslims that is so prevalent in mass media, and in political discourse.

It is inspiring the way you took this horribly negative event and used it to create beauty and hope through your words. You've created a piece that can present a different narrative and through which young children can learn acceptance.

How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now IN MY MOSQUE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?

The event that spurred this story was so emotional that I felt an urgency to write it immediately, and the words (and tears) poured out of me as quickly. I first wrote it from the community perspective, then I decided to add the child’s perspective as the second line of each spread to make it more relatable to children.

Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?

Everywhere, but I usually tend to look for gaps in the marketplace. And there are so many gaps especially in our education system, and in what and how history is taught. There’s a huge need for more diverse books.

That is a great approach. Not only are you ensuring your piece has a place in the market, but you are also helping fill those many gaps.

What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is great. I love how she summarizes the writing journey in a relatable and funny way.

There are so many wonderful books, and I’ve listed them and other resources like podcasts that I find useful on my website,

Thank you for adding these. Readers check out M.O.'s website to enjoy all of her resources. From craft books to podcasts to picture book recommendations there is a wealth of suggestions and something for everyone.

What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?

I don’t need much except the usual - a laptop, and a quiet place to work. A tool I find useful is a timer app called Flora Care which helps me focus. It plants a real tree every time you reach your set time goal, which I think is a great incentive to keep working.

What an amazing incentive to meet your goals! Thanks for sharing! I had never heard of it, but now I will need to give it a try.

Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?

Write from the heart, focus on your passion and what's important to you. Also, don't be a perfectionist or precious with your words because it most likely will change with agent and editor feedback.

Great advice! As authors, we painstakingly choose each and every word and can become too attached. This is an important reminder for us to flexible and willing to part with even our favorite phrases when the time comes. It's also an opportunity to free ourselves from some of the self-imposed pressure to have everything perfect.

Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?

My picture book biography, ONE WISH: Fatima al-Fihri and the World's Oldest University (HarperCollins), beautifully illustrated by Mariam Quraishi, will be coming out February 1, 2022, and is available for preorder now.

Fatima al-Fihri lived in the 9th century in Fez, Morocco and pioneered the oldest university in the world that’s still operating today. She is a very inspirational figure and a personal hero of mine, and I can’t wait to share her story.

Congratulations on another beautiful book. This sounds fascinating! I look forward to adding it to my classroom library and can already hear the students excitedly sharing their new learning with one another.

Where can people connect more with you?

You can connect with me on my website: I can also be found on Twitter at @mo_yuksel, on Instagram via, and on Facebook @Munevver Mindy Yuksel.

Readers be sure to connect with M.O. to stay up to date on all her latest writing happenings. And if you haven't already, pick up your copy of IN MY MOSQUE (HarperCollins, 2021) with illustrations by Hatem Aly.

M.O. thank you so much for taking the time to join me and share all about your writing and inspiration. I loved learning about your process and the story behind IN MY MOSQUE.

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, Andrew! :)



M.O. is generously giving away a query critique to one lucky winner.

To enter follow @mo_yuksel on Twitter and do one of the following:

1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!


2. Leave a comment on this post.


3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.


4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.

Each method earns an extra entry!



M.O. Yuksel loves writing stories about diverse historical figures, and fascinating cultures. She is the author of IN MY MOSQUE which received starred reviews from the School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. It is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection and was highly praised by The Horn Book, Booklist, and Kirkus. Her upcoming picture book biography, ONE WISH, about Fatima al-Fihri, a 9th-century woman who pioneered the oldest university in the world in Fez, Morocco releases with HarperCollins on February 1, 2022.

Before becoming a full-time writer, M.O. Yuksel worked in the education field for over twenty years as an administrator, manager, and teacher. Of Uzbek descent, she was born in Turkey and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of seven. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Fordham University, and a master's degree in International Affairs from Columbia University.

When not writing, M.O. Yuksel is usually on the soccer field cheering for her kids, or traveling to exotic places and immersing herself in the local culture.



Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.

A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.

While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.

Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.

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Carol Gordon Ekster
Carol Gordon Ekster
Nov 08, 2021

IN MY MOSQUE looks beautiful! Thanks for sharing the story behind the story. Andrew, thanks for highlighting #kidlit authors so we can learn from their journeys.


Nov 04, 2021

I love this beautiful book and purchased a copy when it was released. I enjoyed the interview and learning the back story. I am an American who grew up in Turkey so M.O.’s book spoke to me!


Nov 03, 2021

Great post! Looking forward to reading this book!

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