The Big Breakout: An Exciting New Children’s Novel Is Out, Centered Around Yusuf’s Hilarious Adventures!

Written with a flair for adventure (and a good dose of humor, even for adults), The Big Breakout is a must-read for children everywhere – and it helps that its part of a series that doesn’t shy away from having the main character and his family be openly Muslim.

Written with a flair for adventure (and a good dose of humor, even for adults), The Big Breakout is a must-read for children everywhere – and it helps that its part of a series that doesn’t shy away from having the main character and his family be openly Muslim.

The third installment of the “My Laugh-Out-Loud Life” series, The Big Breakout, is now out – just in time for some fun summer reading for children! Centering around Yusuf, these children’s novels have been hugely popular, and with the third and final book out, it just might be the perfect opportunity to get the whole collection.

Previously, in Mayhem Mission and The Dastardly Duo, Yusuf experiences hilarious adventures to do with his older sister’s wedding (in which he has to ruin the wedding in order to save the wedding), and running for class president (to save his family’s honor of course).

And now in The Big Breakout, Yusuf will be experiencing something entirely new – his older sister is expecting a baby!

Written with a flair for adventure (and a good dose of humor, even for adults), The Big Breakout is a must-read for children everywhere – and it helps that its part of a series that doesn’t shy away from having the main character and his family be openly Muslim.

This kind of representation, and normality, is so important in our day and age for children and young adults – to be able to laugh alongside and root for a Muslim main character in a children’s fiction novel is refreshingly heartwarming.

Yusuf’s own descriptions of some of his family members that are centered around the novel are perfectly hilarious as well – his Nanu (grandmother), “has no teeth and is always sucking on gwa and fan (betel nuts and leaves) like its oxygen…she isn’t a vampire (I hope!), it’s the fan juice that makes her mouth red!”

His mother, Amma, “looks like an angel” outside, but “at home, she looks wild. Sometimes I think her hair is secretly hiding horns.”

And his sister Affa’s “head is quite big, probably because she’s got a very big brain. I think that’s why she has a fringe. (Nanu hates the fringe).”

With equally entertaining illustrations throughout the novel by Farah Khandaker, this book will definitely keep the reader hooked from the first page – we can only hope that author Burhana Islam will be inspired to continue writing similar types of stories for children.

And speaking of Burhana Islam, TMV managed to ask a few questions about how she got the idea for a series like this, and some of her own inspirations for a character like Yusuf. Read our interview below!

TMV: Tell us a little about yourself – why children’s fiction? Do you have a personal story behind why you feel so passionately about this genre?

Burhana: I’m first and foremost by profession an English teacher at a secondary school so naturally I have a love for stories anyway. I knew from experience that stories had the power to make you forget about everything else and just temporarily live another life – especially when you’re bored.

I vividly remember my friends telling me that they spent the holidays in Disneyland or Cyprus or the likes, but because we grew up in a working-class household without the luxury of plentiful income, our holidays were spent at home between family and library visits. Reading was something that really helped me pass the time in a way that I loved. I didn’t know it then, but this love for stories ended up shaping the trajectory of my life and has certainly given me opportunities that my younger self could never have dreamed of.

I’ve focused on children’s stories simply because having a passion for reading at a younger age really does increase the life chances that come your way. Every Parents Evening, I repeat the mantra ‘Make sure your child reads at least 10 minutes a day. By doing so, you raise a child who is empathetic and understanding, a child who knows how to communicate both off the page and on.

This also means they find exams a little easier because they understand the question being asked of them faster, and therefore they have more time to write their responses. A couple more minutes can mean a couple more marks and that can be the difference between grades across the board. This means they have more flexible access to further and higher education. You can tell I’m a secondary school teacher, can’t you?! Honestly, start them young and you can change the trajectory of their lives – it worked for me, right?

TMV: Did you have any reservations or hesitations about writing a book with Muslim characters, with Muslim names and backgrounds? And did you receive any backlash or concerns about this from others?

Burhana: I did on all fronts. There was a time I wrote an article that promoted the inclusion of Muslim figures in children’s books and there was a certain corner of the internet where racism was rife. The responses were so offensive that the paper actually ended up blocking the comment section altogether. The prospect of a Muslim woman having agency clearly threatened them.

Then on the other side, I was sent a few links from a Muslim influencer who heavily criticised my work and made unfounded assumptions about me. I took a step back from social media after that. I don’t engage with platforms like I used to. It takes a big toll on your mental health.

For me, it’s important to remind myself why I’m writing. I’m a teacher who is grassroots, catering for the community I see. I have other projects going on, too, and what I see is a lot of Muslim children losing faith. At the moment, they are who I write for. I agree that my work isn’t perfect and I’m constantly trying to get better. There are times when writers don’t have as much control over their work as people think. It’s an industry I’m navigating and learning from. I have bigger ambitions up my sleeve that I’m quietly working on in the background. It’s enough for me to be aware of my intentions and work for my community – there’s a beauty in the way we live. In a world that’s so fast-paced, I don’t want children to doubt that.

TMV: Tell us about the main character of your series, Yusuf Ali Khan. Is he inspired by someone or something? And why do you think he resonates so well with young readers?

Burhana: Yusuf is an amalgamation of some of the lively students I taught. I find that a lot of my students never have bad intentions. They are just little bursts of chaos trying to navigate big feelings in a world that’s very confusing.

I think he resonates with readers because a lot of us can relate to him. We’re always trying to figure our lives out so why not have a little fun on the way?

TMV: Besides Yusuf, what are some of the stories and inspirations behind the other characters or events in The Big Breakout?

Burhana: My nearest and dearest, as well as my teaching career. There’s a whole OFSTED scene, which pokes fun at the whole process. The wudhu sink scene is such a classic and universally relatable experience. I loved embedding just sweet little moments from my childhood into my stories. There’s a real feeling of community in the series. The Nanu character reflects my own grandmother, who is both fierce and fun – bless her. A lot of the names are inspired by people in my life. I never saw names like ours growing up so I just popped them in there.

TMV: Why do you think it’s so important to have books with visual Muslim characters for young children? What do you hope for?

Burhana: Ultimately, I believe that everyone is a reader – they just haven’t found the right book yet. As you know, I’m a huge advocate of reading and the benefits that come with it. I just hope my books are a window into lives like mine and mirrors for a community like mine. A love for reading can really change lives.

My Laugh Out Loud Life: The Big Breakout by Burhana Islam, illustrated by Farah Khandaker, is published by Knights Of, £6.99 paperback. ISBN 9781913311391.


Find Burhana on Twitter @Burhana92 and Instagram @Burhanawrites

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