My Mum is a Wonder by Michele Messaoudi illustrated by Rukiah Peckham

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My Mum is a Wonder by Michele Messaoudi illustrated by Rukiah Peckham

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This book published in 1999 was one of the first books I remember reading regularly to my Sunday school class, and reading it now as a mum myself makes it warm me all the more.  In 34 warmly colored illustrations, this 8×8 book shares the story of how a little boy sees his mom.  How impressed he is by her and how truly he loves her for all that she does, all that she is, and all that she shares with him.

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As the story progresses from what she does within the home and family, to what she does for others, the little boy also imagines himself all grown up and his mum as a nan.  He imagines that she will need him and he is ready and willing for when that time comes, to take care of her.

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The book and illustrations target ages 3-6.  Written in rhyming couplets, four lines per page, the story moves at a steady pace and the pictures are detailed and familiar enough to engage most kids at bed time or in small settings.

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There are little Islamic specific tidbits sprinkled throughout that give parents or readers a chance to use it as a more specific teachable moment.  Saying “salam, reading Quran, thanking Allah for the food they have, praying salat, giving charity, visiting the elderly, celebrating eid, obeying her, and caring for her in her old age to achieve jannah, inshaAllah.

 

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Nanni’s Hijab by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq illustrated by Vitchapol Taerattanachai

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Nanni’s Hijab by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq illustrated by Vitchapol Taerattanachai

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MashaAllah, there are so many things to like about this 36 page, brightly illustrated, elementary aged story.  Nanni, the main character, is spunky.  Not only is she strong enough to wear hijab to school, but she also is brave enough to confidently handle a bully on her own.  Surrounded by a supportive teacher, friends, classmates, and her mom, Nanni’s creativity and understanding that Allah swt will help her find a way to handle her predicament results in a happy ending, and many empowering messages.

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The book would work for most children, but I think second grade and up would get the most out of it.  The girl might be young to be wearing hijab, but it seems like she wears it because she wants too.  I like that the illustrations have her and her mom uncovered at home, and that there is a glossary at the back, opening up the book to muslim and non muslim kids alike.

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I also really like the larger messages of acceptance, trying new things, and doing better when you know better.  The supporting cast in the book resonates with muslims who go to schools where they are the minority, but have support and encouragement to practice their faith none-the-less.  Nanni’s teacher remarks that her “hijabs are as regal as a princess’s crown,” and the other students like seeing what color or design she is wearing each day.  Although a children’s book, the author does very clearly explain that the hijab is part of Nanni’s faith, although not mentioned by name, and that it is an act of worship. Nanni wants to handle the problem on her own, and for as bad as she wants to punch Leslie, she knows it isn’t the right thing to do.  As she wrestles with what is the best approach, she puts her trust in Allah, swt, which perhaps is the greatest lesson for us all in the book, alhumdulillah.

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abel-Fattah

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It is kind of remarkable now that I look back on the book, that before reading it, I knew exactly what was going to happen based on the jacket flap synopsis, yet somehow the book held my interest and I finished it easily.  There were no surprises, no plot twists, not even any amazingly poignant passages, yet, I kept reading, so there is some merit, perhaps in ideas, even if the story line wasn’t meticulously crafted.  At 390 pages, this 4.8 level AR book is not for elementary or even middle school readers, it is a high school and up for content understanding and appropriateness.

SYNOPSIS:

The dual storylines are told from the intertwined perspectives of Mina, a Muslim refugee to Australia who fled Afghanistan in a boat, and Michael, an Australian upper middle class high school student whose parents run an anti-immigration group and oppose the arrival of refugees.  The two see each other on opposite sides at a protest, and reunite when Mina earns a scholarship to a prestige posh school, and the family moves so that she can attend.  Naturally the two clash, then fall in love.  Along the way there are slight changes as the characters grow, some side stories about friends and family members, and like the title suggests, crossing of lines, so to speak.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that the book in terms of its political plot is actually pretty nuanced.  You could say it is framed as a good vs. bad, but it isn’t that simple, and I think the characters shed light on the gray area in between.  In many ways Michael changes and grows and challenges himself to go out of his comfort zone created by his family.  He forces himself to see where immigrants live, he steps foot in a mosque, he researches the detention centers and what not, to learn that he doesn’t agree with his parents.  I wish, however, that all of these scenarios would have been slightly more memorable, maybe an interaction at the mosque, or follow-up by talking to Mina about it.  The lack of reflection made his journey seem like he was changing his views for a girl, and not because of a deeper understanding.  At the end his mom even asks him about it, and I kind of had to side with her in wondering about his motives.  Mina’s personal growth is more in that she learns to trust new people, and let them in.  Her growth is not as obvious as Michael’s and I think some would put her on the “good” side and see her as a stagnant character.  She is greatly shaped by the death of her father and brother, by the escape and journey to Australia, and then having to move again for school, but in the course of the books timeline, she really doesn’t change much.  Her Islam is really culture, she doesn’t pray, or mention anything about her belief or faith.  Halal is not explained, but is just seen as a political tool to protest and argue about.  Mina never goes to the mosque, and even for religious reasons never questions if she should have a boyfriend, but worries what her mother will say and thus does keep it secret.  For all realistic purposes, she is portrayed as a Muslim as a political identifier that illicits stereotypes and assumptions by others, not as a description of what she believes, behaves, or thinks.  Michael’s parents are where the real meat of the story for me was.  Understanding how they see themselves as “not racists” ordering ethnic foods from all over, but actively working to keep non-assimilating foreigners out.  Their organization claims to promote the idea of upholding Australian values, not of disliking other countries values, and I think this is really what so much of the world is facing right now. The ethnocentric idea of being so great and understanding in words, but not in behavior and policy making.  Michael’s dad goes overseas and feels sad, but doesn’t feel compelled to help, rather than to keep those people from changing, “his” world.  As the book mentions a lot, his parents in other ways are kind, good people.  It really isn’t good against evil in all facets of life.

I think my favorite part in the book are the female relationships.  I love Mina’s friend Paula, who quotes Oscar Wilde and while on the outside has it all together, lets Mina see the real her.  She is smart and feisty and seems to stay genuine throughout.  I like that Mina’s friends from the “old neighborhood” are still in her life and I even like how close she and her mom are.  It’s nice to see females helping each other, there is power in that, that fiction helps remind readers about.

FLAGS:

There is mention of sex, nothing explicit, but side characters hook up, are accused of being sluts, and it is definitely there.  The main characters kiss regularly.  There is some swearing and lots and lots of lying.  Mina can’t go out after library hours because that is where she says she is, when she is elsewhere.  There is fighting, alcohol, clubbing, and smoking mentioned throughout.  None of the aforementioned flags are glorified or even praised, but all are there.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a student book club, but I think it could be done as an adult book club.  The politics need some background and understanding, that I think some discussion would be enlightening in a community or larger society setting.  Sometimes even in the real world, meeting people different than ourselves does wonders for changing preconceived notions and stereotypes.

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber illustrated by Scott Mack

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Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber illustrated by Scott Mack

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On the border of Somalia and Kenya, there isn’t a library, or a book mobile, there is a traveling camel library! While the main character is more excited about the camels, at least his friend is excited about the books in this AR 3.2 story.

Muktar is an orphan who dreams of his life before his parents were killed as a nomad tending to their camels.  Their teacher, Mr. Hassan calls him lazy as he dreams of the camels he misses, but one day, a librarian from Garissa comes on camel to bring books to the orphanage, and while Ismail and the other kids are excited for the books, Muktar is drawn to the desert beasts.  Muktar notices that one of the three camels is injured and recalling the root to help sooth the ailment, he tears his shirt, treats the wound, and covers it.  When seeing his abilities, the librarian, Mr. Mohamed asks him to come with him to tend the camels as they travel with books through the desert.

muktar insideThe story definitely makes readers appreciate the life they have, and realize how simple and harsh others’ lives can be.  I like the mention of the foods, giving insight into the culture, but I didn’t like the harshness of the adults.  The calling the boys lazy, not taking Muktar food as he tends the camels, not being concerned about the injured camel until Muktar insists he notices, all made me a bit sad.  Yes I was glad that Muktar was able to resume a nomadic life with camels, but he wasn’t given a say in it.  And sure I’m glad that his friend Ismail will get books and be able to work toward being a teacher, but somehow it wasn’t a warm book, and I can’t quite identify why.

The pictures, however, are warm and detailed in the present, with Muktar’s memories being more hazy and muted.  There isn’t any mention of religion, but being the characters are Somali and their names being what they are you can assume they are Muslim. There is a short author’s note at the end that tells about the war causing the nomads to become orphans and the library service that works to share books.

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The Muslims by Zanib Mian

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The Muslims by Zanib Mian

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After reading this book, I really, really want to meet (and be friends with) the author, she writes from the point of view of Omar, a nine year old boy, and his perspective and voice are so authentic and relevant that while the book targets 3rd through 5th grade, I am certain kids and adults, Muslims and non-muslims, boys and girls, and everyone else, will all thoroughly enjoy this laugh-out-loud 164 page book.  

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SYNOPSIS:

Omar is starting at a new school, we don’t know why, and while he is nervous, he has a good attitude about it.  His parents are supportive scientists and he has an older sister, Maryam who can be a bit mean in a big sister way, and a little brother Esa, who he secretly loves.  All are practicing muslims who remind me a lot of the people I know.  We say our duaas, we pray, we laugh at the funny stereotypes and just try and be good neighbors and people.  Omar’s neighbor is hilarious, Mrs. Rogers, doesn’t like Omar’s family, or “the Muslims” as she calls them, but they just keep being themselves and when she falls and gets hurt, she starts to realize they are good people who care about her.  She even starts showing up for iftar every night in Ramadan and counts down like a space ship launch until it is time to eat. 

Using his Islamic upbringing, and seeing how is family handles problems, gives Omar a lot of tools for starting at a new school.  But Omar is the protagonist, the hero, so he also has a super imagination that involves H2O, his dragon, that shows up to help him out when things get rough.  And unfortunately, a bully by the name of Daniel makes things rough for Omar.  He tells Omar that all Muslims and all Asians are going to be kicked out of the country, and this really sticks with Omar.  He verifies it with a cousin, and learns it could be a possibility.  So, the underlying anxiety is there, but most of the book that focuses on the bullying aspects involve the day-to-day comments, physical pushing, and efforts of Omar to avoid Daniel.  When they do meet up, however, the result is often comical, as Omar and H20 confidently navigate the situation at hand.  Between visiting a different mosque in London each week, learning to read the Quran, celebrating Ramadan, and just being a kid with new friends and a fun family, Omar eventually does win Daniel over after the two of them get lost in the London Underground.  And all of us that came along for the ride are better for it, alhumdulillah.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

There is so much to love about this book.  Seriously.  The accuracy of family life depicted is spot on and the Islamic elements are so interwoven that non Muslims would truly learn about Islam through learning about Omar, but not in a preachy way, and Muslims will see themselves on every. single. page.  I love that Omar doesn’t ever seem embarrassed to be who he is.  He is a cool kid for his confidence alone, and being able to laugh at a bully and not have it shake your core belief and self image is so powerful.  The characters are well developed, from little Esa to Omar’s teacher, by viewing them through his eyes, you see enough of their personality to remember them, and appreciate them.  The only exception to this was Maryam, I really didn’t feel like I got much on her, but I have a feeling there will be more books, and she will develop too.  The book reads like a diary, until a tinge of foreshadowing of the changing relationship between Omar and Daniel pops up to setup the climax.  The chapters are short, the fonts and doodles endearing and engaging, and the size of the book, really makes it fun for elementary aged children.  The only possible gripe for American children, is that it is a British book, and you might have to google or ask what a few things are, yeah we are selfish like that, but its good for us to learn what pains au chocolate are, or crumpets, or nappies.  

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FLAGS:

The book is clean. 

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Oh this should be required reading for every kid.  I know I will be trying to implement this every where I go.  This would be awesome for a elementary book club, and especially great in Islamic schools for struggling readers.  In much the same way that teachers use humor to engage students, this book has heart and humor and a surprising amount of information, that I can see it being connected to a lot character building supplements in various curriculums, at least I hope it is, we need voices like this, both within our community and to serve as a representative of us to the larger society.

Book Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIKtoxt3InM

Author’s website: http://www.muslimchildrensbooks.co.uk/

 

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby illustrated by Suana Verelst

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Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby illustrated by Suana Verelst

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I usually love books about girls, and education and hope, but for some reason, I didn’t love this book.  I really like the pictures with their mixed media feel and textures, but I found small things annoying in the book, that based on other online reviews really put me in the tiny minority.  Most people seem to drool over this 32 page AR 4.1 picture book, I, however, think there are a lot of inspiring books about girls in Afghanistan dreaming of an education that one needs to do something different, and do it well to win me over.

So the basic premise, in this text heavy, tiny font, book, is that Razia learns they are building a new school close to her home in Afghanistan for girls, and wants to go.  Her grandfather also wants her to go, but one of her older brothers, Aziz, won’t allow it, so she isn’t allowed to go.  No historical lead up explaining why her grandfather talks about days when women were educated, and now it is a rarity.  No summation on the Taliban or the 17 years of war that the grandfather mentions.  So, unless the reader knows some background on Afghanistan, the story may not resonate with them or provide needed context for connection and appreciation.  Even the afterward, about the real founder of the school, offers very little context.  The brother’s decision is final until one day he falls ill and can’t read the medication directions, and Razia can, eventually he relents and she is allowed to go. The story hints that the rocks around the school are from the quarry he works at so he now feels confident she will be safe, and that his initial refusal was a concern for safety.  They hug and seem loving, and once school starts Razia has to learn as much as she can to be able to go home and teach Aziz and her mom.

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I like that when she initially is told no, she doesn’t sit and assume a helpless manner, but rather goes to the school and meets the founder herself.  I find it odd, and irksome that the head of the school is also named Razia and it isn’t even noted. I get that is her real name, but why have the two main characters in a book have the same name and then not even acknowledge it? I didn’t get why the little girl couldn’t have a different name, seems distracting to me, and imply that every girl has the same name in Afghanistan.  I also didn’t get the hierarchy. The grandfather wants her to go, the father and uncles have legit concerns of where she is needed in helping the family farm and orchard, but why did the brother’s opinion trump them all? There is no mention of Islam, but they wear hijabs and burkas, so I think the stereotype is implied.  And that was another thing, they made it seem like she would be corrupted if she went out alone or without the burka on, but then Aziz shakes the headmistress’s hand, as if that isn’t against religious and custom norms. I felt that the kindness of the brother at the end was disjointed too, a bit too forced. The grandpa seemed kind, but the rest of the family seemed cold and rigid and not overtly concerned with Razia’s well being and growth.  Yes, they did have a jerga, to discuss and consider it, but I felt like Razia never had a voice, and while education is important, having a voice is too.  More has to change in society and in literature to give me real hope, and this book sadly fell short.

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How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah illustrated by Carol Liddiment

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How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah illustrated by Carol Liddiment

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Whether you know a little bit of Arabic or none at all, this incredibly repetitive counting book will have you able to count to ten in Arabic by the end of its 32 pages.  FullSizeRender (35)Even if you know how already, your little one will enjoy figuring out why the main character Jouha can’t figure out how many camels he has in his caravan.  While Jouha thinks, it has to do with whether one runs off while he is riding, and comes back when he is walking, hopefully by the second or third time, most kids will realize that he isn’t lucky or unlucky, he is just forgetting to count the one he is riding atop of.  Probably good for ages 3-7, the book is silly in its repetition, and the beautiful painted illustrations bring the characters emotions to life.

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There isn’t anything Islamic, but it is definitely cultural as it retells an Middle Eastern folk tale.  The character, a wise fool, is also seen as Goha in Egypt and similar to Nasredeen Hodja in Turkey, all this background is stared at the beginning of the book.  There is also information to hear the story online in a read along program http://www.av2books.com, or to hear the author say the arabic numbers at http://www.margaretreadmacdonald,com.

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