Bibi’s Blessing by Lela Usama Goldsmith illustrated by Samantha Morazzani

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Bibi’s Blessing by Lela Usama Goldsmith illustrated by Samantha Morazzani

 

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A wonderful lesson packaged in a sweet story about a girl learning to thank God for blessings, especially ones that don’t seem like blessings at all.  The 36 page book is meant for children age 4 and up and with its large 8.5 x 11 glossy full color pages it works well at bedtime and in small groups at story time.

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On the island of Lamu, Mwana lives with Bibi, her grandma who’s livelihood depends on making Mofa bread every day.  It is Mwana’s job to sell the sorghum ground bread in the streets for people to enjoy at tea time.

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One morning a braying donkey frightens Mwana and she trips, spilling all the mofas on the ground.  When she tells her grandma what happened and how they have not made any money for the day, her grandma responds, “Thank God for this blessing.”

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Not believing Bibi, but being too excited to visit a friend, she doesn’t argue.  But then the power goes out and she can’t visit her friend and she gets grumpy. Grandma tells her to “Thank God for this blessing” and explains that sometimes not getting what you want is also a blessing.

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With nothing else to do, Mwana goes off to soak the rice pot, but instead accidently soaks the dusty mofas, to which her grandma again says it is a blessing.  She starts to feel she can do nothing right, and can’t believe there is any blessings in a pot of mushy mufas.

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But, with the power out many shops close and the owner of the donkeys has nothing to feed his animals.  He knocks on his neighbors door and Bibi and Mwana have just the thing.  He pays them for the food and alhumdulillah all is well, so many blessings from God.

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I love that the setting is a place many of us have never heard of and that there is information about Lamu at the end of the book along with a glossary.  The author is Muslim, the characters dress Islamically in the illustrations, and have Muslim names, but there is nothing Islamic specific in the text.

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Some of the sentences are worded awkwardly, for example, “We live in a small island by the Indian Ocean called Lamu.”  You typically say you live “on” an island not “in” it, and islands are in the ocean, not by them.  And some sentences read almost as run ons because of multiple conjunctions and their lack of punctuation.  I don’t love the illustrations.  The faces on many of the pages are really distracting and inconsistent, but the overall story is well done that I’m willing to over look my own critical opinions, and encourage y’all to give the book a try.

 

Satoko and Nada 1 by Yupechika

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Satoko and Nada 1 by Yupechika

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A manga series about two college roommates who have come to America to study, Nada from Saudi Arabia and Satoko from Japan.  Written by a Japanese author and translated into English, there is a lot about Muslims, particularly Muslims from Saudi, as the two characters get to know each other and become friends.  Their interactions work to dispel a lot of stereotypes and promote how rewarding getting to know people different from your self can be.  Volume one (there are three) is 127 pages, read right to left in four panel pages, and is fairly clean for all ages (they do buy underwear and bras at one point), but would most likely appeal to female readers in 4th or 5th grade and up.
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SYNOPSIS:

The book is about two girls getting to know each other, learning about each other’s culture, and navigating life in America.  There isn’t really a plot or a story line outside of this basic framework, and with a heading every page or two it reads like a quick scene about the topic expressed in the heading.  So, for example there are headings of Veils, Ramadan, Birthday, MashAllah Choice, etc, and then a few panels showing the girls having an interaction about it, resulting in understanding, humor, or a lesson.

In a bit of a stereotype twist, Nada is more street savvy then Satoko when approached by a stranger for a ride, and thus Nada hasto educate her a bit.  The book brings in a Christian American character and a third generation Japanese character learning Japanese, to further show how assumptions plague as all and how simple conversation and an open mind, can lead to some amazing friendships.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is really choppy, but you get used to it and soon you forget that it isn’t a typical story.  I admittedly haven’t read a lot of manga so, I have no idea if this is the norm, or something unique.  I love that its upfront about stereotypes, if it was an American writing it, or a even a Muslim it would probably come across as preachy or arrogant, but somehow it doesn’t seem like the two characters have much baggage, nor feel a need to defend their culture by putting another’s down.  They deal with issues such as women driving in Saudi, differences between hijab, burka, abaya, niqab, being around alcohol,  the joy of a fatwa allowing soy sauce and its alcohol content to be permissible, etc.  Some things are cited for clarity and something are very Saudi, but it really contains a lot of information, about Islam that I am pretty impressed by.  There isn’t a ton about Japanese culture since I would assume it was written for Japanese readers, so it would be redundant, but I did learn, according to Satoko, how religion is viewed by Japanese, how putting age and gender and race on forms seems incredibly personal, and some information about food.

FLAGS:

There is a possible failed abduction, not sure what the guys intention was, but the girls treated it as such.  The girls do go buy undergarments, so they are visually depicted.  There is mention of alcohol.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a traditional book club, but I think I am going to get a copy of the series to pass around my daughters middle school group of friends, to

one- give them a taste of manga

two- see what they think of the Islamic rep from a Japanese paradigm and

three- give us all something to chat about

The book is fun, I got it at the public library and think it might open up a new book type for kids to try and a new point of view for many of us to consider.

My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

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My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

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I absolutely love that this 32 page picture book for children five and up breaks so many stereotypes and highlights so many commonalities between all people, everywhere.  I strongly believe that books like this, can change people’s perspective, and as a children’s books can prevent negative biases from forming in the first place.

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Set in Iran, a little girl absolutely loves and adores her grandma.  They pray together, they buy bread together and they share that bread with their best friends, their Christian neighbors next door.  While the little girl and her friend Annette play, the two grandmas chat, drink coffee and knit blankets to donate to the mosque and Annette’s Grandma’s church.

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Grandma sews chadors to wear, and Mina helps.  But, mostly she uses the scarves to make rocket ship forts, and capes to fly to outer space in.  When she returns to base camp grandma has cookies for her and wants to hear about her adventures.

In Ramadan, the little girl wakes up early to eat with grandma even though she is too young too fast.  When she gets older, they go to the mosque together at night too, after they have broken their fast.

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One time she hears her grandma praying for Annette’s grandma to go to heaven.  The next day Annette tells Mina she heard her grandma praying at church for her grandma to go to heaven.  The little girl imagines the two grandmas knitting and laughing together in heaven, on Mars, on Earth, anywhere.

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The book ends with the little girl stating past tense how wonderful her grandma was and  that she still wants to be like her.

The book touches on family, interfaith, love, helping others, faith, religion, friendship, culture, and is just really really sweet.  I wish I loved the pictures, as much as I love the story, but I don’t.  I think I like most of them with their texture and details, unfortunately the faces in some just seem a little off to me.

I absolutely love that there is no over explaining, and no glossary, the author seamlessly brings words like namaz, and Ramadan and chador in to the story, normalizing them as the pretend play, and familial bonds are so universal.

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The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf

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The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf

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Woah! Domestic abuse, foster care, murder, astronomy, and above all hope and bravery. It is so, so much, and so beautifully dealt with from the perspective of a child, that I’m still living in Aniyah’s world and praying she is doing ok.  As the beginning of the book states, it is a story written for everyone, but it then goes on to say that there could be triggers and difficult things to read. So please, while it may be written for ages nine and up, you should know what your child can handle before suggesting they read such a heartbreaking 306 page book, and if they aren’t able to handle it yet, make a mental note to have a discussion when they are ready, it is important.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with a map of London and the chapters start with constellations, maps to the stars, and a little girl who wants to be a star hunter.  Drawing on Simba from the Lion King and wholeheartedly believing that stars are people who’s hearts were so big that when they die they light up the night, she maps the stars outside her foster house window, on the lookout for a new star, her mom.  Not remembering all the details that brought her to this foster home, she and her little brother Noah are trying to figure out their new life, the foster home rules, the loud pain they felt, and if they are winning the game of hide-and-seek with their father.

Unable to speak, Aniya, breaks her silence when a news story on TV tells of a star breaking the rules of gravity and flying by Earth.  Convinced it is their mom, Aniyah and Noah with the help of fellow foster kids Travis and Ben hatch a plan to go 73.6 miles from Waverly Village to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, to make sure the star hunters name the star the correct name, and not the random computer generated one the contest rules dictate.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is inspired by the author’s aunt who was a victim of domestic abuse and killed by her husband.  The love and pain she feels at her loss, I believe is conveyed through the pages and felt by readers of all ages.  I had my 10 year old son and my 12 year old daughter read the book, because this book’s topics are heavy and weighty, but handled with such sensitivity and childlike innocence that it is a great introduction to the topic, without being overly heavy and weighty.  The author is amazing, and I was curious how she would follow up her amazing debut novel The Boy at the Back of the Class, and I think this one is just as powerful, if not more so. 

All of the foster kids suffer from some form abuse and there is even a note at the beginning about how the author does not like the term “domestic abuse” and there are resources and information at the end of the book for children or adults suffering or how to help someone they know suffering abuse.  There is also a page about Herstory, the constellations, and some personal anecdotes about the author’s aunt.

The book is truly heartbreaking because as an adult reading the book I could easily figure out what happened, that the father killed the mother, and that the games the mom would have the kids play were not games at all, but ways to mask what was going on. The book is very subtle in how it talks about what the mom and kids endured and some kids will not get it, and others will, either way, parents should be aware and available to discuss that abuse is never ok and that if their friends or someone they know is suffering/surviving, there is help.

The book is powerful also in the way the foster kids for the most part stick together, I think the way they are so willing to help and risk their own chances at adoption is selfless and memorable.  Also the way they put up with Noah, a little kid, who gets annoying, but handled lovingly,  because family means so so much when you don’t have one. 

On the surface though, it is an adventure story, can a ragtag diverse group of kids with little money, injuries and a deadline travel nearly a hundred miles to name a star?  Its fast paced, interesting, and emotional on many levels.

There is nothing Islamic in the book, not even a Muslim name in passing, but the author is Muslim and the story universal.

FLAGS:

Halloween is when they run away.  There is a lot of lying, but they know it.  Lying when the mom covers her bruises and marks, and how she is doing, lying when the kids run away and steal the bikes and sneak on a bus without paying, and break in to the observatory.  The kids feel guilty and know right from wrong in every instance, but when they opt to do something uncouth they rationalize it because they have to name that star!

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m seriously considering reading this as a middle school book club selection.  It is written for a younger audience, but I think I want to open up the topic of abuse and have the school counselor come and listen to the discussion.  The book is that good, and that important, and that powerful, that a discussion and lessons, will keep these characters’ stories in the middle schoolers’ minds as they grow and hopefully teach them empathy, compassion, appreciation, and patience.

 

 

Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

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Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

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This delightful little folktale is beautifully presented in 32 pages on an AR 1.7 level.  Perfect for little ones to listen to and early readers to tackle on their own.  The pictures are fun and engaging and the story teaches a great lesson of right and wrong in a silly memorable fashion.

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A childless woman asks Allah to bless her with a child, even if it is just a cooking pot, and “Willa! She had a child! And it was a little pot!”

At first taken aback, the little pot professes her love for mama and thus the woman decides to take care of the little pot.  Every day the little pot bumps against the walls as she rolls and jumps around making the sound, Tunjur.

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One day the pot wants to go to the market by herself.  Mama refuses as she is too young and doesn’t know right from wrong, but alas she talks her mom in to it, and off she goes.

She meets a rich man who wants to fill her with honey for his wife.  The pot loves honey so she doesn’t protest, but she refuses to release her lid when the man gifts the pot to his wife.  Angrily he throws the pot out the window and the little pot finds her way home. Mama assumes the honey seller sent it as a gift and little pot says nothing at all.

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The next time little pot heads out she finds herself filled with the queen’s jewels and when she returns Mama is not happy that her little pot has taken things that do not belong to her.

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When little pot heads out again to apologize, the rich man takes her to the king and queen for a reward,  and they fill her with something to teach her a lesson.  When she comes home to Mama, she has definitely learned her lesson.

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The women in the story seem to wear hijab, most notably the wealthy man’s wife.   The Mama asks Allah swt for a child, but other than that there is nothing religious in nature in the book and seeing as I checked it out from the public library, I think it appeals to all kids.

 

Can Mustafa Control His Anger? By Hadeek Aziz and Katherine Bullock illustrated by Eman Salem

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Can Mustafa Control His Anger? By Hadeek Aziz and Katherine Bullock illustrated by Eman Salem

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When I finished the 27 page Islamic fiction early chapter book, I thought, “It reads like a child wrote it.”  And sure enough as I flipped to the bio page I learned that indeed it is written by a secondary school senior.  I don’t want to be overly critical as a result of learning this, but as a published book that I paid for, I really wish some would have “corrected the book” and smoothed it out.  It has a lot of potential, and a good message, it just slightly misses the mark in details, some awkward tense changes, and crossing the line of what Mustafa does and says when he lashes out.  He doesn’t apologize and physically assaults people without consequences other than kids not liking him, and considering its for independent readers seven and up, that is a bit concerning.

SYNOPSIS:

Mustafa is a nice boy, except for when he isn’t.  Unfortunately he loses his temper a lot and as a result has no friends.  Whether it is losing a game, having someone not believe him, or even someone taking a treat he wanted, Mustafa resorts to physical violence and hateful words.  No parents or adults seem to ever correct him, so other kids just steer clear of him.

When a teammate won’t pass him the ball in soccer he punches poor Humza and when he goes to throw another punch he gets pushed off and bumps his head.  He storms off into the forest feeling alone, but not remorseful when a little red creature pops up and tells him he will be weak until he can control him.  Determined to show the creature he is strong he chases after it only to be scooped up by a giant named brother Haneef.

Brother Haneef and his giant friends live in a mud house in Makkah.  Shocked at how he got to the desert, he learns from his giant friend to ignore taunting, when another giant says you cannot learn Surah Al-Falaq in an hour.  Later when the giants race and Haneef loses, he says Audhu bilallahi min ash-shaitan ar-rajm and to sit down if standing and lay down if sitting as per the Prophet (saw) advice.  A giant girl gives Mustafa a strawberry tart and when he reaches to get a chocolate cupcake and someone else takes it, both he and Haneef scream, but Haneef goes and makes wudu reminding Mustafa of another hadith.  When Mustafa asks Haneef why he shouldn’t be mean to people that make fun of him or leave him out, Haneef tells him the hadith about how the strong man is the one who controls himself when he is angry.  As the giants go off to pray at the Kabaa, Mustafa finds himself at home in his bed with his sister waking him up and asking him where he has been.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the topic and that hadith are used and referenced in the book, as well as other resources. I also do like that it was written by a teen.  The pictures in the book are well done for the style and audience of the book, and the six short chapters are appropriate and inviting as well.

Oddly, the tense of the story changes at an awkward place on page 6 and I think it was intentional to go from telling about Mustafa to experiencing his “adventure” with him in the present tense, it just needs to be smoothed out.  Similarly, Mustafa is the protagonist, and we know his thoughts, but randomly at one point we know Haneef’s.  It isn’t technically wrong, but again, it is awkward as it is a short book, and everything else focuses on Mustafa asking Haneef to know things, not suddenly being in Haneef’s head.  I also felt like some resolution with shaytan, the red being, leaving or saying I’ll be back or something to continue his arc and role in the book is needed.  The details are hit or miss, vague descriptions about the giants lumps them all together, why they were at the Kabaa seems a bit random as well.

The biggest concern I have is a common one with these type of books, think Ahmed and Layla Deen books.  To make the point that he has a problem with his anger, the story goes way overboard.  Mustafa is genuinely hurting people, with kicking, punching, pushing, and throwing.  He lashes out and tells his little sister to shut up and calls her an idiot, and never once does he apologize even after his time with the giants.  Haneef makes the point that we all lose our temper, and need to simmer down, but Haneef also never apologizes for yelling or getting upset.  This is not ok, if you are teaching with the Prophetic method then that is a fairly large hole to have in the story.

There are no parents or adults which could make the point that kids won’t play with him stronger, but I feel like it really just means he gets away with a lot, and as a bully, that is not reassuring at all to the other characters in the book.  Some immediate consequences would be nice, or delayed guilt, something to make Mustafa not just seem like an awful person.  The moral is that he has learned his lesson, but I wasn’t convinced, nor where my 9, 10, and 12 year olds.

FLAGS:

Language and violence. Mustafa says, “shut up” and  “idiot,” he kicks a girl, throws a kid off a chair, throws a plate at his sister, punches a teammate,  and yells at everyone.

TOOLS FOR LEADING A DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t recommend this book as a book club book, or even one to spend library or classroom library shelf space on.  It isn’t awful, there are just much better books out there and this one if not discussed might leave kids with the wrong impression.

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Islamic History for Kids: Story of Badr by Qasim Riaz

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Islamic History for Kids: Story of Badr by Qasim Riaz

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This fictional story of a non-fiction-historical event over 37 large, 12×12, pages really brings the battle of Badr to life for readers ages seven and up.  The book is engaging and keeps chidden focused, excited, and clear as to what is unfolding, why the battle was important for Muslims, and why it still has lessons today.  Unfortunately, there are no source notes, bibliography, or references in the book, so I’m not sure how accurate the details are, and I haven’t yet had a chance to have someone more knowledgeable than I check it for accuracy.  The ayats from the Quran quoted are identified in text and yes, I understand it isn’t a reference book, but even having some imam or scholar give their approval would reassure people considering purchasing the book.  Additionally, fairly prominently there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the book that says, “The characters in this book are entirely fictional.  Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental,” which is a common disclaimer, but in a book of this nature, it did strike me as odd.  So, you may want to read it first yourself before presenting it to your child as fact.

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There is also a typo that my children discovered rather quickly and pointed out to me, I was a little disheartened when I asked about it, to discover the author knew about it before mailing it out, but for some reason didn’t find it necessary to put a note or let the customer be aware of it. I put a post-it note in mine to show all of you, and will be taking a black marker to it shortly.  Mistakes and typos happen, but I felt that they should have let the consumer know, once they knew that it was there, for accuracy sake.

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The book starts off with a brother and sister fighting, Zain and Zahrah.  When the father goes to stop them, Zain tells him that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to fight, and the father concedes the point, but points out it was not something he wanted to do.  He tells them that for the first 13 years he didn’t fight back even when the Quraysh made fun of him.

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The kids ask who the Quraysh are and why they didn’t believe the Prophet, to which the father lovingly answers their questions before telling him about the verses revealed allowing them to fight from Surah Al-Baqarah.

They learn about Abu Sufyan returning from Syria with a large caravan and how the Prophet wanted to surprise them. Only to learn that Abu Sufyan had arranged a much larger army from Mecca to come and attack the Prophet and his Companions.

There are details about how they determined the size of the army based on how many camels were being eaten, and how the Muslims camped near the wells to control the water.  The story reads smoothly and pulls out when the children have questions seamlessly.

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As the battle is set 1000 soldiers against 313 Muslims, the book explains how the battle starts with three duels and explains how Utbah, Shaiba and Walid battle Hamza (RA), Ali (RA), and Ubaydah (RA).  The Ansar win all three battles and the Quraysh charge.

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Prophet Muhammad (SAW) makes duas, and Allah (SWT) answers sending a thousand angels following one after another to help.

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When the dust settles the Muslims are victorious and the order is given for the prisoners to be treated kindly.  They are given food, rides, and the opportunity to pay a ransom for their freedom or they could teach 10 Muslims to read and write in exchange for their release.

With the story concluded the father then makes sure the children understand some of the many lessons from the battle.  Including having Allah on your side, trusting Allah, putting in your best effort, and being kind and generous even to those against you.

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There is no illustrator listed, but the pictures are done really well showing modern relatable, squabbling kids getting drawn in to a historical story by their father.  The emotion on the characters faces adds depth to the story and engages the readers in seeing and understanding a desert battle so long ago.

The text on some pages varies quite noticeably, with some pages barely having a line to spare and some only being a line or two long.  It does slightly affect the rhythm (and aesthetic) of the book, but it is manageable as long as you remember to give the kids enough time to see the picture on the short pages, as the overall size makes the book perfect for story time to large and small groups.  The book stays on level, which is nice, and there is a glossary of abbreviated terms (AS, RA, SAW, SWT) at the end.

The company: Ghazi Production is planning Uhud to be the next book, and informed me a bibliography will be included in that one.  InshaAllah!