Bedtime Sunnahs Emaulating the Prophet one night at a time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Robin Boyer

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Bedtime Sunnahs Emaulating the Prophet one night at a time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Robin Boyer

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A beautiful rhyming 11 page story for toddlers and up to learn parts of the Prophetic routine for bedtime.  Yes, 11 pages, the book in total is 28 pages, six are Appendixes, one is about the author, one is a dedication, and the rest are blank or title pages.  For a $15 book, I’m a little disappointed, which is unfortunate because the illustrations and information on those 11 pages is great.  The references are informative and important to see what Hadith the Sunnahs come from, but I think the story itself could have, and should have, been longer.

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Each page has a different family getting ready for bed and doing various acts.  I love that moms and dads are involved in bedtime routines. The illustrations show diversity and the text is simple, flowing, rhyming and straight forward.

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From brushing teeth to reciting Athkar, making duas to Allah and laying on our right side, each page has wonderful detail in the warm full color pages.  I love the decorations on the bedroom walls, signs with Allah’s name, statements saying “Strong like Zainab, Brave like Fatima, Smart like Khadija”, as well as “Smile! it’s Sunnah!”.

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The book is for Muslim children obviously, and makes getting ready for bed seem like a fun and bonding event.

The first Appendix is a Parents Notes on what the purpose of the book is and the second one is Islamic Terminology.  From the their Appendixes address the Ahadeeth about sleeping in a state of Wudu and on your right side, bedtime Atkhar, and reciting the three Quls,  I wish it would have including the Quls, seeming as the book is meant to provide information for caregivers to convey to a child, and many households may have non Muslims or new reverts in that role.

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The remaining two reference pages are Additional Sunnahs for Advanced Children which include Reciting Ayah al Kursi, the last two verses of Surah al Baqarah, the dua before bed and when waking in the morning.  The dua texts are given, the Ayats are not. There is then a final page about the author.

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The hardbound glossy cover and thick inside pages are well done in this 8×8 perfect sized book for bedtime, I just wish there was more of it.

 

 

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The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad & S.K. Ali illustrated by Hatem Aly

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The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad & S.K. Ali illustrated by Hatem Aly

blueLOVE! Yes, usually when I’m so anxious for a book it disappoints, but not this one, it warmed my heart and soul and made me smile.  In 40 pages surrounded with absolutely adorable illustrations, the reader feels the love between siblings, the strength of self confidence, the power of being true to yourself, the beauty of hijab, and the awesomeness of light-up sneakers and five cartwheel recesses.

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It is the first day of school for sisters Asiya and Faizah, and Faizah’s first day of wearing hijab.  The book starts out with the girls and their mom picking out a new scarf at the store.

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The first day of school has the girls walking to school hand in hand, Asiya in her beautiful blue scarf, and Faizah in her new shoes admiring her sister as if she were a princess.

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In line a classmate whisper asks Faizah about her sister, and Faizah has to find her voice to speak up about her hijab.  She then likens the blue hijab to the sky, special and regular before recalling that their mom had told them “The first day of wearing hijab is important. . . It means being strong.”

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Throughout the day at school Faizah checks on her sister, sees other kids make fun of her, liken the blue to something beautiful, and then recall something their mom has told them to give her solace and strength.

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As Faizah puts into practice the lessons from her mom about being strong, knowing who you are, and not carrying around hurtful words, she, like her sister finds strength.  A strength which radiates to those around them, and further connects the two girls.

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Faizah has an amazingly sweet and authentic voice as she counts her light up steps and looks up to her older sister.  I love that the story stays on track and has its own rhythm of a school incident, a strong declaration about blue, a lesson remembered from Mama and a resolution.  With lots of mini climaxes the reader sees the strong perseverance and how being authentic will be challenged repeatedly.  The subtly of the hijab being whispered about and then proclaimed loudly is really tender and emotion filled.  Little reminders why OWN Voice stories are so important.

The illustrations are absolutely amazing on their two page spreads: the colors, tone, expressions, are perfect and a huge part of the narrative.  I love that when a boy points at Asiya, not just Faizah, but Asiya’s friends too are unhappy with the boy.  I also like that the boys being mean are not depicted clearly, but rather are shown in the shadows, furthering the point that mean words and those that spout them are not worthy of your time.

There are Authors’ Notes at the end and a picture of Ibtihaj  and her two sisters Asiya and Faizah. I think the book should be on every shelf, truly.  To be yourself and be proud of who you are is universal, as is kindness. The book does not discuss religion or mention Islamic reasons for her covering, and girls and boys alike will benefit from multiple readings of the book.

 

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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I realize the inherent difficulty of writing books for middle grades about the events of September 11, 2001: the author lived through it, the readers did not.  Yet, it seems like at some point a book regarding it, will just feel right, and I don’t think for this age group, I’ve found it yet.  This AR 3.3, 228 page book is a quick read, and while some of the characters have spunk and personality, a few of the storylines seem incredibly forced and the overall timeline and holes in the story will be ultimately disappointing for most readers.

SYNOPSIS:

Deja is starting a new school now that her family has gotten a room at a homeless shelter.  Immediately her fifth grade classmates are given an assignment about home, with the end goal that eventually this project will transform in to being about the change of New York’s skyline fifteen years ago.  The details regarding the attacks of September 11, are not given forthright and as Deja knows nothing about the attacks, and the fall of the towers, her inability to get answers adds to her frustration at home and school.

Deja is angry as she bares a lot on her young shoulders.  Her dad can’t hold a job, and his moods and ill health put caring for her younger siblings on her.  Her mom works as a waitress and is always tired.  They lost their house, lived in their car for a while, and now occupy one room in a shelter.  Deja refuses to lie about her home life and thus her aggressive attitude is always on guard.  Another new kid, Ben, joins the class and he and Turkish American popular girl, Sabeen, all quickly become really good friends.  Each have something brewing beneath the surface that they are dealing with, but their friendship helps them cope and bonds them together.

As the trio of kids work on their projects together, Ben finally shows Deja online footage of the attacks and clues her in to what everyone else in their Brooklyn class seems to know and has failed to tell her.  Deja links her father’s declining health to that fateful morning and decides she needs to go to Ground Zero and get some answers.

She doesn’t really get answers, but at least it is the catalyst for an overdue conversation with her and her father, and hopefully a start on the road to healing the family rifts.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Much like the book Nine, Ten there seems to be the token Muslim girl in the story to offer her perspective on the Islamaphobia that occurred after the attacks.  In this case Sabeen doesn’t detail anything specific happening to her, other than a clerk at a store telling her to go back to Saudi and her uncle getting screened regularly at the airport.  Of all the characters I feel like Sabeen gets the short end of the stick.  She is incredibly flat, stereotyped and undeveloped.  Her family is Turkish, she is wealthy, her mom wears niqab and they are all overly kind and sweet, which is great, but when Deja goes over for lunch, they ask her if she prays, which seemed so random and off to me.  A lot of the basics about the character the author got right, she says that the terrorists were Muslim, but they weren’t, sharing a sentiment many of us Muslims feel. She wears hijab, and takes it off when she gets home.  I don’t like that the mom speaks English, Arabic and Turkish, but is first introduced having Sabeen translate for her with another parent.  Seems incredibly pretentious and misleading.  Ultimately her storyline is just overly forced.  She has to leave Ben’s house when they talk about September 11, because she is so affected by it.  She wasn’t even alive when it happened, and I get that when it is discussed us Muslims are on guard, but the author makes it seem like it is her whole world and influences everything around her.  If you live in New York, especially, I’d imagine at some point you’ve had to come to terms with it, no?

That’s why I also struggled with Deja’s dad.  He is so debilitated by the events of 9/11 he can’t function, yet they happened 15 years ago, presumably before he met Deja’s mom and they started a family.  So, really she fell in love with him in his current condition and thought having three kids with him was a good idea? He was fine and then wasn’t? For 15 years he hasn’t been able to get some sort of help for his PTSD type symptoms?  Seems like a stretch in the timeline, and one that is hard to excuse even for 3rd and 4th graders.

I really like how Deja’s homelessness is brought out and hopefully readers can learn some empathy from her.  Unfortunately the entire 5th grade class is so idyllic that I don’t know that most if any kids reading the book will relate to such a well behaved, so accepting, forgiving and generous group of kids. I mean yeah that’s the goal, but its way too overdone.  Ben, Sabeen, and Deja are best friends after the first meeting even though Deja is rude, mean, and doesn’t like them.  I’m not even sure what Ben and Sabeen get out of being friends with Deja?  Deja undoubtedly benefits from them, but there aren’t a lot of compelling reasons given why they’d be so drawn to her.

And finally, I struggled with the theme of how being “American” united them all.  It makes sense when discussing it as a class, that it doesn’t matter their color, income, life experience, whether they were immigrants or born in America, but the concept comes up again at a critical point when Ben and Deja are on the subway and seems so misplaced to me.  On the subway there would be plenty of tourists and visitors, that wouldn’t be American, no?

FLAGS:

The book is clean, it does mention some drunk people at the shelter, but nothing specific, just in passing.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club selection because the target age is lower than who I meet with.  But, even despite some of my criticisms I’d recommend this book be in classrooms and school libraries as it does offer up a perspective on historical fiction that hopefully could lead to a slightly deeper understanding of the events at a young age.

 

 

 

Bismillah Little Leyla by Qura Abid illustrated by Mona Ismail

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Bismillah Little Leyla by Qura Abid illustrated by Mona Ismail

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I thought this book might be leveled- reader type based on the binding and page numbers (26), but it reads more like a picture book with its repetitive refrain, and honestly the awkward small size (5×8) makes it feel like a pamphlet.  So, I’m not sure who it is trying to appeal to, and unfortunately is a great example of how the outward presentation killed an otherwise decent book.  I also don’t know who is to blame for the final physical product, the author, the publisher, the printer? But at a $10 price point, I’m not sure anyone who purchases this book is going to be happy with the size and binding, and the book will simply get lost on a book shelf, and be forgotten.

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The premise of the book is good.  Rather than just tell kids to say Bismillah before they do anything, Little Leyla actually does it in the course of a morning.  I like that it shows that we say Bismillah before we do all types of things, not just before we eat or get in a car, but even when we swing and play a game or put on a jacket.

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The climax of the book is Leyla saying bismillah, shooting a goal and scoring against her dad.  The lesson being that Allah is always there to help us.

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I’ve read the book a dozen times, to myself and aloud, and I think the book has a natural cadence based on the diction and sentence length, and I think it wants to rhyme.  Additionally, after each example and on nearly every page, the refrain at the end of the paragraph is (nearly) the same:  “What must she say? Leyla knows! Do you? It’s Bismillah!”  The repetition makes it memorable, but with the sing song beat and on and off, often forced, rhyme, I find myself tripping over the words a lot, and I cant quite put my finger on why.  If the book were larger, and I were using it for a preschool story time, I would just have to practice it a few times, but there is no way, sadly,  you could read this book to a group if you want them to see the pictures.

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The illustrations might be ok, it might also be a presentation thing that makes them look washed out OR maybe that is how they are, I’m not sure. The detail and expressions are there, they just kinda seem faded.   Concept wise I like that they show the dad cooking and Mom playing soccer. The mom wears hijab she the family seems warm and happy.

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Thanks again to crescentmoonbooks.com for the excellent customer service and selection.

 

 

 

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova

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Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova

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I had really wanted to love this book about a young Pakistani girl living outside of Pakistan learning to love all her different parts.  Unfortunately, the book was so scattered that no point was made, no message conveyed, and sadly, no excitement at being represented in literature really felt, .

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This 32 page book isn’t bad, it just really isn’t memorable.  It starts out with Leila arriving at her Naani’s house for dinner as her parents and her do every Friday.  Her maternal grandmother comments that she likes Leila’s saffron buttons.  Leila beams at this because she doesn’t know that she always likes being herself.

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Tonight, they are joined by lots of extended family and Leila is on the lookout for parts of herself that she likes.  She feels safe with her family, and likes being told she looks like her aunt when she smiles.

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The book then kind of abandons the theme of finding parts of oneself to like, and moves on to cultural trinkets to enjoy.  She identifies camels on shelves and Arabic books too, and can’t wait to go on her first trip to Pakistan someday to get her own “Arabic books” and “special ornaments.”  I’m not sure why they books aren’t in Urdu, but none-the-less without any written connection to Islam, they are in Arabic, thus giving, erroneously, the reader the impression that is the language of Pakistan.

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Leila then helps her Naani cook which almost seems like an additional theme of the book: the passing on of traditions.  The book doesn’t really stay here though either, and has Leila running outside to get cilantro from the neighbor Miguel.  Possibly another theme in addressing multicultural neighbors or just how to be a good neighbor, is now being brought up, but nope, the book bounces back to dinner with the family.

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When it is time to leave, Naani invites Leila upstairs while her parents wait to leave.  Here she goes through fabric and scarves rich in color and textures and likens them to ethnic foods.  She then tries on her favorite one, but acts like she has never tried it on before or seen it before, I’m really not sure, the language is a bit awkward to me.  Anyway she opens her eyes in a surprise and likes what she sees, she likes her self, all her parts.

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I wish this book for preschool and kindergarteners, would have streamlined the message it wanted to convey most.  I like finding pieces of yourself and liking the completed you, but I don’t know what the pieces really are in the book.  Yes I could assume and figure it out, but I’m not 5 years old.  The book should have articulated it clearly.  Or if the book wanted to celebrate culture and family traditions, it should have stuck to that.  It really seems all over the place no matter how many times I read it.

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The illustrations are rich and vibrant.  They definitely give a lot to look at and the expressions on the characters faces will probably make the little ones giggle.  There are a few Urdu and Arabic words used in the story that are defined on the back cover.

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The characters aren’t identified as Muslim, none of them wear hijab, but they say Salam and have Arabic books, so one can assume. I picked up the book at the library and don’t regret it, but I probably wouldn’t buy it or unfortunately, check it out again.

The Sign of the Scorpion by Farah Zaman

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The Sign of the Scorpion by Farah Zaman

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This is the second book in the Moon of Masarrah series, but can be read as a stand alone book if you are looking for a linear story with fast paced action, intense twists, decently developed characters and quality writing that brings the sleuthing of Muslim characters to life.  At 229 pages including the glossary, the book reads to me as a middle grades book, but the last 50 pages place a lot of emphasis on accusations of a character molesting servants in the castle and another character having an affair, which might be more appropriate for older readers.  Perhaps middle school readers would be a better target audience, but I’m waiting to hear back from the author regarding who she had in mind when she wrote it.  The author said she wrote it for Young Adult, ages 12 and up in mind.

SYNOPSIS:

Brother and sister, Adam and Layla are reunited with their friends, siblings, Zaid and Zahra after last summers intense adventure involving a diamond.  This summer as a result, they are the honored guests of Shaykh Sulaiman at his dessert home, Dukhan Castle. They arrive to find out that the Shaykh is bedridden from a stroke after learning his son has died.  With a house full of relatives with reasons to want their claim to the Shaykh’s fortune, the four teenagers start putting odd occurrences of a ghoul in white, a hooded horseman, a gypsy woman’s tale, and the idea that there has been foul play, together to try and arrive at the truth of what is going on.  As they piece more and more together about the tutor, the cousin, the fiance, the grandson, and a mysterious mole-man following them, they themselves get tangled in the sinister plot of revenge and must keep an eye out to figure out who the scorpion, Al-Aqrab, is before one of them ends up dead.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Set in a fictious land, the detail is the perfect balance between setting a stage and over describing it.  The book did not drag for me at any place, nor did I find myself confused about what was going on and why.  Granted I probably could not tell Adam apart from Zaid and Layla from Zahra, but the book is about their adventure and figuring out whats going on, not about their relationships or back story.  And with the focus on all the possible perpetrators and their motives taking center stage, having four people gathering clues makes the information come easier and smoother.

All the characters are Muslim.  Some of the women cover and some do not, some stop to pray and make regular references to Islamic hadith or Quranic Ayats, and some are suspects.  For example when they are exploring the dungeons beneath the castle, they liken the caves to the Sleepers in the Cave mentioned in Surah Kahf.  The book never gets anywhere near preachy, nor do the few references ever get annoying, they just flesh out that the characters are Muslim, and thus they see the world through that lens.

FLAGS:

The book has murder, lying, deception, all the ingredients for a good who done it.  And while the details are all clean regarding how the four teens interact with the opposite genders, the climax of the book is the coming to light of allegations of molestation and a failed marriage is attributed to a presumed affair.  No definition of the words is given, and I reread many of the passages and I don’t know that there is even enough context clues to decipher what the word molest means in the text.  Most kids however, could easily ask Siri or Hey Google or whatnot and may have more questions about what it means to sexually assault a person, specifically a woman or child, and why someone would do it.  I leave that for parents to decide at what age those in their charge can grasp such a word and concept.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m torn on teaching the book as the linear telling might not appeal to older kids, but the motive and revenge isn’t appropriate for younger kids.  I think if used to discuss broader issues the book could be really powerful, and not just a fun read.  I could see discussing with 9th graders or so the seriousness of false accusations, drawing on the Me Too movement and how sexual crimes and transgressions should be handled and treated.  I think the book could be a springboard for those discussions and seeing the effects of believing or not believing, and perhaps suspending judgement until research can be done.  In the case of the book, it would not have been difficult to pursue the allegations, while protecting any potential victims.

 

NOTE:

The first book in the series, The Moon of Masarrah, was originally published under the title, The Treasure at Bayan Bluffs, some changes have been made in the new printing, so while I don’t normally review second books in a series, I felt this book might bring attention to the new title of the first book and drum up interest for the upcoming third book in the series.  No, I don’t benefit in any way and I purchase my copies just like you, the stories are just really well done and I want readers to give them a try.  Happy Reading!

If Allah Allah Wills by Dr. Oz illustrated by Mariya Khan

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Not all books need to teach something, but when the book would lend it self so easily to dropping a fact or two, it seems like it would take it.  In 40 pages, preschoolers are taken on a highly imaginative journey to the Ka’ba, yet no information about the history of the Ka’ba, or any mention of Umrah or Hajj is shared, not even in passing.

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Faris wants to go to the Ka’ba but it is nearly his bedtime, so he has to act fast.  He asks his mom what he needs to wear, obviously knowing special clothes are required, but his mom prefaces the answer of white sheets as being “odd” and then adds that you need sandals.  For a book that wants to normalize Islam for children, I don’t understand why the mom would say that ihram is odd, why the word ihram isn’t used, why it doesn’t even specify the number of white pieces of unstitched cloths and why sandals would be included.

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Faris then finds two white sheets, but the illustration shows him getting towels out of the bathroom (possibly showing his imagination, but kids will just think it is an error, mine did), packing some food and jumping on his rocking horse to head off for the Ka’ba.

Faris finds himself among the stars without a map and starts to worry that he won’t find his way.  He then sees a flock of birds and wonders how they know where to go.  The book however, doesn’t answer how birds know, and just has him land and find someone to ask.

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Luckily Faris finds a camel to ask, and luckily he is a nice camel and he shows Faris to the Ka’ba.  Faris is surprised at how big it is and then supposes that Allah’s house has to be.  But he asks it as a question, which makes it a little off grammatically.  The camel points out that Allah swt is above and that the Ka’ba is for people to visit.  Faris asks what is supposed to be done at the Ka’ba and the camel answers, “We circle the Ka’ba, pray to Allah, and thank Him.”  This seems like a great place to sneak in some facts about who built the Ka’ba and why or mention Hajj or Umrah, it seems so misguided to just say we circle it.

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Faris makes some prayers that he can return for real one day with his parents before he finds a place to eat his snack and share his food with his camel.  It is nice that he shares with his new friend, but odd that when they part Faris asks him his name and he says he doesn’t have one.  Maybe give him a name, and detail its meaning or don’t include the exchange at all.  I seriously don’t understand the purpose of the exchange.

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Faris makes is home with a crash and his mom tidies him up and they say InshaAllah that Faris’ prayer inshaAllah will come to fruition.

The book has a great premise of imagination and tying in the Ka’ba, but truly there is no information about Islam or the Ka’ba or even Allah swt, it gives a mood of worship, but that is about it.  I get that it is for little kids and the book is supposed to be whimsical and light, but sneak in some facts, kids can handle it.

As for the illustrations, they are just ok.  They would have benefitted from being a little smoother and not looking home-done, but there is nothing terribly wrong with them aside from the towel and sheet imagery.    The glossary cover and large font inside is age appropriate, some pages are a bit text heavy, but overall sufficient.

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