A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

IMG_1514Based on the release date of this book (August), I preordered it in the Spring with the Peg+Cat book thinking they were both about Eid al-Adha.  Oops.  As someone who reads a lot, I really need to learn how to read.  This book is not about Eid al-Adha, it actually mentions Ramadan, but just as a context point, so rather than wait til next Ramadan to post the review, I though, lets do it now and celebrate how much we all have in common and build bridges of friendship across religious lines during this blessed month of Thul Hija.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, Moses and Mohammed live on opposite ends of the same street.  One day they accompany their moms to a store in the middle of the street, and when the boys start touching things they shouldn’t their mothers’ reprimands reveal their shared nickname, Mo/Moe.  

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The boys then pause to look at each other and notice the same dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin, and shy smile.  Add in to the mix that one of them has a bouncy ball, and the boys become quick friends, while their mothers shop.

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The boys hope to see each other again, but don’t.  Weeks pass, and the Feldman family is busy getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and the Hassan family is preparing for Ramadan.  Another chance meeting happens at the park, and the boys are thrilled.  The mom’s are seen chatting and then, the boys are missing, and the moms are panicked.  They are found playing in the dirt, but the relief from the moms, bonds the families who plan an evening picnic together.

The book concludes with the boys in their own homes looking at the same moon and wishing each other a blessed Ramadan and Happy New Year to themselves.

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The book reminds me a lot of Yaffa and Fatimah, Shalom, Salaam, in the way the two characters, one of Jewish faith, and one of Muslim, occupy the same environment and come to know and appreciate one another as friends.

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The illustrations are by the same artist that illustrated Hena Khan’s color and shape books, and they are vivid and fun.  I’ve read the book a few times, and flipped through it a few more times just to marvel at the pictures and the world of these two sweet families.

A great book, that I hope to use in an interfaith story time when the opportunity arises!

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Sidenote, the shop keeper is the nicest one ever, he gives the boys taffy, and warm falafel, and doesn’t scold them.  The book mentions a few foods and at the end of the book there is a factual paragraph about the holiday and a recipe to try.  There is also an Author Note and Illustrator Note at the end of the 48  page book.  The book would be perfect for 5-8 year olds, but younger kids and older kids will enjoy the book as well.

 

 

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Ali and the Moon by M.I. Kafray illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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Ali and the Moon by M.I. Kafray illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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I originally bought this book in Ramadan and had hoped to review it so that those looking for Ramadan books could benefit. But it isn’t Ramadan specific, just moon themed, and I really was so disappointed with the binding quality for the amount I paid for it, I didn’t think it was fair to review the story until I could get over the number of blank white pages in the book, and the overall copy-shop self-printed and bound vibe that the book emits as soon as you hold it.

The premise of the book is the hadith that if you see something bad you should change it with our hands, and if you can’t, then change it with your tongue, and if you can’t do that, then pray for them in your heart. 

The 16 page book starts off a bit awkward, with the boy just staring at the moon, but by page five, the story hits its stride and is sweet.  The moon dims and is sad about the state of the world.  Ali starts talking to the moon in rhyming lines, and convinces him that there is still good in the world.  The moon and Ali decide that at night they will pray for the world and the people in it.

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The end of the book has the hadith and the surahs one should say before going to sleep: Surah al-Ikhlaas, Surah al-Falaq, then Surah an-Nas and lastly, Ayatul Kursi.

The illustrations are cute, they are expressive and the moon and boy sweet.  I just wish the paper had more weight and that the story a bit longer.  A lot could be discussed with the premise of the Muslim boy talking to the moon with a great vantage point.  More specifics and more inspiration would have made this mediocre, albeit expensive book, great.

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The Most Pleasant Festival of Sacrifice: Little Barul’s Eid Celebration by Munise Ulker Illustrated by Beyza Soylu

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The Most Pleasant Festival of Sacrifice: Little Barul’s Eid Celebration by Munise Ulker Illustrated by Beyza Soylu

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This book is beautiful, it feels great in your hands, the raised glitter embellishments in the illustrations, the price point, everything except the text.  The gist of the story is even fine, the execution is just off.  It reads very much like it has been translated from another language in to English, and yes my privilege might be showing, but the phrasing, the passive voice, the orphanage, all make the book with its massive text passages hard to convince kids younger than 7 to sit through.

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The story starts off with parents and two kids , Murad and Batul, driving to a friend’s house for dinner, commenting on the Christmas decorations that they see.  The parents ask what the kids know about Eid al-Adha that is coming up and the kids remember how much fun they had in Turkey.  Except it is really awkward to get this bit of information out.  They discuss Eid last year, and then remind each other that they were in Turkey, and how it was much more fun.  Noting that international travel is expensive and they won’t be able to go again, the Mom over dinner discusses how they can make Eid fun for the kids with her friend.

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It is decided that the Muslim and non Muslims will celebrate together and include a local orphanage.  “Each Muslim family would be responsible for buying new clothes for two children from the orphanage, and they would take their own children along to do the shopping.” This would teach the kids to thank Allah and learn about community and sharing.  A great lesson overall, again just a concept presented in a really wordy, round about, awkwardly forced manner.

The Mom contacts the library and gets permission to decorate an information table, the kids make Eid cards for their grandfather in Turkey, at Sunday school they make gifts for friends.  They learn about Zakat and sacrificing an animal like Allah commanded Abraham to do, they even send cards to their neighbors.  Oddly though remarking how fun it is to get candy outside of Halloween.  After the first two pages explaining Christmas and telling that Muslims don’t celebrate it, I found it odd that they would, 15 pages later, be referencing Halloween. 

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Some of the sentences also don’t made sense.  About half way through I didn’t understand what the author meant by the boys “celebrating each other’s Eid” after they put their new clothes on and went to Eid prayer.

Once at the party, they give specific details of how much they charged everyone, yet no details about the food they all brought.  The kids enjoy a pinata and everyone including the orphans get Eid gifts.  Despite everyone’s fun the party has to end, and the orphans return to the orphanage and Murad and Batul declare they “will always remember this Eid.”

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The illustrations are great, it is really yet another example of a book just needing a good editor.  From the very beginning, even the title isn’t really right, the book isn’t even mainly about Batul, to the random details shared, the book is just too long and too unpolished.  It is really unfortunate, because it has so much going for it on its 32 pages.  The main points however, I feel are lost about Eid and the reason it is so dear to Muslims everywhere.

Peg + Cat: The Eid al-Adha Adventure by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson

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Peg + Cat: The Eid al-Adha Adventure by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson

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Easily the most anticipated Eid al-Adha book to come out this year, the book does not disappoint.  Following the episode, the book, is 32 pages and while ok for ages 3 and up, like the show, it really is geared to children able to grasp the math concepts presented.

The book’s story is that it is Eid al-Adha, and Peg and Cat are learning about it with their friends Yasmina and Amir. The holiday facts don’t seem forced and words like hijab. oud, and Eid Mubarak, are integrated naturally.  The concept of giving charity, giving to those with LESS, becomes the set-up for learning about more than, and less than. 

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A few pages later the tradition of dividing meat into three parts: one to keep, one for friends, and one for the poor, sets up a lesson on fractions and using a pan balance.  The really big problem, involves moving crates.  They count down from seven to calm down, and then use all their lessons learned to solve the problem and help a neighbor.

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The illustrations are straight from the show in all their adorable glory, I’m not sure why Yasmina has some strange tree branch looking loose hairs poking out of the top of her scarf.  I love that the page numbers are math problems (2 +1=3 for the 3rd page).  And the hardback with slip cover workpages on the underneath side, are a nice treat.  I was especially greatful the picture on the slip cover is the same as on the book, so the cover can be discarded, as will ultimately occur with multiple readings.

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Books like this are great ways to introduce an Islamic tradition to non Muslims in a non preachy, non threatening way.  By seeing beloved characters with Muslim friends helps shape perceptions and increase understanding, inshaAllah everyone wins, alhumdulillah.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

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Having been pleasantly surprised with a few recent reads in the romance/islamic fiction genre I thought to give this slightly more cultural take a try.  Unfortunately, this book didn’t surprise me pleasantly, but rather left me disappointed and slightly annoyed.  At 231 pages and an AR 5.2, the book would have worked much better framed as a memoir or semi autobiographical dairy, as it stands as a novel there is no point to the story, no real character connection, no real lasting impression.  There are a few comical concepts, but only because I am Pakistani-Muslim and female did I get them, and sadly those few instances, aren’t enough to carry the book and make it worth recommending.

SYNOPSIS:

Nina Khan is in high school in a small New York town and her strict parents don’t let her do the typical high school stuff like date or talk to boys.  Her parents are not religious, unless her mom’s family is visiting and they put on an act.  Her parents aren’t awful, however, they are educated, kind, and quirky, but culturally strict none-the-less.  Nina has two amazing school friends, that she has grown up with that accept her and her social limitations for the most part.  When Nina falls for the new boy in school, Asher, though, they work overtime to figure out how to get them together.  In addition to the boy dilemma the other stress is Nina feeling like she is in her older sister’s shadow.  An older sister who is a genius and is away at Harvard. There’s a girl at school that annoys Nina, but really their interactions are petty and annoy the reader more than anyone else.

As Nina’s friends hook up with boys and Nina has various interactions with Asher, one involving him seeing down the back of her sweater and thus her stripe of back hair, we are also introduced to some of her Desi friends.  In my opinion the passages about her conversations with the ethnic kids trying to find their way in life and in love and still maintain their culture and religious values, is way more entertaining than the bantering back and forth with Helena and Bridget.  If the author were to rewrite the book as a diary or biography, and focus more on the Desi friends, the book would probably be more interesting, compelling, and relevant.

The climax, if there is one, is when Nina’s parents go out of town and she is able to sneak off to a party and try alcohol, getting blackout drunk, and then going on a ski weekend with Asher, making-out with him and then deciding that that’s not for her.  At least I think that is what she decided.  She decided she can’t be with him, and she heads off to Pakistan with her sister to meet her parents, but thats it.  There isn’t really a climax, there isn’t an ending. Literary structure might allow you to do one, but not having either a point or a conclusion, makes the book fall flat.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I read the whole book, so it wasn’t so atrocious that I couldn’t get through it, it just seemed to focus on the wrong things in the narrative and not make the main character relatable.  I wanted to grow with her, but her reflection at the end didn’t really make a strong point for her, so it didn’t make one for the reader either.  I think part of this is that the author, frustratingly to me, interchanges religion and culture a lot.  And while she might get them kind of right, I think non Muslims and non Pakistanis might find the two muddled.  She asks Allah to help her make a good impression with and Asher, yet constantly uses the Pakistani culture as the reason why she can’t date and drink in the first place.  My thinking is that the religion should trump the culture, but because being brown and Paki and Muslim are all viewed as being the same, the logic is kind of lost.  And granted in some households it really is that way with religion and culture, but the nuances aren’t explored, explained, or even acknowledged, unfortunately.

It is clear that the author knows Islam and Pakistan, her love of them (assumption) just doesn’t come through.  Her off hand remarks about a lota, and ayatul kursi, and her Pakistani ranking system are funny, and momentarily relatable.  Unfortunately, so often it seems the story is positioned so that the religion and culture are stifling and the western world is being denied to her.  Honestly after reading the book, I’m not really sure why she doesn’t rebel and do what she wants, the story doesn’t really show what she gets out of doing what her parents want her to do, and why it would matter to her in the long run to do what she wants as a “rebellious” teen.  

FLAGS:

There is alcohol mentioned and consumed.  There are a lot of relationship topics  explored throughout the book including the minor characters deciding to have sex and the  main character kissing.  For mature readers, high school and up.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t present this book to a book club, nor can I see myself suggesting anyone to read it.

 

 

How to Scare a Monster by Zanib Mian

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I like a lot of books, but this one, well it might be my favorite.  The size, the length, the colors, the fonts, the illustrations, the message, truly it is fabulous for 3-5 year olds.

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The premise is simple and straightforward.  The book doesn’t try and do too much or put too much on its 32 pages.  It identifies ways to deal with monsters, and then offers what some people try and do to scare them away, concluding the best and only solution, is to ask Allah for help by saying, Audhoobillah.  

Kids will laugh at the silly illustrations and attempts to be monster free, and remember the clear strong message of calling on Allah swt when afraid.  

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The only critique for me is the page about the kid with a stink-bomb in their nappy. While funny, the sentence structure doesn’t flow, the narrator’s voice seems abrupt and off to me.  Possibly that it goes from active voice to passive for that line only (its been a while since I’ve articulated grammar structure, so maybe not :)).

Most people try to rrooaaarr!

or hide under the bed.

Sometimes they call their mum, mmummm!

or even better.  A kid with a stink-bomb in their nappy.

Some turn the lights on,

or hold on to their favourite teddy.

Other than that, the book is fun and works well for muslim kids at story time or bedtime alike, alhumdulillah.

 

No Ordinary Day by George Green

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No Ordinary Day by George Green

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I was really, really excited to get this book in my hands.  An early chapter book, about Islam and sports, with diverse characters, that seemed to be the start of a series featuring the “Childhood Champions,” seemed to have the potential to fill a gaping void in Islamic fiction.  And while the book shows promise and has a lot going for it, it falls short of what it could be, and perhaps with the ever growing book options, what it should be. 

To be clear the Islamic lessons and values are on point as are the pictures, it is the holes in the story, the random text layout inside and the lack of depth that keep this book from reaching its full potential.

SYNOPSIS:

Ibrahim normally needs help to get up for school on Mondays, but not on this day. On this day they were promised a surprise at school and Ibrahim can’t wait to see what it is.  When the 8-year-old gets to school he and his friends are delighted to meet Hakeem Muhammad a soccer star on the California Spartan’s Team in town to play against the local Harlem Knights.  To win one of the five tickets that he is giving away the students have to recite some ayats from Juz Amma and tell why it is important that they study the Quran.  Ibrahim goes first, and we don’t know what he recites, but he says that studying Quran makes him feel happy and inspired.  Which to me didn’t really meet the criteria of the competition.  The next student is also a member of the “Childhood Champions,” but we know nothing about Jannah, other than the one page bio at the beginning of the book.  Jannah recites some mystery ayats and says that knowing the meaning helps her with reciting, a bit more of an appropriate answer, but still kind of not fulfilling the question in my opinion.

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All five kids in the crew win tickets for them and their families for the game that night.  A limo picks them up and they get to meet Hakeem in the locker room.  When they arrive  he is praying, so they wait, say salam, chat, and then are shown to the VIP box.  The game is close, Hakeem scores the winning goal for the Spartans and the kids go home happy. No real problem or solution, the climax is just the game.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the font was chosen to help kids with dyslexia and the full color internal pictures are a nice plus.  I don’t understand how it was determined how much text is on a page, as it is so varied and inconsistent, that it seems like a draft rather than a final copy.

I love that this book is about Muslims and for Muslims, the star athlete prays, and connects with Allah swt, and is proud of it.  His praying before the game is not weird to his teammates, which is awesome for kids to see.  The conversation after his salat with the kids is also pretty powerful, but the setup is incredibly awkward. Yasin won a ticket for reciting Quran, so why the answer about why he is praying before the game started with explaining that he prays five times a day, seems jarring to the flow of the book and story.  I liked the insight about praying and being grateful whether they win or lose, but the catalyst for the exchange was really forced.   Loved that Hakeem made sajood when he scored and that Ibrahim was asking Allah for help.

I wish the ayats the kids recited would have been shared.  I think the book is for muslim kids, so it would have helped if they really inspired something tangible that the readers could relate to.  The book is very bland and it could be much more memorable.  I’ve read the book three times, and couldn’t tell you any of the students names.  I had to look back to write this review.

 

I’m not a soccer expert, but I think the winning goal would have been called back for offsides, I’m hoping I’m mistaken.  The breaking a world record for loudest fans seemed a stretch, but kids 6-8 probably would be bothered by it or find it out of place.  The book says it is for ages 6-12, but I can’t see kids 12 years old getting much out of this 40 page book.  

FLAGS:

None the book is completely clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book wouldn’t work for a book club selection, but I would probably have it in a school library for kids transitioning to chapter books, and in a classroom for excitement and novelty.  There isn’t anything “wrong” with the book, it just needs a good editor and a little more.  It really is almost there.

https://www.launchgood.com/project/childhood_champions__no_ordinary_day_a_book_for_muslim_children#!/