Khadijah: Mother of History’s Greatest Nation by Fatima Barkatulla

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I depart from the Islamic Fiction that I enthusiastically seek out and read, to share and review a work of non-fiction that swept me off my feet.  Perfect for children eight and up, and particularly ideal for girls, this book is absolutely physically beautiful and the content is as well.  This 176 page book flows like a story not a history book, and at times a love story between Khadijah (RA) and our beloved Prophet (SAW).  The font and spacing invites young readers to absorb each word without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.  

SYNOPSIS:

The book is a biography of our mother, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.  It starts just before she is made aware of Muhammad and ends with her death, followed by a few reflections of RasulAllah missing her.  For the most part the story keeps her at the focus and for the age group the slips into seerah are no problem.  But I wanted more about her.  I learned that she was married twice before she wed Prophet Muhammed, but I wanted to know more of her children with these other men.  I wanted to know if they ever accepted Islam.  I wanted to know of Khadijah’s childhood and her parents, and her tribe.  I wanted to know more about her sister who sounded like her, and if she had any other siblings.  It scratched the surface, and even my 10-year-old daughter wanted more, in a good way.

It covers their marriage, and it reads like a sweet fairy tale that is absolutely full of noor and love.  It shares how she supported the Prophet at every turn and the hardships of the boycott.  It drops names and places, but not in an over burdening way. In many places I actually wanted more detail as to how they all fit together in time and place. As she has children and grows ill and time passes, the story comes to an end.  Almost too quickly, as her day-to-day life as a mother and wife are missing, and I was hoping there would be more.  Yes the  growth of Islam and the plots of the Quraysh are so important, but I wanted more Khadijah, in a book claiming to teach us about our “legendary mother.”

WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously the story is great, and really the way it is presented is how our kids need to know our history: with love and compassion and enthusiasm.  You feel the love between Khadijah (RA) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) you see how patient and devoted she is in a very emotional way.  Truly the author has given life to a story many of us know, and filled us with a connection and relationship that is very personal and inspiring in nature.  When you finish the book, you feel like Khadijah is a friend, an amazing friend, but someone you know intimately and proudly, not just as a historical figure.

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FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would absolutely do this for like a 4th -6th grade book club.  I think it should be mandatory reading.  I would probably invite someone well versed in the seerah and Khadijah to answer the children’s questions.  How wonderous it would be to hear the kids discussing her life and offering parallels, lessons, and inspiration to one another from their new found knowledge of Khadijah (RA).

 

 

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Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

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Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

I’m going to review two of the eight books in the Museum Mysteries Series that have Amal on the cover:  The Case of the Missing Museum Archives and The Case of the Stolen Space Suit.  The series focuses on four characters of diverse backgrounds who have a parent that works in one of four Capital City museums.  Amal Farah is Somali American and her dad works at the Museum of Air and Space, Raining Sam is Native American and loves the American History Museum his mom works at, Clementine Wim’s mom works at the Art Museum, and Wilson Kipper’s favorite is the Museum of Natural History.  The kids solve mysteries and introduce the readers to real facts and tidbits of real information.  The AR level is 4.0 and 4.1 respectively, but I feel like they really are on a 2nd-4th grade level.  When a child is done with Ron Roy (A-Z Mysteries & Capital Mysteries) and Magic Treehouse, they are ready for these.  Much like those series, readers are similarly introduced to new vocabulary, but not overwhelmed with back story, detail, explanation, or much character development.

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SYNOPSIS:

In The Case of the Missing Archives, (the second in the Museum Mysteries Series), eleven-year-old Amal and her friends have to figure out who stole the plans for the German “Bat Wing” Plane, and fast.  If they don’t Amal’s father, Dr. Ahmed Farah, a museum archivist, is going to lose his job.  Luckily in 117 pages the kids suspect and rule out a “friend,” identify a mystery subject, and finally solve the case by piecing together the security guards clues and being perceptive.  Along the way you learn a bit about the characters, but nothing substantial.  You don’t feel a connection to the characters, and are only slightly annoyed when Clementine kind of takes over. 

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The second book where the Museum of Air and Space, and thus Amal are leading the plot is The Case of the Stolen Space Suit (#6 in the series).  I didn’t like this book as much as the earlier one because while yes, I learned about Sally Ride and how women in space are often over looked, I felt like the culprit was let off the hook with little reprimand for stealing Sally Ride’s space suit.  Once again the four kids come together to solve a mystery this time it involves two of the museums: Air and Space and American History Museum.  There is a bit more blatant lying in this book, which is normal in this genre as the kids have to snoop around and not get caught, but they seem a little less apologetic this time around.  The red herrings aren’t as believable, and the real culprit is only spotted by chance, no real sleuthing.  

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WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously I like that a Muslim girl is included in this very diverse foursome.  She wears hijab, has a muslim name, tucks her phone in her hijab to go hands free, and is of Somali heritage.  Her father is educated and not over bearing or stereotypical, and her background is just detail.  Her group of friends seem to appreciate each other’s cultures and talents as well as their passions and hobbies.  The kids vary in age from 10 to 13 with two girls and two boys.  The only lack of diversity is perhaps that they seem to all be middle class and fully able bodied.  Faith, family structure, culture, all run the gambut.  

There is no religious reference at all.  The book mentions her scarf only as a hands free life saver, and we learn her favorite hijab is blue with little stars on it.

I like that all the books are full color about 120 pages.  There is factual information at the begining and at the end.  There is also a summary on each kid at the begining.  The story concludes with a glossary,  writing prompts, discussion questions, and information about the author and illustrator.

I love the covers.

 

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FLAGS:

There is lying, but the rest is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t use this book as a book club selection because there isn’t really much to discuss.  I would definitely have this series in the classroom or recommend it to other early chapter book readers.  Like Brezenoff’s other series the book is satisfying in its simplicity and a good book to build interest in a variety of things while feeling accomplished at reading a book.

 

The Silly Chicken by Idries Shah illustrated by Jeff Jackson

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This story reads wonderfully aloud as it is silly, repetitive, and the message is more clear than in some of Idries Shah’s other Sufi inspired teaching books.  Written on an AR 4.0 level with 32 pages.  Some pages are heavily text laden while others just sprinkle a few words across a beautifully illustrated page.  Like his other books, the illustrations are truly spot on.  The lively faces on the characters, and colorful scenes bring the story to life and keep the audience engaged and giggling.

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A man decides to learn how to speak “chicken,” when that doesn’t work, he teaches the chicken to speak our kind of language.  Fluent and conversational, the chicken then tells the villagers that, “The earth is going to swallow us up!”.  Everyone runs in all directions, up the mountain, down the mountain, across the meadow, around the world, but they can never get away from the earth.  When they return, they are upset with the chicken and ask how he knows that the earth is going to swallow them up, to which he replies that he doesn’t.  After they recap all the trouble he has put them through he poignantly laughs at them and asks, ” You think a chicken knows something just because he can talk?” Realizing how foolish they have been the chicken begins telling more outlandish things, just to make the people laugh, and isn’t taken seriously again.

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The message is clear, the characters funny, and the illustrations engaging. I finally found an Idries Shah book that I like! Yay, I guess for me they are hit or miss, and this one was definitely a hit!

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The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

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The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

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This powerful book about Hassan’s first day at school is a bit graphic, and incredibly important.  While it is a picture book, it is definitely not meant for small children.  The rich water color illustrations and the impactful text match the AR level 3.6 and would really appeal to thoughtful 2nd through 4th grade students.

A refugee from Somalia, Hassan finds it “tiring remembering even a few English words.”  He misses the color of Somalia, his cat, the warmth of the sun, and the freedom of learning out doors.  He doesn’t miss the violence though.

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When it is time to paint, Hassan paints his home and his family, all 9 of them, and his pets, in bright happy hews, much to the delight of his teacher.  But then, Hassan, engulfs his house with the red paint of flames, smudges out his Uncle Ahmed when the black bullets that take him down, and Hassan communicates his sadness to his teacher.

Hassan doesn’t take his picture home, he knows it will upset his mom and little sister, Naima.  The next day, a translator comes to help Hassan.  Fela is Somali and wears a black hijab, like Hassan’s mom, but western clothes, a new concept to the young boy.

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Through Fela, Hassan opens up to his teacher and explains what it was like when the soldiers came and he had to hide under the bed.  How they had to leave without any of their stuff, including his beloved pet cat Musa.  All they could take was his father’s prayer rug and the Quran, as they set off on foot in the night.  He tells about leaving his grandparents and cousins behind and being scared on the plane.

Being able to share his fears, seems to help as he paints a new picture to share with his mom.  This one filled with his animals, and not with fire and bullets.  There is hope for Hassan as he looks forward to adding color to his new life and reminds himself to learn the english word for “home.”

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The book  is great for seeing the experience through Hassan’s eyes, and taking the reader through some of his adult like fears, and childish stresses.  Older kids should appreciate that what he has lived through is horrific, but his understanding as a child is slightly limited.  It should increase empathy, compassion, and kindness.

While the illustrations are rich and detailed they are very realistic.  This adds to the somberness of the book, and keeps this work of fiction a very real reminder of the world and what trials so many go through.

The characters are visibly Muslim, but there is no mention of religious doctrine, and readers may not know what a prayer rug is or a Quran.  They will be able to use context clues to figure out hijab, but there is not a glossary in the back.

nine, ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

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nine, ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

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I still struggle with the fact that 9/11/2001 is taught as history, it seems so current and fresh in my mind, that I really struggle with how works of fiction (and non fiction too) try to tell me about the pulse and the mood and the impact of something that I lived through and recall so clearly.  I suppose this isn’t a unique predicament, but because of the magnitude, one that I still wrestle with.  The author of nine, ten glosses over the big picture and in a lot of ways, the events of 9/11, but instead tries to show the paradigm shift that occurred and the division drawn as life before and life after.  She attempts to do this on an AR 4.8 and in 197 pages.  No easy feat, but one that definitely has some hits, and for me at least,  a few misses too.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from four different perspectives that intersect at the opening and at the close, the reader meets the characters two days leading up to 9/11, spends some of September 11 with them, and then peeks in on them again a year later.  The characters all cross paths at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

The first character is Will.  A middle school boy struggling to come to terms with how his father died helping someone on the side of the road.  Often more responsible and mature for his age as he helps his mom with his younger siblings, he lives in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and finds healing with helping those affected by the plane that goes down there.

Next we meet Aimee, who has just moved to California and is starting a new school.  Her daily drama is more missing her mom who travels a lot to New York for business, but is relatable as she tries to make new friends, fit in, and find her place in a new environment.  Her mom is in New York during the duration of the book, and has a meeting in one of the Twin Towers on the 11th.

Sergio lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a math wiz who gets a special award and recognition for his achievements.  He lives with his loving grandma, but it is the stressful encounter with his deadbeat father that sets him on a fateful subway trip that introduces him to Gideon, a New York fire fighter.

Naheed is the fourth character, and is an Iranian American Muslim girl, who is struggling to handle friends, and new questions about the hijab she wears.  Her friend drama consumes her, until 9/11 happens and she has to now prove her love of America at every turn.

The characters each take chapters divided by dates and while short, they do form a connection in their snapshots.  You feel like you get to know the characters and you do feel a tinge of stress knowing how they are all related geographical to what will transpire on the 11th. But in the afterward, the author explains why she intentionally keeps the carnage at bay to show how connected we all are, especially children, at the forefront of her fictionally retelling, and to show how much we all were affected that day.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that breaking up of the story, it adds some dimension to the book.  I know some reviews feel it is over done, but I think it is deliberate, and highlights how we all are inter connected and for late elementary, early middle school readers, I think the choppiness it allows, keeps the book on their level.  I like that each character has their own struggles, it isn’t that life was rosy and then 9/11 ruined everything, these kids have their own issues and stresses and realistic personalities before and after.  I also like that the Muslim character is not from the Middle East, it further shows how groups get lumped together for different reasons giving the book a bit more for readers to consider.

There are however, some real issues in how they present Naheed, which seems odd, since the book is so politically correct, and given the topic, you’d think the author and editors would work overtime to get the islamic parts correct.  But alas at one point Naheed’s visiting Uncle wants to know why Naheed doesn’t pray the mid day prayer, thuhr, at school, to which the mom replies, “she makes up her prayers at third prayer.” What? Yes I laughed out loud, no one calls the prayers by their numbers! I have never used numbers to describe our prayers, they have names, and we use their timings to describe them to others, not numbers. At one point, Naheed is making wudu, ablution, and the author gets it wrong. “And lastly, feet.  Right foot with right hand. Left foot with left.  Toes to ankles.” Left hand for both feet.  I also take some issue with Naheed having to wear hijab at age nine.  Hijab becomes required at puberty, so yes it could have been when it became required of her, but it seems a little young for her, and it seemed a bit forced.

In terms of plot, I would have liked a day or two after 9/11 to juxtapose the differences in priorities and the lens of how we got to a year later, or two years later, or 15.  Also, how they all went to New York on the anniversary to tie the story together made for a nice ending, but why they all went was a bit of a stretch, ok a big stretch.

FLAGS:

For a book about 9/11 there is relatively no violence.  The only death is in talking about Will’s father and the only blood is when Sergio helps a man on the subway.  There is some hate speech at the end, but even that is minimal.  Will does kiss a girl he likes. And both Will and Sergio skip school.  Aimee worries if her mom is having an affair (implied) and if her parents are getting divorced, but it isn’t explicit.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this would be a good book for a younger book club.  With its overt commitment to political correctness and breaking down stereotypes, it reinforces how similar we all are through strengthening bonds of humanity, rather than being divided by our skin color, or religion.  I think it would also lead so easily into faccilitating discussion of today’s kids putting themselves in the story.  What in their lives wouldn’t matter any more or what would matter more. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book, along with an Author’s Note and Acknowledgement, that easily lend themselves to more discussion ideas.

Curriculum Guide: http://www.norabaskin.com/nine-ten-curriculum-guide/

 

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

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Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

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Often these days, minority groups are feeling more and more marginalized in a blaring world that is increasingly divisive and polarized.  So to see a book in my child’s Scholastic Magazine with a muhajaba on the cover, and not a main character, in a book about bullying, where she isn’t the instigator or recipient, made my minority heart swell with hope.  This 238 page graphic novel (AR 2.8) is a quick, quick read for middle schoolers, and one with a good message, that is more self empowering than preachy.  A companion book to Awkward (which I haven’t read, but hope to soon), the author takes us into Middle School through the eyes of Jensen, a kid who is struggling to find his place and escapes into his daydreams to conquer every day stresses.

 

SYNOPSIS:

Jensen wants to be a NASA scientist, but he isn’t good at math.  He loves to draw, but the Art Club is consumed with an upcoming event he knows nothing about, he is harassed by two bullies every chance they get, and occasionally he is asked by the newspaper staff to do menial work.  Yet, somehow despite having no friends, and a constant barrage of things going against him, he doesn’t see himself as a victim or as the recipient of bullying.  Rather, he falls into regular day dreams where he is the main character in a video game and all these battles have to be overcome to reach the end.  The surrounding characters have their own little stories, and you get to know a bit about them through Jensen, but the author doesn’t let any of them be painted with a singular stroke.  You see the athletes, being kind and sticking up for kids getting picked on, one being a math wiz.  The journalism staff of Jenny, Akila, and Felipe, run the school, but have their own stresses and internal struggles.  The circle of activity comes to a head when a student is expelled over the dress code, and all the various groups in Jensen’s world have to come together to make change.  In the process he realizes that he is being bullied, and that something needs to be done.  He also realizes nobody has it all together and he has a part to do to help others as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

First I like it because there are Muslims in the book, that are just characters in the book.  They don’t represent all Muslims, they aren’t “different” or “other.”  Akila wants to be a journalist and she is smart, and she is kind, but she fights with her best friend, the bossy Jenny, and it is Jensen that has to help them see their errors.  I also like that the P.E. teacher, Mrs. Rashad, is a hijab wearing Muslim, that beats the social studies teacher in push-ups. I mean what an amazing way to break a hundred stereotypes, by not mentioning them, and just showing them as normal. A muslim woman, working, being physical fabulous, and being modest, ya we need more of this. There is no mention of their religion, their clothing, their hijabs, nothing.

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I also like that the students in some cases didn’t realize that they were bullying.  I think this happens a lot, where maybe someone won’t let you sit by them because they are saving a seat for someone else, but the second or third time it happens, the recipient feels alienated, where the aggressor may not even be aware.  The book explores lots of ways of bullying, but because it is filtered through the character, it leaves a lot of room for discussion about how people treat us, and how we treat others, and where a lot of pain can come from the misinterpretation on both ends.

There is a lot of diversity in the book, boys, girls, skin tones, body sizes, physical abilities, handicaps, intelligence, etc. that come up to varying degrees, but do at least offer the readers real ways to see themselves in the pages.  The book has a very tidy, happily ever after feel, which is ok I think for middle school. The book has a specific audience. Elementary will just find everyone mean, high schoolers will find it childish, but as social relationships get more challenging in middle school, I think this demographic will often have to find the courage to be brave to get through unscathed.

FLAGS:

None. One character has a boyfriend, maybe. But it is clean with pretty much everything, it even says for All Ages ont he back.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to do this as a book club book.  I don’t think it would need any prompting or guides. My 6th grade daughter said it was “ok” yet has brought it up at least ten times since she read it, and has come and sat by me to watch me read it.  I think, she has had some similar issues and to be able to talk about them through the characters, has been liberating for her, and furthered my conviction that fiction has power.

The Author’s website: https://svetlania.com/

 

 

The Clever Boy and the Terrible, Dangerous Animal by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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The Clever Boy and the Terrible, Dangerous Animal by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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This book makes me forgive the author for his other books that left me puzzled as to his popularity.  This is wonderful, timeless and so simplistic, yet full of wisdom, lessons, and reflection that I’m thinking of gifting it to many of my teacher friends.  In its 32 pages written on an AR third grade, 2nd month level, the simple and powerful lesson of how ridiculous it can be to be afraid of what you don’t know is driven home.

And just think. It all happened because a clever boy was not afraid when a lot of silly people thought something was dangerous just because they had never seen it before.

A boy goes to a neighboring village and finds the villagers afraid of, wait for it, a watermelon.  The boy laughs and laughs, and pulls out a knife to cut it and enjoy its sweet juices.  The villagers then fear the boy, until experience and knowledge about what it is and how to grow it, change everyone’s opinion and the village renames itself Watermelon Village. Oh, the power of knowledge.

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I can see this book being so great to introduce kids to how a little knowledge, asking questions, trying something can do everything from finding something you like, to breaking down stereotypes, to shifting your paradigm.  I feel like Islamaphobia, among so many other things, could be done away with by and large if people would just get to know us!

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The villagers depicted wear kufis and hijabs and kurtas, and the author writes to share his stories from his oral Sufi tradition, but there isn’t anything overtly Islamic in the text.  The kids as young as preschool will enjoy this at storytime.  They will find being afraid of a watermelon preposterous and silly, making the point that much stronger.

I like that the cover doesn’t given much away, and most children will take the title at its word and think that it is an animal.  Getting student’s ideas of what the terrible animal will be adds to the creative thinking and discussing after as well.  The pictures are wonderful and endearing and many editions come in two language formats.

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