Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Jen Hill

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Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Jen Hill

be kind

I usually post chapter books on Fridays, but on this one week anniversary of the horrific Mosque attacks in New Zealand, my fragile heart is being kept together by the pictures and notes shared on social media about the kindness people are bestowing on one another.  Company’s setting up prayer spaces for Muslim employees, communities standing guard outside masjids, friends leaving flowers for their Muslim acquaintances, strangers donning hijabs in solidarity, individuals carrying signs of welcome and unity, truly the list goes on and on.  Muslims and non-Muslims reaching out to one another, Kiwis and the rest of the world coming together.  And yet I know so many people are at a loss at what to do, and how to respond to their feelings in an appropriate manner.  I know I often am.  Thats why books like this one are so important for children to learn how to be kind.  We often tell them to be nice or kind, but what does that mean? What does that look like? How do we know if it worked? As adults we often don’t know, so while this book isn’t written or illustrated by a Muslim, there are Muslims in it, and that is why after seeing another blogger a few weeks ago mention it, I want to share it with all of you.  The illustrations show a little girl saying hi to a desi garbed man named Omar, and two hijab clad girls in her view of the world, amongst so many other diverse faces and characters, because that’s the point right? We are one, each of us responsible to one another to be kind.  

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The book starts off with Tanisha spilling grape juice all over her new dress and a classmate being at a loss as to how to console her.  She makes what she thinks is a reassuring comment to Tanisha, but it isn’t received that way, and the little girl ponders and reevaluates what it will take to be kind to Tanisha and what kindness is in general.

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As she works to unravel what kindness is, she explores also what it can look like.  I love that it is seen in terms of action, giving ideas to stay with the reader.  It discusses that sometimes it is easy like saying hello, or not littering, and how important just using a persons name can make someone feel.

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But, it also talks about how sometimes kindness can be hard, requiring patience and a little bravery. I can only imagine how brave people had to be to enter a mosque for the first time and step out of their comfort zones to offer their support.  

The book then takes an important pause when it acknowledges that maybe all this little girl can do to help Tanisha is to sit by her.  I think Muslims around the world are in awe of the Prime Minister of New Zealand for all she is doing, but also for just showing up and hugging people and listening.  A rare gift in todays wold of soundbites.  

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The little girl then imagines her small acts of kindness joining others and making the world a better place.  My favorite part is actually the end.  Tanisha never smiles and tells the little girl thank you, there is no big praise for being kind.  In fact, I bet the little girl doesn’t even know the power her actions had on the little girl.  We the reader know because we see Tanisha hanging the picture up in her room.  But, that let down is real life.  We can’t be kind because of the reward, we must learn to be kind because it is the right thing to do.  And often when people are kind to us, the effect isn’t instantaneous, its weight manifests in the dark when we are looking for hope and reassurance and for this book to contain all of that, in 32 pages with only few words (AR 2.2) is truly amazing.

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The illustrations are gorgeous and engaging.  The hardback 9×10 format makes this book a great addition to any library and should be read regularly.  It isn’t enough to not be mean, action and intention need to be taught so that we all might be more kind, inshaAllah.

 

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Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Amir Doumy

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Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Amir Doumy

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Oh, how glorious to learn something new while having things you know presented so well at the same time.  In 42 pages the reader will feel all the excitement of Eid (it doesn’t specify which one, nor does it really matter), sharing your culture with your classmates, participating in a family tradition, cooking with your grandfather, sharing with neighbors, and learning some life lessons about diversity from the Quran.  Ages 5 and up will enjoy the story and seeing Eid being celebrated, and older kids that know about Eid will love learning about bean pies and appreciate the African American Muslim culture, if they don’t already know about it, and those that do will hopefully feel proud to see it represented.  The best part is that there is a recipe at the end, that I can’t wait to try.

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It is the end of the school day and the teacher is reminding the students that Monday is Culture Day and they need to bring a dish to share, over the weekend it is also Eid.  Bashirah is excited that this is the first year she will get to make her own bean Pie with her Pop-pop who is going to teach her the family recipe.

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At home Bashirah can’t stay still as her mom puts on the finishing touches of her Eid outfit, she is so excited for all the fun about to happen.

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Early the next morning the family all heads out to the Masjid for Eid Salat in their beautiful clothes.

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After prayers its cooking and eating time as Bashirah and Pop-pop make the pies and enjoy a big meal as a family.  Three generations make salat together, food is taken to the neighbors, and then the big reveal.  All the desserts, including Bashirah’s are served, and alhumdulillah it is delicious!

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Back at school on Monday the teacher reminds them all that, “neither our languages or heritages make us better than anyone else.  Allah looks at our good deeds.” She quotes Surah Hujurat, ayat 13 “Oh, mankind indeed we have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.  Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah (swt) is the best in conduct.” And they all dive in to the delicious desserts including Bashirah’s wonderful pie.

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My only criticisms of the book are the margins and the amount of text on the pages.  I have a hard time reading the book aloud to small groups as the margins are so small and run in to the binding.  Also, some pages have one sentence on them, some have nearly a half a page of text.  This disparity can be off putting at the start of the book to appeal to younger listeners and early readers.

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The illustrations are warm watercolor complimentary pictures.  There is nothing wrong with them, but I wish they were just a tad more defined and vibrant like the picture on the cover.  I love the warmth they radiate, but a little more detail would give the listeners something more to look at on the text heavy pages.

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All in all a great book that I am glad I own and can share with my own children and those in my community, now if I can convince someone to make me a bean pie I’ll really be set, alhumdulillah!

 

Proud: Living My American Dream (Young Readers Edition) by Ibtihaj Muhammad

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Proud: Living My American Dream (Young Readers Edition) by Ibtihaj Muhammad

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I had high expectations for a memoir about such an inspiring figure, so I treaded timidly into the book waiting to be disappointed, but after finishing the book in two days (high praise considering I have four kids), I realized I was holding my breath for nothing, the book and Ibtihaj are amazing! Now three days after I started, my daughter too has read it and I have ordered a handful of copies to offer as my next Middle School Book Club selection.  Inspirational, real, Islamic, hopeful, empowering, check, check, check, check, and well written too.  A great story and a great role model, alhumdulillah.  The Young Reader’s Edition is an AR 6.7 and 304 pages including Acknowledgements, Glossary of Fencing Terms, Ibtihaj’s Advice, and Q and A with Ibithaj.

SYNOPSIS:

Ibtihaj begins her life story establishing her background of who her parents are, how they met, how they came to Islam and how they are raising their children.  She also details how she is different and realizes it from a young age, whether it is substitutes not being able, or willing, to pronounce her first name, or not being able to sleep over at her friends’ houses.  She also sets the stage for the environment of Newark that she was born into and how it differs racially and economically from Maplewood where she spent most of her childhood.  The story then is pretty linear walking through some of the challenges of being highly driven and motivated and determined to succeed and get in college.  How she is first introduced to fencing and why she gives it a second chance after initially not liking it.   Along the way the reader gets to know how Islam influences her point of view as Allah is very central to her decisions and expectations of herself.  The quick pace is not depressing, while others at times do treat her differently she definitely doesn’t paint herself or seem to see herself as a victim or as privileged, she is just herself and this is her story.  It isn’t all rosy and it isn’t harsh, she is putting one foot in front of the other and there is amazing support from her family, and some of her coaches and some of her teammates, but not everyone and that is a very important part of her story too, which I think provides even more for young readers to relate and learn from.  Anyone not familiar with fencing and how the sport and its rankings work will learn so much reading this book, but thankfully not be overwhelmed with it all either.  The book ends shortly after the Olympics and her historic bronze medal win.  The title may reflect her being proud of what she accomplished and continues to pursue and her pride in being a Black American Muslim Woman, but I think anyone who reads the book will just be proud that someone like her exists, and that maybe some small part of ourselves can be great too.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book leaves in some of the naysayers and difficult coaches and teammates.  I really think it is easy to assume that people are great and things should all work out when you are competing on an international level, but alas no, completely not the case, yet differences aside, they still had to win an individual sport as a team. 

 I also love that she is truly what she claims, the way she practices Islam is who she is and she loves her family and her faith.  There are no contradictions she excels and perseveres and finds herself while acknowledging all parts of herself and it is so inspiring.  She portrays Islam as a way of life, she prays and fasts and has days when her iman is low and days her faith is rewarding.  She focuses on what she can control and has to learn to accept what Allah swt has decreed for her.  She has Muslim friends, and non Muslim friends and through it all she is finding her place and is surrounded by love and support from her family.  It really is a feel good story and we should all pray that it continues to be.  She doesn’t portray Islam as limiting, nor as her family an exception to what a Muslim home is, and this level of dawah can really change perceptions.  The book is not preachy or arrogant, it is simply her story and Islam is a part of it.

I like that she went to a prestigious university and it didn’t make all her dreams come true, she still had to work hard and find herself and humble herself to work at a dollar store to scrape by, it shows tenacity and a glimpse of the real world that privileged middle schoolers might not have had to consider before.

FLAGS:

The book is clean.  It talks about how uncomfortable she was at her first fencing lesson with her coach having to reposition her stances and thus touch her, and it discusses how she felt listening to music was ok in Islam even though her parents disagreed.  A few sentences at most, collectively, but kids will have thoughts on it.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

My 12 year old daughter read the book in a few hours and discussed it with me for even longer.  It was as if some tidbit from the book would blossom inside her and she would consider it, and want to discuss it, from why she would not talk to the kids she was substituting about fencing, to why her coach made her switch to saber, I don’t think there is a shortage of things to discuss, or more importantly listen to from the young readers.

There is a ton about her online as she became the first American Muslim to medal and the first to compete in hijab.  I highly recommend this book for book club, and will  hopefully add how our meeting went in a few weeks.

 

 

 

 

My Name was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov illustrated by Allan Eitzen

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My Name was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov illustrated by Allan Eitzen

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It isn’t often that a 32 page AR 2.4 picture book will haunt you after you read the last page.  Especially a book with short simple sentences, that is poorly organized and reads like two separate nearly disjointed stories, but alas this book has stayed with me for months and upon rereading it to write this review, the images and empathy and reflections stirred have not lessened.  This is an important book to read, to think about, and to return to sporadically as your children and their understanding of the larger world grows and evolves.

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Hussein is a Roma, or a gypsy living in a small village in Bulgaria.  Their ancestors migrated many years ago from India and they are Muslim.  Hussein and his family love Ramadan and the delicious smells of food and warmth of grandparents and family all year round, but particularly during the blessed month.  

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Eid is the best, with family and fun and new clothes.  Hussein loves his life and his name.  It was his grandfather’s name and his grandfather’s grandfather’s name.  But then one day all that changes.

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Tanks and soldiers with guns come to their village and close that mosque and tear up their identity cards and tell all the minorities that they must choose Christian names and give up their culture and identities.

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Hussein and his family do not want to give up Islam and their names and their traditions, but they don’t know what to do.  Feeling like they have no choice they change their names and Hussein asks the reader at the end if you would call him Hussein or Harry?  

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The last page of the book is an author’s note, and tells that this is based on his own life story.  That in the 1980s Bulgarian minorities were forced to change their identities.  That more than one million Muslims, including Roma, Turks and other minorities were forced to choose Christian names and that until he was 22 years old, his name was Hussein.

The illustrations are illuminating to the images that the simple words discuss.  Truly they are a powerful and integral part of the story.  The women wear hijab and the use of color to set the tone is spot on.  The book is hardbound and the 8×10 size allow the pictures to be enjoyed fully.

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The book published in 2004, was not easy to find which is unfortunate as it really sheds light on a recent history not known in the US at all, and one that should be known and remembered.  The first part of the book reads like a Ramadan story detailing iftaar and Eid and how Ramadan is celebrated by this culture, but the second half goes back to Ramadan and how it is different with the soldiers and the pressure to give up who they are.  There aren’t a lot of details about who the soldiers are or why they have come or what they are going to do to the Romas, but the fact that in recent history and this was what people were faced with, should be a powerful reminder to us all at how fragile this world is and make us appreciate that we aren’t forced to make such a decision.

 

The House of Ibn Kathir: The Competition Begins by S.N. Jalali

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The House of Ibn Kathir: The Competition Begins by S.N. Jalali

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At 254 pages this boarding school story beautifully blends Islamic information, mystery, and compelling characters embarking on a new stage of their lives.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and engaging this book for upper elementary aged children reads and would strongly recommend it for grades 3-5.

SYNOPSIS:

Eleven year old Yusif is about to begin his first year at the prestigious Dar Al Ilm Academy a few hours away from his family, friends, and home.  Nervous to be on his own, he is excited to be giving his dream of memorizing the Quran the chance to become a reality.  When he arrives at the old mansion turned beautiful campus, he is paired up with Reda, a student to help him get situated and before you know it the two are fast friends.  When they get put in the same house, Ibn Kathir, with Warsoma and Daud, the four friends embark on a year of adventure and bonding as well as growth and learning.  Along the way they learn some Islamic history, they understand important hadith and Quranic Ayats and are challenged to live according to the sunnah even when tempers and frustrations abound.  When items start to go missing the boys and their house will have to keep their cool, not accuse anyone, but figure out what is going on all at the same time.  When the culprits are uncovered, they will be further tested to hold a grudge, offer forgiveness, or even extend an invitation to friendship. 

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WHY I LIKE IT:

This idyllic story and predictable mystery will appeal to impressionable readers that can’t see what is coming and can still be inspired by the beauty of such a protected environment.  The window might be small for such readers, but well worth the attempt as the book is well written and the characters well developed.  The boys are diverse and kind and helpful and all the things we want our children to be, especially when they are away from us.  Each character has their strengths and weaknesses and the friends accept them and celebrate one another rather than try and force them to change. The four houses and the characters vying for year captain and having fun along the way reminds me of a Harry Potter spinoff, but alas I think that is just my ignorance of the British school system.  I love that the four houses and their namesakes are detailed at the end as well as there being a glossary of terms.  There are illustrations every chapter or so that are appealing and offer a nice visual of the boys’ world.  The text, line spacing, chapter breaks and all are perfect for the demographic and while the fictional story is solid, I am happy to report I learned a number of things as well. 

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FLAGS:

None, alhumduillah

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION: 

I can’t find much on the author or even on any future books, which is unfortunate because I think it would be great for an elementary book club selection, and I may read it to my 4th and 5th grade Lunch Bunch group after we finish The Great Race to Sycamore Street.  I think it should be in Islamic School Libraries and classrooms as its cover will hold its own and compel kids to pick it up off the shelf.

Book trailer: http://www.ibnkathir.co.uk/trailerfullhd.html

Book website:http://www.ibnkathir.co.uk/index.html

 

 

Mustafa and Arwa go on a Ramadan Adventure by Mekram Mohammad

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Mustafa and Arwa go on a Ramadan Adventure by Mekram Mohammad

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Ramadan is two months away and this little book is a great way to introduce and stir up excitement for little Muslim toddlers and preschoolers. It could work for non Muslims, but the general overview given would need some details and explanations, and this book seems more geared to introduce excitement and a few key concepts for the blessed month.

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In 27 rhyming pages the brother sister duo explore some of the feelings of the month, activities that make the month special and what to expect at suhur, iftar, and taraweeh at night.  

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I like that it makes it clear that you don’t eat one bite, that you fast even if you are at work or school, that you use your time to do good and help people, and that you ask Allah for paradise.  

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The end is Eid and while the text presents some great general info, the illustrations are what really give the minimal clear text life.  Seeing the kids giving presents to people and looking for the moon and enjoying iftar together with smiling faces, show kids the warmth of Ramadan.  

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The book doesn’t have a story, it just talks about Ramadan, but the tone in this book and in Mustafa and Arwa go on a Prayer Adventure is very fun and light.  It doesn’t get into rules or articulate what little kids are expected or required to do, or even why Muslims do it, it just gives them some knowledge and some emotion to create the feeling of it being a grand adventure.

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The book is paperback 8.5 x 8.5 and the thickness, sheen and quality of the pages makes it durable and enjoyable to read at story time (in small groups) and bedtime alike.  This book most likely will be on repeat in the weeks leading up to Ramadan and then referenced throughout the month to remind children about what they are seeing and experiencing.  

Adam & the Tummy Monsters by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

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Adam & the Tummy Monsters by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

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Book two in the Adam Series was the first Zanib Mian book I ever read, and for the last three years I’ve been looking for the first book.  So, while thrilled to finally find it secondhand in the US, I realize my review of it is a bit selfish.  I’m hoping that if it appeals to you that maybe we can encourage the author to re-release it somehow or write more books in the series, I’m not entirely sure how publishing and copyrights work, but I feel like it is worth a shot.  There aren’t a lot of early readers with Muslim characters out there, let alone ones that are done well.  The book is 32 pages, hard back and is would work for 5 year olds and up that know their site words and are pretty fluent at sounding out new words. Ideally, kids that have had the story read to them a few time will be able to pick it up faster, as the story is compelling, the spacing between lines and the variety of fonts will hold their interest, but some pages do have a lot of text and some words are a bit complex. 

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SYNOPSIS:

Adam has a tummy ache, aka tummy monsters, and while he doesn’t want “yucky medicine” from the doctor, he is happy when his dad, puts on a silly hat and assumes the role of “Detective Doodle” to solve the case.  They determine that he ate porridge for breakfast, but so did Adam’s sister and brother, who are feeling fine, so that can’t be it.  He washed his hands before eating, and said “Bismillah” before he started too.  It seems he followed all the eating rules, but when Adam’s sister Mariam stumbles on a scene in the playroom, the culprit is uncovered.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the family has a silly approach to a very common childhood problem.  I also love that while, solving the case, reminders about eating etiquette are sneaked in without being preachy or cumbersome.  Once the reason for the tummy ache is uncovered, Adam’s parents don’t scold him, but it is safe to say he probably learns his lesson.

The pictures are engaging and colorful.  The mom wears hijab, and the characters are warm and happy.  The background color of the pages changes and sets a nice tone for the book.  

In the text, Adam isn’t asked if he said bismillah, but rather if he said, “in the name of God,” but in the illustration, a speaking bubble has him saying bismillah, which makes me wonder if the author was trying to make the book accessible to both Muslims and non Muslims alike.  It definitely could be, I think the story is fun and the consequences for gorging on chocolate pretty universal.

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FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Like the second Adam book, this book will work perfect for story time in small groups  and bedtime on repeat.  I think in a classroom it would be great to have small groups read the story and then discuss.  Not a traditional Book Club, obviously for the length of the book and the target audience, but I do think that even little kids will have a lot to say about Adam and his silly family.  More importantly, I think they all will have stories of their own “tummy monsters” to contribute and discuss.