Purity & Prayer: A Rhyming Picture Book of Sacred Rulings by Ameena Bint Abdir Rahman illustrated by Reyhana Ismail

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This book is definitely non fiction, and I’m reviewing it because I figure some of you like me, have looked at it online and wondered how it can do everything it claims.  The book is 50 pages, fully illustrated (with faces), meant for children before the age of accountability, written in rhyme about fiqh (wudu and salah) according to the Hanafi madhab, and everything is scholar supervised and checked.  I’ve read it a few times now, and yeah, it does all it claims to, and is a great tool and resource, and book to have around for kids of all ages, plus I think they’ll really enjoy it.

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The book has a lot of information and disclaimers about how the author wrote the book and verified the information, there is a dua, preface, and Author’s Note at the beginning, and Rulings of Sacred Law by Shaykh Faraz Fareed Rabbani, an Appendix, References, Glossary of Arabic Terms, messages from the Fiqh Teachers, Author, and Illustrator at the end.

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The 8.5 x 11 hard bound horizontal glossy book is divided into sections.  The first section is Du’a and Salah, followed by Purity which covers things like fard parts of wudu, what breaks wudu, etc..  The next section is Prayer and covers the fard conditions and integrals within prayer, wajib things you say, how you recite, postures, what breaks your salah, and incorporated in to the sections are what would need to be redone to make your salah valid.

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Each subheading is a two page spread with a title and either rhyming couplets or quatrains to convey the information.  While naturally at some parts the rhyme is incredibly forced, but because I found myself learning things, I wasn’t as bothered by it as I thought I would.  The repetition sometimes got jarring, but again, because the complex facts are being brought down to a child’s level ,and yet isn’t belittling, I’m willing to overlook a lot. 

I like that it isn’t just facts, the Appendix is there for that, but also similes and metaphors that will help put the concept in perspective.  Du’as can be made at any time like making a call to Allah.  Prayer is like visiting a friend, you have to go at the time you were invited, dressed nicely, wear appropriate clothing.  

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The breakdown of when you have to repeat the whole salah, or do a special prostration is incredibly helpful.  As is knowing what laughter breaks wudu and what breaks wudu and salah.  It is so great that children will see how detailed our religion is, and how everything has an explanation.  Yes, you shouldn’t laugh while praying, but clearly it happens, so when it does this is what you do.  The approach makes the book grow with children as their knowledge and awareness increases.

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I hope to read a two page spread each night with my kids, and have them discuss.  My kids range in age from 3-12 and while my 3 year old won’t add a lot, he will be entertained by the rhyme, fascinated by the pictures, and be included in the early introduction to fiqh.  InshaAllah the older kids will learn or review something and know how to find such knowledge if they have questions in the future.

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Undoubtedly, such a book, was a huge undertaking, may Allah swt reward all those involved, I was pleasantly surprised and greatly impressed at how the book reads, presents the information, and still connects to younger children, mashaAllah.

 

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The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

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The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

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This brand new middle school read is like a quick picture of a young girl’s life.  You get to know her as she is, you briefly meet those around her, you see a week or so of her life and then the book ends and you aren’t the same.  You wonder about her, you worry about her, and you find yourself wanting to reach out to those that maybe remind you of her.  Truly a wonderful book of 277 hard-to-put-down-pages that give insight into Malaysia in 1969, OCD, and the beauty of people willing to show their humanity in dire circumstances. My only concern is that I don’t know that there is anything relevant to the typical target audience western reader that would compel them to pick up the book and see it through.  All the reviews online that praise it seem to be from people older than the YA demographic.  Yes, I really enjoyed the book, but I know who the Beatles are, who Paul Newman is, I am a Muslim, I recently went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and saw the diversity of religions and culture, I know people struggling with mental illness to the point of disability and the exhaustion that ensues; yet I don’t know if I could convince my 12 year old daughter to read it.  If I forced her, I don’t know that she would find the book as beautiful and powerful as I do.  I think a lot of it, she simply wouldn’t get, and even less of it she would relate to.  I probably will force her to read it at some point, and I’ll happily revise this review and swallow my assumption about what the youth these days can handle and identify with, but until then, please let me know if you are in the YA demographic and what you thought of the book. Thanks.

SYNOPSIS:

Melati is a 16 year old Malay girl in 1969, living with her mother, a nurse.  Her father, a police officer, has recently died, and with his loss, she has become crippled by OCD and the fear that her mother too, will die.  Counting numbers move from consoling her and keeping the horrific thoughts at bay, to becoming almost like an incantation that must be performed nearly constantly to keep her mother safe.  As race riots between the Chinese and ethnic Malays engulf the city one fateful afternoon when Melati and her best friend Safiyah are at the movie theater after class, watching the latest Paul Newman movie, the reader is shown how even in calm situations, keeping the OCD from consuming her is a full time job.  With no knowledge of treating and even diagnosing mental health, Melati tries to hide her visions and ticks from those around her as it has alienated extended family, and worries her mother.  The conclusion instead is that she is being haunted by a djinn and thus her mother takes her to different imams and healers, to no avail, and knowing that the common treatment at the time is to have those suffering carted off to an asylum and experimented on, something Melati’s mom, Salmah vows never to let happen, Melati suffers alone.

Once the movie ends, gangs enter the theater and Saf and Melati are separated.  Melati is saved by a stranger, a Chinese lady named Auntie Bee, and Saf is left at the hands of a Chinese gang.  Violence erupts, lasting for days, and curfews prevent Melati from searching for her mother.  While Auntie Bee and her family care for her and take in other neighbors, it is made clear that tensions between the two ethnic groups are high and have been for some time, but that good people exist on both sides too.  People who see people as people not just their culture. 

It is a YA book, so there is a little suspension of reality to reunite a number of the characters and give them the happiest ending such a gritty book can muster, but the author does warn the reader before the story begins that this book has violence and anxiety triggers, and death, she actually urges those that will be inversely affect by such things, to not read her book.  And it makes sense, it is graphic at times, and characters also die, and the tone is powerful, and the OCD is intense.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book embraces all its themes wholeheartedly, there is no happy ending, or magic cure for Melati’s illness, within one family there is racial tension and beautiful examples of selflessness, that two people can save each other but not like each other, and that families can be really disappointing.  At times the presence of the djinn is so annoying that the reader feels how crippling it must be to Melati, as it cripples the story as well, the balance is perfect though, it doesn’t drag the book to the point of wanting to put it down, if anything it makes you cheer harder when her little victories take place.  

I like that there isn’t a huge sappy reunion, because the danger is still going on and the characters presence of mind to the tasks still at hand is actually a subtle, yet powerful nod to the hope that Melati and her mom will be ok.  Can you tell I’m trying not to spoil too much, just suffice it to say, the women in this book are strong and determined and inspiring.

I like that Islam is present and that Melati has to grapple at times with her faith to find where it lies and how she accepts some of the events that have taken place, and the djinn fighting to consumer her. In many teens it is a right of passage, but for her it is amplified by the horrors she has lived through and seen and her own mental state.  Clearly the author is Malay and Muslim as she sprinkles words and phrases and traditions seamlessly into  the narrative that makes it flow with authenticity and vibrance.

I wish at times we knew more about the history of what lead up to the violence, or maybe even more about some of the characters, but alas I think this is Melati’s story and those that have turned their back on her and her mom really don’t deserve the ink needed to share their roles.  Some details about the resolution of the riots or how the country came back together might be nice, but a quick Google search can quell any curiosities.  I appreciate that the writing is smooth and intentional and well crafted and not a distraction to the internal turmoil and story being conveyed.

FLAGS:

Violence, racial tension, graphic death, anxiety triggers.  Melati and Vincent hold hands, it is a bit fuzzy if it is out of reassurance or something more.  There isn’t explicit sexual violence, but Melati does see a soldier pressing his body against a school girl who is of a similar age to her.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I want to do this as a book club, but I don’t know that the students will read it voluntarily.  I may have to bribe them and get permission from the school counselor.  I think they would benefit immensely from the insight in to mental illness and feel comfortable talking about their understanding of it, being it is presented in a fictional format.  I think the violence, because it is rooted in history can be understood and be discussed.  

Interview with the author: http://richincolor.com/2019/02/interview-with-hanna-alkaf-the-weight-of-our-sky/

Author’s website: https://hannaalkaf.com/the-weight-of-our-sky-2/

 

The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail by Mir Khalid Ali illustrated by Taahira Halim

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The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail by Mir Khalid Ali illustrated by Taahira Halim

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A determined girl battles her ponytail, her own self-doubt and her opponents on the jiu-jitsu mat in 38 beautifully illustrated pictures and clear every day language.  Perfect for little girls and their dads ages five and up.

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Noor has been counting down the days until her first jiu-jitsu tournament, but the morning of the tournament a battle first takes place between her and her unruly hair.  Determined to tame it on her own, even when her father offers her help, she steps on to the mat for her first fight.

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Squirming with nerves, her ponytail breaks free from the desperate tape used to keep it contained and covers Noor’s eyes forcing her to tap out and concede the match.

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Walking off the mat, Noor’s Baba hugs her and compliments her on her bravery.  Noor is having none of it and just wants to go home.  Rather than argue with her, Baba goes to talk to her coach giving Noor some space to battle her self-doubt on her own.

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Deciding she has worked hard and trained hard, and been supported every step of her way she asks her baba to help her tie up her hair.  Together her and her jiu-jitsu ponytail take on the remaining opponents and persevere.  

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The book shows great heart in the supporting cast each of us have around us, in this case the father takes his cues from his daughter, never wavering in his support, but not forcing her to do anything either.  The little girl is determined, but also learns that it is ok to ask for help and above all to not give up on yourself.

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The personification of the ponytail adds a layer of humor to the story that works well for little kids that might just take the story on face value.  Even they will learn something about jiu-jitsu with the visual displays of the different moves and of martial arts tournaments in general.  Two of my children thought the ponytail hilarious, and two slightly creepy.  The subtlety of its personification allows its role of being a separate entity and just feeling like it has a mind of its own to be determined by the reader.

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There is nothing Islamic in the book, but the author and illustrator are Muslim, and the use of the little girls name, Noor Kareem, and her calling her father Baba will have a special appeal to Muslim children (plus her name written in Arabic on her bedroom wall), just as children who do jiu-jitsu will find themselves in the pages.  The book appeals to all children and reminds them they can overcome and inshaAllah be supported in the process.

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The illustrations in this 8 x 10 horizontal hardback book are beautiful and detailed.  They allow the reader to understand what is going on without the book being overly burdened with text.  The font is clear and well sized making the book ideal for both bedtime and story time, alhumdulillah.

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Peeper and the Peeping Boy by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir

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Peeper and the Peeping Boy by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir

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I see the author regularly posting positive feedback for this book and after feeling let down by the last book of hers that I read, that had a great premise, I tentatively reached for this one.  The book is meant for children in grades 2 through 5, but the writing seems a bit all over the place and some of the vocabulary is above that level. The book is 67 pages and reads like a rough draft that has so much potential to be fleshed out, enhanced, and cleaned up.

SYNOPSIS:

The book takes place in Pakistan and is told from the perspective of Akram, an 11-year-old boy and a Jinn who he names Peeper.  Akram is apparently funny looking and behaves old for his age.  Those around him find him too contemplative and off compared to his peers.  He seems to be an only child and his family is middle class, but they live in a really weird neighborhood and while they have a maid, they are really tight with food and money.  Akram has a passion for peeking in on old houses and imaging stories for the inhabitants. 

Peeper is a Jinn, a good one, who doesn’t like to see suffering of small children.  He sneaks on Akram and sees what praying is and what being a Muslim is.  When he says “no” to his tribe to help plan a party for shaytan, he is punished and made human.  And as a human he and Akram explore the six abandoned houses next to Akram’s house snooping, making assumptions, involving the police and ultimately saving the day.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the premise of a boy and a jinn learning about Islam and trying to help those around them who are suffering.  I like that the foundation of being Muslim is what shapes both boys perception of the world as they pray and use AllahuAkbar as a super word to protect themselves.  Unfortunately the author’s writing style is very befuddled and these lessons are not clear.  The tenses change through out as does the point of view, with sometimes it being the characters being in the story and sometimes them preaching to the reader.  There is a lot of repetition of ideas, often disconnected random ideas, and in such a short book it really stands out.  Similarly, everything is really vague, no characters other than the main two are named, numbers of people aren’t identified, “…came in with 10 to 15 people, (page 62).”  Everything is very fluid and not in a helpful way.  The verdict of Peeper getting expelled from his tribe should have been a major plot point, but it is so quick and anti-climatic, that it really makes no impact. In a fantasy story, world building is critical, and there is nothing understood about the world of the jinns.  It says they are evil and horrid, but Akram misses them and wants to go back, which makes no sense and their are no details to show why he would think some in his tribe are good and kind, so when at the end they take shahada, it is completely fuzzy and confusing how one concept links to another.  Even the point of the story is befuddling, sneaking is wrong, but their intentions were pure, they got all their assumptions wrong, so they get medals and get rewarded and are encouraged to sneak more, but with permission? So, ya, all over the place.  The happy ending is that the mom is suddenly praying and religious, but no explanation of what changed her is given, so it falls rather flat.

Aside from my own thoughts on the story, there are blatant contradictions that aren’t explained.  Peeper says he wish he knew Arabic, but he came from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran, so how does he know English, but not Arabic from Syria?  Peeper also says on page 28 he doesn’t understand fajr, but on page 23 he says he watched Akram pray all 5 daily prayers.  The whole premise of Akram and Peeper being drawn to each other is their nosy curiosity and their compassion for others, but the whole scene with how they let the maid take the fall for the missing food is so out of character, and then when Akram is rude to Peeper about what his parents would say if they saw him is very jarring to how the character has previously been presented.  Neither situation is really resolved either and I really am worried that the maid lost her job and Akram didn’t even try to fix it.  The author tells us they are nice, but shows us two examples when they are not, so it isn’t very convincing that they truly are nice until they try to help the neighbors.  The inhabitant in one of the abandoned bungalows they assume is poor and deliver biscuits to him, but they note that he has bars of gold in his cupboards, so obviously he isn’t poor.  It is noted that Peeper can deliver the mail secretly with no one knowing where they came from, yet the police know that Akram is the one that alerted them to everything going on in the six bungalows, another contradiction that isn’t explained.

Some of the vocabulary was also troublesome for me.  The glossary at the end of the story and before the activity coloring and word search pages, jinn is defined as ghost, but they aren’t dead human spirits, so I disagree with that.  At one point the book mentions “elders of Islam” which is vague and odd, as well.  There are poems at the beginning of each of the 21 chapters, that are very forced rhyme and use words I had to look up:  hoary, momento mori, atavistic, not saying that kid’s can’t handle hard words, but there are many passages that have words more middle school in nature and with unconnected concepts, context clues are rather non existent.

There are little illustrations scattered throughout, but they are inconsistent in style and the copy quality is a bit poor, so they are not really helpful.  Akram does not have a face drawn in, but the jinn does. 

FLAGS:

There is nothing alarming.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club book, and I wouldn’t stress having a copy on a library shelf as I don’t think a child would willingly read it and understand it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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Under My Hijab by Hena Khan illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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I know, (sigh) another hijab book, but I promise it is good and you won’t be sad you bought…”another hijab book,” and  alhumdulillah, it’s a Hena Khan book, so public libraries will have it or at least they should be willing to order it if requested.  

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Written in rhyming four line stanzas the story is told from a young girl’s perspective about the women in her life.  The first two page spread shows the strong female as she interacts in the world and covers her self, with the following two page spread, showing her in her home, uncovered.

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From Grandma, to Mama, to Auntie, to troop leader, to siblings and friends, the reader sees hijabs wrapped in styles as different as the person wearing them.  They also see Muslim women as doctors, artists, Tae Kwon Do students, bakers, leaders, and everything in between.

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The illustrations are beautiful and perfect.  They radiant warmth and familiarity, while adding details to make the pages hold your attention a few minutes longer and smile with the diversity presented. The martial art scene is spot on!

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I wish they showed a niqabi, and maybe someone that doesn’t cover all the time, but at certain times of prayer or entering a mosque, like the author, who talks about herself and hijab in general in the afterward entitled: About the Hijab.  

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I love that the book is for children and I desperately hope adults will read it too.  It breaks down so many stereotypes, and answers so many questions in a seemingly effortless presentation.  How many times have all hijabis been asked if we sleep in our scarves or shower in them.  I love that there are shades of brown skin tones, and blond haired hijabi’s too.  

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And most importantly I love that it shows Muslim women to be strong and varied and to have full, independent beautiful colorful lives.  That hijab is a choice and it is strength and beauty and personal.

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The book does not talk about the reasons for wearing hijab, or get into the religion.  The book is a great size for story time and bedtime at 10 x 8 horizontal, hardbound, and 32 pages.  Ages four and up will enjoy this book repeatedly,  and older kids, especially girls considering covering or just starting to cover will enjoy it as well.

Alhumdulillah! Well done!

Forgive the glare in the pictures, they aren’t in the book 🙂

Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood

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Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood

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I don’t know what is more frustrating: quality books that are poorly packaged (binding, illustrations, font, spacing, etc.) or beautiful books that miss the mark in storytelling and basic writing skills.  Both are equally annoying, and while yes, a good story should be the basis, this book is really well written that the presentation of it just makes me sad.  At 116 pages, the book is perfect for 3rd graders.  My daughter and son read it a few years ago when I first picked it up.  I made them read it.  And last week when I pulled it out to read myself, both remarked that it was a good story.  The fact that they remembered it and remembered liking it are huge pluses, and made the fact that I had to make them read it all the more disheartening.  I’m certain if you can get your kids to read eight maybe 10 pages they will zoom through the rest of the book.  It is the getting them to pick it up and start, that is the tricky part.  The book is paperback, thick and glossy, but the cover looks homemade almost.  If you thumb through it the font is too small, spaced too tight and the illustrations mean well, but don’t deliver.  Unfortunate, because like my children, I too think the story is fun and I’m disappointed that the book was published in 2013 as #1 in the Lulubug’s Week in the Life Series, and no further books have come out.

SYNOPSIS:

Laila (Lulu), and her family are American Muslims living in Southern Virginia.  Lulu’s mom is a lawyer and a convert, her dad is from Egypt and owns an Italian restaurant, and her older twin brothers are 12 and keep an eye on her.  Being incredibly bright Lulu has skipped third grade and is having trouble with some bullies in her new fourth grade class: Veronica B. and Veronica C.  aka the Veries.  Using help from her brothers, her neighbor and friend Toni, and some friends in class, a trap is set to get the bullies to confess to their evil mischief, but that unfortunately isn’t the only thing Lulu is going through this week.  Throw in her parent’s sudden decision to move closer to the masjid in another city, a litter of kittens abandoned on the side of the road, and some weird noises coming from the woods behind their house, and Lulu has a lot to deal with.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it shows the day-to-day of a typical Muslim family in a normal presentation.  They pray together, they watch what they eat, they know their neighbors and worry about each other.  It doesn’t idolize the family, making them better than anyone or preachy, but makes them very relatable and likable in a realistic way.  When bees are discovered or the kittens need carrying for, sunnahs and ayats are identified, but very seamlessly, that non Muslim kids will learn a bit about Islam and Muslim kids will be excited to see themselves.  My favorite scene regarding this is when the mom finds out there will be a middle-school dance, and even though the boys are not planning to go, know that it isn’t for them, and don’t even seem tempted by it, they still have a family meeting about it, to discuss.  I also like that at one point Lulu meets another Muslim girl and they don’t hit it off right away, the girls work through it, but it is nice to see some diversity in even the way Muslims are presented and possibly misunderstood even amongst one another.

There is a lot going on in the book in terms of action items, but there still is a lot of character development and dimensions to Lulu.  Lulu has to navigate relationships with her family and friends that ring true and aren’t over simplified.  Her friend and neighbor, Toni, expects Lulu to act different at school now that they are in the same class, but returns to her silly self once they are home.  Lulu clashes a lot with her mom, but can smile and get her way super easy with her dad and manipulates that a lot.  She has to balance her sassiness with her teacher and principal, pick her battles with the Veries, and abide by other adults’ rules and expectations.  The book reads in a similar vein as Junie B. Jones, or Clementine, just maybe a more mature and less obnoxious reincarnation.

I wish the adventure involving the backyard noises, was a bit more dramatic, and maybe even the unveiling of the trap involving the dye was more resolved.  At times the book seemed rushed to wrap up all the stories introduced and I think they deserved a little more time to be explored and enjoyed.  If the font and spacing and pictures could be tweaked I think the book would really speak to kids in a fun way.  Third and fourth graders can easily handle a 150-160 page book that has good pacing and is packaged in a tempting, non intimidating way.  I’m holding out hope that maybe the author will write some more, tweak this one, and give it the chance at reaching an audience that would benefit from the smart, fun, grounded life of Lulu.

FLAGS:

Clean, it does mention that Toni likes a boy, but Lulu thinks that boys are trouble.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

If I still did an elementary book club, I think this book would work.  I think kids need a nudge to give it a try, but once the book gets going, girls and boys alike will enjoy it.  I may read it for a Lunch Bunch choice (I read once a week to 4th and 5th graders while they eat their lunch).  Kids will love seeing themselves, their stresses, their families, and their faith presented well.

Allah Gave Me Two Eyes to See. . . by Fatia M. D’Oyen illustrated by Stevan Stratford

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Allah Gave Me Two Eyes to See. . . by Fatia M. D’Oyen illustrated by Stevan Stratford

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This series (Allah Gave me Two Hands and Feet, Allah Gave Me a Nose to Smell, Allah Gave Me a Tongue to Taste, Allah Gave Me Two Ears to Hear) has been around for over 15 years and is a staple in most Islamic School libraries, and Islamic preschool classes.  They aren’t really fiction in that there is a story, but they are rhyming verses thanking Allah for our five senses in a hard 8 x 8 bound, 32 page, 3-5 year old age appropriate book.

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Allah Gave Me Two Eyes to See, starts with eyes, but covers all five senses equally.  The book uses rhyming lines to give examples of what we can explore through our senses to understand Allah’s gifts.

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After the senses, the book tells us about Allah giving us a mind to think, and a heart to love, and how we should thank him for all we have been given.  The pictures aren’t great, but they aren’t off-putting.  It gives kids the chance to connect words to pictures in a very literal sense as it shows exactly what is being mentioned in the text.

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While I questioned to review this book or not, I thought I should because it is such a staple in preschool through kindergarten classes when discussing the body parts, gratitude and the five senses.  So many other books discuss the blessings all around us, but might require a little more discussion for this age group to understand how we know Allah through our senses and through our experiences.  

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I used this book when I used to teach Sunday school, I saw my mom a preschool teacher for years and years use this book when introducing the senses, and when I was asked recently to read books about body parts, I reached for the series to see if they were still relevant and sure enough they are, Alhumdulillah.

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