Captain Lilly and the New Girl by Brenda Bellingham illustrated by Clarke MacDonald

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This book is part of First Novels, a collection of books in Canada that focuses on easy to read early chapter books that encourage kids to transition from leveled readers, while getting to know a single character in a realistic contemporary world.  There are a lot of Lilly books, but this one caught my attention because of the hijab wearing girl on the front, presumably the “new girl.”  At an AR 2.8 this 64 page book is great on so many levels, and really does meet the First Novel goal of presenting a simple theme and showing the main character grow.

SYNOPSIS:

Lilly is changing soccer teams, and only finds solace when many of her school friends will also be joining.  While each of the girls has different opinions and levels of enthusiasm about the team, they all are committed to one another as the “Wolves” stick together in a pack.  This loyalty is tested when a new girl is brought in to fill in for an injured wolf.  The foreigner, from America, wears a scarf, and just like with soccer, there are a lot of differing thoughts on the matter.  The reader see what Lilly feels as it is told from her perspective, which makes the issue not so much about the hijab itself, but about how a 9 or 10-year-old thinks and processes new concepts.  Ultimately, the Wolves as individuals and a team, have to decide what to do when an opposing team says that Sara has to take off her hijab if she wants to play.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book is real, with strong independent girls.  The side characters aren’t cookie cutters of each other, they all have personalities and quirks, and I love that they don’t all agree, yet they all can make it work.  The book’s catalyst is the hijab, but it isn’t preachy and it is presented and understood through a non-muslim elementary-age character.   I don’t think Islam or Muslim is even mentioned, nor any culture, she is American, and the book takes place in Canada.  It addresses safety regarding the hijab, comfort in wearing sweats and not shorts, and being hot in a long sleeve shirt, issues that any reader can understand and ponder about.  The book isn’t gripping, but for the age group and the intent, it is spot on.  The font, spacing, size of the book, and simple illustrations, urge kids to read a “chapter book” and think about something they may not have ever thought about before.

FLAGS:

Clean, it does say words like “suck,” but it isn’t disrespectful.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use this as a Book Club book, because the kids can read it fairly quick, but I would probably read it aloud to kids and have them discuss, or have them somehow read it in groups and discuss.  There are a few websites that can help facilitate the discussion, but kids would definitely have opinions on how the situation was handed, how they might handle it, and what they think of the team’s sponsor.  

https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?a=1&tid=40533

https://www.teachingbooks.net/media/pdf/Lorimer/FirstNovels_Series_ActivityGuide.pdf

http://www.formac.ca/firstnovels

 

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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This book was suggested to me and I was thrilled to find it at the public library so quickly after its May 8, 2018 release date.  I love that it is an AR 4.2 and 226 pages about a girl standing up for her self, determined to be educated, and facing whatever society, and culture, and circumstance throw at her.  The protagonist is 12, but I think most middle school readers will find the story a bit too idyllic, perhaps even too simplistic and neat.  I really think the AR level of 4.2 is spot on in terms of writing level, interest, and story telling: 3rd through 5th graders will benefit the most from this inspiring, memorable and informative tale.

SYNOPSIS:

Amal lives in a small Pakistani village.   The book opens with her begrudgingly having to take time off from school, as the oldest, to help her mother who is about to deliver her fifth daughter.  The stage is quickly set to show a supportive father, but the cultural stress involved in educating a girl is incredibly strong.  The priority is to care for the home when push comes to shove and this fight is simplified in the book, but not completely belittled.  Right away we also see some class divisions with servants and landowners and the various positions in between.  It is easy to judge those with money as being evil, but the author does show some nuances in character aside from wealth and position.  As Amal’s mom struggles with recovering after the baby, it is decided that Amal will miss more school.  This devastates Amal who dreams of being a teacher.  Burdened by keeping up the house and carrying for everyone’s meals, laundry, and watching her younger sisters constantly, frustration mounts and she snaps when an arrogant man tries to take her pomegranate in the market.  Her simply saying no, is the catalyst that changes her life as the man she stands up to, Jawad Sahib, is the wealthy land owner everyone in town is indebted to.  Saved by his mother, Nasreen Baji, who is in need of a personal servant, Amal is now forced to pay off an impossible debt to a cruel powerful family. 

In  many ways the story doesn’t really get good, until Amal enters the Khan family’s world, about 50 pages in to it, but obviously the character building and detail is necessary, so if you find your kid is getting a bit bored, encourage them to keep going.  

Once, she arrives at the Khan compound, she begins to make friends, and enemies, and similarly see just how ruthless Jawad Sahib is, and can be.  As she finds her own voice and realizes her own role in determining how others treat her, what her future holds, and what power she does have, she is forced to wrestles with the choices in front of her. Ultimately, the reader will cheer for her to take a stand and be bold in doing what is right, no matter the cost.  And while one can guess, because of the target demographic, that it has a happy ending, I won’t spoil the climax, the resolution, or outcome of the young heroine.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that despite the themes, the story isn’t depressing, in many ways it is informative and inspiring. I think the fact that things are not left to ponder but clearly articulated, has its merits in a book for elementary children who might be overwhelmed by the cultural aspects to think critically on their own.  At the beginning, with the birth of yet another daughter, the biggest concern is that the mom is depressed because she hasn’t had a boy.  The mom even apologizes to the dad about this.  The neighbors, friends, everyone seems so upset about it, but Amal doesn’t understand why the women particularly seem disappointed, when they themselves were little girls once, and this simplistic point of view on such a complex and real issue, is so spot on and obvious, I loved it.  The mom and dad point out that it is God’s doing and they clarify that they are not sad the baby is a girl, and to me it seems obvious the mom is suffering from postpartum depression, but the book only describes it, it doesn’t identify it.  I also love that there is perspective on how while Amal is in forced servitude and thus not free, either is her female boss, who is unable to go visit her family, or to garden.  This helps amplify that even the wealthiest woman, is still limited to be truly free in the context of the character’s world.  

I like that the book is culturally authentic and not judgemental.  There are strong females, supportive male friends, and plenty of details to show that the author is writing about what she knows, and that she loves her culture.  Islam is mentioned only a few times with regards to prayer time, but nothing more.  There is nothing about praying for anything specific, or covering, or religious beliefs, practices, or traditions.   The book like the author’s first book Written in the Stars, almost oddly leaves religion out, and stresses culture.  Because this book is for a younger audience, it isn’t as obvious, and if I didn’t write reviews about books I probably wouldn’t notice.  

The presentation of culture, the idea of indentured servitude, and females being educated is balanced and explained pretty well.  At most many of the readers will know little of Pakistan, but may have heard of Malala, and the author talks about her in the Author Note.  I like that this book shows a fictional strong female in a similar vein as Malala, but also shows that it isn’t an outside force, the Taliban, preventing her from an education, but in some ways a whole societal view.  I think this expansion of paradigm is really the most powerful thing about this book.  It is important to understand that people may want their daughters educated, and opportunities may be available, but sometimes more is needed.   A lot more to change tradition, on a lot of different fronts.

The book also does a good job of showing some of the paradoxes that exist in developing countries as well: Amal rides in a car for the first time, but also is handed a cell phone from her mom, she knows all about email but has never used a computer.  For readers to see that somethings are very similar to their own lives, and some things are foreign, will make Amal and what she stands for have staying power and relevance, long after the end of the book.

FLAGS:

There is talk of physical violence when people are murdered, crops burned, and Amal is slapped.  There is some lying, but the truth comes out. Overall: clean.

 

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would absolutely present this book as an Elementary Book Club selection and I would encourage teachers to use it as a novel study.  There is a lot of perspective to be had from this book, and its clean simple style will keep the keep points in focus.

Author’s website: http://aishasaeed.com/amalunbound/

Q & A with the Author: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/76814-q-a-with-aisha-saeed.html

Discussion Guide: http://www.penguin.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/AmalUnbound_Brochure.pdf

Jameelah Gets Dressed by

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Jameelah Gets Dressed by

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These books in the Mini Mu’min Dua Series are a great way to introduce familiar concepts in an Islamic framework to preschoolers and teach them the accompanying duas for them.  I previously reviewed Sajaad is Sick, which pleasantly surprised me, and this book proved that the series has consistency and value.

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The pictures are colorful, but basic, there are no faces or people included.  The text rhymes, yet has a nice cadence that doesn’t seem overly forced throughout the 38 pages.  The book is large, 8×10, with a glossary cover, and decent weight and binding.

This book includes a few footnotes: defining hijab, giving the ayats for the commandment to draw your veil over your bodies, the hadith about starting with your right, etc.  There are four duas included, the one for getting dressed, the one for wearing something new, the dua for when someone else wears something new, and the dua for getting undressed.

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It’s Jummah! The Sunnah and Etiquettes of Friday! by Najia Rastgar & Lyazzat Mukhangaliyeva illustrated by Zainab Arshad

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It’s Jummah! The Sunnah and Etiquettes of Friday! by Najia Rastgar & Lyazzat Mukhangaliyeva illustrated by Zainab Arshad

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This is a very straight forward toddler board book about what you should do on Jummah.  The simple text, the blocky pictures and the overall size and feel of the book make it a great teaching tool for establishing routine. 

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The book is 10 pages and measures at about 6×6 inches.  It is very sturdy and solid and perfect for babies up to 2 or 3 years old.

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The day starts with waking up for jummah, taking a bath, reading Quran and praying in the mosque.

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I like that it is completely linear, and that the words under the pictures offer the Islamic vocabulary.  There are also no faces in the pictures. There isn’t a story, but the opening line of “Let’s wake up!” make your little one the star.  

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There aren’t a lot of toddler board books out there, and thankfully this one doesn’t have any flaps to lift up or more text than a one year old can handle.  

Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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This is the second review of a Zaydo Potato book on the blog, and much like the first book this one caters to toddler and early elementary aged children who will enjoy the large colorful pages, the silliness of finding a potato on each page, and who can benefit from the repetition of events to understand a concept.  In this 32 page book the concept being conveyed is taking care of each other, as established by the hadith at the beginning of the book.

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Zaydo and Raya dress up as superheroes, but find their power in saving the day involves using their capes, and masks, and belts, and gloves, to help those around them who can benefit more. They use a bandana to sling a hurt arm, a towel cape to cover a spill, and silly gloves to make a baby stop crying.   They call themselves Muslim Superheroes and after showing the reader that it is good to help one another, praise Allah, and do what is right, they ask if you want to join their force.

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I read the book to my own children and then to a group of about 25 kids under the age of 6 and it went over pretty well.  The amount of text on a page is sufficient to convey the repetitive scenarios.  Honestly, I don’t really understand why the book takes place in Ramadan.  Other than the first page saying that they are the fasters of Ramadan days, and the last page repeating it, there is nothing Ramadan specific about the story.  In fact the Grandma is drinking tea on the first page, so yes maybe she is excused, but it is a bit confusing to have the Ramadan element in there when it is not a facet of the story at all. 

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The word ‘super’ is used a lot, and if reading it aloud can get your tongue a bit tied.  I also don’t understand why Raya has a last name or second part to her name, Raya Amaraya, maybe to go with the rhyming of Zaydo Potato? Either way by adding super, before their names, and the rhyming second name, I felt like a lot of the book was just saying names. The only other critique of an other wise solid book about teaching kids how to truly be super in a practical way, is that the Grandma is in a lot of the pictures in the background sewing so that when she surprises them with real costumes, the kids can enjoy going back and see she was working on them the whole time.  Except I thought, my kids thought, and the story time kids all thought she was knitting, and the costumes don’t look knitted, so it is a bit jarring.  On closer inspection there is just one needle, not two, but it is really large, almost crochet hook size, so a sewing machine illustration would have been a much better choice.

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The activities and lessons at the end and the founding premise of the book really make the book an important one to share with your little ones.  The binding and glossy pictures of smiling children having fun will entertain and educate them at the same time.  My critiques are small, but I feel like a few test readings by the authors, and the minor quirks could have been eliminated all together.  

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An Acquaintance by Saba Syed

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An Acquaintance by Saba Syed

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A young adult Islamic fiction romance novel, yes its a genre, albeit small one. I braced myself for stereotypes, cheesiness, over simplifications, sweeping condemnation, and preachy reprimands.  They never came.  I think this book is different, because from what I felt while reading it, and from what I’ve read the author say, this book is written for us: Muslim females, raised in the west, devout, strong, involved, and vulnerable.  It isn’t trying to convince anyone of Islam, or prove our place in America.  It isn’t trying to justify relationships or make us hide in our houses, rather it is taking us up to the line, showing us our strengths and weaknesses, and leaving us there to think.  In 282 pages, I saw myself crystal clear in the protagonist, the vilifying community, the determined best friend, and the steady parent.  It is easy to judge, but this book gets the nuances, the temptation, the justification, the internal battles, and it does it all without resorting to extremes that would make it inappropriate for upper middle and high schoolers. Yay!

SYNOPSIS:

Sarah Ali has grown up in small town Wickley, Pennsylvania, her whole life.  Her dad owns the local hangout, she is well known and well liked ,and very involved at school and in the masjid that her father helped start.  She has a best friend who is Muslim and although her mother has passed away, her home life with her dad and older brother is solid and supportive.  Senior year, however, is where the book takes place, and with Islamaphobes protesting and a new boy, Jason, in town coming to her rescue, the stage is set for her to have to decide how much their “friendship” crosses her internal boundaries of right and wrong, and when feelings are on the table, what choices she will make.

Throughout the book, there are numerous supporting characters that have their own roles in shining light on the situation from the outside and adding context to the world that Sarah lives in.  But this is ultimately Sarah’s story, told from her perspective, and the internal conflicts are believable because they are hers, the reader can see a mile a way what is going on and what will happen, but to see it unfold within her is at times a little naive, but considering her age, plausible.  It is her denial and acceptance of the situation at hand and what her role and hopes are that make the story very hard to put down.

The book in many ways is subtle, I don’t want to give to much of the plot away because it is obvious, it is a love story between two teenagers that can’t have a future based on the fact that she is Muslim and not willing to compromise that.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real feelings involved and real consequences to the choices that are made.  Throw in the gossip mongers at the masjid, an older brother who is concerned, an ever patient father, and a handful of others and the book feels incredibly real. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

Things are never black and white in real life, nor does reality prevent emotions and desires from breaking out.  There is no shaming in their tale (other than by the judgemental aunties), but there are consequences that are also given their time and spotlight.  From a parenting perspective it shows how a few questionable decisions can really get you in a heap of trouble and heartache, even if on the outside you can argue you did nothing wrong.  Even in the book Sarah remarks that they didn’t do anything, but yet, they did so much, this understanding is really powerful, and so needed for the teenage demographic. The book does not celebrate Sarah and Jason’s relationship, although I must admit I did kind of cheer for them at some points (I know, haram).  It shows that they are good people, but that there is a bigger picture.  It also shows there is life and hope, and forgiveness after, in the healing.

I love that Sarah’s dad is awesome and that his ultimate weapon is dua.  Not the stereotypical immigrant father trope, he is awesome.  I also love that Sarah’s best friend, Jasmine, is a person of color, so diversity gets a bit of a shout out.  The masjid politics is spot on, and the hypocritical aunties are as annoying in the book as they are in real life.  Yes, there are times where the dialogue is a little syrupy and long-winded, but overall, this book is calm and reflective and so, so important for high school and college girls to read.

Islam is the religion practiced, from praying, to how they talk, to how they dress, the subtlties there are brilliant as well.  You can tell the author is Muslim because it is natural and real, not researched and blotched.  The message is ultimately that Allah knows all, and that we do things for His sake alone.

FLAGS:

Truly the most Jason and Sarah do is hold hands, but the masjid ladies constrew that they do a lot more, and that Sarah ends up pregnant and gets an abortion. All untrue, but this revelation, that this is the gossip going around, is explored at the end of the book.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Oh how great would this book be as a book club for high school or even college age girls.  But, alas I’m not involved in anything like that so I will have to just recommend this book to anyone that meets that criteria looking for a good book. 

Having said that, part of me really thinks this book doesn’t need to be discussed.  Saints and Misfits was a book that needs to be read and discussed with our youth, this book, I kind of like it to stir and fester within each reader.  The lessons are there, and are clear, and some days I could see a girl really feeling one way and switching another.  Like the father in the book, our kids, inshaAllah, have been taught right and wrong, we have to see what they do when tested.  And this book can really speak to them, and offer them a bit of conciousness when faced with a seemingly small decision that could have big consequences.  This book will stay with a reader, and that’s a good thing.  I just don’t know if it will manifest the same with everyone, and I think that is a great thing.

 

Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fraVJZI1xNU

From the Author: https://muslimmatters.org/2017/11/10/an-acquaintance-a-young-adult-novel/

 

Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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So, cute, mashaAllah, I remember last year when I read about these two siblings celebrating Ramadan how pleasantly surprised I was by their relatable sweet story, and once again, I am thrilled that such a little book packs so much information in a fictionalized story to smile at.  Really its size is my only criticism, the book is tiny in size at 7 inches by 8.  The length of 24 pages is fine, its just hard to read it to a group, and really is only ideal for bedtime (not that I won’t read it to a group of kids, its just hard).  Even the price is fabulous, alhumdulillah, and also available in the public library.  Overall, the book is pretty sweet.

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Hassan and Aneesa are getting ready for Eid after a month of fasting.  Their parents are having a party so there is a lot to do to get ready, cleaning, cooking, sampling food, and wrapping gifts. The morning of eid is chaos with everyone running around (so relatable)!  They finally are out the door and heading to the park to pray outside, following Prophet Muhammad’s example.  They listen to the imam give a speech about sharing food and then its off to hug everyone and wish one another an Eid Mubarak.

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When everyone heads to the siblings home, you see kids having fun, dad cooking, and presents being exchanged.  After everyone leaves, they take food to the neighbors, as the imam reminded and the fictional family concludes a wonderful eid that they don’t want to end.

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There is a glossary at the back and the pictures are colorful, bright, and expressive.  While there isn’t a plot or any character development, the situations the kids find themselves are relatable.  The joking that Aneesa will help her mom by sampling the food, and the picture at the end of the kids playing in a messy room with the parents passed out from exhaustion on the couch is pretty fun. 

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There are a few books out there that timeline an eid day, but this one does it well. Kids two and up will enjoy the excitement and feel ready to celebrate eid themselves.  It shows the holiday as fun and desirable and something to look forward to.  Because the kids are in a handful of books, it also does create some identity confidence, as kids see themselves in the various situations that Aneesa and Hassan explore.