The Great Race to Sycamore Street by J. Samia Mair

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the great race to sycamore street

A fun book for elementary aged children looking for a fast paced, energetic read, with Islamic morals and lessons.  Overall a great book about character, being a good neighbor, and never giving up, The Great Race to Sycamore Street is not in the AR database, but I estimate it at about a 4.3 level and think even for higher readers there is plenty to learn about archery and peach trees, and plenty to enjoy as Amani and Hude take on bullies, grumpy neighbors, dogs, and making the most of a summer with their grandma in the country.  There are 180 pages followed by acknowledgements, references, and glossaries explaining archery terms, Islamic terms, and where the hadith and Quranic ayats come from, theoretically making the book accessible to Muslim and non Muslims alike.  I however, think the book would be a bit preachy to non Muslims or to those unfamiliar with Islam.

SUMMARY:

Siblings Amani and Hude arrive in Fairfax County, Maryland to spend the summer with their Grandma Hana in the quiet town of Cherry Hill, for what they think will be a slow laid back summer of reading, swimming in the lake, and preparing for the County Fair.  Grandma Hana has the undisputed best peach tree in the county and makes the best pies to enter in the pie competition at the fair, and this year Amani gets to help.  Hude is a budding archer and with his recently deceased grandfather’s journal and old archery regalia he is determined to compete and win the archery competition.  But their simple plans quickly meet twist after twist: from bullies on the train, to swarms of cicadas greeting them on arrival, to a new neighbor who discovers the beloved peach tree is actually on his property and he wants it gone, to the bullies on the train ruling over the lake and proving to be great archers themselves.  Can the  peach tree be saved? Can they be victorious at the fair? With lots of stories about Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) woven in, and ayats from the Quran used to emphasize points, not only is the book a quick action packed story, but it is also poignant, educational, and memorable as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is clean and requires the brother and sister duo to work together to do something that is bigger than themselves.  I also love the way that Islam is given practical uses for the children, it isn’t taught in the abstract they must pull on their understanding of their deen to decide what to do, how to act and what the next step should be.  I also like how the fast paced story is set in contrast to the slow thematic ideas of a peach tree, baking, archery, and a stereotypical summer with grandma.  Most readers I would assume don’t know that much about fruit trees and county fairs and archery, and I think the author does a good job of introducing the audience to these concepts and weaving Islam into it while keeping the story exciting and moving along.

FLAGS:

Clean, alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The plot is pretty linear, and a quick discussion of what every one liked and perhaps what surprised them would be a sufficient review of the story. From there I would probably go through the reference of hadith and ayats from the Quran to guide the discussion, you can get the online reference of that here:

http://www.kubepublishing.com/the-great-race-to-sycamore-street-free-reference-sheet/

scroll to the bottom and click on the link to download the text.

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