This book on my first reading reminded me a lot of Amira’s Totally Chocolate World in that it takes a religious idea, in this case Jannah or heaven, and uses a child’s excitement for a favorite food to explore it. Not a bad technique, and alhumdulillah the author was able to stay on the idea of heaven and add some additional information then just the silliness of having all the ice cream you could imagine. The book is 36 pages and can probably be read by a first or second grader independently and appeal to story time ages of preschool 4 and up. The book unfortunately takes a while to get going. I struggled with the first few pages, which I found really wordy, and puzzling. The kids seem to be about 6 years old in the illustrations and in their mannerisms, but they start off the book complaining about homework and needing a break from it, which even my own children found confusing and remarked on it. There also seems to be some unnecessary description too, in setting the stage: the day, the vehicle, the season, that it’s their favorite park, that they haven’t been there in a while, that they took a breath of fresh air, that they waited 10 minutes, etc..
Thankfully I think once the reader’s get that the park is crowded, that the kids couldn’t enjoy the swings and slide and decide to explore the nearby woods, the story finds its rhythm and engages the reader quite well. A few minor hiccups throughout the book are again, the abundance of details that don’t further the story and aren’t developed. The river is described when they cross the bridge, and then there is another one, or possibly the same one, as this one is now rushing, and it jars the story as there seems to be a lot of rivers in this park. There is also a rabbit that pops up and excites the kids and then shows up at the end again, which is cute and brings the story to a happy close, but I don’t really love how the parents dismissed it. Why not let the kids see that he is scared of them and figure out that he doesn’t know they won’t hurt him/her, rather than have mom tell them they won’t see him again and dad quickly steering them in another direction. Granted this is my personal preference, but I like when kids figure stuff out in books and solve things themselves, rather than how perhaps it is in real life, with mom and dad constantly calling the shots.I really like how when discussing Jannah, they talk about the rivers of milk and honey, and I absolutely loved how they talk about Grandpa (hopefully) being in Jannah and being young and strong. I couldn’t figure out why when in the woods and marveling at nature the characters didn’t use Islamic expressions like, mashaAllah, subhanAllah, and inshaAllah, and when I read it aloud I had to add them when we got to the pages about Grandpa. It seemed awkward not too. The book is clearly for Muslim children, there is a reference page in the back with the ayats from the Quran and hadeeth that tell us about Paradise, and the characters are discussing an Islamic concept, so I’m not sure why their language isn’t reflective of that.
The illustrations are simple and colorful and complimentary to the story. I don’t know why the color of the character’s skin is yellowish green. It seems to match the ice cream and on some pages seemed more noticeable then others. Dad’s face when he is swatting the fly is a little angry and the color of the skin makes him look mean. Not sure why the flies are mentioned. And the illustration is not reflective of his personality in the rest of the book.
Overall the book has a good message, I think I have just loved all the books at Ruqaya’s Bookshelf so much, that my expectations may have been a little too high. I’ve never written a book and I have no idea what the publishing process for this book was, but I feel like a a few minor adjustments from an editor or proofer would have made this book absolutely phenomenal. That is not to say it isn’t a good book, children undoubtedly, will get a tangible understanding of Jannah after reading the story. An additional plus is that it is on their level in both content and in perspective, meaning that there is lots to chat about after. Concepts that the children can discuss based on what they understood from the story with little prodding from an adult. Points from how the kids are treated at the playground, to adding what they would want they are in Jannah, and ultimately steps we can take to increase our chances of getting there, inshaAllah.