Umar and the Bully by Shabana Mir illustrated by Asiya Clarke

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With it being October and Bullying Prevention Month, I thought to review a book that has been on my bookshelf for a long, long time.  It won the Islamic Foundation Story Writing Competition in 1996 and is just as relevant today.  At 44 pages, the story, the layout, and writing style appeal to children on a second or third grade level.

SYNOPSIS:

Umar stumbles across some older kids plotting something covertly in the school yard and some money being exchanged.  He then encounters a younger student upset.  Being a kind person, Umar gets Asad to confide in him what the bullies, Harith and David, are up to, and vows to keep Asad safe.  While all that seems simple enough, the true battle begins within Umar,  as he has to figure out what is he going to do, and how is he going to stop the bullying.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the length and the target audience.  My six-year-old son summed it up perfectly when he finished.  “Woah, that was a good book, I didn’t expect it would give me so much to think about.”  The author follows the bullying strategy of telling an adult, or a teacher, but gives some depth when that teacher doesn’t care or take the time to help.  It also shows a variety of people that you can go to for help and characteristics you should look for when deciding who a good person to talk to would be.  Umar decides to talk to a good friend of his about what is happening to Asad and devise a plan to help.  Mohammad is kind and trustworthy.  He also gets some advice and encouragement to be brave from Mohammad’s older sister and brother.  All this is done within an Islamic context of asking Allah swt for help, of finding inspiration from stories of his namesake Syedina Umar Al-Farooq. It also, as we get in Umar’s head, reveals how he himself is scared of facing the bully.  This is great because it shows that it can be scary to confront someone even if you are not the victim.  Umar feels he shouldn’t be scared because he is a Muslim, which I really don’t understand, but he turns to Allah swt asking for bravery to do what is right and to be strong.  And beautifully, after it undoubtedly raps up in a happily ever after children’s story way, he does remember to thank Allah (swt) for being there for him and gives credit to Allah for giving him strength.  The book shows the responsibility we have to do what is right even if it isn’t being done directly to us.  It also shows one or two children can make a difference.  I really like that the point of view is from Umar, not the one doing the bullying or receiving it.  Allowing the reader to see how empathetic he is to another person is a wonderful lesson in and of itself.

The book also has mostly Muslim characters, but a few names sprinkled through out as victims and perpetrators could suggest non muslims as well. This is great in showing that bullies are everywhere and that perhaps being in an Islamic school or in a majority Muslim school does not mean bullying doesn’t exist.  Similarly it is good to see that bullying isn’t just non Muslims disliking Muslims, as often time books about bullying for Muslims would suggest.  I think the book could be for Muslims and non Muslims alike, but with the religious reliance, it is geared more for Muslim readers.

FLAGS:

The book is clean, it mentions that the bullies are violent, and possibly smoking.  The children being bullied obviously are lying but it is clear that it is done out of fear, not because they are deceitful by nature.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There aren’t any reading guides or activities to accompany the book that I could find online, but I think the natural discussion that would follow make it a great option to read as a book club book, or in small groups.  There are a lot of very easy places to ask children what they would do, if Umar made a good decision, and how they would feel as the story unfolds.

 

 

 

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