This picture book for ages 7 and up, reads incredibly smooth for the amount of text on each page, and the pictures are warm and expressive in this large (8.5 x 11) 32 page book. Clearly the author is talented in writing and passionate about empowering her character to hold on to her culture and faith, however it seems overly forced at times.
The premise is that it is Muhiima’s birthday, but that she doesn’t celebrate birthdays, her family only celebrates both Eids. So when her mom hands her a surprise on the morning of her birthday and Muhiima asks if it is a birthday gift and her mom says, “kinda” it seems a bit like she is walking back from the premise. The tie-ins throughout the book as she journeys from location to location on her quest as a result seem forced.
The map first leads her to her father’s book store to get wisdom and love and a gift that she can’t open until the end. She also journeys to her Grandparent’s house, her Uncle’s basketball game, her Aunt’s beauty salon, and oddly her Masjid Quran Class, which apparently she is skipping, but stops to get the wisdom and gift from her teacher at, none-the-less. Oddly enough, but at least noted, she reaches home to find everyone on her quest already there.
On her way home, she sees her non-muslim friend Rosie celebrating her birthday and wishes she could have a birthday gathering with gifts and family too. When she opens the door to her own home, she gets just that. The passages detailing why it is hard to be different are incredibly relatable and poignant, but to then have Muhiima get the same thing with a different name, again seems like the author is walking back on her premise.
The wisdom and advice the family gives to Muhiima is wonderful and powerful. I love that the character is a strong girl of color, and that her family is supportive and consistent. They say Salaam, they pray, they go to the mosque. Some of the little details were jarring, like why it didn’t specify what prayer, why it was her class that she visited at the mosque, how all the people got to her house before her, etc. This minor glitches with the forced premise of relating the quest to her birthday, make the book overall a bit awkward. This is so unfortunate because the advice and the quest are so endearing, while not being judgementat or preachy. I don’t know how to fix it, I just hope, like really really really hope, that the author keeps writing and that her next book is a little more revised and editted.