My Friend the Alien by Zanib Mian illustrated by Sernur Isik

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My Friend the Alien by Zanib Mian illustrated by Sernur Isik

This adorable 96 page book is a great early reader for second graders and up. The play on the concept of being an “alien” is filled with a lot of heart, humor, and thought provoking concepts on what it means to be human, have feelings, and be a good friend. There is nothing religious in this book by a Muslim author meant for all children, but with the name Jibreel and him being a refugee (“alien”) many Muslim children might assume and relate to his plight a little stronger.

SYNOPSIS:

Maxx the alien has come to Earth to understand human feelings. His trip was ok and landing successful, but he hasn’t heard from home and the Filandoo Sperk is broken. Told in diary form, the fart jokes start rights away as he lands in a cow pasture. He heads to a city disguised as a human and discovers chocolate. He also discovers Google and uses it to help him understand human emotions.

As he gets on public transportation he finds that humans smell different, and some are not so nice. At the park he finds how humans talk about baby dogs, he forgets the name for those, very odd, and love very gross. On Day 4 he makes a friend, Jibreel, who is looking at books and magazines about Aliens. He knows he isn’t supposed to talk to humans, but since no one from home is talking to him, he figures it might be ok. When the boys head outside they see two grown men fighting about a parking space and turning red, they punch each other and don’t stop until an old lady whacks them with her purse. Emotions are flying around everywhere and Maxx hopes Jibreel can help him understand it all.

Maxx and Jibreel head to the library the next day for the “All Things Alien Exhibit” and boy do we have it all wrong. As Maxx tries to correct the exhibit and explain the truth about aliens, Jibreel just finds him funnier and funnier, not believing that Maxx is from outer space.

The two boys become good friends and when bullies from Jibreel school start giving Jibreel a hard time, Maxx learns about hugs, and helping a friend out. Maxx starts having feelings. When the boys get called aliens and Maxx makes them both go invisible, Jibreel realizes Maxx is an alien from another planet and Maxx learns that Jibreel is a refugee. He also learns that Jibreel’s misses his mom who wasn’t able to escape with Jibreel and his brother, and is still back in their country.

Maxx makes the bullies look foolish to help Jibreel, but Jibreel is not happy and Maxx has to learn about being kind even when you really want to be mean. Now that Maxx is having all sorts of feelings, he too confides in Jibreel that he is worried about not hearing from home and Jibreel offers to help him fix the Filandoo Sperk.

The only problem is the spaceship after the initial tour, goes missing. And so are the bullies. I won’t completely spoil the ending, but there is a surprise and happy ending for everyone.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Oh I love how the story weaves feelings and emotions in with bullies and friendship in such a smart way. The book is silly with the fart humor and assumptions about aliens, but it really is clever. The vocabulary doesn’t talk down to the reader with words such as abomination and the observations of someone new to Earth offer the reader a chance to add their own silly persepective to the fictional set up. American children might need a bit of help with the British jokes, like the name of the chocolate bars, but it really is such a universal story that will stick with adults and kids alike.

The end has some questions and activities to do with the book, and with the exception of Jibreel’s name being spelled wrong on one these last pages, they do a good job of helping make sure kids grasp the story.

FLAGS:

There are fart jokes, and mention and illustrations of kissing on the cheek as being gross. Bullying, being mean, and two men fighting.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book is great for 2nd and third graders to read and discuss. I don’t do a book club for that age, but I did have my 2nd grade nephew read it to start a conversation about feelings and emotions with him and it worked great. We talked about how things make us feel, understanding when we see other people acting a certain way how they might be feeling. We discussed how even if we think someone deserves something, our own integrity needs to come first. We talked about being a good friend and how being away from our mom and family would make us feel. From top to bottom this little chapter book, packs a lot of discussion options under its silly superficial layer.

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