Author Archives: islamicschoollibrarian

R is for Ramadan by Greg Paprocki

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R is for Ramadan by Greg Paprocki

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This book is fabulously fun, but incredibly puzzling.  The book without a glossary is presumably meant for Muslim children, with words like U is for Umrah and T is for Tasbeeh, and N is for Night of Power.  Which is interesting, because it seems to be written by a non Muslim, who writes and illustrates a lot of various alphabet books, and published by a mainstream company.  I’m sure this adorable book will appeal  to many non Muslims but after reading it, I’m fairly certain they will be 80% clueless as to what most of the letters are about.   Maybe they would be able to make a guess based on the pictures, but with the pronunciation for Arabic words being given underneath, it sure makes for an odd juxtaposition in a toddler board book.

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Additionally, if you are Muslim reading the book and can describe the Arabic to your 3-5 year old, you will possibly have to explain some of the “big” English words too.  H is for Hospitality, G is for Generous, O is for Obligation.

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Thrown in are also some completely silly, random letter prompts.  W is for Watermelon and Y is for Yay.  So, I probably shouldn’t like this book, but it is an absolute delight to look at and read through if you can account for all the aforementioned things.

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The illustrations are engaging and detailed and oh so happy and fun.  The book feels good in your hands reading it with a little one snuggled up beside you at 8.5 x 6.5 and 32 thick pages long. 

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I guess I can’t offer a finalized opinion on the book, just know what it includes (or doesn’t include) before you buy.  I was able to check it out at my public library, and online it is just under $10, so hopefully people won’t be disappointed with the purchase, if nothing else for the pictures alone.  But maybe don’t get excited to send it off to non Muslim friends and family this Ramadan, as it might not offer much in terms of understanding what the blessed month is all about.

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Yaseen’s Big Dream by Umm Juwariyah illustrated by Azra Momin

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Yaseen’s Big Dream by Umm Juwariyah illustrated by Azra Momin

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Kids love to stretch their imagination and do the impossible, but for Yaseen Muhammad, his dreams at night are his favorite activity to see just how far his abilities can go.  In this 21 page paperback 8.5 x 8.5 square book, Yaseen Muhammad will imagine his best day ever as the President of the United States and share with kids 1st through 3rd grade exactly what he will make happen, inshaAllah, when he wakes up.

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In a very busy day as the first kid president, Yaseen Muhammad dreams of starting the day leading morning prayer in the Oval Office, and then getting his family to help him prepare a special lunch for everyone in every state.  He’ll visit schools all over America and play celebrity basketball with his cousin and vice President Jameelah. He’s Jedda will teach people to start their own gardens, and he’ll give a speech on TV, after all why not, “Nothing is Impossible.”

The pictures are lively and descriptive that the reader and listeners will enjoy looking at them.  The characters are visibly Muslim as the women wear hijab, and in the text it mentions the characters praying, and Yaseen Muhammad dreaming he is the imam.  There is a lot of text on the pages, but the story flows and the information serves a purpose in establishing who Yaseen Muhammad is and connecting him and his dream to the readers.  The text is uniformly on the right with the pictures on the left making the book very convenient if sharing during story time and you are like me and hold the book in your left hand when reading to a group.

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The only thing that struck me as off, was in the illustration of Jameelah and Yaseen playing basketball. Yaseen’s t-shirt has a Y on it and Jameelas an F. Not a J for Jameelah or a Y signaling they are on the same team.  It is minor, but all my kids noticed it too and wondered why.  

A couple of places I stumbled over some of the grammar and wording, but after reading it aloud a hundred times (exaggeration, slightly) to figure out why, I don’t think anything is wrong, it is just a bit awkward, but it is probably me.  For example when Yaseen is speaking to the whole world on TV he says “Every kid can make a difference in your community, in your state, in your country, and even in the world. Dream Big.”  Seems like it should be, Every kid can make a difference in “their” community, in “their” state, no?

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Overall, a good empowering story for all children and one that highlights African American Muslims in text and illustrations.  A great book to have in rotation to encourage kids to dream, make the world better, and believe in themselves.  Alhumdulillah.

 

Ayesha Dean: The Seville Secret by Melati Lum

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Ayesha Dean: The Seville Secret by Melati Lum

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This is the second middle grade mystery story for globe trotting sleuth, Ayesha Dean, and much like her first adventure in Istanbul, this Spanish setting is infused with rich history, delicious food, relatable characters and quick paced action.  

SYNOPSIS:

Once again Ayesha and her two friends Jess and Sara are tagging along on a business trip with Uncle Dave, Ayesha’s uncle who has raised her since her parent’s passing.  As they wait in line to board the final flight of their lengthy journey from Australia, a young man drops his contents and Ayesha and him chat, later they are seated next to each other on the plane where he discloses his travels from England to Seville are to help locate his missing grandfather.  Ayesha volunteers herself and her friends to help him and they hit the ground in Spain determined to solve the case.

The boy, Kareem, is staying with the friends his beloved grandfather was staying with when he went missing, so that is where the detectives start their work.  In searching his room, Ayesha uncovers a 400 year old diary written in Arabic, and a pamphlet from the Archeology Museum with a necklace circled, the Collar de Pajaros.  Just enough to get them started and set their adventure in motion.

The group of teens rely on Kareem to translate the Arabic in the diary and Ayesha’s wit to decide what to follow up on and how to incorporate their sightseeing with the task at hand.  As they journey through the city of Seville, learning the history and tasting the food, nefarious characters start to notice the group and things get intense.  From Cathedrals, to cafes, to Museums, and even to an ancient city uncovered in Cordobo, Madina Al-Zahra, the chase is on, not only to find Kareem’s grandpa, but to also avoid being caught themselves and maybe even solving a centuries old mystery about treasure and a necklace along the way.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Ayesha in any situation stays true to her self.  She wears hijab, she prays, she is aware of the good looking guy, but doesn’t cross her own line, she is a good friend, an inquisitive person, and confident.  All amazing attributes for a fictitious hero and real ones too.  

Much like Nancy Drew and other middle grade novel series, the books don’t need to be read in order, and while they reference other adventures, they stand alone sufficiently too.  Also, like the aforementioned books there is definitely a formulaic pattern to how the author writes her books.  And while reading it I didn’t notice it intensely, as I write the review I do.  Ayesha travels abroad, she has her sidekicks that are not developed at all and truly have no barring on the story plot wise or as comic relief, they are simply foils to bounce conversation off of, there is a cute boy who could be pursued, but isn’t, someone passes out while she and her friends are sight seeing, and the spouses provide added clues, Ayesha gets locked in a small dark space, there is a twist and a surprise, a trap, and they all live to repeat the adventure in another city another day.  I don’t think I have a problem with it, but maybe because I am not the target audience age, I might get bored with it about book four or so.  As it stands right now, I’m anxiously waiting for book three.

While reading I was a little irked that Sara and Jess weren’t any more developed in Spain than they were in Turkey.  One of them could have been the one to administer CPR or to stumble on the diary in the room, something to give them some plot significance, but alas, the books do not bare their names.  I wish Kareem would have at least said “Salam” on occasion.  I like that the author shows he doesn’t know much about Islam and shows that his grandfather admits its been so long since he has prayed, but the boy is a Morisco and his parents immigrants from Algeria, he translates Arabic, he should say Salam when he meets Ayesha in her hijab wrapped head. 

The author does a much better job in this book staying with the characters and showing the city through their eyes rather than pulling them out of their scenes to convey something.  Only once at the end of a chapter did I feel there was some forced foreshadowing that was not needed, as the book is quick and chapters may end, but the pages still turn until the end is reached.  I had more trouble putting the book down than picking it up, and that is saying something as I read it online and I definitely favor physical books.

I wish there was an afterword or author’s note explaining what was real and what was fiction.  I googled Madinat al-Zahra and found it fascinating, but couldn’t find anything in English about the Collar de Pajaros.  Also a map or two would be great.

FLAGS:

None.  This book is clean and even the fights are not gory or over the top. Yay!

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would absolutely do this as an elementary book club selection, and can’t wait to get a copy to my children’s school library and their classrooms.  The book is an easy read and the history and culture is seamlessly interwoven in to the story that kids will enjoy the action and find they learned something about a culture along the way.   I think boys and girls will enjoy it, even if it appeals more to the girls.   The cover, the binding, the font is all spot on for the age group and I eagerly await Ayesha’s next adventure.

 

The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard illustrated by Laura K. Horton

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The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard illustrated by Laura K. Horton

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A new 32 page hard back Ramadan book that shows a little girls excitement isn’t enough to get her to abstain from food and drink for the whole long day of fasting, but that there are other ways to enjoy the gift of the blessed month.  A great book that shows how Ramadan is a month of growing and learning and sacrificing and coming together too.  Perfect for ages 4 and up to be read in small groups or at bedtime.  The pictures are delightful and show diversity, and while the little girls love of sparkles might appeal more to little girls, I think the message will allow boys to enjoy and benefit from the book as well.

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Sophia is helping her family decorate for Ramadan and when they see the crescent moon, they know that fasting will start tomorrow.  Excited to be included Sophia can’t wait.  Sahoor, however, is really early and she is really tired.  She eats a little, but by fajr time she can’t even keep her eyes open and falls asleep in sajood.

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When she wakes up it is almost noon, and even though she is hungry she decides keeping busy will help the time pass.  Reading, cleaning, drawing, nothing is working.  Her little brother runs around waving a cookie, and Sophia can’t get away fast enough. 

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She caves and starts eating cookies, her grandma finds her and consoles her.  “There’s always tomorrow and the day after and the next.  You have a full month to keep trying.” The two then discuss other ways to enjoy the month.  Sophia knows her mom reads Quran, but Sophia can’t on her own.  Her father helps others and gives charity, but Sophia doesn’t have any money.  She is about to give up, but then sees her grandma’s hands covered in flour and realizes she can help her make iftar for those that are fasting.

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She helps with the salad and the pizzas for iftar, but when some of the pizzas burn, Sophia will have to show what she has learned and understood to make iftar a success and make everything sparkle.

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There are a lot of Ramadan books out there, but I like that this one doesn’t have the adults saying she can’t fast, but just the same grandma is there to encourage her to do what she can and take advantage of other parts of the month.  I also like that she doesn’t succeed.  Fasting especially on these long summer days can be hard and acknowledging that, and encouraging kids to persevere I think is a very valuable lesson.  Sophia also comes up with a way to help on her own.  Parents are tired and entertaining ways for the kids to be engaged in Ramadan is great, but can be exhausting.  This shows that kids with the right understanding of the month, inshaAllah can find ways on their own too.

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There is an Author’s Note at the end explaining Ramadan, and the book would work and appeal to Muslim and non Muslim kids alike.  Sophia reminds me a bit of Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy and will probably appeal most to kids that also like those characters. The grandma covers her head, the mom does not, but does when praying and reading Quran.  It mentions and shows praying and breaking one’s fast with water and dates, yet stays focused on the story and does not get preachy or dry.

 

Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan

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Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan

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This sweet story shows how even when people refuse to help, we should treat them with kindness, as our actions should be to please Allah alone, and inshaAllah in real life, much like in the story, people will fix their ways and offer their help in return.  This new story reads very much like the old(er) favorite Nabeel’s New Pants, where everyone is too busy to help, but then come around to realizing that helping one another is a way to show people we care.  This 32 page 8.5 x 11 soft back story is well bound with large glossy pages and clear text.  The story works well for ages 4 and up, as they will understand the moral message and inshaAllah feel inspired to find ways to help as well.  

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It is a 40 year tradition that Mustafa Amce and his wife Ayse Teyze feed iftar to their friends and families on the first day of Ramadan.  This year, however, Ayse is not well and Mustafa is confident he can enlist the help of neighbors and family to help him keep the tradition alive. 

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Unfortunately, everyone has an excuse.  His daughter is tired, his grand daughter is too busy with her video games and his neighbor doesn’t want to get his new shirt dirty.  Their sad reasons don’t stop old Mustafa Amce, and he makes the salad, and cooks the rice and beef by himself.

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When iftar time arrives, he offers sweet dates to those at the masjid and invites everyone to come to his courtyard to break their fasts together.  All those that had early refused to assist him feel incredibly guilty and don’t want to take advantage of a lovely meal. Mustafa reminds them that, “God loves those who are generous especially to their families, neighbors, and guests.  and I always want Got to love me.” So they join in the delicious meal.

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After food Ayse Teyze shows that while she might be ill, she can still save the day when her husband realizes he has forgotten to prepare dessert.  The guests then offer to wash the dishes and sweep the floor and take the leftovers to the poor.  And best of all when the athan for isha prayer calls out they all without prompting stand to join Mustafa Amce in praying salat together.

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The names are Turkish with a pronunciation guide at the end, as well as a paragraph about Ramadan.  The book would work for non Muslims and Muslims alike as the story is set in Ramadan, but more about coming together to help out.  The illustrations are large and detailed and descriptive.  You see the warmth between Mustafa and his wife as well as the apologetic feelings from those that were unwilling to help. 

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Forgiveness by Isa Beaumont

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Forgiveness by Isa Beaumont

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This dual language book, is structured and feels like a leveled reader, but is more geared for fluent reading five to seven year olds.  It definitely has more complex diction and vocabulary than an emerging reader would be able to handle in English, I have no idea about the Arabic.  

SYNOPSIS:

The concept in 26 pages is how to forgive others and react calmly when we are upset.  The book is brightly illustrated on glossy sturdy softbound pages, and the characters are found in all of the company’s stories and plush figures at https://www.littlemaysoor.com/

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Little Zakariyyah has been behaving well, and as a result his mom gets him a new red toy car, he loves it and plays with it in the garden everyday. His sister Ruqayyah wants to play with it, he agrees and when he hands it to her, she accidentally drops it and it breaks.  In anger Zakariyyah begins screaming for her to “Go away from me!” Mom comes out to see what is going on and calm everyone down, she takes Zakariyyah inside and pours him some milk.  When she hands it to him, his hand slips and he drops the glass breaking it and making a mess. Mom forgives him and obviously highlights the similarities to what just happened with his sister and the toy car.  Mom then gently guides him to acknowledge his poor behavior and asks him what he things he should do.  Zakaraiyyah knows he needs to ask Allah swt for forgiveness and then apologize (apologise) to Ruqayyah.  Once he does this, his sister shares some sweets with him and reminds him of a hadith, “The strong one isn’t he who can overpower others.  Instead, the strong one is he who can control himself when he becomes angry.”

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WHY I LIKE IT:

Before the story begins there are six points you can implement before reading the story, and after the story, there are beginner and advanced concept questions and a place to write the answers provided.  The book has an agenda and it achieves its mark in showing a moral concept in an Islamic framework.

The book is written in British English which could make the spelling a bit confusing for new American readers, but manageable.  I honestly don’t know if the book was written in English then translated to Arabic or the other way around.  Some of the wording seems awkward so it could be attributed to it being translated from Arabic or it might just be the American/British difference.  For example Zakariyyah loves playing in “a small sand pit for children,” why not just say, sandbox? Again not terrible, but rationale for why I think children sounding out words might be a bit young for the target audience.  

I liked the story and how it lets the reader see the similarities to the events that unfold, just like I loved that the mom asked Zakariyyah what he should do, rather than dictate or scold him.  I was surprised when I read it, how smooth the ending was, because it really could have had Ruqayyah come across as a know-it-all and it didn’t.

The beginning of the book stumbled a bit with the set up trying to tell about Zakariyyah, why he got the toy and then staging the plot of the book.  If he had been playing with the car everyday, is it still a new car? Also the illustration before he drops the milk has him sitting at the table with a glass a milk in front of him.  Sure, maybe it was the second glass that he dropped, but it’s noticeable.

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FLAGS:

Clean

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book is obviously too short for a book club per se, but I think if you had a small group of readers, or are home schooling, you really could ask a child to read the book and then reflect back what they understood and what they learned and how they hope to put it in to practice.

Even with not reading the Arabic, the book is pretty solid in its approach and I plan to check out the other books in the series as I do a lot of story times with basic morals as themes.

 

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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This 37 page culturally Pakistani Ramadan story is super sweet and fun.  There is so much I feel like my critical self should not like about the story, but by about page 15 each time I read it, I find my self full on smiling and thoroughly enjoying little Raza’s antics and his endearing grandma’s method for dealing with him.

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Raza is too young to fast, but with a house full of relatives gathered for Ramadan, Raza awakens to the sound of his uncle snoring before the siren to signal the start of fasting and the azan calling the worshippers to pray echo through Lahore.  Before he can go back to sleep, however, he hears the cook heading up the stairs to wake up grandma and then the smell of the food hits him and he wants a paratha more than anything.

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Raza embarks on a mission that involves him sneaking up to the roof, pretending to be a jinni and scaring Amina the cook through the chimney to convince her to send up food and a blanket.  

Scared out of her wits, Amina gets the grandma, culturally wards off evil, and delivers the goods to the jinni on the roof.  But the joke is on Raza who is out-witted by his grandma and gets the punishment of washing dishes for the rest of Ramadan, and learning that fasting a whole day will take a lot of will power, if he couldn’t even wait a few hours to get his beloved parathas.

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The book informs the reader that the following year Raza is able to successfully fast, that he is rewarded with gifts and that all is well and forgiven.  There is a glossary, information about Ramadan and a recipe at the end of the story as well.

I love that the plan just happens, it isn’t premeditated or considered, so it takes the reader along for the ride as it is unfolding.  It isn’t a deep story, but there is room for discussion as to whether Raza was naughty, or just caught up in the moment.

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The book is illustrated well and with big 8.5 x 11 pages, the book is engaging for first and second grade readers and listeners, as there is a lot of text on the pages.  The book takes a bit to find its stride as the author tries to use Urdu words, show their Arabic counterparts and then describe them in English. 

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There is a lot of cultural stage setting with everyone in grandmas house, the traditions of the family, of Ramadan, etc.  I think Desi familiar kids will get the most out of the book, but theoretically Muslim kids and non Muslims too could learn and enjoy it too.  I wish jinn and jinni were explained just a bit in the text, not just in the glossary, along with why an 8 year old wouldn’t be fasting or be required to do so. 

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My own kids, aged 8, 9, and 12, struggled on the first two pages, but when I told them to keep reading they zoomed through the rest smiling and ended saying it was good while giggling and shaking their heads.  We are Pakistani American and I think they enjoyed seeing familiar words and phrases in the book and sympathizing with Raza as well, and his sneaky plan that almost nearly worked.