Author Archives: islamicschoollibrarian

The Prophet’s Pond by Zaheer Khatri

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The Prophet’s Pond by Zaheer Khatri

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Based on the hadith as narrated by Saheeh Al-Bukhari, “Remain patient until you meet me by the pond.”  The book follows a little boy (and his mom) searching for the pond mentioned in hadith as the place Prophet Muhammad (saw) will be waiting for us in the hereafter.

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The beautiful, faceless pictures, radiate with beauty and light as they journey from pond to pond in search of one that has all the characteristics of the one described to us.  One that takes a month’s journey to cross one of the sides, one that is whiter than milk, smells better than musk, is colder than ice, is sweeter than honey, that has as many cups to drink from as stars in the sky, and one that if you drink from it you will never be thirsty again.  theprophetspondinside3.jpg

The mother is brought along on this journey to help, and it takes her a few ponds to figure out who her son is hoping to meet in this 23 page hardbound book.  But alas, the rhyming stanzas come to an end and she advises her boy, and the reader, to live the way the Prophet instructed to, inshaAllah, in the akhira meet him by his pond.

The book is perfect for 3  to 7 year olds, with older children enjoying a reading or two as well.  

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Refugee by Alan Gratz

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Refugee by Alan Gratz

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I debated whether I should read this book, or listen to it as an audio book with my children, ages 2,7,8,11.  The AR level is 5.3 and Common Sense Media suggests 10 and up because of the intensity, but knowing my kids are aware of some of the heartbreak the book discusses from other fictional works and the news, I decided to share this emotionally powerful book with them.  Tears were shed, discussion occurred, and the stories I pray will haunt and bother my children for years to come, inshaAllah resulting in compassion and action.  

The book is 338 pages with maps, references, ways to help, and acknowledgements at the end.  The audio book is just over seven and a half hours.

SYNOPSIS:

Three kids stories are told in pieces as they occur in different time periods, in different parts of the world, and for different reasons, but the heart of the stories are not the differences, but the similarities that all three share.  The real life parallels of each horrific event, and how small the world suddenly seems, is amplified by the ties that connect these fictional stories to one another.

Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930 Nazi Germany.  When his father is released from a concentration camp; he, his mom, and younger sister Ruthie board the MS St. Louis headed for Cuba to try to find a new life.  However, Cuba refuses to let them in, and Josef’s father cannot escape the ghosts from his time in a concentration camp.  Returned to war in Europe, the family is once again on the run from Nazis and not all survive.

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. Unrest is growing in Havana and when Fidel Castro says people can leave, her family: Grandfather, dad, and pregnant mom, join their neighbors in their makeshift boat to try to reach El Norte.  The shark filled waters, tankers, getting blown off course, and a temperamental boat engine, all pose as obstacles for the family trying to get on dry land to avoid being sent back to Cuba by the US Coast Guard.  

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015 who’s life has been altered by the civil war, but when their home is destroyed by explosians, they must leave right then.  His parents, younger brother Waleed, and baby sister Hana,  begin walking, their journey will travel through many countries as they seek the promised land of Germany.  Along the way they will be held at gun point, be forced into detention centers, walk for days and put their lives at the mercy of the Mediterreanean Sea in a flimsy rubber dinghy. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that this book takes huge pivitol historic events in our life time and gives them a face.  Numbers are often numbing as they are difficult to grasp, and political motivations are often so hard to understand in their complexities, that this book does a marvelous job of making it about the person, about the humanity at stake.  I challange any one, especially those opposed to letting refugees in, to not cheer these three on, to not get irrated by those that willingly can help and chose not to, and those being relieved when people finally do see them and do help.  Its amazing how far a little kindness can go, and seeing it in tangible terms is powerful.  Yes, taking into your home a refugee is a huge kind step, but so was the giving of water and asprin to Isabel and her family, or giving of clean clothes and a ride to Mahmoud and his family, or removing the protrait of Hitler from the Social Hall during Josef’s Bar Mitzvah, all little kindnesses that hopefully we can rememember.

I love that the author got Mahmoud’s religion right.  They stop and pray, they make duas, their cell phone apps for salat times all ring at once, they are Muslim and their religion is mentioned as they practice it, not as a storyline.

Overall, I was impressed at the book.  Many reviews online found issue with the structure of the stories being broken up and seperated, but listening to it, atleast, made them feel incredibly connected.  I absolutely enjoyed seeing the parallels of each story and the humanity of each chacter shine through.

FLAGS:

The book has a lot death, and violence, and it is intense, but, it is not glorified and it isn’t too graphic.  It is done tastefully to make a point and keep it real, but not to overwhelm the audience or sensationalize the events, although I don’t know that any fiction, could be worse than the reality endured during these time periods.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

A map, would be awesome, a big one.  I like that the author gives some tips to help, but I think more on hand would be beneficial as the urge to help others is pretty intense after listening to/reading the book.  Especially ways to get involved in Syria, as the struggle is still ongoing.  

There are lots of tools online as the book is published through Scholastic. 

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plans/17-18/refugee-discussion-guide/

Book Unit Ideas: http://bookunitsteacher.com/wp/?p=5858

Author’s page: https://www.alangratz.com/writing/refugee/refugee-discussion-guide/

 

 

 

Zaynab and Zakariya Learn to Recycle by Fehmida Ibrahim Shah

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Zaynab and Zakariya Learn to Recycle by Fehmida Ibrahim Shah

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I’ve seen a few other environmentally inclined children’s books in Islamic School libraries over the years, but this one is one of the better ones in terms of its comprehensive thoroughness, proactive nature and presentation. 

Zaynab and Zakariya help each other learn about recycling paper, tin, glass, and then reach out to their parents at the library to learn exactly how recycling works, what happens to trash, and how they can do their part to help the Earth.  I like that the kids, don’t just drop a few items in a bin, flip off a light, and turn off the water, they actually help their mom start to compost, they seek out items made from recycled materials at a store to purchase, and learn about catching rainwater with their father.  The text is a bit heavy and is probably more suited for at least 1st grade and up if read in a group setting, younger kids would enjoy it in bits and pieces, and would absolutely benefit if some hands on activities could be incorporated.  

The book is 28 pages, sturdily bound and has a glossary of terms in the back.  The book is small, about 9×9 and the pictures feature no faces.  The story line is framed in an Islamic context and Quranic verses are highlighted and mentioned in the story.

 

 

 

I Promise by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria Migo

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I Promise by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria Migo

Don’t let this 32 page book with minimal text fool you in to thinking that big ideas, strong emotions, and tremendous self empowerment are not effectively conveyed, because despite my initial feelings toward the book, they really are.  I would say the target audience is 4 to 8 year olds, but I know plenty of adults that could use the reminder that promises should be kept, especially ones made to one’s self. 

On my first reading of the book, I didn’t love the pictures, and while I loved the way the emotions were conveyed when the little girl had to deal with the broken promises, I thought that the jump to being promised the world by another, was a bit abrupt and mature.  However, the ideas stayed with me, and the whimsical pictures grew on me, and the more I thought about how so much of our culture revolves around messages of, “happily ever after” and being “saved” that it can never be too early to articulate that we can be in control of our dreams, our happiness, and our futures.

There isn’t anything Islamic in the book, so that caught me off guard as this was the first Zanib Mian book I’ve read that didn’t have at least a main character illustrated as Muslim.  It doesn’t articulate if the boy who promised her the world is a husband or a boyfriend, or even what happened to him, as this isn’t his story.  He is just one more example of someone who broke a promise.

Overall, a nice large book with a good strong message that shows how if you want the world, you have to go get it yourself, and only make promises you can keep.

 

The Prophet’s Faithful Friend: The Story of the Great Hijrah by RS Khan illustrated by A Saha

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The Prophet’s Faithful Friend: The Story of the Great Hijrah by RS Khan illustrated by A Saha

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This book is written in verse, and while some of the 32 pages are overly heavy in text, it does for the most part stick to appealing to younger children, 4 years old and up.  I had hoped the book would be more about Abu Bakr as Sadeeq, but it really is just a simplified retelling of a part of the Hijrah.  There is nothing wrong with that, I just had hoped for more about their friendship.

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The only real specifics of the Hijrah are that of Suraaqah, and the inability he and his horse faced while trying to get close to the Prophet and his friend.

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The book is meant for Muslim children as it shows some of the fears that RasulAllah faced, ways Allah swt protected him, and gets children excited as the two reach Madinah safely.  There are Islamic and Arabic words sprinkled through out, without a glossary and children might night some help understanding Quraysh, migration, hastened, suspense, and companion.

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The pictures are bright and the book is printed on thick glossy paper.  There are no faces detailed, and Prophet Muhammad  and Abu Bakr are not pictured.  The pictures seem to get a little ahead of themselves as they show people holding balloons and in wheelchairs, not sure that they were invented or common yet, but perhaps.

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I know I have mentioned it before that there are surprisingly few stand alone books about Prophet Muhammad (AS) for younger children, so while this book isn’t the greatest book ever, it is pretty good amongst few other options.

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou

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For a book about magic, featuring a girl who admittedly knows very little about Islam, a surprising number of tidbits sneak through and work to introduce Islam and Pakistani culture to those unfamiliar, while similarly exciting Muslims readers who can see a major climax point a mile away and get to feel “in” on the unavoidable “aha” moment.  Written on a 4.9 level this 297 page book, is clean and engaging, a rare combination, especially for advanced readers who are having a hard time finding books that are content appropriate.  I’m fairly confident that anyone, of any age, who reads this will learn something, whether it be about lepidopterology, violins, occupation and partition of the subcontinent, Rudyard Kipling, caskets, friendship, Islam, and finding a place to belong.

SYNOPSIS:

There are three main storylines in the book, Leila’s, Kai’s and The Exquisite Corpses’.  Leila is a Pakistani-American girl growing up in America who decides to visit her Pakistani dad’s family in Lahore for the summer.  Unfamiliar with the language and customs, she has a good attitude of learning as much as she can, and absorbing new things.  Her dad’s family speaks English, is not very religious, is wealthy, and pretty modern.  They have servants, and drivers, and while she gets to go to museums and landmarks, the lifestyle is partially simplified for reader understanding, and partially to not take away from the real point of the story: Leila moving out of her sister’s shadow, and finding comfort in her own multi-cultural skin.  

Kai is spending her summer with a great paternal Aunt in Texas that she has never met.  Her father passed away and her mom has recently lost her job, so a change of scene is what she is presented with.  Her Aunt is a character in and of herself, but by and large leaves Kai to her own devices and supports her adventures from a distance.  The real story for Kai is a budding friendship with the neighbor girl, Doodle who is determined to find and save a rare moth no longer found in the area.  Nervous to make friends Kai learns sometimes the value of things isn’t in the winning, or being the best, but in doing something because you enjoy it and it is the right thing to do.

The two girls story is tied together by them finding two parts of a magic book, The Exquisite Corpse.  The old book tells the story of Ralph T. Flabbergast and Edwina Pickle, in bits prompted by the girls’ own writings.  Like the game of writing a few sentences, folding over the page and having the next person add to the story, the book connects the girls and the readers in a tale that is as much about the two long ago sweethearts, as it is about families, overcoming obstacles, and believing in happy endings.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it is told from various voices, and as much as the story is plot driven, I truly felt connected to the main characters.  The only magic is the book, so the realism is very critical to gaining the readers interest and thankfully once you read about 70 pages or so I feel like the book does suck you in and take you for a fun ride.  The first few chapters are a bit confusing and I wasn’t sure where the story was going, Finally, at my 11-year-old daughter’s prompting I had to just barrel through without asking and wondering too much.  You don’t find out about Kai’s mom and dad or how Rudyard Kipling and “Kim” tie in to it all, almost until the end.  I like that the author doesn’t talk down to the reader, and as a result I learned a bit about so many things.  The twists and interweaving of stories and characters, and things as random as moths and music and saurkraut, remind me of well written adult novels that often aren’t found in books for fourth graders.  

Their isn’t much religion in a doctrine or even practicing sense, but through culture some is learned and shared, and I like that it isn’t completely washed out or removed.  The main character’s father says that he wasn’t religious in Pakistan so when he came to America he wasn’t about to start.  Leila mentions that her mom wants him to take the girls to the mosque or to see Eid, but again, they don’t, but do celebrate Christmas.  So, when she is in Pakistan and sees masjids, and fakirs, and people feeding birds as a sadaqa it is a nice inclusion.  Especially because the vocabulary is used and explained.  She mentions that her extended family goes for Jummah, yet doesn’t pray five times a day, she also touches on Ramadan as being a time of fasting but doesn’t know that there are two Eids.  As she learns, the reader does too.  It definitely isn’t how any practicing Muslim would want Islam portrayed, but it isn’t disrespectful and it is realistic.  Again, because the author doesn’t seem to talk down through her characters, there doesn’t seem much judgement and thus, hopefully also shows most readers some diveresity to the Pakistani stereotypes in the media.

FLAGS:

None, the book is clean, the love story between Ralph and Edwina, is just that they love each other. Nothing more than a sweet sentiment.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would definitely use this book as a Book Club selection because I think there is so much to connect to and discuss.  It would be fun to do as an interfaith book club with kids for the same reason.  While the main characters are girls, I think boys would enjoy it as well, there is some spying, sleuthing, action, and a whole goat debacle, that I think would be a blast to explore with students.

I don’t see any online reading guides, but there is so much to discuss it won’t be a problem.  Enjoy!

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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Children playing dress-up with their mother’s clothes is a universal activity, that most can relate to.  Playing dress-up in your mother’s khimar is what makes this book both familiar and stereotype breaking in a way that is actually pretty powerful.

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In this 40 page hardback book targeting 4-8 year olds, Salaam Reads, once again brings Muslim characters to the masses, without alienating or talking down to either Muslim or non Muslims readers.

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The story starts off with a little girl explaining that “A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears.  Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.”  She then marvels at the variety of scarves her mother has, commenting on the colors, and prints, and designs, that by the time she is ready to use them as her favorite make-believe accessory, readers will be wishing they too could have such an assortment.

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From using a khimar to be a queen with a golden train, to being a shooting star, the reader also along the way learns that she loves the connection the khimars offer her of her mother, when she isn’t near.  The ladies at the masjid are also part of that connection so that when she dreams of all the fantastical pretend things she can be, she also knows they too are with her.  Even her grandma, Mom-Mom, who exclaims “Sweet Jesus” when she sees her in her yellow khimar, and loves her although she doesn’t go to the mosque like the little girl does, is a part of the love and support the little girl feels by those around her when she is wrapped up in her mother’s khimar.  download (1)I love that it stresses even though her grandma is not Muslim they love each other because they are family.  Muslims and Islam are never mentioned outright, just the mosque and the ladies saying Assalamu alaikum, hint at the khimar being worn for religious reasons.

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Perhaps the best part is the pictures.  The illustrations with their yellowish hues radiate warmth and the faces and smiles are good for the soul.  You can feel the love the little girl both receives and gives to those around her through the pictures that perfectly compliment the simple text.

The diversity of the book in the main character being a girl, a child of color, and a Muslim, is such a beautiful thing to see.  Stories like this are powerful tools when children see themselves in books with positive messages, and remind us all how much more diversity it needed in literature to both highlight our differences, and celebrate our similarities.