Author Archives: islamicschoollibrarian

Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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This 32 page, 9×12 story book, for ages five and up, focuses on character education and is meant to be a relatable story with clear lessons about how to behave and deal with situations in life.  The opening page bullets all the lessons readers should learn from the story and the end of the book offers directions to make a balloon craft.  

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I don’t mind books with lessons and morals so clearly delineated, and I like that the morals come from such an adorable character with a whole cast of supporters, and a number of books to her series.  

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My problem is more the story itself, for a lesson on how to make new friends, and dealing with the universal struggle of moving and feeling like ‘no one wants to play with me.”  The book spends nearly seven pages on Burcu making a surprise breakfast for her family before hearing the news that she is moving because the landlord says they should.

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They pack and move seemingly the same day, and then the point of the book gets going.  Burcu has to say goodbye to her friends and doesn’t feel like even going out at the new house to make new ones.

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Her brother, Alper, has no problem making new friends, and finally Burcu gives it a try.  Only a little girl attempts to get to know her and Burcu dismisses her because she is so young.  She tries to be included with the other children, but they don’t know her and aren’t willing to let her play.

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Burcu finally confides in her dad, that she can’t get anyone except the little girl to play with her.  Her dad encourages her to give the little girl a chance.  Burcu does and finds out they are the same age, she just looks really young, and then all the kids are friends and happy.

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The real hero to me is the little girl, Katherine, who didn’t give up on an ageist Burcu that didn’t want to play with her.  Seems odd that Burcu wanted a friend, and then was arrogant to complain about the one she got.  Plus, I would imagine kids who have moved and don’t have friends, would turn to a book like this for tips and hints, and ways to feel less alone.  The book offers none of that.  It doesn’t tell how finally Burcu makes friends, or gets included, other than it took time.  Which is great, but not exactly helpful if you are five and crying everyday because no one will play with you.

The writing is very dry.  I think it has been translated from Turkish, many of the sentences are passive voice, and the sentences choppy.  The book doesn’t have any glaring errors, it just seems like it would work as a story time, or as part of a lesson, and  maybe once as a bedtime story, but not a book that kids will clamor to hear over and over again.

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There is nothing Islamic in the story, but most of the major online Islamic bookshops carry the Burcu series, so I would imagine the authors, and publishers are Muslim.

Overall, the book sets off to teach a great lesson, but falls a bit short.  The illustrations are adorable and the large size and playful font are very well done, the diction, not so much.  The books are reasonably priced and if you see a title that works for a lesson, or theme you are discussing, I think you can make the books work.  If you are looking for a book to read over and over to your kids, you might, however, be disappointed.

 

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Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

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Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi

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I am admittedly late to the Tahereh Mafi fan club, and to rectify that I checked out all her books from the library (There’s quite a few).  Yeah, I have four kids and not a ton of time, so I decided to start reading Whichwood thinking then I could review it here due to it’s jacket claiming “Persian Fantasy,” plus noticing characters having names tinged with Islamic culture: Benyamin, Roksana, and Laylee Layla Fenjoon.  So, while I guessed the 368 AR 7.5 wouldn’t have anything Islamic, I figured it would at least give Muslim kids a taste of themselves in some of the words and representation by the hijab wearing author. And I think I was right. 

SYNOPSIS:

Laylee is a mordeshoor, which means she is responsible for caring for the dead and moving them to the next world. Its hard physical work, and since her Maman has passed away and her Baba has gone a bit crazy, the grueling job is left to her.  She is desperately tired and overworked and behind, and the people of the town, Whichwood, abuse and ridicule her relentlessly.  Laylee’s world is a frozen wonderland filled with odd characters and occurrences and magic of all random and gruesome sorts.  Two children, Oliver and Alice, from a different magical land show up unexpectedly to help Laylee with her burden, but Laylee is not well and is on the verge of death, and their help is not initially wanted.  As Laylee starts to die, it will take her living friends, with their variety of magical gifts to bring her back to life, and the dead ghosts that she can speak with, to help her live a life worth enjoying.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Rumi is mentioned and quoted.  I love that words such as hamam and halva are tossed in, it gives flavor to a book that doesn’t need it, but is enhanced by it none-the-less.  The world created is so bizarre, that I was pleasantly surprised how the author kept the descriptions from becoming confusing albeit at times circular and tedious, the book starts out slow, but speeds up as you progress.  The narrator is telling the tale, and speaks often directly to the reader, which is a literary device that one doesn’t see that often in YA books, and I really enjoyed it.  It kept the book inline and avoided plot holes, as the narrator could just tell you how she knew and keep the timeline of the story intact.  

The characters are amazing.  Laylee is 13 and on her own, washing and scrubbing and pulling nails out of corpses before burying them in the frozen earth.  All while being harassed by the ghosts around her.  She has dropped out of school, the community doesn’t even pay her financially or with respect for the work she does, and yet she plugs along.  The reader wants to feel sorry for her, but there isn’t time, there is a lot going on.  Alice’s magic is she can color the world, and Oliver has the gift of persuasion.  Benyamin, Laylee’s closest neighbor on the peninsula, has insects and spiders that live in him and that he can communicate with.  His ailing mother can speak with whales, and rides inside them as a form of transport.  Yeah, it’s a bit nuts.  And because it is so fantastic, at times the story isn’t predictable or even really seeming to move to a clear climax, there is just so much to take in.  

I don’t really even know what to critique in terms of what I wish I would have seen or felt was lacking because there was no expectation.  The book is a companion book to Furthermore, which I think I will do as later as an audio book with my kids.  Perhaps once I read that one I’ll know more about Oliver and Alice’s gifts as the book is about them, as I do have some lingering questions about their whimsical abilities and backstories.  I would have also like a bit more on the mordeshoors, how they are trained, when they marry what enchantments that entails etc.  Seems like the concept in its most basic form could have benefitted from a little more detail.

The book is dark, and there is some darkness in Laylee, and I think that is what makes me like her as a character.  There are some emotions that she really has to work through, and I like that it is fuzzy and messy, I think the target audience of the book will really identify with some of Laylee’s internal struggles. The heart of the book is solid and is very grounded in reality even with all the fantasy on the surface.  I love that Laylee isn’t affected by what other’s expect her to be, there is amazing strength in this being brought to the forefront.  Also, the crystallization of giving someone what they need, not what you think they need is a lesson that will hopefully linger in the readers. 

FLAGS:

The book could be seen as grotesque, but I didn’t find it overly icky, I think middle school and up will  be perfectly ok with all the death.  Oliver is completely star struck and in love with Laylee and her beauty.  But, the book hints only at a future romance.  Similarily, Benyamin and Alice might have a future, but it isn’t mentioned more than a crush and isn’t dwelled on or annoying to the action of dead bodies coming out of their graves or anything like that.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Author’s Website: http://www.taherehbooks.com/

A youtube review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgwtFqiFIi0

A Whale of A Wish by Razana Noor illustrated by Rahima Begum

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A Whale of A Wish by Razana Noor illustrated by Rahima Begum

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I’ve seen this book on Amazon countless times, and not really been interested in a Prophet story written in rhyme.  It seemed like it would be overly forced and  there’s enough slightly creepy songs out there trying to be clever in their retellings, that I never added it to my cart.  But, when Noura over at Crescent Moon Store convinced me to take a look and hooked me up, I trusted her, and am glad I was so terribly wrong.

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The story of Yunus (AS) is told from the whale’s perspective.  And shows how he always wanted to do something unique and swims around helping those in need.  He even befriends his foe, a giant squid.

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When he feels compelled to swim to the surface in the middle of the storm, Allah commands him to swallow Prophet Yunus and later commands him to return him to land.

The whale listens to Prophet Yunus praying all day and night and feels blessed to be part of Allah’s big plan.  His dua is also included at the end in english and arabic and arabic transliteration.

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The 18 page book is 8×10 inches in size and the illustrations are sweet, soft, happy and well done.  Children two and up will enjoy the story, and while it is meant for Muslim children, I believe Christian and Jewish children will recognize the story and with some oversight would enjoy it too.

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The rhyme is surprisingly not as forced as I feared.  On only one occasion the rhyme is a  stretch: squid, bit, but the meter is regular and flows easily making the story great for  story time and bedtime alike. 

 

 

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman

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Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman

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This 345 page contemporary book is brand new from Scholastic and isn’t yet in the AR database, it is billed as appropriate for ages 12 and up and is probably pretty accurate.  The cover, in my opinion, is rather a disservice for the audience.  The book would appeal to girls and boys, and isn’t really about school drama, which is the vibe I got from the cover.  The story is actually pretty deep and thought provoking, on a wide range of issues facing many young adults today.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from Stella Walker’s perspective, the book opens with her and her friends, Ken and Farida, reviewing old movies.  Farida, an Iraqi immigrant, is constantly pointing out the stereotypes, tropes, and bias they engage in regularly and see depicted around them.  She is constantly nagging her friends to recognize their privilege and check it.  Stella tries to get it, but it’s not that easy. Nor are the obstacles that the book explores. 

Stella’s parents are vets, and her brother, Rob, has just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan and is suffering from PTSD.  Additionally, Rob’s best friend commits suicide and yet, Stella’s family doesn’t involve her in the conversations and concerns, and as a result she doesn’t talk to her best friend Farida.  This tension is amplified when Farida wants to run for class president, but her parents advise her against it, as Islamaphobia is on the rise with the mayor, up for re-election, spouting hate speech, and his son, already in the race to lead the school. 

Stella, as a result, is convinced to run with the help and support of her friends.  All should be going well, but in a desperate attempt to get Rob out of the house, a trip to the mall to watch a movie results in Rob sticking up for a Sikh kid being bullied, and breaking the instigators nose.  The police are called in, and the real drama of the book takes center stage, as social media, a bigoted mayor, and a family’s member friendship with a Muslim paint Rob as a radicalized terrorist.  The Walker’s house is vandalized and Farida’s family’s restaurant is suffering and the mayoral election and class office election will all require some tough decisions and insights into honesty, framing, perseverance and friendship.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I don’t think I was expecting the book to explore so many topics and to do it, in a rather real and raw way.  The arc of concepts covered provides a lot of juice and relevance and the quick pace, makes it a quick read.  Some pages are letters written by Rob, a number of pages are the various police reports taken after the mall assault and the various points of view are great.  It explores how media editing and framing can change a narrative to one side or another. 

I love Farida, bless her, she is annoying and one-dimensional, but yet so relatable.  She is the token minority that ties it all together and is the billboard representation of “other.”  I can so relate to her, being the minority and the one that constantly had to be the gadfly on the masses.  

The school election is a little cheesy and overly elevated in importance, but it is the catalyst, so while I wasn’t really invested in who won, I liked the concepts it brought to the forefront of the characters lives.  The family struggles and retaking the truth and owning it, was the real strength of the book, and introducing kids to the horrors of war, returning from war, mental illness, the blind eye of politicians, the struggles of the VA, the power of the media, friendship, and concepts of patriotism, privilege, pride, suicide, and moving forward.

My biggest complaint is the awkward and forced romance.  It isn’t even romance really.  After the mall incident, Stella confides in a classmate, Adam,  who comes over to see if she is okay and they hold hands and kiss.  It is so out of left field and so awkward I would imagine for most readers, not just me the conservative muslim mama looking for books for my kids and their school book club.  In all they kiss five times I think, and mentions them holding hands twice.  It isn’t lamented or dwelled on, it just kind of boom, jumps in to the story and then yes, they kind of snuggle after the election results, which is a little more fitting (but still irritating).  Rob meets a girl, and again later on when she comes to celebrate the plea deal its nice that she is there, but they talk like once and he completely falls for her, kind of intense and random.  The discussions about letting someone in to your life and all is good, and more natural and they don’t kiss, but they do have “feelings” for each other.  

There isn’t much about Islam other than that Farida is Muslim and that her mom wears hijab.  Even the Islamaphobia is mentioned more for political and prejudicial purposes than as a segway in to understanding Islam.

FLAGS:

Kissing (see above), suicide, war, violence.  Beer is mentioned at the end when a college veteran gets one out of the fridge.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I really want to do this as a Middle School Book Club choice, yes I’m hosting those again.  I need to talk to the school counselor about the kissing stuff.  I think they can handle it, but I don’t know the kids well enough just yet, to verify this.   Being it isn’t the Muslim characters, I can’t imagine it is any different from what they see on TV or in Disney Movies, but still, I can’t confidently say it will happen.  Twelve and up is the non Muslim age point, I’ll have to think it over and update this once I investigate. 

Author’s website: https://sarahdarerlittman.com/books_2/young-adult/anything-but-okay-coming.html

Reading Guide: https://sarahdarerlittman.com/books_2/young-adult/abo-teaching-reading-guide.pdf

 

Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson illustrated by Fumi Kosaka

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Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson illustrated by Fumi Kosaka

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Once again I picked up a book for the message that it explored, making a difference, and found myself smiling triumphantly when a flip of a page revealed a Muslim lady depicted in an illustration, and her culturally Islamic name gracing the page. 

The book is an AR 4.2, and while there are a lot of words on each of the 32 pages, and the concept of an act multiplying might be hard for little ones to grasp, I think patient kindergarteners and first graders will grasp enough to make the story enjoyable.

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Ordinary Mary is so very ordinary, but she changes the world.  It all starts when she leaves berries for a neighbor.  And that neighbor, Mrs. Bishop, takes the berries and makes blueberry muffins and secretly gives them to five people.

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Each of those five people in turn give or do something kind to five people and over 30 billion people are impacted.  But there are not that many people on the planet, so there is love left over and extra to give.

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The book doesn’t follow all 30 billion obviously, but it picks and follows one person to show how the chain works before showing the mathematical growth in numbers.  Mrs.  Bishop gave a plate to the paperboy Billy Parker, who handed the next five people their newspaper personally instead of tossing it in their bushes.  One of the people that got their newspaper smiled for 10 hours on his flight, and helped people with their bags, etc etc.  

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The book shows that giving something can be something tangible, or a compliment, or a phone call, or a smile.  Over long distances,  the kind deed comes back to Mary and the message too, comes full circle.

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Along the line is Sahar, a college student who’s bag breaks and she benefits from a kind man who was just gifted oranges at the grocery store when he didn’t have enough money.  She in turn compliments a woman on a boat who is distraught and unsure. An important character in the link, and an import illustration of inclusion.

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There author mentions a variety of names, male and female, and the illustrator represents a fair amount of diversity of age, color, gender, religions, socio economic, ethnicity and mobility.  Truly, we all have the potentially to change the world.

 

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Yes! Yes! Yes! A strong and relatable 2nd grade, Pakistani-American Muslim girl, with stories written on a AR 2.4 -2.5 level, learns lessons and grows in everyday scenarios.  Seriously, this book is overdue and so well done, I can’t wait for the author, illustrator, and publisher, to team up to do more.  The book I have, Meet Yasmin! contains all four stories: Yasmin the Explorer, Yasmin the Painter, Yasmin the Builder, and Yasmin the Fashionista. You can buy each of the books separately in a larger format, and possibly a longer story.  The version I have is 5.5 x 7 and 96 pages long which includes a Think About It, Talk About It section at the back as well as a glossary of Urdu words, some facts about Pakistan and a recipe for Mango and instructions to make a bookmark craft .  The individual stories are 6 x 9 and 32 pages, and whether you buy the collection or the individual stories, they are under $6. Fabulous all the way around.

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SYNOPSIS:

Yasmin the Explorer:  The book starts out with Yasmin’s dad telling her about explorers and maps.  Inspired, Yasmin decides to make her own map of the neighborhood, which gets really exciting when her mom asks her if she wants to join her on a shopping trip to the farmer’s market.  While they stop at different stalls and Yasmin adds to her map, the temptation of a playground draws Yasmin away from her mom, but luckily her map can guide her back.

Yasmin the Painter:  Yasmin’s school is having an art competition and Yasmin is nervous because she doesn’t consider herself a very good artist.  Her parents show her videos and gift her supplies.  Unhappy with how her attempts are turning out, she decides to find her own style and with the support of her parents she enters her painting and waits nervously to see who wins and what the mystery prize is.

Yasmin the Builder:  I think this story is my favorite because she really had to rely on herself when the class is building a city and Yasmin can’t figure out what to build.  She perseveres and works hard, and ends up connecting the dots and making the city come to life by finding a way to make her favorite part of the city, going for walks, a part of the class project.

Yasmin the Fashionista:  Mama and Baba have gone out for the evening, so Yasmin is hanging out with her grandparents.  When Nani and Yasmin play dress-up and Mama’s shirt gets ripped, Yasmin and Nani have to solve the problem!  Not only that, they get inspired to transform Yasmin’s pajamas, and when Mama and Baba come home they are treated to a fashion show!

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WHY I LIKE IT: 

There is a lot to love about these stories.  Yasmin is not great at everything, and things don’t necessarily come easy for her.  But she is bright and surrounded by people that love her, and she is allowed and encouraged to shine in her own way.  I like that her painting wasn’t great, and that she stayed in from recess to figure out what to build.  I love that her dad is involved in her projects and ideas as much as her mom, if not more.  I love all the little nuances that accurately show a Pakistani-American family and a Muslim one; not an exaggerated version, or a dumbed down one either.  Yasmin has to wait for her mom to put on her hijab, it doesn’t explain that she isn’t wearing a hijab in the home, but it is shown.  It shows the characters in ethnic clothes and in western clothes.  It shows Yasmin’s classmate building a church, and one building a castle.  Yasmin is spunky, she makes mistakes, she works hard, and she is a breath of fresh air, that I think kids of any and all backgrounds will relate to her and enjoy the stories.

The pictures are bright and colorful and detailed. They are age appropriate and make the chapters within the stories really come to life and keep new readers engaged.  The font and binding and layout is well done.

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FLAGS:

None.  

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TIPS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I honestly think little kids could read this and discuss it and might actually enjoy having a discussion about Yasmin: what they like about her, what things they have in common, what she does that makes them laugh.  It might come across as a girl book, but really, it isn’t she is relatable for everyone. 

There is nothing Islamic mentioned, just depicted in her mother’s and grandmothers hijabs.

 

 

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby and Rebecca Green

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Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby and Rebecca Green

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It is a bit odd that this story is fiction, when it reads so much like a piece of nonfiction.  It is a picture book, but has an AR level of 4th grade 4th month.  So, while the story is great and highlights a country and culture, Bangladesh, not often seen, I don’t know that this book would appeal to many kids.  The kids that it does appeal to though and that can find it in a library or bookstore (not sure where it would be shelved), I think will not just like it, but possibly find it both inspiring and worth reading again and again.

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It is monsoon season in Bangladesh and the rains make Iqbal’s mom have to cook indoors.  As a result, she and the baby, Rupa are constantly coughing from breathing all the smoke from the woodburning stove.  Iqbal’s father mentions a propane stove he saw in the market, but the family cannot afford it, despite wishing that they could. 

Iqbal’s school has just announced the School Science Fair and the winners get cash prizes, if Iqbal can win, maybe he can buy his family the new stove.  His little sister Sadia offers her services to help him win and be his assistant.

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After a lot of thinking, pondering, and dreaming, Iqbal decides on the perfect project: a stove that didn’t produce smoke.

With the help of his teacher at school to find ideas and articles and plans on the internet, Iqbal and his sister build a solar cooker with foil and an old umbrella. 

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The science fair is a success, Iqbal wins, the family buys the stove and propane with the winnings, and when it isn’t raining, the family is able to use the solar stove Iqbal and Sadia built.

The book draws on ideas of sustainability, pollution, economic viability, problem solving, and education.  The culture provides the backdrop making all of these issues relevant and real, and mentioning Ramadan, Eid, and prayer provides some depth to the characters and adds to their culture.

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A lot of reviews online criticize that the mom is cooking and that the kids test an egg on the solar cooker and call her to eat it if it is supposed to be Ramadan, but I personally promise you, during Ramadan, we are always cooking.  And if she is nursing the baby, the mom wouldn’t be required to fast, there’s a lot of other reason she couldn’t/wouldn’t be fasting, but really, it is such a small portion mentioned in passing, no detail needs to be given, and it didn’t bother me at all.

Another complaint about the book is that if money is so tight the kids wouldn’t be at a school where they can just make copies, and buy eggs on their own.  I think there is some truth to this, but maybe a wealthy doner funds the school.  I think you could argue it either way.  I don’t know that the family is poor, it is the overall society, so kids could have pocket money, a propane stove is probably imported at least from a larger city so the expense would be more, similarily the infustruction of electricity and gas lines could hint more at why they cook the way they do.  Needless to say the family is smiling in the pictures, they have food, and they seem to be doing ok.  So the fact that the school printed a few articles and the kids bought some eggs without asking permission, didn’t bother me greatly.

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The illustrations are expressive and show the family connections and emotions.  I like that they bring to life a country many wouldn’t know, even if I wish it weren’t a work of fiction, but based on some child actually there.  

The end of the book has information about clean cookstoves, how to build one yourself, and a glossary.  The large 9×12 hardbound book would hold up well to multiple readings, and the amount of text on the pages would work well as a read-a-loud to younger kids who would find the subject matter interesting.  

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