Author Archives: islamicschoollibrarian

Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Board books from the UK! The glory of a well bound chunky book for toddlers to tote around, chew on and hopefully learn something from, with all the joy of international shipping.  I delayed buying these books for so long, because of it, and finally I gave in and just in the nick of time as I have started a weekly preschool story time, and this series is perfect for three and four year olds with limited attention spans and in need of repetition.

Zara and Hakeem, a brother and sister duo wake up to find their mother not feeling well, and instructions that they will have to help Daddy, Grandad and Grandma with the daily chores.  Then Mummy sneezes and says, Alhumdulillah.

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It seems the books  all have a pattern, something happens that sets the stage, then Hakeem and Zara pause and think hard about what to say, there is then an English translation/explanation about the meaning and then a universal, Muslims from all around the world say or do this, before the story resumes.

I don’t mind the break in the story, but the phrasing is a bit cumbersome and slightly off in this book.  Why are the kids thinking hard about what to say, when Mummy had just said it? If they were thinking hard about what she had said or where confused why she said it, I feel like it would make more sense. 

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I really like that the book shows that all Muslims say something the same, it is a good time to start to show this age bracket that they are connected to something bigger, without overwhelming them.  

The story continues with Hakeem helping daddy vacuum and Hakeem sneezing when some dust flies up.  Then Daddy and Zara mow the lawn when the grass makes Zara sneeze, everyone, Grandad, Grandma, all take a turn sneezing in different scenarios and everyone practicing to say Alhumdulillah.  

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By dinner, Mummy is feeling better, but Daddy has a sneeze attack and takes to laying down as he is not feeling well, and tomorrow the kids will have to help Mummy with the chores.  A humorous full circle, that even toddlers will laugh at.

The kids I read the book to, loved the loud Atchoos and the cute illustrations, a few of the older four year olds, wanted to know why Yar Hamukumallah was not also said.  They also wanted to know why when the dad sneezed four times they only said Alhumdulillah three times.  I read a variety of books about being sick and we talked about using tissues and sneezing into our elbows, washing our hands, and not coming to school when we are sick.  The book was great to explore how mom was sick and dad must have caught her cold.  But that sneezing from pepper and cat hair, didn’t mean you were sick.  The kids also saw that everyone in the house has to help out, sick or not, old or young, male or female, which is always a great lesson to reinforce, Alhumdulillah.

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The book is 18 pages of text.  The illustrations show the mom and grandma in hijab, they are bright and colorful and engaging.  Children will enjoy getting carried away with the sneezes and the Alhumdulillahs when read aloud and will enjoy looking back at the pictures and details independently afterward.  This is a great story to put on repeat and then watch your own toddler retell the story on their own.

Overall, well worth the shipping! I hope US bookstores will stock the series as our little ones need books that are funny, clever, and well done.

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The Young Muslim’s Mindful Book of Wellbeing by Zanib Mian

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The Young Muslim’s Mindful Book of Wellbeing by Zanib Mian

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This tiny book (5.5 inches square) is non fiction and I’m reviewing it, because I think it has a lot of value and will appeal to the parents that check out this site for book suggestions for their middle grade children.  The flower on the cover and the topic, might naturally turn away boys, but the depicted character that presents the information is a boy and while it is a token gesture, it is a nice one, to try and make the book and it’s contents appeal to all children.  Irregardless of if you have teens, or tweens, or toddlers, girls or boys, I think parents should read the book and use the concepts and framing presented when talking with their children.  At least that is what I hope to do.  One doesn’t need to wait until their child comes home crying from friend drama, or losing out on something they desperately wanted, to implement the lessons and reassuring bits of mindfulness, it should be the established foundation of how to handle emotions in a healthy way, inshaAllah.

SYNOPSIS:

The book is broken into 14 chapters based on topics covered, and the directions encourage the reader to read them all in order the first time through, then going back to certain sections as needed.  The headings include: How to be happy, A Way Out of Every Problem, How to Feel OK If You Wanted Something, but Didn’t Get It, Friends, Feeling Sad, and Talking to Allah.  The information is presented in a positive reassuring manner that helps the reader to feel like others have felt this way too, and to try some of the suggestions.  It doesn’t belittle or talk down to the feelings one might be having which is great, as the concept of Allah (swt) is incorporated onto every page.  Strengthening ones relationship with Allah as a way to cope with stresses and know that He is always there, is the central theme throughout.

The book offers advice on dealing with negative people, negative thoughts, and finding your own positivity and strength with the help of Allah no matter what.  The book isn’t dry though, it engages the reader and uses examples children can relate to and comparisons that are tangible.  At one point the book talks about shields that reflect back whatever you are giving off.  So when you are shining from the inside, you feel better, and so do others around you.  When talking about seeing the bigger picture, the book urges the reader to consider seeing an entire room through a key hole and likening it to how we see our own lives seeing only what is happening right now.

The book also takes into account that somethings may take work to feel better, and that it isn’t an easy fix to feel good, but inshaAllah worth the effort.  The end summarizes in two points what the previous 36 pages articulate and explore, concluding how to make you shine and be your best self.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that we are talking to and with children, not just toddlers, about their feelings.  We aren’t telling them to just cheer up or be happy or get over it.  We are giving them tools that they can carry throughout their lives, inshaAllah.  The pages are text heavy, granted the book is small, but the book is thick and the amount of words on the pages could intimidate some, but like I said earlier, even if the child won’t read it, parents will benefit from it and implementing it in the home.  Also just having the book sitting around will urge kids to pick it up and thumb through it, I would almost guarantee it.

My critiques are the presentation.  I am no expert on the content and what I read seemed logical, and I liked it.  Vague I know, hence I don’t review non fiction often, because what do I know?  As for the physical annoyances of the book, it is too small.  It doesn’t need to be huge, but for the topics covered, it is trivialized by the size, in my opinion. 

I don’t mind the font, I mind that it changes size so often and for no other reason it seems than to fit everything on the page.  Nearly every chapter is a different size font, but sometimes its even within the same chapter.  A few times for example the page on the left appears to be a size 14 font and the text in the same chapter on the right is like an 11, making it seem inconsistent and jarring..  If the idea needed to be bolded, or shouted or whispered, I support playing with font size, but this is not the case, it is so that the picture and text can all fit without having to turn the page, and its not the best solution I feel, its too distracting. 

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The other inconsistency that I found a bit odd, are the illustrations.  The little boy on the cover with his yellow flower and yellow shirt take you through maybe 80% of the book, but on occasion other characters pop up, which is fine, when they are drawn in the same manner, like the frog.  But the random appearance of the full color super hero, reminiscent of My Dad’s Beard book, and the full color Migo and Ali looking bears, there’s also a one time appearance of a girl in full color, seems bizarre.  I don’t see the cameos as adding a shoutout to the content and author, but more like the books from the 90s that used free clipart to illustrate the pages that otherwise would be text only. 

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this would be a great book for a school counselor to use as a guideline for group discussions.  I think it could be done from the library, but a counselor and students would really benefit from the book and the manner in which the material speaks and empowers youth to shine.

Hind’s Hands: A Story about Autism by Umm Jawayriyah and Juwayriyah Ayed illustrated by Emma Apple

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Hind’s Hands: A Story about Autism by Umm Jawayriyah and Juwayriyah Ayed illustrated by Emma Apple

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This is an important book to show representation of an underrepresented group, not just those with autism, but also those that love them and live with them.  It is also important to spread awareness so that those that do not have first hand experience can show compassion and patience for the individual and those around them as well.

This 16 page book, only 9 pages of text, is written by a mother and daughter about another daughter.  It is told from the perspective of 9 year old Juwayriyah and how she sees and helps her younger sister Hind.

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I love that it makes it super clear that children with autism are created this way by Allah swt and made special just as all of us are unique and special. I also like that Juwayriyah has had to learn to slow down and say bismillah before often dealing with Hind.  It also shows that it is a work in progress and there are good days and bad days.  It isn’t smooth sailing, and it isn’t something that needs to be fixed, it is what it is and we must adapt.

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The book is wonderful, for what it does and what it represents, however, in terms of story, it is kind of dry.  It very much is a nine year old, optimistically talking about her sister and how rubbing her hands has proved a coping skills when she is overwhelmed, but you don’t get to know any of the characters.  You don’t feel a bond, or understand what life is like for Hind, or why sometimes she has outbursts or what her triggers are.  I don’t know that kids will even understand concretely what autims is other than that it means people with it learn and act and think differently, as no real examples are given.  

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There is a lot of text on the pages.  I think if you know someone with autism or have maybe seen a child having a melt down, children younger kids will enjoy the explanation and fact giving the book provides.  Otherwise I think 2nd to 4th graders will get the most out of this book as they start to notice different behaviors and other’s reactions to them.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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I put off reading this book (I read the companion, Whichwood, first) because I had heard that the audio book was great and I wanted to listen to it with my kids.  Read by Bronson Pinchot, Cousin Balki from Perfect Strangers, the audio book takes 8 hours to cover the 401 page book, and it is delightful.  While Mafi’s circular repetitive world building, takes some slowing down to get used to, listening to it made the story move along when a physical book may have been abandoned.  An AR 5.5 the book is clean, but not gripping until about two-thirds of the way through.  As the main character grows in maturity, the story gets better and better, a mix between Alice and Wonderland and A Wrinkle in Time.  The book will require some determination to get through, but the journey will be worth it in the end.

SYNOPSIS:

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is missing her father who left 3 years ago with only a ruler in his pocket, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.  Her life is a bit messy as she is being homeschooled by a mother who she doesn’t really think likes her and thus spends most of her days outside eating flowers and trying to avoid wearing clothes.  Alice lives in a world of magic and color, but Alice has no color, at least not externally, her magic, which she must learn to accept is to add and manipulate color to the world, to anything and everything, except herself.  As a 12-year-old she must surrender her magic and be given a task to prove her place in her world.  She thinks her best gift is dance and her surrender goes terribly wrong.  With no where to go after her humiliating performance, she decides to take Oliver Newbanks up on his offer to go with him to help him on his task, he is 13 years old, and find her father.  Their unlikely assistance to one another is fraught with mistrust and bickering as they journey to a world Alice didn’t even know existed, Furthermore.

In the land of Furthermore, magic is used very differently then in Ferenwood, and on their journey where up is down and paper foxes rip limbs off, and Time is actually a person.  The two companions will have to learn to be honest with one another as well as themselves in order to survive, let alone to find Alice’s dad.  With the threat of death and being eaten constantly plaguing them, they journey from village to village where the rules are different and the laws of logic ever changing, with the hopes of completing the task and reuniting a family.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The details in the story are luscious and beautiful, and once you fall into it, you really do want to stay and look around a while.  There were times when listening to it, that the kids would get bored, yet now that we have finished it, all have mentioned that maybe we should get the book so they can reread parts again.  Mafi’s writing style is very thick that you don’t feel like you are making any progress, yet when you start to digest what you know, you realize in fact you have.  

At the beginning Alice is very annoying, and she stays that way for a while.  Her whiney nature isn’t sympathy evoking, but rather gets you irritated with Oliver as well, that he doesn’t just tell her stuff.  Both combined need to be bopped on the head.  Seriously, a bit of communication would really have taken out a lot of the unnecessary frustration the readers feel for the characters, and let the personal stuff they were hesitant to share with each other have more value.  It is a middle grades book, the empathy of understanding Alice and Oliver’s own fears and reticent in opening themselves up is a great lesson to explore through fictional characters, but because the kids have such poor communication skills about anything, their own fears lose potency.  The pacing of the story, is just as random as the villages they pass through as well, while they always seem in a rush, some of the places they stop they could chat at, rather than while they are running to save their lives, or while they are walking they could talk to give description through their eyes, to build up the characters, not just the world they are in.

Like in Whichwood, the narrator talks to the reader which is fun, and provides information that otherwise couldn’t be shared.  The characters names in each of the villages are clever and while the story could be mapped pretty straightforward, girl journeys to a new world to find her father with the help of a boy, who will become her friend, the twists and details, make the book memorable and worth the strain to get to the climax. 

I know this review sounds back and forth, and I think a lot of it stems from what you expect from the story before you begin.  I had tried to read the book and got a little discouraged, but I had a good feeling the audio book wouldn’t disappoint, so I plugged through and found myself enjoying and loving the story.  If you are expecting an action packed fully fleshed out rational story, you will be let down.  If you can just enjoy the whimsy on the surface and let the little tidbits of the larger story come at different times to complete the larger puzzle, you will love Alice and Oliver’s magical world and the fantastic journey that they go on.

FLAGS:

The book is clean.  A bit disturbing is that the people of Furthermore want to eat Alice and Oliver to absorb their magic.  It isn’t vulger, but it is silly that Alice doesn’t like wearing clothes.  While one could be nervous that Alice and Oliver develop a romantic relationship, rest assured they do not, they become friends and are 13 and 12 years old, so phew.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I can see me doing this as a book club selection, although I’d probably lean more to Whichwood, in an Islamic School environment because of the names. I think young Either one though, I’m positive Muslim kids will enjoy seeing a hijab wearing Muslimah pictured on the back flap and seeing that she can write a mainstream engaging fantasy novel about whatever she likes.

Author’s website: http://www.taherehbooks.com/book/furthermore/

P is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

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P is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

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I first heard about this book maybe a year ago when it was making waves for including such passages as “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!” The book was in limited supply however and hard to find.  Recently a 2nd edition came out and is widely available in major outlets. 

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The book follows the well established genre of giving each letter in the alphabet a page to depict in picture and words details about a given subject.  The form usually rhymes and appeals to little kids learning about something specific, and adults, who enjoy the topic at hand.  

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While this book is fabulous because it exists, and praiseworthy because it celebrates Palestine, Christmas and Eid and the birthplace of Jesus and Lebneh and Quds and olives and grape leaves and everything else that makes Palestine so close to one’s heart, the stanzas themselves are really forced and inconsistent in rhyme and meter.

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Granted, one doesn’t buy or even pick up a book like this for its literary merits, but the text is really a bit all over the place.  “Can we sing the ABC anywhere? With a woolly bear or in thin air? L is for Labneh is like yogurt.  I eat it for lunch, wearing my loafer! B is for Bethlehem, my birthplace with the best Baklawas, put it on a plate not in a vase! K is for Kuffiya, the best kind you can hang on a hook in Hebron souk! E is for Eid, it means Festival, like the Muslim Eid al-Fitr when we eat enticing eats, get excited over gifts, and enjoy seeing out extended families. J is for jesus, Jesus was born in my hometown (Bethlehem), not Jamestown!”

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I of course overlooked some of the awkwardness because the illustrations are lively and beautiful and the parts I thought needed explaining, I chalked up to me not being Palestine, nor having visited there.  

Many of the passages are touching and memorable and make the book so important.  M is for Miftah, Key of Return…Mama’s Mama, and my Jiddah’s Mama’s, for which I yearn! T is for Thob, a traditional dress wtih tatreez (embroidered pieces).  Takes time to make, with thousands of tiny threads, if you please!

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There is an Appendix in the back, giving a tad more information on the main idea mentioned for each letter.  There is also a Publisher’s note.  While there was some controversy that the book is anti Semitic or spreading propaganda, I think the book comes from a place of love and culture.  There is Christian and Muslim concepts and a character named David making grape leaves.  It does not mention Israel or Zionism blatantly, which I think shows that Palestine has its own culture and isn’t solely defined  by the crimes committed against them.  Interestingly, the author is from Iran.

 

The Victory Boys by Jamal Orme illustrated by Eman Salem

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The Victory Boys by Jamal Orme illustrated by Eman Salem

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I’m not sure why Amazon states the book is for pre-school and up, when the publisher, Kube, posts this book for ages 7 and up.  I think 3rd or 4th grade soccer/football fans will enjoy the book.  There are some slightly mature ideas presented and worked through, and the soccer lingo assumes the reader knows the sport.  Plus the quality of the illustrations and the small font isn’t going to entice someone not already excited to read the book based on the content within.  My boys, ages 8 and 9, enjoyed the book, as did I, once the story got going.  It doesn’t really grip you from the first sentence, but as the story progresses and the way Islam is woven in makes for some learning experiences in the midst of a few intense football matches.

SYNOPSIS:

The boys at the Sunday Madrasa do not enjoy their time there.  They find the Imam boring and thus are not inspired to learn. When they sneak a football into break time however, they suddenly feel more engaged and present in their lessons.  A change the Imam notices and appreciates, but doesn’t know the reasoning for as he strictly forbids football and finds it a waste of time.  Outside of Madrasa, Junayd is having a hard time at home.  He has to help out a lot at his father’s restaurant and his older brother Saleem has gotten in trouble with the police.  His mom prays for the kids, but is also at a loss as to how to help with the stresses at home.

During a secret game of football in the masjid courtyard, an arrant ball breaks the neighbor’s greenhouse window, and the boys are forced to come clean about their covert game.  The Imam demands the kids stop playing and that they tell their parents what they have done, so that they may earn some money to replace the window.  As the kids come through with the money and the Imam sees the kids resort back to their lackluster attitudes to learning.  He gets an idea to start a football club after madrasa classes.  The only problem is that he knows nothing about the sport and no parents are willing to help.

Saleem by chance comes to collect his brother one day, and as he hollers advice from the sidelines, the Imam recruits him to coach the team.  In response the Imam ever so gently uses football to teach not only the madrasa kids, but Saleem as well.  When the boys learn of an upcoming tournament, the Madrasa enters an A and B squad and the Shabab Al-Nasr, Victory Boys, will be tested not only in their play, but also in their manners, and understanding of what it means to be a team and Muslim.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the Imam grows and changes.  I mean it is a kids book about soccer, but really it is the adult in the story that shows the most heart.  He goes out of his comfort zone, reevaluates his opinions, and admits when he is wrong.  High five Imam!  I also like that he didn’t give up on Saleem, and the way he leads him is with such kindness and compassion, that even youngsters, will be impressed.  

The book does not talk down to the reader, which is nice, but at the same time I think it pushes the age appropriateness a bit with the detail devoted to alcohol being sold at the restaurant, Junayd’s father’s flaws, and even Adam’s dad’s tantrum of sorts.  There really aren’t any nice parents in the book.  We don’t learn much about the moms, but none of the dads seem too supportive.  Really the only nice adults are the Imam and the neighbor who’s window they broke.

The timeline isn’t entirely smooth, the kids come together and play well as a team remarkably fast for how intense the tournament is, and how well they perform. And some of the characters could have used some fleshing out, I couldn’t really tell you much about them.  The font is really small and the spacing often forgotten.  The book is about 95 pages with a glossary and an acknowledgement at the end, fortunately the 2nd book in the series seems to space the words and lines out more and is 155 pages.

The story is solid and for the most part well written.  I read it in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed the lessons learned and then put into practice.  The book isn’t preachy, but you are glad to see the Imams words given life in the other characters’ actions.  Saleem changes quickly, but the author and story account for it in a way that is believable for the audience and the message of not giving up on one another comes through loud and clear.  There is a lot of technical detail about the sport, but it doesn’t drag on, it adds to the excitement even if you just know the basics.

FLAGS:

The talk of alcohol, of Saleem being with a group of kids and a stolen car, there is some yelling and aggressiveness from the adults.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The story is a bit short for a book club selection, but I would definitely consider it for Lunch Bunch (where I read to 4th and 5th graders while they eat lunch).  And I think most Islamic School libraries and classrooms should stock the series.  

https://thevictoryboys.com/

Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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I don’t often do two books in the same series, let alone three, but for as much as I enjoyed Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan and Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid, I was a little disappointed in this story.  For starters, the title seems like it should read, Go to “the” Masjid, no? 

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The story starts off with the notion that this is Aneesa’a first time to the masjid, which seems bit off.  Presumably mom and Hassan have been before, but mom’s excitement, and Hassan’s questions through the book, and knowledge about masjid etiquette make you wonder if it is their first time too.  A little odd, if you’ve read their other books, but ok, I’ll accept it and move on.

The family starts by marveling at the exterior architecture.  They enter and separate, Hassan going with his dad and Aneesa going with her mom, as it points out that men and women pray in separate areas.  It is a good tidbit of information, but again, it just seems a bit off in the way it is phrased that Aneesa wouldn’t know this.  

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The tone of the book is almost negative, again, a striking contrast to the other stories.  Aneesa splashes and wastes water when making wudu, doesn’t she make wudu at home? And the mom gets her clothes ruined in the process making her upset.  The illustration shows her to look really mad!

I would think a little context about not wasting water or even sharing the hadith about not wasting even if making wudu in a river, would have been a great lesson to convey, but instead the pictures show a lot of water by others also being wasted, and only mom looking really frustrated.

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The two of them, put their shoes up and marvel at the dome and the soft carpet.  Aneesa then sees that the ladies prayer area over looks the mens and she begins screaming for Hassan.  Her mom corrects her and points out that “you should speak quietly in a masjid.  You might disturb someone if you shout.”

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Hassan turns and waves, and then rushes off to see a school friend.  But, first he is reproached for nearly walking in front of someone praying.  Again a good tidbit, but the phrasing of how the information is shared is rather negative, and these repetitive reprimands don’t make the book joyful.

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Hassan then learns about he mihrab and the mimbar before the athan is called and they all pray.  After salat they put some sadaqa in a box and the family heads home.

The illustrations are as sweet as ever, and the price very reasonable, but this book, compared to others in the series, is really wordy and there is a lot of text on EVERY one of the 20 pages.

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The framing of the book is awkward, thus making some of the behavior issues come off as negative, it is a minor thing that keeps the book from being great.  If the premise would have been maybe the kids talking about their favorite things about the masjid and reminding themselves to talk quiet and not waste water, the tone overall would have been lighter while still being really informative.

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If this is your first Hassan and Aneesa book, you might not be bothered, but if you find it a little off putting, try the other two.  The books says for ages 2 and up, but I think it would be better for 4 and up.  The younger kids you could tell them the story while showing them the pictures: what to expect at the mosque and how to behave, but there are too many words, and they will probably have a hard time staying focused.  Older four and five year olds, will enjoy seeing things they recognize and maybe learning some of the vocabulary for the architecture and being reminded on proper behavior at the masjid.