Category Archives: 2nd through 4th grade

The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

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The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

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This powerful book about Hassan’s first day at school is a bit graphic, and incredibly important.  While it is a picture book, it is definitely not meant for small children.  The rich water color illustrations and the impactful text match the AR level 3.6 and would really appeal to thoughtful 2nd through 4th grade students.

A refugee from Somalia, Hassan finds it “tiring remembering even a few English words.”  He misses the color of Somalia, his cat, the warmth of the sun, and the freedom of learning out doors.  He doesn’t miss the violence though.

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When it is time to paint, Hassan paints his home and his family, all 9 of them, and his pets, in bright happy hews, much to the delight of his teacher.  But then, Hassan, engulfs his house with the red paint of flames, smudges out his Uncle Ahmed when the black bullets that take him down, and Hassan communicates his sadness to his teacher.

Hassan doesn’t take his picture home, he knows it will upset his mom and little sister, Naima.  The next day, a translator comes to help Hassan.  Fela is Somali and wears a black hijab, like Hassan’s mom, but western clothes, a new concept to the young boy.

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Through Fela, Hassan opens up to his teacher and explains what it was like when the soldiers came and he had to hide under the bed.  How they had to leave without any of their stuff, including his beloved pet cat Musa.  All they could take was his father’s prayer rug and the Quran, as they set off on foot in the night.  He tells about leaving his grandparents and cousins behind and being scared on the plane.

Being able to share his fears, seems to help as he paints a new picture to share with his mom.  This one filled with his animals, and not with fire and bullets.  There is hope for Hassan as he looks forward to adding color to his new life and reminds himself to learn the english word for “home.”

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The book  is great for seeing the experience through Hassan’s eyes, and taking the reader through some of his adult like fears, and childish stresses.  Older kids should appreciate that what he has lived through is horrific, but his understanding as a child is slightly limited.  It should increase empathy, compassion, and kindness.

While the illustrations are rich and detailed they are very realistic.  This adds to the somberness of the book, and keeps this work of fiction a very real reminder of the world and what trials so many go through.

The characters are visibly Muslim, but there is no mention of religious doctrine, and readers may not know what a prayer rug is or a Quran.  They will be able to use context clues to figure out hijab, but there is not a glossary in the back.

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The Clever Boy and the Terrible, Dangerous Animal by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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The Clever Boy and the Terrible, Dangerous Animal by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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This book makes me forgive the author for his other books that left me puzzled as to his popularity.  This is wonderful, timeless and so simplistic, yet full of wisdom, lessons, and reflection that I’m thinking of gifting it to many of my teacher friends.  In its 32 pages written on an AR third grade, 2nd month level, the simple and powerful lesson of how ridiculous it can be to be afraid of what you don’t know is driven home.

And just think. It all happened because a clever boy was not afraid when a lot of silly people thought something was dangerous just because they had never seen it before.

A boy goes to a neighboring village and finds the villagers afraid of, wait for it, a watermelon.  The boy laughs and laughs, and pulls out a knife to cut it and enjoy its sweet juices.  The villagers then fear the boy, until experience and knowledge about what it is and how to grow it, change everyone’s opinion and the village renames itself Watermelon Village. Oh, the power of knowledge.

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I can see this book being so great to introduce kids to how a little knowledge, asking questions, trying something can do everything from finding something you like, to breaking down stereotypes, to shifting your paradigm.  I feel like Islamaphobia, among so many other things, could be done away with by and large if people would just get to know us!

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The villagers depicted wear kufis and hijabs and kurtas, and the author writes to share his stories from his oral Sufi tradition, but there isn’t anything overtly Islamic in the text.  The kids as young as preschool will enjoy this at storytime.  They will find being afraid of a watermelon preposterous and silly, making the point that much stronger.

I like that the cover doesn’t given much away, and most children will take the title at its word and think that it is an animal.  Getting student’s ideas of what the terrible animal will be adds to the creative thinking and discussing after as well.  The pictures are wonderful and endearing and many editions come in two language formats.

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The Boy Without A Name by Idries Shah illustrated by Mona Caron

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The Boy Without A Name by Idries Shah illustrated by Mona Caron

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It is hard to know what a child would get out of this 32 page 3.2 AR level, but even if they just get lost in the pictures, and swept away by the idea of a boy searching for his name and a dream, I suppose there is value.  Some, ok most of Idries Shah’s, Sufi teaching stories are beyond my comprehension, but they are lyrical and often silly just the same. He has written over 30 and the libraries have quite a few, and people online seem to love so many of them, so perhaps I’m just not clever enough or philosophical enough to grasp them.  Which is neither here nor there, but maybe don’t buy one until you read one and see what you get out of them.  I keep checking them out and hoping I too will fall in love with one, I’ll keep you posted.

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Before they can name their son an old man comes and tells the parents to not name him and to wait.  The boy grows up searching for a name, hoping someone has one he can have.  At one point he is made aware that he has nothing, even to trade for a name.  He responds that he has an old dream he no longer wants.  He and his friend Anwar then go to the wise man and he receives his name and a new dream.

The synopsis claims that patience and determination is learned, but I couldn’t get over the fact that the parents just didn’t name their child, and I never felt like I learned why he was such an important boy.

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The pictures are wonderful with the scenic village’s tall minarets and colorful hijab clad women in the market place.  I particularly like the magic spilling out of the boxes in the old man’s house when the boys are finding names and dreams.  There is nothing overtly Islamic in the text, I’m not aware of how strong the Sufi origin is, not being Sufi, or having studied it.  But the illustrations definitely place the book in an Islamic cultural environment and the names reinforce this.

 

The Farmer’s Wife by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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The Farmer’s Wife by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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The book reads very much like the western children’s story/song, “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly,” but in this Sufi inspired repetitive story, An old Farmer’s wife can’t get an apple out of a hole.  

The silliness starts right away when she wants to get a bird to fly down the hole to get it for her.  When the bird says, “tweet,” which means no, she deems him naughty and then moves on to asking a cat to jump on the bird, to get the bird to get the apple.  The funny thing is the chain of events is funny and illogical at points. She wants water in a puddle, to put out a fire to burn a rope, the rope to tie up a bee keeper, and so on.  Luckily the wind finally blows the apple out of the hole and they all live happily ever after.

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The book supposedly is to teach patience, I am hoping to use it when I do a lesson on thinking outside the box and how sometimes that is great, but the trick is knowing when it might also be easier to reach down and pick up the apple.  

The book is AR 3.4 and 32 pages.  Many versions are dual languages.  The pictures are great with the abiya wearing woman and the chunky cartoonish side characters making the silly story fun to read a loud.  There is nothing “islamic” other than the illustrations showing the woman in hijab, and the author being a well known sufi writer who uses lessons from the Sufi tradition to teach lessons to children.

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A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

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A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

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A friend loaned me this book with a bit of hesitation as to its quality, and although I needed one more Hajj book for an upcoming story time, it seemed that it was yet another book about the steps for Hajj, so I wasn’t stressing about acquiring it. Luckily we were both wrong, at least from my perspective.  The book is so sweet, and not so much about the steps and details of Hajj, but more about the longing to go.  To seal the sweetness deal, it is about the friendship between a man, and a tree, and perfect for 3 year olds and up.

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The little tree dreams of traveling, but more than anything he dreams of going to see the Ka’aba.  Noting the logistical struggles of travel with roots, his mother encourages him to make duaa for his heart’s desires.  After a lot of patience and a lot of duaas, (alhumdulillah, it shows duaas take time and are not a magical instant granting of a wish) a young man walks by on his way to the coast to catch a boat for Mecca.  Startled by a talking tree, the clever boy just happens to have a basket and he uproots the tree and they head out together.

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The book shows the two doing all the steps in a large two page illustration, keeping the text to a minimum.   On the next page though, it highlight the two praying and trimming their hair and leaves. When the tree is returned to his mother, she is watered with Zam Zam water and “they agree it is the sweetest water ever tasted.”

The friendship continues, as they journey on countless adventures, and in the end, when the man is old and the tree is too big, the old man returns to rest on the tree’s roots and tell stories to the nearby saplings.

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Written in both English and Arabic, the story is a fast read that holds even the little one’s attention as they look at the expressive illustrations.  There is additional information on the Hajj rituals page, but it can be used according to need, like the glossary in the back.  The story is for Muslim children and families as it does not explain the requirements of Hajj, importance of the Ka’aba, or history of the rituals.

 

The Hajj Adventures of Jamila and Fasfoose by Ediba Kezzeiz illustrated by Abd al-Hayy Moore

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The Hajj Adventures of Jamila and Fasfoose by Ediba Kezzeiz illustrated by Abd al-Hayy Moore

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The book isn’t much to look at with its black and white, with yellow thrown in cover, and its 40 pages bound with a staple, but for independent readers between 2nd and 4th grade or so, the book is good.  In many ways it is an older kids version of Zaahir and Jamel, adding a fictional story to the learning about the steps of Hajj.  

SYNOPSIS:

The setting is Hajj and all of its different rituals, but the story is that Jamila and her pet mouse Fasfoose get lost in Mecca.  Along the way to finding Jamila’s parents and performing the requirements of Tawaf, Sai, Arafah, Mina, Muzdalifa, Jamrah, and Eid, a few duaas are thrown in, friendship with people of different nationalities and lessons in patience, speaking with your heart and finding your internal compass of wrong and right all come to light.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like the target audience, and how it doesn’t ever feel preachy or like a How-to-perform-Hajj manual.  If a child is familiar with the rituals of Hajj the story gently reminds them of what they already know and the story takes center stage.  If they are unfamiliar, the book doesn’t talk down to them, and may prompt them to want to learn more.  Strong lessons of being kind and not hurting anyone or anything while in ihram are strong, as are the  beauty of multiple cultures speaking from their heart to find common threads.  There are illustrations to break up the text and not overwhelm the young reader, and the story is divided into seven chapters.  The font and size are all age inviting and even older middle school kids would probably pick it up if they saw it, read it in about 20 minutes and be glad that they did.

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FLAGS:

None, alhumdulillah

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book is fun, probably not long enough for a book club selection, but a great read -a-loud. The length of the chapters make it a short read that ideally could be read the week before Hajj or Eid.  My 3rd grader read it and is enjoying listening to me read it to my 2nd grader.

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Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruus Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

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Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruus Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

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I usually have a running lists of books to check and see if the library has in their catalogue, and another list for when I have a few extra dollars and/or a reason/excuse to purchase books for my own.  I’ve seen this book recommend by countless critics, educators, refugee resettlement volunteers etc., and was thrilled that I could get it from the local public library.  However, it isn’t enough to have this book and mull over the artwork and prose for three weeks, it deserves a permanent place on the shelf.  Or better yet, open hands to pass the book around to within your home, to reflect on the humanity that binds us all, and the plight of so many in the world.

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The story is fairly simple, Rama and her family have a good life in Syria and the war changes that, forcing her and her family to flee on foot to Europe with what they can carry.  The emotions on the other hand, are not that simple.  The book is illustrated in stone, but the reader would have to have a heart of stone to not be moved.  Written on an AR 3.2 with 28 pages, the book is written in both English and Arabic.  The book is not sensational, but it does discuss the shortage of food, and going hungry, how they are not free, not really, how bombs fall and kill people going to the market,  and it does show that people were lost in crossing the sea.  The family has to walk, there is no going to the airport or cars to take them across borders so easily, this is contrasted to the beginning of the book where Rama was free to play and go to school, things the reader can relate too.

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Ultimately the book is full of hope.  The fictionalized account of a horrific reality still on going, pales only to the story of how the book came to be.  The Foreword is wonderful and gives the book so much more warmth and heart.  How the author saw the artisans work, sought him out, and built the story around his pieces, gives even the youngest reader a sense of reality for an unfathomable situation.  After the story is more information about the author and the illustrator, as well as a list of resources to volunteer, donate and help.  Portions of the book sales go to help resettlement organizations across North America.

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The publishers page gives info and has a youtube book trailer as well: https://steppingstonesthebook.com/

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The book would be great at story time or in a classroom setting followed by an activity with making pictures with stones previously collected.  At bedtime the book is great to read aloud and let the words sweep your listener toward empathy and compassion.  Check your library first, and if it isn’t there, I don’t think you’ll regret your purchase.