Category Archives: 2nd through 4th grade

Mikaeel and Malaika: The Quest for Love

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Mikaeel and Malaika: The Quest for Love

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The beautiful hardback book is pricey, but fun.  I didn’t have any expectations when I read it, but now that I’ve read it three times and had my children read it, and my mom a reading specialist/teacher of 45 years read it, I feel pretty confident in saying, its a well-done book.  I think it can get a bit cumbersome when reading aloud, because some lines rhyme and some don’t, but on the third read through I read it to six kids ages two to nine and all throughly enjoyed it.

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The sibling superhero duo are on a quest to find out how to have a pure heart.  They try praying aloud, praying quietly, then they go and talk to the Big Boss, their dad, who speaks in rhyming clues.  The play on words might make the book utterly confusing to children younger than five, or kids of all ages if full attention isn’t being given when read aloud.  For independent readers, they will delight in the words that sound the same yet have completely independent meanings.

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Eventually their quest also takes them to Agent M.O.M who loves them more than anyone else they can imagine, but the big reveal is that Allah (swt) loves us even more.  I don’t know that it is crystal clear that getting a pure heart involves loving the one who loves us most. But, I think by the end, the readers are just entertained that they figured out Allah loves them more than anyone else in the world and is the creator of us all.  The last page has an ayat from Surah Rehman, ” So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?” Which again adds one more thing to the story about being grateful for all that Allah has given us, keeping it from being a completely streamlined story, but adding to the overall love and appreciation for Allah.

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The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and engaging, the amount of text and the font is perfect for ages 6-8 and the messages is fun and educational.  I hope that there are more in the series, alhumdulillah.

 

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Captain Lilly and the New Girl by Brenda Bellingham illustrated by Clarke MacDonald

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This book is part of First Novels, a collection of books in Canada that focuses on easy to read early chapter books that encourage kids to transition from leveled readers, while getting to know a single character in a realistic contemporary world.  There are a lot of Lilly books, but this one caught my attention because of the hijab wearing girl on the front, presumably the “new girl.”  At an AR 2.8 this 64 page book is great on so many levels, and really does meet the First Novel goal of presenting a simple theme and showing the main character grow.

SYNOPSIS:

Lilly is changing soccer teams, and only finds solace when many of her school friends will also be joining.  While each of the girls has different opinions and levels of enthusiasm about the team, they all are committed to one another as the “Wolves” stick together in a pack.  This loyalty is tested when a new girl is brought in to fill in for an injured wolf.  The foreigner, from America, wears a scarf, and just like with soccer, there are a lot of differing thoughts on the matter.  The reader see what Lilly feels as it is told from her perspective, which makes the issue not so much about the hijab itself, but about how a 9 or 10-year-old thinks and processes new concepts.  Ultimately, the Wolves as individuals and a team, have to decide what to do when an opposing team says that Sara has to take off her hijab if she wants to play.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book is real, with strong independent girls.  The side characters aren’t cookie cutters of each other, they all have personalities and quirks, and I love that they don’t all agree, yet they all can make it work.  The book’s catalyst is the hijab, but it isn’t preachy and it is presented and understood through a non-muslim elementary-age character.   I don’t think Islam or Muslim is even mentioned, nor any culture, she is American, and the book takes place in Canada.  It addresses safety regarding the hijab, comfort in wearing sweats and not shorts, and being hot in a long sleeve shirt, issues that any reader can understand and ponder about.  The book isn’t gripping, but for the age group and the intent, it is spot on.  The font, spacing, size of the book, and simple illustrations, urge kids to read a “chapter book” and think about something they may not have ever thought about before.

FLAGS:

Clean, it does say words like “suck,” but it isn’t disrespectful.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use this as a Book Club book, because the kids can read it fairly quick, but I would probably read it aloud to kids and have them discuss, or have them somehow read it in groups and discuss.  There are a few websites that can help facilitate the discussion, but kids would definitely have opinions on how the situation was handed, how they might handle it, and what they think of the team’s sponsor.  

https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?a=1&tid=40533

https://www.teachingbooks.net/media/pdf/Lorimer/FirstNovels_Series_ActivityGuide.pdf

http://www.formac.ca/firstnovels

 

Ramadan Around The World by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Azra Momin

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Ramadan Around The World by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Azra Momin

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I started this blog because I know the value fiction can have in empowering and exciting people when they see themselves reflected in story lines.  As Muslims, it is a needed tool both for our own children and for teaching other children about us.  So, imagine my surprise when I felt my back straighten up and a smile stain my face for a long while after I finished reading this beautiful book about Ramadan traditions all over the world.  Not because it showed so many beautiful Muslims from rich colorful backgrounds sharing the common bond of loving Allah in Ramadan, that was expected.  Nor was it for the diversity of skin tones, and cultures, and ages, and head coverings, throughout.  No, it was because there are characters with autism, and one that is hearing impaired, one in a wheel chair, and a little girl with diabetes who cannot eat all the candy, just a few.  I didn’t realize how strong that notion hit me.  Me, an adult, a type 1 diabetic since I was 11, there in print, in a book about Muslims.  Yes, I may have had tears, I might still as I write this review.  It is powerful people, to see yourself in a fictional character, at any age.  May Allah swt reward all the authors out there writing books for our children to feel proud of who they are, one beautiful page at a time. You are making a difference.

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Emotions aside, this book is wonderful in and of itself.  It starts with the moon telling a bit about how Ramadan is fasting from sunrise to sunset, doing good deeds, being kind, and how it is celebrated all over the world.  The moon then takes us on a journey to twelve countries: The US, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Scotland, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Madinah, Palestine, and Senegal.  Each location gets a two-page spread of text and gorgeous illustrations that tell about a Ramadan celebration, or tradition, and stress something about the month in general such as iftar, or sadaqah, going to the mosque, helping orphans, the adhaan, saying salaam.  The book concludes with Ramadan ending and the moon signing off.  There is a glossary followed by more information about Ramadan. 

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In all the book is 40 pages, hardbound, and large enough to make it perfect for story time and bedtime alike.  In small bursts the book would work for 4 year olds and up and first graders and up will understand how universal Islam is and relish at the diversity in celebrating “the most wonderful time of the year.”

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My hope is to read this book at a Masjid Ramadan Storytime and to have a few of the countries set up as “stations” for the children to visit.  I can’t wait to try it out and see if we can remind ourselves how blessed we are to be united all around the world as Muslims, alhumdulillah.  For non Muslims this book is not preachy, it shows how a holiday is celebrated in different places, and would do a great job of showing the joy Ramadan contains for Muslims with universal core principals, but how culture and traditions of celebration make it a diverse experience.  

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Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

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In the first Zak book, Zak had good intentions that just never went his way and we, as the readers, really felt bad for him.  In this new book, it takes a few pages to feel sympathy for Zak as his little lies get him in trouble, but sure enough when he finally changes his ways, it is cause for relief, celebration, and a great lesson to teach kids something that they do without much thought.

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The book claims to be for 3 to 7 year olds, but I think it works best for 3rd graders who seem to be testing honesty out.  Yes, it is great to introduce it to younger kids, and you really should, but like the first Zak book, the pages are a bit text heavy and the concept really should be understood without too much hand holding.  For me, the power of the book is the way that Zak’s little lies snowball in to a habit, and the climax really is something that you want the child to feel from within, not as just an adult once again telling them to be honest and not lie and to listen.

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Zak starts the book with one more chore to do until he can go to the skate park with his Baba to play.  But, he gets caught in a lie about his bearded dragon, Dwayne, and the stage is set for him to get through the day honestly.  The next test doesn’t involve lying to his parents, but rather some kids from school that tease him, he doesn’t tell the truth and consequences ensue.  Next up he lies to his sister, again a great addition in showing that honesty is not just important when dealing with parents or adults, but that it needs to be the standard in all our dealings.  At the end, it is his sister getting in trouble for something that he has done that forces his to come clean about his whole day and to learn that truly, “Nothing in the earth and in the heavens is hidden from Allah” (Surah Al-Imran 3:5).

The hardback book is 29 pages with the last two pages being Discussion Questions and more information about the Quran Ayats and Hadiths mentioned.  The illustrations are not too busy, but the characters facial expressions are spot on, and often where the emotional cues for the text are found.

Nanni’s Hijab by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq illustrated by Vitchapol Taerattanachai

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Nanni’s Hijab by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq illustrated by Vitchapol Taerattanachai

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MashaAllah, there are so many things to like about this 36 page, brightly illustrated, elementary aged story.  Nanni, the main character, is spunky.  Not only is she strong enough to wear hijab to school, but she also is brave enough to confidently handle a bully on her own.  Surrounded by a supportive teacher, friends, classmates, and her mom, Nanni’s creativity and understanding that Allah swt will help her find a way to handle her predicament results in a happy ending, and many empowering messages.

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The book would work for most children, but I think second grade and up would get the most out of it.  The girl might be young to be wearing hijab, but it seems like she wears it because she wants too.  I like that the illustrations have her and her mom uncovered at home, and that there is a glossary at the back, opening up the book to muslim and non muslim kids alike.

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I also really like the larger messages of acceptance, trying new things, and doing better when you know better.  The supporting cast in the book resonates with muslims who go to schools where they are the minority, but have support and encouragement to practice their faith none-the-less.  Nanni’s teacher remarks that her “hijabs are as regal as a princess’s crown,” and the other students like seeing what color or design she is wearing each day.  Although a children’s book, the author does very clearly explain that the hijab is part of Nanni’s faith, although not mentioned by name, and that it is an act of worship. Nanni wants to handle the problem on her own, and for as bad as she wants to punch Leslie, she knows it isn’t the right thing to do.  As she wrestles with what is the best approach, she puts her trust in Allah, swt, which perhaps is the greatest lesson for us all in the book, alhumdulillah.

The Man with Bad Manners by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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The Man with Bad Manners by Idries Shah illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago

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This story has a good moral, but the path there is a little twisted.  A village is annoyed by a man with awful manners and when he leaves for vacation, a clever boy convinces everyone to teach him a lesson and get him to change his ways when he returns.  They replant his field, paint his house, and rearrange his furniture to convince him upon his return that this is not his village or home or fields.  

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When he does come back, he is confused and sad that he doesn’t know where he comes from, at which time the village tells him what they did, and agree to put everything back if he promises to change.  

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The 32 page brightly illustrated book tells an Afghani tale in a western setting.  The chunky cartoonish illustrations show great imagination and encourage the reader to look at the effects of bad manners in a different way.  The clever boy, also goes about things in an extreme manner, which hopefully gets the reader to question if it was successful and perhaps how they would have handled the situation.  Another book that urges, thinking outside the box, with some discussion and reflection.  There is some lying, breaking and entering and other questionable actions, but I think most kids will realize it to be a silly story to teach a lesson, and all is forgiven because in the end they did live happily ever after.

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The book is not AR but easily works for Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  There is nothing in the text or illustrations that suggests the book has any religious or cultural ties.

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Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

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Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

I’m going to review two of the eight books in the Museum Mysteries Series that have Amal on the cover:  The Case of the Missing Museum Archives and The Case of the Stolen Space Suit.  The series focuses on four characters of diverse backgrounds who have a parent that works in one of four Capital City museums.  Amal Farah is Somali American and her dad works at the Museum of Air and Space, Raining Sam is Native American and loves the American History Museum his mom works at, Clementine Wim’s mom works at the Art Museum, and Wilson Kipper’s favorite is the Museum of Natural History.  The kids solve mysteries and introduce the readers to real facts and tidbits of real information.  The AR level is 4.0 and 4.1 respectively, but I feel like they really are on a 2nd-4th grade level.  When a child is done with Ron Roy (A-Z Mysteries & Capital Mysteries) and Magic Treehouse, they are ready for these.  Much like those series, readers are similarly introduced to new vocabulary, but not overwhelmed with back story, detail, explanation, or much character development.

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SYNOPSIS:

In The Case of the Missing Archives, (the second in the Museum Mysteries Series), eleven-year-old Amal and her friends have to figure out who stole the plans for the German “Bat Wing” Plane, and fast.  If they don’t Amal’s father, Dr. Ahmed Farah, a museum archivist, is going to lose his job.  Luckily in 117 pages the kids suspect and rule out a “friend,” identify a mystery subject, and finally solve the case by piecing together the security guards clues and being perceptive.  Along the way you learn a bit about the characters, but nothing substantial.  You don’t feel a connection to the characters, and are only slightly annoyed when Clementine kind of takes over. 

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The second book where the Museum of Air and Space, and thus Amal are leading the plot is The Case of the Stolen Space Suit (#6 in the series).  I didn’t like this book as much as the earlier one because while yes, I learned about Sally Ride and how women in space are often over looked, I felt like the culprit was let off the hook with little reprimand for stealing Sally Ride’s space suit.  Once again the four kids come together to solve a mystery this time it involves two of the museums: Air and Space and American History Museum.  There is a bit more blatant lying in this book, which is normal in this genre as the kids have to snoop around and not get caught, but they seem a little less apologetic this time around.  The red herrings aren’t as believable, and the real culprit is only spotted by chance, no real sleuthing.  

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WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously I like that a Muslim girl is included in this very diverse foursome.  She wears hijab, has a muslim name, tucks her phone in her hijab to go hands free, and is of Somali heritage.  Her father is educated and not over bearing or stereotypical, and her background is just detail.  Her group of friends seem to appreciate each other’s cultures and talents as well as their passions and hobbies.  The kids vary in age from 10 to 13 with two girls and two boys.  The only lack of diversity is perhaps that they seem to all be middle class and fully able bodied.  Faith, family structure, culture, all run the gambut.  

There is no religious reference at all.  The book mentions her scarf only as a hands free life saver, and we learn her favorite hijab is blue with little stars on it.

I like that all the books are full color about 120 pages.  There is factual information at the begining and at the end.  There is also a summary on each kid at the begining.  The story concludes with a glossary,  writing prompts, discussion questions, and information about the author and illustrator.

I love the covers.

 

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FLAGS:

There is lying, but the rest is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t use this book as a book club selection because there isn’t really much to discuss.  I would definitely have this series in the classroom or recommend it to other early chapter book readers.  Like Brezenoff’s other series the book is satisfying in its simplicity and a good book to build interest in a variety of things while feeling accomplished at reading a book.