Category Archives: 2nd through 4th grade

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.

Alana’s Bananas by Mariam Hussein illustrated by Saima Riaz

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Alana’s Bananas by Mariam Hussein illustrated by Saima Riaz

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A silly, silly book about a girl’s love of bananas and her despair when a storm wipes out the banana crops in Costa Rica.  The moral of the story is to try new foods, and in 36 pages I think the reader will grasp just how over the top Alana’s obsession with bananas truly is and the lesson will be learned.

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My only stumbling block is I’m not sure what age the book is for.  The bright silly pictures work well for ages 3 and up.  The theme works well for ages 4 and up.  The amount of text on the page, however, is more 6 or 7 and up, and the concepts of where banana’s come from, multiple uses for banana peels is about the same.  The character in the book, Alana, is eight and goes to the library and reads cook books and cooks independently, but the way her parents trick her into eating other foods is to hide eggs, peanut butter, rice, avocados and anything else they could find in banana peels, which keeps with the silliness of it all, but seems a bit off for 8 years old. Also talk about very patient parents allowing their 8 year old to only eat bananas for so long, and then not being upset when they have to resort to extreme levels of trickery.

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There is nothing islamic in the text, and the only islamic elements are the author, illustrator, and the family based on the illustrations.  The mom wears hijab, but it is neither mentioned or referenced and no islamic vocabulary or phrases are in the story. In a scene at school, the girl sitting next to Alana is wearing hijab.

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The book is about 10×10 and sturdy in its construction.  The back cover has a recipe for Alana’s Banana Breakfast Muffins. Enjoy!

Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Presenting the stories of refugees to young children often involves a balancing act of fact, emotion, and restraint, all while finding the common ground to create empathy in the reader.  Increasingly on bookshelves are successful picture books that use illustrations to build bridges of understanding and bright colors to convey hope.  For older children there are books that can devote time to explain issues or offer first hand accounts along with political back stories and historical events.  For elementary age children 2nd and 3rd grade particularly, chapter books on refugees are not very common.  Children this age seem to relish in silly outlandish characters with a few font happy sentence and pictures on each page or stick to series that are easily predictable as they present tidbits of history or simple mysteries.  All reasons to encourage your child to read Blackout! and break the monotony and gain some empathy.  As delicate as the subject matter is, the book manages to resonate with most children how good they have it and how fortunate they are, without getting preachy or pretentious.

SYNOPSIS:

Yusuf, a 12-year-old Canadian boy is anxiously waiting the arrival of his cousin Ahmed from Syria.  Ahmed recently lost his father when their makeshift boat capsized, and while coming to Canada is a blessing, he is still haunted in his dreams and memories by all that he has seen and endured.  This idea that being safe now, doesn’t erase all the pain and fears experienced, is a concept most adults understand, but I was surprised that my children had to talk it out a bit.  They understood that he would be sad, but hadn’t really thought how hearing loud noises would immediately remind him of the explosions he heard in Syria and of his home and buildings crumbling down.

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The story’s focus is the present however, and follows Yusuf.   The backstory of Syria and Ahmed’s escape is juxtaposed with an ice storm turning Toronto powerless and cold.  As Yusuf deals with the annoyance of a few days without electricity he learns a bit of compassion for others in the world, who endure a similar situation indefinitely.  In a beautiful way, Ahmed’s enduring optimism changes Yusuf as they find reasons to smile at the raccoon rummaging through their food put outside to stay cold, or playing in the snow to pass the time.  The characters have a lot of heart, for a short book, and you really feel like you get to know them and feel for them.  Yes, Yusuf whines, but he is a kid who’s winter vacation plans have gone awry and is frustrated and bored.  Ahmed, while a survivor, still struggles, but maintains a personality much more than just victim.  The other family members are background, but they aren’t flat, they have warmth and humor and pain in equal parts, implying if the book was longer, we’d get to know more about them too, and probably like them as well.

Despite the refugee story line, and the blackout, the crux of the story is actually helping one another and being neighborly.  Ahmed at one point is telling a story of how he began helping someone in a refugee camp and that it gave him purpose.  This reminds Yusuf that they have an elderly neighbor and the radio alerts had encouraged people to check on one another.  The boys rush over to find Mr. Caldwell, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning brought on by his kerosene heater. Luckily an ambulance is able to get there just in the nick or time. On the third day of the blackout, the Imam speaks about helping one another and making this obstacle into something positive.   Ahmed tells Yusuf how the neighbors in Syria would gather in the winter to share what food they had.  This brilliant idea gets the support of Yusuf’s dad, the Imam and the whole congregation as they rush home to invite the neighbors to a neighborhood BBQ.  The perishable food needs to be consumed, so what better way to enjoy it, than to share it.

When the power comes back on, Yusuf is not the same kid, he has grown in compassion, and patience, and inshaAllah the reader will be similarly affected for the better.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book addresses a hard topic on a kid level.  It does not overwhelm the reader or frighten them.  MashaAllah, it balances what they can understand, with something bigger.  The illustrations keep it light in their doodle like appearance and the font, spacing, chapter length and presentation are perfect for the target audience.

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The women wear hijab, they pray, they go to the mosque, yet they don’t quote hadith or Quran or say a lot of mashaAllah and Alhumdulillah, making the book work easier for non Muslims.  The coming together of community is nice.  No one asks or worries what religion, race, or ethnicity anyone in the neighborhood is, they just come together to share a meal and welcome Ahmed and his mom to Canada.  The Imam is relatable and the dad is involved and generous, the mom is competent and respected, all normal behaviors that reinforce community and normalize diversity and acceptance.

FLAGS:

The violence of war may affect young children differently.  Nothing is sensationalized or graphic, but Ahmed does get stuck in the rubble when his house is destroyed, and his father’s drowning is discussed.  Nothing is talked about in depth, but the ideas are presented.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be perfect for a young book club.  I’m looking forward to reading it with my six-year-old son and my eight-year-old niece so that I can see how what they get from the book.  There is a brief explanation on refugees at the back of the book, and I think current events would naturally make a book club discussion easy to facilitate.  I think gathering items and meeting refugees after, would also be a wonderful way to turn the fictional story into real action.  It is also worth noting 100% of profits from this book will be going to the Syrian Canadian Foundation‘s mental health and wellness initiative for Syrian newcomers.

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Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

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Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

IMG_4757I was really excited to learn about this book from the author, as it seemed to be a book that would stand out in a very crowded genre and work for both Muslim and non Muslim kids.  When I tore off the package however, the face on the cover seemed a bit off for my taste, the glossary is on the back cover and while the pages are full size and full color, the book starts on the first page and somehow seemed more “home done” than “professional.”  Which isn’t a bad thing, and I’m happy to support local writers, but alas I do often judge books by their covers and format, and my first impression had to be stuffed away so I could give the book a fair chance.

The book is 20 pages with the 20th page being recipes.   I would guess children 5 and up would be considered the target audience.  It basically is a book telling about Ramadan with the author trying to blend in a story, that for me, sometimes worked and sometimes really didn’t.

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It starts with Zachariah, a 12 year-old-boy waiting for his mom to wake him up to fast, a day he has been waiting his whole life for.  Why he had to wait to fast at age 12 is not clear to me or made clear in the story.  His 10 year-old-sister only does half days, but in the illustrations she seems to only look about 3 years old, so I’m not sure where the arbitrary age requirements for fasting come from.  There is also a third sibling in the pictures that is never mentioned, not sure why, my kids and I speculated a lot more on that than we probably should have.  It isn’t told from Zachariah’s point of view but he is the focus as his day gets started.

The characters are undoubtedly desi as the book is very steeped in subcontinent cultural over tones.  Sehri, the pre dawn meal, is described in abundance of detail, “His mom made omelets, fried potatoes, with curry and tomatoes and his favorite parathas: thin leavened dough that is friend in olive oil or butter”  It’s a bit detailed of how the items are prepared for a kid’s book, and that is just page one of two pages dedicated to detailing the food on the table for breakfast.  Iftar the meal to break the fast is also two pages of description and cooking methods, but about double the amount of text.

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Culture is often food, and Ramadan has its own food traditions, but there is a lot of space dedicated to food in this book,  and it kind of takes away from the message of fasting, and moderation, and not going in excess.  Later in the book the mom does pack up some of the food to take to the less fortunate which is great, but she does it while the rest of the family is breaking their fast.  Not sure why she couldn’t have done it before or after and joined them.

After sehri is presented the family talks about Ramadan and what it means and what they like best about it.  There is a bit of dialogue that is actually sweet and funny, and gives some warmth to the story.  It is clear the author is just trying to flesh out the facts about Ramadan, but for a kid’s book, I think getting the facts in and presenting them in a fictionalized setting is a useful tool.

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The story seems a bit lopsided when it shrinks Zachariah’s day at school to one five line paragraph saying it was wonderful and then moves on saying “Later, he helps his mom.”  After spending 10 pages on the predawn meal, I would have liked to know a bit more how school went for him, it is his perfect day after all.  Also, the lapse in time by the narrator seemed a bit off to me in the sequential flow of the story, as it was following him in real time so to speak, and then fast forwards the bulk of the day only touching on lunch time, and

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Alhumdulillah, the family is sweet and excited for Ramadan. They pray together and are seen with smiling faces.  There isn’t much diversity in the pictures, the family has darker skin, the friends at lunch are more fair.  The mom wears hijab and is in the kitchen, dad doesn’t seem to be, but Zachariah helps his mom.

The book is colorful, and busy.  I’m not sure if the pictures are meant to be a stylized reality or look computer generated, but they seem a little blurry in places.  The font and backgrounds are nice.  There is a verse from the Quran in English and Arabic, as well as the athan and some Islamic calligraphy.

Overall, there is nothing “wrong” with the book, it just isn’t memorable.  There are some really good Ramadan books out there, and this one does it’s job of explaining Ramadan, but lacks the characters to leave an impression.  I definitely don’t regret buying it, but I don’t know that my kids or I will read it again this Ramadan, it doesn’t create that reaction.  It will probably stay on the shelf until next year, when we can’t recall many of the details and give it another go.

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