Category Archives: 3rd grade and up

Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan by Maxine Rose Schur illustrated by Patricia Grush, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi

Standard
Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan by Maxine Rose Schur illustrated by Patricia Grush, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi

brave

This 44 page fictionalized retelling of Queen Goharshad, a 15th century monarch of the Timurid dynasty in Afghanistan should really be a larger book than 8 x 8 to appreciate the artwork that is detailed and stunning.  The story of Goharshad, wife of Emperor Shah Rukh, and her influence on art, music, culture, higher education, and architecture, is one that we should be more familiar with, but the actual text and manner in which the story is conveyed isn’t consistent for me and I wanted more details about the society she stepped in to to rule,  I know it is fiction, and meant for 2nd to 4th graders, but I would like to think that readers will want to know what obstacles she had and what support she enjoyed and from where.  That they will question if it was a rich kingdom that she could pay musicians to play everywhere, and wonder if families sent their daughters to the University she built, ask why it wasn’t for women to design a  Masjid, and what was the name of the smaller mosque that bore an older woman’s name? The book at times overly summarizes and at other times is haltingly detailed.  It is a good read to reflect a strong woman and her influence on her land, but unless assigned, I don’t know that seven to ten year olds will pick up the book and be inspired by it enough to change their perception of the Afghanistan that they may see on the news.

img_0171

Seven centuries ago Goharshad loved beautiful things such as painting and the texts of Rumi.  Her brothers played at being like Genghis Khan and teased her for not being brave.  She vowed to be brave with beauty even though she didn’t know what that even meant.  At age 14 she was given in marriage to the king, Shah Rukh, in Herat.  She ruled with her husband and had resources and time to spread her beauty by speaking up and being brave.

img_0172

Her first act of beauty was by filling the kingdom with music.  She wanted music every day in the court and beyond. Music that was playful and pious, music that painted pictures in the listeners minds and brought joy like the laughter of God.  She next sketched and designed a beautiful and enchanting garden to be built.  It doesn’t say where it was, but that people came from all around to enjoy it.

img_0173

Feeling braver she turned her sights on building a mosque in the western city of Mashhad.  She designed it and called the court architect, Qavam al-Din Shirazi to discuss.  He doubted if it was right for a woman to design such spaces, but she assured him that she had the talent for it, so construction began.  An elderly woman refused to sell her cottage for the new project unless a mosque with her name was built.  The advisors wanted the old woman put to death or imprisoned, Goharshad disagreed appreciating the woman’s strength and instead agreed.  The big mosque was built with Goharshad’s name and a smaller one on the property with the old lady’s.

img_0175

With such an accomplishment complete, the Queen again summoned the architect and expressed her desire to build a great center for learning.  A college for girls, a grand mosque for prayer, and a vast library.  She wanted the structure decorated with paint from precious stones and sold her crown to finance the project.

img_0174

After her husband died Goharshad reigned, but sadly after she died, much of her accomplishments died as well.  Over time, harsh weather and war, nearly all her buildings disappeared and those that remain, do so in ruin.  The book ends with hope that memories of her will endure, A guide to some of the words in the story,  an Author’s note, and a Guide for Parents and Educators.

img_0176

There is not a lot of Islam in the story, just the building of masajid .  Some may take issue with her stress and celebration of music, and likening it to God laughing, but if you look at it as her story, it should be able to be appreciated even if you disagree.

img_0177

Rumaysa: A Fairytale by Radiya Hafiza illustrated by Rhaida El Touny

Standard
Rumaysa: A Fairytale by Radiya Hafiza illustrated by Rhaida El Touny

rumaysa

This middle grades retelling of the classic fairytales: Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, replaces white characters with diverse Desi characters, reclaims female characters’ empowerment, and weaves the stories together with Rumaysa first freeing herself, and then using a magic necklace that takes her to those in need  (Cinderayla and Sleeping Sara) in her quest to find her long lost parents.  After a few chapters, I started writing a list of gaping-huge-ginormous plot holes, they are frequent and laughable, then I took a deep breath and recalled the similar eye-rolling inconsistencies that plague perhaps all fairy tales, but specifically Disney-esque ones. Once I let go of trying to understand why Rumaysa is wearing hijab while locked in an isolated tower, or how the witch can’t remember her name, but Rumaysa knows the name her parents gave her when she was kidnapped on the day of her birth, or that she knows she was kidnapped and her whole backstory, just to name a few, the book was much more enjoyable.  I still have major issues with some of the forced Islamization and cultural tweaks, but not because they existed, but rather because they weren’t strong enough.  Why have an Eid ball for all the fair maidens in the land.  It was awkward to read all the young people showing up to pair off, and then people asking the prince to dance, and him saying he didn’t know if he could.  Why not just make it an over the top Desi wedding with families, where dancing and moms working to pair their kids off is the norm. Having it be a ball for the maidens in the land, just seemed like it was afraid to commit to the premise of twisting the fairytales completely.  There are a few inconsistencies, however, that I cannot overlook.  This is a mainstream published books and there is at least one spelling error and grammar mistake.  I could be wrong, as it is British, and I am by no means competent in even American English, but I expect better.  Even content wise, Prince Harun for example, is wearing a mask, but the text comments on his blushing cheeks, eyes, eyelashes, and smile, not a typical mask perhaps? And don’t get me started on the  illustrations, the same awkward ball has Ayla leaving, and in the picture not wearing a mask concealing her face as the text states.  Overall, the inside illustrations are not well done.  The cover, by artist Areeba Siddique is beautiful with the shimmery leafing on the edges, that would have brought the inside pages a lot more depth and intrigue than the ones it contains.  Despite all the aforementioned glimpses of my critiques to follow, I didn’t hate the book and quite enjoyed the light handed morals and feminism that was interwoven with clever remarks and snark. The first story has Rumaysa wearing hijab, finding a book about salat and praying.  The second story takes place on Eid and Ayla eats samosas, discusses Layla and Majnun, and has a duputta. The third story I don’t recall any culture or religious tidbits other than keeping with the consistency of cultural names.  There is mention of romance between an owl who has a crush on a Raven, but the heroines themselves are learning to be self sufficient from errors of their parents/guardians and are not looking for any males to save them.  Other than that the book really needs an editor and new illustrations, I can see fairytale loving middle grade kids reading the book and finding it enjoyable, or even younger children having it read aloud to them a few chapters at a time, and being drawn in to the stories and eager to see what happens next. It would work for that demographic, but perhaps no one else.

img_0394

SYNOPSIS: (spoilers)

Rumaysa’s parents steal vegetables from a magical garden when there is no food or work to be found, as a result when Rumaysa is born, the owner of the garden, an evil witch, takes Rumaysa and places her in a tower protected by an enchanted forest and a poisonous river.  No one can get in, and Rumaysa cannot get out.  In the tower Rumaysa reads, no idea how she learned, and spins straw in to gold as she sings a song that channels the magic she consumed in utero from the stolen garden.  With only rations of oats to eat, a friendly owl named Zabina frequents Rumays daily and brings her berries and news .  When he brings her a new hijab, Rumaysa has the idea to lengthen the hijab with bits of gold over time, so that she might escape.  When she finally gets her chance, she is met by a boy on a magic carpet named Suleiman, and is both shocked and annoyed that someone got close to the tower, and only after she saved herself.  The two however, and Zabina, are caught by the witch and must escape her as well.  When that is all said and done, Suleiman gives Zabina a necklace that takes one to someone in need of help.  His parents want him to save a princess, he wants to study in his room, so he hands off the necklace hoping it will help Rumaysa find her parents, and he heads off on his flying carpet.

The necklace doesn’t transport Rumaysa to her parents, however, it takes her to a street where a girl is throwing rocks in desperation having been denied attending an Eid ball after her dress was torn to shreds.  The story starts with Ayla’s back story before Rumaysa arrives, but the two girls befriend each other, Rumaysa uses her magic gold weaving abilities to conjure up a new and beautiful dress and golden shoes and the girls head to the ball.  When Ayla heads off to get samosas she meets the prince, but doesn’t know he is the prince.  They argue about the play Layla and Majnun and when her stepmother asks about the dress, Rumaysa and Ayla make a run for it.  A shoe is lost, the stepmother comes to know, the guards search for the missing girl, and all is well.  Except Harun is incredibly shallow and superficial and only interested in Ayla’s clothes and status, so she rejects him and points out that she is much too young for marriage.  She instead reclaims her home, fixes her relationship with her stepsisters and begs Rumaysa to stay.  Rumaysa makes her excuses and is whisked away to a land that is being ruled by a man and his dragons.

Originally the land of Farisia is ruled by King Emad and Queen Shiva, but they have become unjust and disconnected from their people.  When Azra gets a chance to steal Princess Sara and take the kingdom, he does.  Rumaysa arrives to free a sleeping Sara from the dragon and restore apologetic and reformed leaders to the thrown.

img_0397

WHY I LIKE IT:

I do like the spinning of familiar stories and either updating them, or twisting them, or fracturing them, so I am glad to see an Islamic cultural tinge available.  I feel like the first story was the strongest conceptually even if the details and morals weren’t well established.  The second story was strong in the messaging that Ayla, and any girl, is more than just a pretty dress, but the premise was a little shaky and not that different from the original.  The third story was a little lacking developmentally for me and all three I felt could have gone stronger in to the religion and culture without alienating readers or becoming heavy.  There are characters illustrated in hijab, some in saris, some in flowing robes. Princess Sara is noted to be a larger body type and I appreciated that in elevating the heroines, other’s weren’t put down.  Even within the book, there is diversity which is wonderful.  

img_0398

FLAGS:

There is lying and stealing with consequences.  “Shut up” is said.  There is magic, death, destruction, and a brief mention of an avian crush.

img_0395

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I could see this being used in a classroom for a writing assignment to urge students to write their own tales.  I think it is fourth or fifth grade that children read fairytales from different points of view: think the three little pigs from the wolf’s perspective or the Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and this book would lend itself easily to that lesson as well.

Islamaphobia deal with it in the name of peace by Safia Saleh illustrated by Hana Shafi

Standard
Islamaphobia deal with it in the name of peace by Safia Saleh illustrated by Hana Shafi

img_9893

This nonfiction book has given me pause.  The information, the approach, the presentation, the importance, is all really well done, I just can’t really grasp how to use the book.  It is broken up in to four sections:  Islamophobia 101, The Believer, The Intolerant, and The Bystander. In each sections it has scenarios, comic strips, quizzes, infographics, advice columns and so much more spread out over 32 pages.  After it explains what Islamophobia is, it offers believers (Muslims) ways to see if what they are facing is classified as Islamophobia.  It has quizzes and questions and advice for people that are intolerant, and then if you are just around Muslims and intolerant folk what you can and should be aware of and do.  I think in a classroom all sections could be gone over, but I’m not sure in which grade and in what context.  In an Islamic youth group I think it could be really thought provoking to look at different sides and encourage the members to share their personal experiences, but I don’t know.  If you are a bully, would some quizzes and graphics be enough for you to recognize your own bias, could it make you change your attitude? I’d love to hear from others that have read this book, I checked mine out from the library.  It says it is for ages nine and up and other books in the series cover topics such as: consent, homophobia, transphobia, anxiey, racism, and freedom of expression.

img_9897

The first section: Islamophobia 101 starts off with a scenario of a girls first day of school after the summer and her first day wearing hijab.  No one really says anything, but there are whispers, her best friend asks if everything is ok at home.  It defines Islamophobia as “a kind of intolerance, or a refusal to accept and respect ideas and views that are different from your own.  It is the belief that Muslims, or people who follow the religion of Islam, are a group to be fearful of.”  It goes on to explain in examples what Islamophobia is while giving facts about Islam and things to think about. There are graphic comic type scenarios showing what Islamophobia can look like based on ignorance, stereotypes, then assumptions, and finally fear.  The section then offers a 10 question quiz, followed by questions and answers to a fictitious counselor in an advice column format. Finally there are myths and a Did You Know Section.

img_9899

The next section: The Believer, starts with a scenario of a Muslim holding their breath while watching the news.  Of being proud of your family and faith, but being tired of convincing people you are a Muslim and a good person.  An advice column about handling halal food, terrorism, hijab and sports is next followed by tips to not feel alone and an infographic on dos and don’ts to not be overwhelmed by your experiences.

img_9901

The third section is The Intolerant which asks if other people’s religions bother you, or if you question why religion has to be part of daily life and not kept personal.  There is a a 30 question true and false quiz, then a challenge to be part of the problem or part of the solution, with information on what you can do.  There is a sidebar about the role of social media as well as some highlights of current Muslim sports figures.

img_9900

The Bystander section asks if you’ve seen someone bullied or harassed for being Muslim, if it bothers you to hear people talk about immigrants and refugees as a threat, and what you can do to speak up. There are dos and don’ts a 10 question quiz, some more Islam facts and some direction to get more information.

img_9902

Overall the book is well done, and I had my kids look through it to see a way to facilitate anything they experience and how to articulate how they are treated and might treat others.  

img_9896

Ayesha Dean- The Lisbon Lawbreaker by Melati Lum

Standard
Ayesha Dean- The Lisbon Lawbreaker by Melati Lum

img_8735

In this third Ayesha Dean book, that can be read as a stand alone, the Australian teen sleuth finds herself on the other side of the law in the beautiful city of Lisbon in Portugal.  Over 333 pages, she must understand what she is being accused of and figure out how to clear her name, all while marveling at the beautiful historic sites, diving into the delicious food, and looking fabulous while she does it all.  Middle grade to early middle school readers will enjoy the fast pace mystery that has history, crime, adventure, and friendship.  There, as always, is a twinge of romance, but it all stays halal as Ayesha is a proud and practicing strong Muslim young woman.

SYNOPSIS:

Ayesha Dean is now 18 and has just arrived in Lisbon for three months as part of an internship program to help little kids with their english.  This is her first international trip without her beloved Uncle Day and her two closest friends Jess and Sara.  Not to worry, there are a lot of young people participating in the internship program and she will be rooming with two girls, Mara and Aveline. Things start of routine enough as Ayesha gets to know the handsome and kind Raimy from America and tries to figure out why Aveline doesn’t seem to like her.  But on her way to the school she will be working at, she finds a wallet filled with money and no identification, just a phone number.  When she calls the number and a meeting is setup, the stage is set for a series of events that will include telling Raimy off for mansplaining things to her, a man murdered, a chase scene, a necklace stolen, no memory of it all, and Ayesha being arrested.

Knowing only a few people in the city, and having just met them at that, Ayesha makes bail by getting help from her friend’s Aunt in Spain who comes to provide Ayesha a place to stay as well. She has some time before her formal hearing, and Ayesha is determined to figure out what she is being accused of and how to clear her name.  With the help of Mara, Raimy, a young girl in the elementary school Ayesha was working at, and some chance encounters, Ayesha finds herself risking her own safety in an underground environmental gang ring. I won’t spoil all the ups and downs and ultimate ending, but Ayesha Dean’s tae kwon do, faith, and wits will all be used and the last page will definitely leave you wanting more.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I feel like the writing has finally found the perfect balance between description and action, the first chapter was a bit choppy, but once it hit its stride it was smooth.  I was intrigued by the historical detail that was all new to me, and am pondering how to convince the author to lead a tour group through all these places that Ayesha visits.  As always the descriptions of food and architecture and fashion are all so spot on that you feel like you are there.  I absolutely love that religion is so genuinely a part of Ayesha, but it is for her, she doesn’t do it for any one else.  She prays, she wears hijab, she doesn’t drink, she clarifies to Raimy what she can do, she acknowledges possible stereotypes and discrimination, but chooses to move forward and not get bogged down by it.  She is physically and mentally strong, but doesn’t come off as arrogant or judgmental or unrealistic.

I like the diverse characters in this book, and in all of them.  The multi ethnic protagonist has friends from all sorts of backgrounds and it is really refreshing and natural.

FLAGS:

There is murder, assault, crime, drinking and alcohol.  Nothing is glamorized or anything a third grader couldn’t probably handle.  There is a hint of possible romance, but nothing that crosses any lines or standards.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this for a middle school book club if the majority of the participants are 6th graders as it would not have the same appeal to older 8th graders.  I think they would benefit the most and enjoy the strength and cleverness of such an inspiring lead.  Of the three books in the series, I think this one would work the best for insightful discussion and empathy.  It would great to hear them imagine themselves in her shoes: a foreign country, no family, no longtime friends, minimal language skills and accused of a serious crime. Oh I can’t wait to share this book with my reading friends!

Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr: Traditions and Celebrations by Melissa Ferguson

Standard
Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr: Traditions and Celebrations by Melissa Ferguson

This 2021 nonfiction middle grade book about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr breaks sections down by key concepts and the use of stock image photographs. The information is fairly accurate, no major flags, just a few awkward stresses: that kids look for the moon, that meat is so important at iftar, but most of the information is conveyed well. There is a glossary, more books to check out, internet sites to visit, an index, and pronunciation guide. The Capstone published, 32 page book, shows diversity in the pictures- some women with hijab and some without, different skin tones as well, and while it might not be the most tempting book to pick up, the text is inviting for non Muslims to understand Ramadan and Eid, how to join their Muslim friends in being kind and forgiving, and answers a lot of questions in a straightforward manner. Muslim children will also enjoy seeing their beliefs explained in a positive manner to readers in a book that stays religion focused and doesn’t get distracted by culture.

The book sections are: What is Ramadan?, When is Ramadan?, What does Fasting Mean?, Suhoor, Iftar, The Qur’an and Prayer, Acts of Kindness, Ramadan at School, and Eid Al-Fitr. It starts by introducing a fictional character named Ayesha reading the Quran with her family. It is the start of Ramadan, a month of praying, fasting, spending time with loved ones, and trying to be better people.

It then explains the lunar calendar before discussing that fasting is a choice to not eat or drink from dawn until sunset. It also notes that children and the sick and elderly are not required to fast.

It talks about eating healthy foods early in the morning before praying the first prayer of the day. It details iftar being dates and water, followed by the sunset prayer and then a large meal after that.

It is very clear in explaining that Muslims believe it was during Ramadan that God began to teach Prophet Muhammad the Quran more than 1,400 years ago. It identifies our five prayers and that people can pray at home or in mosques and that children learn to pray with their parents as they grow up.

The book then becomes a little more unique as it gives time to the aspect of kindness in Ramadan. It gives examples of what Muslims do, from raising money and hosting large dinners, to buying and donating a toy. It even dedicates a whole page to children doing kind acts with little to no money: setting the table, making a card, smiling. It encourages non Muslims to join a Muslim friend in doing an act of kindness too.

The next section, is similarly unique in talking about Ramadan at school and how often at school we learn about different religions in our neighborhood. It gives bulleted suggestions on how to learn about Ramadan in school and how to say Ramadan greetings. The book concludes with Eid Al-Fitr and coming back to Ayesha and her family celebrating.

Eid al-Fitr: Festivals Around the World by Grace Jones

Standard
Eid al-Fitr: Festivals Around the World by Grace Jones

img_8875-1

NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! Seriously, astagfiraAllah! This 24 page middle grades non fiction book about Islam and Eid published in 2018 with smart-board connections and QR scan media enhancements on its surface would seem to be a great classroom all-in-one to learn about the basics of celebrations, Islam, Ramadan, and Eid.  BUT, NO! The information is all sorts of off, and there is an illustration depicting Prophet Muhammad (saw).  How is this sort of ignorance even possible? This isn’t even a Karen Katz My First Ramadan depiction where you can possibly argue and stretch that it isn’t a depiction of the Prophet, but just of the people.  Every picture in the book is a photograph, except on the page talking about the first revelation, it is an illustration and there are no other people on the page, just a picture of the Quran.  I encourage you all to see if your public library shelves the book and ask them to pull it. ****UPDATE: My library pulled it, and the publisher has halted sales of it. Alhumdulillah! We must remember we can use our voices to make a differences, that people are receptive and willing, not always, but we won’t know unless we try.  ****

img_8873-1

The book covers nine topics on two page spreads ranging from the generic what is a festival, to what is Islam to prayer and worship and festival food.  The book has a little girl Noor that pops up on pages to tell you how to say a word and has a glossary with her definitions at the end.  Even the definitions at the end about the foods are wrong, they seem to have switched ma’amoul and sheer khurma.  To it’s credit the book has a photographs of a lot of diverse Muslims celebrating Ramadan and Eid, unfortunately so much is wrong, from little things saying that “Sheer Khurma is traditionally eaten for breakfast during Eid,” to “Muhammad spread Allah’s words to other people by writing them down in a holy book…”.  

img_8869-1

It has in quotes that a voice from the sky called to Muahmmad, “You have been chosen to hear Allah’s words.”  This quote and its source are nor footnoted or referenced, clearly they are not from surah Al Alaq.  I’m not sure where they are getting this from.  There are no salutaions after Rasulallah’s name nor is Prophet before it.

img_8872-1

Other informative sentences are vague and suggest misinformation.  It says that we believe in Allah and pray to him in a mosque, which yes is fine, but we also pray to him in other places five times a day and the way it is worded, I don’t think that would be understood.  I feel like the role of the imam is also overly elevated in the book.  The takeaway I assume would be that only an Imam can lead a prayer and we must always pray in a mosque.  

img_8870-1

Ultimately the biggest problem I have in the book is the depiction of our beloved Prophet.  I can forgive that they assume eating a random dish for Eid is religious and not just cultural, but I can’t forgive such basic ignorance in a book that presumably is trying to teach about a faith to reduce ignorance and misunderstandings.

 

Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

Standard

img_8575

This 310 page, AR 5.4 biography reads like a dream being remembered and flowing with newly awakened images presented in a lyrical way. The changes in point of view and writing style keep the book bouncing like a boxing match, and flesh out the early life of Muhammad Ali for middle grade readers.  Only at the very end does it mention that he changed his name when he converted to The Nation of Islam, it doesn’t detail much about it, and it doesn’t mention his eventual conversion to Islam, even though it does mention him being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and his death.  I understand that the book focuses on his preteen and teen years, but it seems like The Awakening of Malcolm X also intentionally cut that footnote out of the book, and having read that book a few weeks ago, it seems a deliberate exclusion in both cases and that bothers me.  It could be coincidence, as both 2020 published middle grade coming of age books have familial support in the writing and research, admittedly it just might be my timing of reading them makes it seem that something larger is at play.  Ultimately, this book gives insight into who Cassius Clay was, and what his life and friend circle looked like as a boy in Kentucky. The verse and flow of the text make the book an easy and enjoyable read.

SYNOPSIS:

Lucky is Muhammad Ali’s friend growing up and is the narrating voice that sets up each chapter and overall framing of the book.  The bookish friend is a writer and eventually a journalist that moves the story forward.  The verses that follow each intro are the imagined voice of Muhammad Ali.  There is a bibliography at the back, but the story starts with this warning, or disclaimer, or wink of sorts:

img_8621

The book opens with Lucky and the Clay family waiting for the phone to ring in 1958 to find out if Cassius has won in Chicago.  He is there fighting for the National Golden Gloves.  He eventually loses the tournament, but he doesn’t stay down.  The book then rewinds and starts back before Cassius ever enters the ring.  The reader gets to know about Granddaddy Herman and the bond that the two share.  He is Cassius’s church and source of pride.  We also learn about how Cassius sees the world and the racism that exists in it. His humbleness and frustration with seeing how hard his mom has to work for so little reward.  We see how his friends shape him, but more importantly how he shapes them, and we see how although he struggles in school how he is articulate and respectful and beloved by so many.  His younger brother is a constant in the story, as is the narrator Lucky.  The book gets inside the character Cassius and if you didn’t know it was a biography, you would think it was a fictional coming of age book.  The ups and downs, the setbacks, the frustrations, the dreams, it all flows and makes you feel for this determined kid, who despite all his bravado, is really a down to earth human being.

img_8577

WHY I LIKE IT:

I don’t think I learned anything ground breakingly new reading this book, but I felt like I got to know the material in a more fleshed-out way.  It isn’t a list of facts or hight lights, it is the nuanced day-to-day that lift him off the page and out of the headlines.  I like the change of voice and style of writing, it made sense to me, and allowed the book to resonate differently than a traditional biography would.   I think it will also appeal to a wider audience because of the verse and easy flow.  I similarly enjoyed the illustrations that pepper the book.  I appreciate that the story is told from a friend looking in on someone that he knows well, but I almost would have preferred his brother being the voice and bringing the reader even closer to the boxer. Ultimately I want to know more about his parents and his brother and how they felt about his success.  The book didn’t answer a lot of question, but hopefully it will spark the curiosity of readers to go and learn more.

img_8578

FLAGS:

He slightly mentions crushes and dating, that his dad is out galavanting Friday nights until Saturday.  There is mention of a side character having part of his face damaged in an explosion, there is reference to the N word.

img_8576

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider the book as a book club selection if it served a larger purpose or the group had a preexisting interest.  I think if I were to meet with a group of kids more than just once a month for an hour or so for a book club discussion, this book would have a lot of potential for introducing the athlete, writing styles, historical implications and so on.  I just don’t know that we could get to all that in such a limited time. If they had already learned about his boxing accomplishment,  his protesting of the war, his conversion for example, this book would be a great discussion extender to supplement basic knowledge of him.

 

 

Samira’s Trip to the Masjid by Yara Kaleemah illustrated by Aveira Cartoon

Standard

img_8520

I’m a big fan of books featuring BIPOC leads in everyday situations, but when the quality of the product is subpar, I truly am conflicted if I should mention the book, or just tuck it away and pretend I never read it.  I’ve had this book tucked away for a while now, but I am pulling it out to bring attention to the importance of editors, proofers and revising.  The bar has been raised, Islamic fiction is becoming more and more mainstream.  The quality of many self published books rival and exceed traditionally published options, that to be putting out content that contains grammar errors (missing words, punctuation, random line breaks), spelling errors, voice and point of view inconsistencies, illustration errors, and content mishaps in a 26 page picture book, is not acceptable.  I feel like you are hurting the goal of representation and reflection, more than boosting it, when it is not well done.  I know that is harsh, but sadly minorities always have to do things better, it isn’t right, but it is the way it is.  You can argue my opinion that the story is too wordy or text heavy, but the technical components and final package in a $12 book, really need to be resolved.  The overall concept of the story is lovely: the Islamic details, the reminders about the sunnahs of Jummah, the little girl being excited to wear her favorite scarf and see a friend at the masjid, it really had a lot of potential.

img_8522

Samira greets the reader with As Salaamu Alaikum, as the fourth wall is breached and introduces herself as being a Muslim.  She then explains what being a Muslim is and tells the reader it is Jummah.  She asks her Ummi why we go to the masjid on Friday, before chiming in with all the information she in fact does know about Jummah.

img_8524

The next page details wudu as she prepares to go to the Masjid.  She then explains hijab as she tries to find her favorite green khimar with polka dots.  The words hijab, scarf and khimar are used interchangeable, causing a bit of confusion,  She explains that hijab is required by Allah swt to guard your chastity and that He also requires us to wear a khimar to the masjid.  I wish it would have clarified that we have to be covered when we pray, not necessarily just going to the masjid as she is a child, and many masjids are more than just places to pray, often having community halls and gyms.

img_8525

As the story continues she cannot find her favorite khimar no matter where she looks.  Ummi tries to give her some places to check, but in typical mom fashion, Samira can’t find it anywhere, and mom can find it immediately.  Samira shares some information about wearing your best clothes and they are off to the masjid not wanting to be late and hoping to get to the masjid first as the angels keep a record.  She finds her friend, and settles in to listen to the khutbah (misspelled as “Iman’s lecture” in the book).

img_8527

The conclusion of the book says “that even though Samira couldn’t find her favorite khimar, she was happy to take a trip to the masjid…”.  But she did find her favorite khimar? And on the very last page she is wearing the same shirts as she was at the masjid, but the polka dots have vanished from her green scarf?

img_8526

I’m hoping the author, illustrator, and publisher will clean up the book and someday republish it, we need these voices and images.

Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Incredible People by Burhana Islam illustrated by Reya Ahmed, Deema Alawa, Nabi H. Ali, Saffa Khan, Aaliya Jaleel and Aghnia Mardiyah

Standard
Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Incredible People by Burhana Islam illustrated by Reya Ahmed, Deema Alawa, Nabi H. Ali, Saffa Khan, Aaliya Jaleel and Aghnia Mardiyah

img_8359

The 30 stories presented over 197 pages are inspiring, and this compilation so desperately overdue. The book is not chronological it is completely random, and at first I was confused, but as I made my way through the book, I actually grew to love not knowing who I would be reading about next.  Yes, there is a table of contents, but the point being that you don’t have to be born into royalty, or be a warrior, or have lived a long time ago to be amazing, you just have to follow your passion.  I learned so much about people I thought I knew about, and was tickled to learn about people I have never heard of: bakers, athletes, actors, educated slaves, architects, spies, singers, scientists and politicians.

img_8360

At the end of each six page illustrated blurb is an “Interesting Fact” and at the end of the entire book are some activities in the “Amazing Extras” section.  Readers can crack a code like Noor Inayat Khan who helped the Allies decode and send secret messages from France to Britain or write a poem like Rumi, a song like Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), draw a superhero like G. Willow Wilson, make a camera following the science of Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham, or color a picture of Muhammad Al-Idrisi.

img_8361

My favorite biographies were those that I knew little or nothing about before hand.  If I had to pick two favorite among all of those sections, I’d pick Khawlah bint Al-Azwar and Ayuba Suleiman Diallo.

img_8362

In 600 CE Arabia, Khawah, the masked knight, learned how to fight along side her brother and eventually served with Khalid ibn Waleed in battle.  It is said that she killed the Byzantine leader that captured her and then asked for her hand in marriage.

img_8365

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo in the 1700s in modern day Senegal was a highly educated man who was captured and forced in to slavery in Maryland, USA, interacted with James Oglethorpe, found himself being sent to England and with the help of a Thomas Bluett was able to be freed and eventually return home a free man. SubhanAllah!

img_8363

This book has it all: famous Muslim men, famous Muslim women, Black Muslims, Arab Muslims, European Muslims, American Muslims, Asian Muslims, African Muslims, Muslims who lived a long time ago, Muslims who are still alive all jumbled up and beautifully presented by a Muslim author and a handful of Muslim illustrators. This book is wonderful for 3rd graders to adults and would be a benefit on any book shelf.  It is worth noting there are no sources given, and doesn’t explain how the people were chosen to be included in the book.

Float Like A Butterfly by Ntozake Shange illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

Standard

img_8250

This 40 page biography beautifully presents major events of the famous boxer’s life without going in to much explanation. While it is an AR 4.7, it is still a picture book, and might work better for younger kids with some conversation and context, than for middle grade readers looking for anything in-depth about the beloved hero. While following his life, the reader sees him as a child growing up before he becomes famous, and sees that even after he retires, he is so much more than just a boxer, he is a compassionate leader, icon, and humanitarian.

img_8251

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in the Pre-Civil Rights South as Cassius Clay, he struggled to understand why there was only a white superman, and questioned if heaven was divided up by color and income like Smoketown.

img_8252

Cassius loved the power of words and would help his father make rhymes as a sign painter. When his bike gets stolen he is motivated to learn to fight so that nothing else is ever taken from him and his. He may not be the colored superman, but he is determined to be lightening fast and have fists that fly.

img_8253

In 1960 at age 18 he won Olympic Gold. In 1964 he converted/reverted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali days after becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World. His titles were stripped from him, however, when he refused to fight in Vietnam.

img_8254

Years later in 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his convictions for not fighting and in 1974 he reclaimed his title by beating George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle.” In 1981 after winning, keeping and losing the title, Muhammad Ali retired from boxing for good.

img_8255

Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson’s disease but still donated his time, his money and himself. He believed in perseverance, and equality, and fought for what he believed in. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 74.

img_8256

This is an updated edition from the 2002 originally published book, it now includes his death. I wish it was more than a fleshed out timeline and showed him as a person, or what it was like to lose everything when standing up for something you believe in, or explained what some of his catch phrases meant, or really just as a more high energy celebration of his life.

img_8257