Category Archives: Arabic

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha illustrated by Yujo Shimzu

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The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha illustrated by Yujo Shimzu

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This 40 page true story about Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel of Aleppo aka the Cat Man shows how one person can make a difference even in the middle of a war.  The amount of text on the page, the topic covered, and the detailed illustrations will most appeal to second graders and up, but younger kids, particularly those that love animals, will enjoy the story as well.

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Alaa loves his city: the markets, the foods, the people.  When war comes, he doesn’t flee, he keeps working as an ambulance driver.  He has a big heart.  His sees destroyed neighborhoods where everyone has left, except for the cats.  There is no one to feed them and give them water, and Alaa feels for them.

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After his shift he buys meat, and feeds over a dozen cats.  He does this everyday and soon a dozen turns in to fifty and he realizes that he can no longer care for the cats alone.  He needs a place for them.

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Word spreads and volunteers and donations start pouring in.  He purchases a building with a shaded courtyard and soon cats are everywhere.  When people leave Aleppo they bring their beloved cats to him, and even other animals start arriving.  Alaa even builds a playground for the children and digs a well so everyone can have fresh water.

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The book is pretty straightforward and steady, it doesn’t have much emotion for such a powerful true story, but it will still hit the mark in inspiring children to show kindness and compassion for animals and others.

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There are notes from each other and the illustrator at the end that share light on their connection to the story and the situation in Syria.  There is nothing religious in the book other than a few females in hijab.

Leila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi

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Leila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi

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This 127 page book has a lot of potential, but ultimately didn’t win me over.  It is one of those that needs a good editor to encourage the author to flesh out the characters, take advantage of a potentially cathartic resolution, and fill the gaping holes in the story.  Meant for ages 8-12 the tiny font, and tight spacing, make the book really dense and intimidating to look at and read.  The book, as written, should be well over 200 pages, if spaced appropriately for the target audience.  Once you accept the presentation and get in to the story, it isn’t an awful read, it just could have and should have been so much more.  I hope the author revisits it and polishes it up- the time travel, the science DNA component, and the death of the protagonist’s parents, offer a lot for Muslim and non Muslim readers to sink their teeth in and be swept away by, but ultimately, I don’t know that most readers will be motivated to finish the book, and those that do, won’t remember anything about it.

SYNOPSIS:

Laila’s dad has recently died, and with her mother having died years earlier, Laila is now 13 and an orphan living with her stepmom and baby sister.  Feeling resentful that her dad remarried and had a child that took time away from her in his final span of life, doesn’t make Laila a very kind person at home.  Her best friend Beth, even points out how cold she is to her family.  With school vacations approaching, Laila is headed for Umrah with her dad’s brother, her uncle, and his wife.  While making tawaf, Laila loses her aunt and uncle in the crowd and finds herself transported to 7th century Arabia.  She hears a baby crying and learns that the baby’s life is in danger.  To save her, she must get the baby, the baby’s mom and baby’s sister from Makkah to Yathrib.  The only way to do that is to join a caravan, and they can only join a caravan if they have a male escort.  So Laila chops off her hair, acts like a boy, and gets them in the caravan.  They meet bandits along the way, but nothing too scary, they arrive in Medina and right before they meet RasulAllah, Laila finds herself back in the present.  She is in a hospital, but the doctors do not know what is wrong with her so they release her.  She returns to the US, relays the story to Beth, and decides that at an upcoming field trip to study DNA, she is going to submit the baby’s hair that she still has for dating.  The results show it is from 1400 years ago and a family heirloom of her step moms reveals that the baby is a great great great great… grandmother of her’s.  Resolved to open her heart to her family, Laila is a changed person, alhumdulillah.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the premise, it is like Sophia’s Journal and When Wings Expand  thrown together and scrambled.  Laila is struggling with her faith and is trying to find it, while also finding a way to move forward after losing her father.  There are just a lot of things that aren’t answered, are contradictory, or don’t make sense.  It says she learned Arabic because her mother spoke it, her dad is desi, but really no hiccups speaking in 7th century Arabia other than forgetting the word for scissors?  She at one point said she was a cousin from the north, but while on the caravan mentioned that she had never travelled through the desert.  There really should have been more action with the thieves and the regrouping when the men came back.  Similarly, her gender reveal should have been a bigger deal than it was.  I was hoping there would be a mention of if her hair was long or short when she awoke in the hospital, I don’t think I missed it, but maybe, or maybe it wasn’t there.  Once back home, there really needed to be a reunion scene with Laila and her stepmom and half sister, I mean the whole point of the time travel was to save a baby. Really? Nothing? I was disappointed that it was glossed over and mentioned as a retelling to Beth and pushed aside.  The second climax is when the DNA testing is being questioned, but I didn’t get the need for the babysitter and everything to be rearranged for a two second conversation with the principal accusing Laila of theft, a phone call should have sufficed, plus when Laila and Beth mention it to the scientist, it seems everyone was questioned, but Beth wasn’t, something wasn’t consistent there either.  Overall, the book needed more action for a book that involves time travel and more emotional attachment and character connection for a book that involves a newly orphaned young teen girl.

I like the conveying of Islamic facts and information and history in a fairly smooth way.  At the beginning, Umrah being explained was a little text bookish, but it smoothed out as the book progressed.  I love the little flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter, I wish there would have been some information about the remarriage of her father and her emotions on the matter at that time.  It is one thing to be grieving, but really she is a brat to her step mom, and if the uncle and aunt live right there, not sure where they live, someone should really be working on getting them all some family therapy, not a quality situation for anyone.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use the book as a book club selection, nor would I think it would get read if on a classroom shelf.  I might use the premise of going back in time to meet Prophet Muhammad, as a writing prompt though.  Would be a good assignment with factual and Islamic references to get kids stretching their imagination to make it all come together and work.

 

Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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This super cute Eid book works great for ages 5 and up.  Written in both Arabic and English, not just translated in to both languages, the book features a Muslim celebrating Eid and a Christian boy working together to try and get Omar’s sister’s cookie recipe so they can be the best cookie cooks ever!  The book would work for either Eid and with the adorable illustrations, and included recipe, the book will get lots of requests all year round.

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Omar is excited that his friend and neighbor, Oliver, is sleeping over the night before Eid.  They boys are playing when Omar’s sister Judy brags that her friend has given her the best cookie recipe in the entire world.

Naturally, Omar and Oliver want to be the best too and offer to help Judy.  She refuses, and the quest to get the recipe is on, so that Omar can make them for Eid and Oliver for Christmas.

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The boys try to steal it through the kitchen window.  But Judy catches them and slams the window shut.  They then try binoculars from the stairs, but the boys can’t write fast enough and Judy grabs an umbrella to shield the recipe.  Undeterred the boys pull out a drone, but the zoom on the camera isn’t quite good enough.

The boys then see Judy rushing out of the kitchen and run in to see if she left the recipe.  They don’t find it, but they peek at the cookies and see that they are golden brown and if left in any longer might burn.

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Tempted to let them burn, a sign on the fridge saying, “Eid: a time to share and show we care,” makes the boys realize saving them is the right thing to do.  Judy says she too saw the sign and rushed out to copy the recipe for the boys.  They then all work together to make lots of Eidilicious cookies and share them with everyone on Eid.

The book starts with some tips for parents on how to present the bilingual book and ends with a cookie recipe, as well as some information about what Muslims and Christians celebrate.  I love the illustrations and that they are two page spreads, but the page with the note is the whole resolution and the note is split on the folded binding and honestly I missed it when I read the book myself and when I read it at bedtime to my kids.  When I opened the book wide to take pictures it was crystal clear, and if you were reading it to a group you might not have an issue.

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I also didn’t love the word, Mashallamazing, I obviously get what it is trying to do, and I feel like it works with Eidilicious, but that Mashallamazing is a stretch.  Additionally, if it is claiming to be an interfaith book, a word like that might need some explaining.  I got a bit hung up on it, so I had my 13, 11, and 9 year olds read it and they did as well.  I also didn’t think the pulling out of the story to ask the reader if the boys were successful in getting the recipe was necessary after each attempt.

Disclaimer: I don’t speak Arabic and cannot comment on that, sorry!

 

The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

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The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

saidaThis absolutely gorgeous lyrical book will sweep you up and hold you tight as you imagine a world where more people take the time to get to know one another through the power and beauty of language.  Over 32 pages that are exquisitely and whimsically illustrated the words dance and come to life in English and Arabic as a friendship is formed.  Perfect for preschool through 3rd graders, older children and adults alike will be softened by the kindness and example shown between two little girls.

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Told from the perspective of a little girl that meets a new girl in school named Saida and decides right away that they are going to be friends.  Unfortunately Saida speaks only Arabic, and the little girl only English.

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But it is no problem, because the little girl is going to help Saida find her words.  She is going to look everywhere to let her get rid of her tears and throw away her silence.  So that she doesn’t see questions and sadness locked up in her.

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That night at home, the little girl’s parents tell her about Morocco and find it on the globe.  They explain that Saida’s words don’t work here and that her words wouldn’t work in Morocco.

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Undeterred the two girls start teaching each other words in their languages.  Some stick, some float away, but the two learn and communicate and connect. They find friendship in learning each other’s words.

They recite a poem by Jacqueline Woodson and tells stories about Marrakesh. The two girls plan to travel the world together. The book concludes with both alphabets shared and the reader wishing to join the little girls on their adventures.

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I was blown away by the presentation of the book and the feeling of compassion and cultural appreciation depicted.  Such a beautiful approach to welcoming someone different in to your life.

There is nothing Islamic or religious in the book, or really even cultural, aside from language.

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

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The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

 

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This 36 page picture book tells a beautifully presented story that incorporates events from the author’s real life that convey a story of loving your culture, finding similarities and giving people a second chance.  Ideal for students between 2nd and 4th grade, younger children will enjoy having the story read to them, and older kids will benefit from the message as well.

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Kanzi is about to start her first day of 3rd grade in a new school.  It doesn’t specify if she has just come from Egypt, but being she seems to speak English well, knows that she’d rather have peanut butter and jelly instead of a kofta sandwich and mentions that she got a quilt when she visited her grandmother, in Egypt, she possibly is just starting a new school, not her first in America, but it is considered an immigrant story, so I’m not certain. E403D261-438B-4263-A2FB-C3F8693C9D3E

When she arrives in class and introduces herself she bravely says that she is Egyptian-American, but on the way to school she turns down the Arabic music in the car, so the reader sees that she is a little nervous about being seen as “different.”  When her hijab wearing mom brings her forgotten kofta sandwich and calls Kanzi ‘Habibti,’ classmate Molly teases her that she is being called a hobbit.

A crying Kanzi tells her teacher and Mrs. Haugen reassures her that “being bilingual is beautiful.”  That night Kanzi asks her mom to send her a turkey sandwich for lunch the next day, and before beds she writes a poem as she snuggles in her beloved quilt.

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At school Molly apologizes to her and says that it just sounded funny.  Kanzi tells Molly it is because she doesn’t speak Arabic and that her mom says that “learning different languages makes a person smarter and kinder.”  Molly dismisses the comment and smugly walks off.

Mrs. Haugen sees Kanzi’s poem about her quilt from her grandma in Egypt and asks her to bring her quilt to school. The kids love it, and Friday Kanzi’s mom shows up to help with a special project: an Arabic quilt with the kids names.

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Molly is not enthusiastic and Mrs. Haugen writes English words that come from Arabic on the board: coffee, lemon, sugar, algebra.  Telling the kids that “we can speak non-English languages and still be American.”

Kanzi and her mom write the kids names down and the children copy them.  The teacher cuts them out and makes a quilt to hang in the hall.  On Monday when everyone sees the quilt, they love the beautiful letters and colors.  Even Molly sincerely apologizes and asks Kanzi to write her mom’s name in Arabic as a gift.  The two hug and seemingly will become friends.

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Across the hall another quilt is hung with names in Japanese, as another student and teacher were inspired by Kanzi and her quilt.  The last page of the story is a letter Kanzi has written to her parents telling them how grateful she is that she has two languages and that she will speak them without guilt.

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The story is beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated on well-sized 9.5 x 10.5 pages in a hardback binding.  The mom wears hijab and it mentions it, but there is nothing religious about the text.  It is a universal story of coming to be proud of your roots and inviting those around you to learn and grow.  There is a Glossary of Arabic Words at the end and a bit about the author and illustrator.

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My kids favorite page by far was reading the names written in Arabic and they all enjoyed the story (ages 13, 10, 9, 4).  I actually had an issue when Molly apologized the first time, feeling that Kanzi’s response was a bit pretentious to what seemed like an 8 year old being told to go say she was sorry, but my older three unanimously and fervently disagreed with me, saying that she was obviously insincere and Kanzi knew it.  I’d love to hear from other readers if they felt like Molly was sufficient in saying sorry and admitting that it sounded funny and that Kanzi was arrogant in saying that people that know two languages are smarter and kinder, or if Molly was being rude and racist and Kanzi was sticking up for herself.

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Irregardless, the book is well done, enjoyable, and will get repeated reads by a large range of readers.  My children keep pulling it off the book shelf, and for that I need to thank Gayatri Sethi (@desibookaunty) who generously sent me the book the same day I checked it out from the public library.  Her generosity once again is a gift that I hope to pay forward in the future.  This book also highlights how amazing teachers can be and often are in facilitating inclusion, understanding, and respect.

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Forgiveness by Isa Beaumont

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Forgiveness by Isa Beaumont

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This dual language book, is structured and feels like a leveled reader, but is more geared for fluent reading five to seven year olds.  It definitely has more complex diction and vocabulary than an emerging reader would be able to handle in English, I have no idea about the Arabic.  

SYNOPSIS:

The concept in 26 pages is how to forgive others and react calmly when we are upset.  The book is brightly illustrated on glossy sturdy softbound pages, and the characters are found in all of the company’s stories and plush figures at https://www.littlemaysoor.com/

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Little Zakariyyah has been behaving well, and as a result his mom gets him a new red toy car, he loves it and plays with it in the garden everyday. His sister Ruqayyah wants to play with it, he agrees and when he hands it to her, she accidentally drops it and it breaks.  In anger Zakariyyah begins screaming for her to “Go away from me!” Mom comes out to see what is going on and calm everyone down, she takes Zakariyyah inside and pours him some milk.  When she hands it to him, his hand slips and he drops the glass breaking it and making a mess. Mom forgives him and obviously highlights the similarities to what just happened with his sister and the toy car.  Mom then gently guides him to acknowledge his poor behavior and asks him what he things he should do.  Zakaraiyyah knows he needs to ask Allah swt for forgiveness and then apologize (apologise) to Ruqayyah.  Once he does this, his sister shares some sweets with him and reminds him of a hadith, “The strong one isn’t he who can overpower others.  Instead, the strong one is he who can control himself when he becomes angry.”

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WHY I LIKE IT:

Before the story begins there are six points you can implement before reading the story, and after the story, there are beginner and advanced concept questions and a place to write the answers provided.  The book has an agenda and it achieves its mark in showing a moral concept in an Islamic framework.

The book is written in British English which could make the spelling a bit confusing for new American readers, but manageable.  I honestly don’t know if the book was written in English then translated to Arabic or the other way around.  Some of the wording seems awkward so it could be attributed to it being translated from Arabic or it might just be the American/British difference.  For example Zakariyyah loves playing in “a small sand pit for children,” why not just say, sandbox? Again not terrible, but rationale for why I think children sounding out words might be a bit young for the target audience.  

I liked the story and how it lets the reader see the similarities to the events that unfold, just like I loved that the mom asked Zakariyyah what he should do, rather than dictate or scold him.  I was surprised when I read it, how smooth the ending was, because it really could have had Ruqayyah come across as a know-it-all and it didn’t.

The beginning of the book stumbled a bit with the set up trying to tell about Zakariyyah, why he got the toy and then staging the plot of the book.  If he had been playing with the car everyday, is it still a new car? Also the illustration before he drops the milk has him sitting at the table with a glass a milk in front of him.  Sure, maybe it was the second glass that he dropped, but it’s noticeable.

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FLAGS:

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book is obviously too short for a book club per se, but I think if you had a small group of readers, or are home schooling, you really could ask a child to read the book and then reflect back what they understood and what they learned and how they hope to put it in to practice.

Even with not reading the Arabic, the book is pretty solid in its approach and I plan to check out the other books in the series as I do a lot of story times with basic morals as themes.

 

Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

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Sitti’s Secret was published in 1994 and given the events of the week, I’d say it is more relevant today than it was when written.  And if by some chance the events of the week haven’t affected your children, then the poetry and soul of the book still makes it an amazingly powerful story.

Mona travels from America to Palestine to visit her grandma, her Sitti.  Without the ease of speaking the same language, Sitti and Mona learn to communicate and build a tight bond cut too short by a vacation coming to an end.  When Mona returns she sees the news and writes a letter to the President, telling her Sitti’s secrets, telling him they would be great friends, and telling him they only want peace.

Truly Nye is a poet, even in Turtle of Oman her words transport you to a place where time slows down and the connection between a child and a grandparent make you nostalgically yearn for a simpler time.  Having spent my summer’s abroad visiting my grandma I could relate to so much of this book and truly had to still my heart.  The little things, like examining your grandma’s hand, or hanging out laundry, or brushing her hair. Even that dreaded final hug as you prepare to leave,  I could relate and it was enchanting.

No where in the book does it mention the Middle East or Islam, only at the beginning does she hint at it by dedicating the book to her 105 -year-old Sitti in Palestine, it mentions that she speaks Arabic and a few words are sprinkled in. And the Grandma does wear a scarf.  Other than that the book is by and large not political.  If you know that Nye has a Palestinian father and American mother and often writes semi auto biographical pieces, the book can take a bit of a different role to the reader.  Many reviews criticize the activism upon her return (the letter to the President), and found it disjointed to the rest of the story.  But in today’s climate I found it empowering and hopeful.  The world will only find peace when we put a face to those that are different to us, and even children can change our stereotypes.  I love that my children are seeing that they can make a change in the world today, and to see it reinforced in literature was gratifying.

The book is 32 pages and written on an AR 3.9 level.  The illustrations are beautiful.  They bring the words to life in a tender and heartfelt way.  The detail is subtle but deep and i have found myself thumbing back through the pages to get lost in the illustrations multiple times.  I think the book works on different levels for different age groups.  If you have a family that has to overcome great distances to be together, even younger readers will be able to identify with the story’s tenderness.  If you are in 3rd-6th grade and are aware of what is happening in the world you will be inspired.  If you just are looking for a sweet book, subhanAllah it manages to fulfill that category too.

Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey by James Rumford

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We stumbled on this book at the library and got excited when we saw that it is written in both English and Arabic.  It isn’t a book that has been translated, the author wrote it in both the Arabic dialect of Chad and English.  The Arabic script compliments the artistic style of designs burned on a calabash gourd. The simplistic contrasting color illustrations, force the reader/ listener to give life to the folktale style story.  I debated on whether to review it here on the blog being as it is not Islamic (or unIslamic) in any way, but opted to do so, because it would probably excite other children to see the Arabic just as it did mine.

calabsh cat 2A calabash cat in the middle of Africa wants to see where the world ends. When the road stops at the edge of the great desert he thinks it stops there. But a Camel corrects him and offers him a ride on his back to show him where the world ends.  When they get across the desert, the camel puts him down on the edge of the grassland and tells him this is where the world ends.  A horse corrects him, that in fact this is not where the world ends and offers to show him where it does.  He climbs up on the horse and the gallop through the grassland.  This continues through the jungle on a tiger, the ocean on a whale, then on the back of an eagle all the way home. Written on a 3.3 level, there are 32 pages with a author’s note about where the idea for the story came from.  The book works well for story time and  the repetition makes it good for bedtime too.

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