After reading this book, I really, really want to meet (and be friends with) the author, she writes from the point of view of Omar, a nine year old boy, and his perspective and voice are so authentic and relevant that while the book targets 3rd through 5th grade, I am certain kids and adults, Muslims and non-muslims, boys and girls, and everyone else, will all thoroughly enjoy this laugh-out-loud 164 page book.
Omar is starting at a new school, we don’t know why, and while he is nervous, he has a good attitude about it. His parents are supportive scientists and he has an older sister, Maryam who can be a bit mean in a big sister way, and a little brother Esa, who he secretly loves. All are practicing muslims who remind me a lot of the people I know. We say our duaas, we pray, we laugh at the funny stereotypes and just try and be good neighbors and people. Omar’s neighbor is hilarious, Mrs. Rogers, doesn’t like Omar’s family, or “the Muslims” as she calls them, but they just keep being themselves and when she falls and gets hurt, she starts to realize they are good people who care about her. She even starts showing up for iftar every night in Ramadan and counts down like a space ship launch until it is time to eat.
Using his Islamic upbringing, and seeing how is family handles problems, gives Omar a lot of tools for starting at a new school. But Omar is the protagonist, the hero, so he also has a super imagination that involves H2O, his dragon, that shows up to help him out when things get rough. And unfortunately, a bully by the name of Daniel makes things rough for Omar. He tells Omar that all Muslims and all Asians are going to be kicked out of the country, and this really sticks with Omar. He verifies it with a cousin, and learns it could be a possibility. So, the underlying anxiety is there, but most of the book that focuses on the bullying aspects involve the day-to-day comments, physical pushing, and efforts of Omar to avoid Daniel. When they do meet up, however, the result is often comical, as Omar and H20 confidently navigate the situation at hand. Between visiting a different mosque in London each week, learning to read the Quran, celebrating Ramadan, and just being a kid with new friends and a fun family, Omar eventually does win Daniel over after the two of them get lost in the London Underground. And all of us that came along for the ride are better for it, alhumdulillah.
WHY I LIKE IT:
There is so much to love about this book. Seriously. The accuracy of family life depicted is spot on and the Islamic elements are so interwoven that non Muslims would truly learn about Islam through learning about Omar, but not in a preachy way, and Muslims will see themselves on every. single. page. I love that Omar doesn’t ever seem embarrassed to be who he is. He is a cool kid for his confidence alone, and being able to laugh at a bully and not have it shake your core belief and self image is so powerful. The characters are well developed, from little Esa to Omar’s teacher, by viewing them through his eyes, you see enough of their personality to remember them, and appreciate them. The only exception to this was Maryam, I really didn’t feel like I got much on her, but I have a feeling there will be more books, and she will develop too. The book reads like a diary, until a tinge of foreshadowing of the changing relationship between Omar and Daniel pops up to setup the climax. The chapters are short, the fonts and doodles endearing and engaging, and the size of the book, really makes it fun for elementary aged children. The only possible gripe for American children, is that it is a British book, and you might have to google or ask what a few things are, yeah we are selfish like that, but its good for us to learn what pains au chocolate are, or crumpets, or nappies.
The book is clean.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Oh this should be required reading for every kid. I know I will be trying to implement this every where I go. This would be awesome for a elementary book club, and especially great in Islamic schools for struggling readers. In much the same way that teachers use humor to engage students, this book has heart and humor and a surprising amount of information, that I can see it being connected to a lot character building supplements in various curriculums, at least I hope it is, we need voices like this, both within our community and to serve as a representative of us to the larger society.
Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIKtoxt3InM
Author’s website: http://www.muslimchildrensbooks.co.uk/