Category Archives: Elementary Fiction

Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated Omar Burgess

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Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated Omar Burgess

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Another factual Ramadan book, with a fictional storyline that utilizes the banter between children and their parents to teach the reader about the blessed month.  Not a unique or original storyline, but somehow it still manages to be cute.  The book has very little doctrine discussed, and more hands on action of charity, visiting other families for iftar, and taking treats to non muslim neighbors as the focus of the book.

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Hassan and Aneesa are young, and the book is similarly written for young kids.  The back of the book says 2 and up, and the short declarative sentences definitely work for younger children.  The pictures are warm as the characters are smily and detailed, but not overwhelmingly so.  At home the mom does not cover, but does when she is out, as does the little girl.  The family is depicted as warm and affectionate to one another and I love that they visit a non-muslim-sounding-named neighbor and are rewarded with a non “ethnic” treat of chocolate cake.  I also like that the kids are encouraged to fast for parts of the day, even if it is the second half of the day.  The book appeals to today’s children who may at times chose “ethnic” food and clothes and sometimes not.  The book is small in size at 6.5 by 7.5 inches and is 24 pages with a glossary in the back.  It is for pre-school kids and while it might work for non-muslims, I think for the age group, if a child didn’t know a Muslim at least, the book would be a bit hard to grasp.

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Hassan and Aneesa are excited as mom and dad tell them Ramadan starts tomorrow, but a confused Aneesa sneaks downstairs and suhoor time wondering why her parents are eating breakfast in the middle of the night.  The next day they read Quran and gather up toys to take to the thrift store.  While there Aneesa donates some money too.  As they leave they are invited to an Aunt’s house for iftar.  After iftar they have to rush to Tarawih at the masjid.  That night Aneesa and her mom discuss why Muslim’s fast in an age appropriate manner, and the two kids decide they want to try, even though they don’t have to yet.

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The next day the fasting kids cook enough dinner to share with their neighbor Mrs. Smith.  Aneesa breaks her fast early, but Hassan hangs in there, and all are rewarded with a surprise chocolate cake from dad!

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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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Zaid and the Gigantic Cloud by Helal Musleh illustrated by Sabrina Pichardo

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Zaid and the Gigantic Cloud by Helal Musleh illustrated by Sabrina Pichardo

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We all experience disappointment and frustration and feeling like a gray cloud is weighing us down, and for Zaid, it really is!  In 36 bright colorful pages, children ages 5 and up can see that bad days happen to everyone, and that sometimes it seems like nothing is going right.

Zaid has been waiting for months for a weekend camping trip with his uncle and cousin, but when Ahmed comes down with the chicken pox, the trip is cancelled.  That night Zaid barely sleeps he is so upset, and in the morning notices a small grey cloud hovering above him.  As he waits for the bus, the autumn leaves remind him that it will soon be too cold to play soccer outside, then he has to sit at the back of the bus, and needless to say its just the beginning of many disappointments in his day, that make the cloud above him grow.  But then, a little something out of the ordinary, in the form of a small bird needing help, presents Zaid with a change of pace and a chance to turn his day around.  Slowly but surely the cloud starts to shrink and Zaid copes with the rest of the day with a bit of perspective and a growing smile.

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The book is a much needed one in showing children coping with emotions in a somewhat autonomous manner.  The book doesn’t judge his feelings, but shows how he finds a way to see the silver lining and make do with a string of frustrations.  The adults don’t lecture him or solve his problems for him, but are definitely supportive and caring should he need them.  The story does a good job of flowing and not getting preachy.  I can’t wait to read it to my 6-year-old who has a gray cloud pop up at the slightest disappointment, but currently my 10-year-old has been sent to her room with the book to see if she can relate Zaid’s predicament with her own.  The handy discussion questions at the end also can help talk about feelings through Zaid, and hopefully making the child’s connection from a fictional character to their own experiences more poignant.

This book really cemented in my head the growing subcategories of Islamic fiction picture books.  Naturally there are books that are geared for Muslim kids only and ones that work for Muslim and non Muslim kids alike.  But this book, along with a few of the new releases like it, cover universal themes with Muslim characters (at least by name) and have diversity in their pictures.  They show a few characters in hijab but do not mention or explain it, in this book the marshmallow package says halal, again with no explanation.  However, there is no specific ayat or hadith that the book stems from or an Islamic pearl that is meant to get through.  The characters do not greet each other with salam, or say alhumdulillah and mashaAllah, making it more appealing to a wider audience, but words I hope when the story is being read aloud to Muslim kids, can be sprinkled in.  I think it is a great addition to the literary world when Muslims are seen in a larger community and is not jarring.  I hope parents of non Muslim children also appreciate this diversity in literature and I pray that it leads to more acceptance in the “real” world, ameen.

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Hamza’s First Fast by Asna Chaudhry

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Hamza’s First Fast by Asna Chaudhry

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Hamza’s First Fast starts out a bit wordy as the author tries to explain what Ramadan is and who is required to fast and why, before getting to the actual story line of the book.  The premise that Hamza’s siblings are fasting and that Hamza doesn’t know why or that it is Ramadan is a little questionable to me, but I doubt most 2-6 year olds are as cynical as I am.  Once the story gets going, however, the amount of text on the page drastically decreases to fit the younger demographic and the point of the book is charmingly exposed.

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Hamza understands that he doesn’t “have” to fast, but decides he “wants” to try. He prays with his dad, his sister helps him to understand how fortunate he is to have food, he goes outside to play, and he even tries to get lost in some video games.  But, it still isn’t time to break his fast and he is hungry! As his frustration mounts he decides to sneak a cookie, but when he gets it, he will have to decide to eat it or not.

I like that it is realistic that fasting for kids is hard, and can be really frustrating. It still encourages them to try, and the family members support him which is nice.  It also stays positive framing it that Allah will be pleased if he fasts, not that Allah will be disappointed if he eats the cookie.  Overall, there isn’t much religious rationale for why we fast and the Islamic traditions celebrated as the book stays on age level in what Hamza does.  This leaves the door open for discussion, lessons, insights, and interpretation, but does not weigh the book down with it.

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Perseverance is the theme of the story and that it feels good to do something hard.

Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Before she was Grandma Najma, she was just Najma.  A girl in Turkey with a secret dream of being a musaharati, the person who walks the streets waking up the neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan.  But, a girl had never done this and thus the dream stayed hidden until she was 12 and the neighborhood musaharati was feeling ill.  Confiding in her baba, his love and support makes her dream come true against cultural norms and naysayers.  The line from her Baba, “Girls can be anything they like,” is so clear that her one girl revolution grabs the hearts of the reader and turns readers into cheerleaders.  The added beauty is her father’s support is not limited to his words, he accompanies her out every night almost challenging anyone to say she can’t do it.  Overtime she becomes the pride of the area, and her brothers accompany her if she doesn’t want to go alone, and then eventually her husband and her children.

drumemrgirl2The book warms the soul and uplifts the spirit.  The text seems geared to 7 year olds and up, as there is a lot of it, and at 26 pages does require some ability to focus. But with minor tweaks and condenscing the story appeals to children 4 and up and the pictures help hold their attention as they create a mood of wonder and whimsy.

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Structurally the book is hardback and dust jacket free, yay! the cover is printed on and thus easier to maintain.  The book is longer horizontally with most illustrations on the left side making it great for story time where the kids can see the pictures and the reader can hold and easily see the text without blocking the children’s line of sight.  There is a glossary, an author’s note telling where the story comes from, and a little biography of the author and illustrator and publisher in the back.

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A beautiful, beautiful book to share with children this Ramadan and all year long, alhumdulillah.

Rafiq & Friends’ The Ramadan Date Palm by Fatemeh Mashouf illustrated by Vera Pavlova

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Rafiq & Friends’ The Ramadan Date Palm by Fatemeh Mashouf illustrated by Vera Pavlova

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It is nearly Ramadan, inshaAllah, the most blessed time of year.  I don’t normally do product endorsements and thus I didn’t review this book that comes with a whole Ramadan kit last year when my cousin gifted it my children.  However, as I look for Ramadan Story Time books, I reread this and while it references the activity cards, it really offers a lot as a stand alone book too.  So, yes I am going to review it and plug the kit as something your kids up to age 9 or so will really enjoy, at least mine did and even went searching last week for all the components….without being asked! That’s a pretty strong endorsement right there.

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Rafiq is a date palm tree that is so excited for Ramadan and is going to get you excited too.  He starts off by mentioning the fun you will have with the daily activity cards, and the role you will play in serving iftar dates on the special plate. The reader is then introduced to the cast of characters, Najjah the sheep, and later Asal the bee.

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The middle of this 36 page book are my favorite, the illustrations are so sweet and welcoming you want to hang them up in your children’s rooms.  This is where the “story” begins, it talks about Ramadan and how the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saw), and fasting, and praying and patience and having fun with friends and playing too.  It then moves on to Eid and all the different yummy foods that are eaten all over the world.  It ends on a note of community and how we all pray the same with our families and use the word salam.

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The book is visually beautiful from one hard back cover to the next.  It is written in rhyme and most of it flows without feeling ridiculously over forced, but there are definite sentences that are awkward, and the rhythm seems to vary a bit that you have to stay alert when reading it out loud or you will get tongue tied.  I think if you just skip the lines that reference the cards at the beginning and end, the book can work without the kit and accessories.  Kids might be confused, but I think the bulk of the book is engaging and the pictures are stunning, that kids will be able to grasp on to the overall message of the book and forget about the “product placement” so to speak.  There is a glossary at the back, and it works for ages 3-10.

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(I wasn’t paid or asked to do this review, I wish I was, but it really is fun for multiple aged children, and gives a bit of daily Ramadan connection for those of us that want to make every day in Ramadan a craft and spiritual extravaganza, but know realistically we just won’t be able to do it all https://www.rafiqandfriends.com/)

Grandpa and Grandma Come to Stay by Asma Zaman illustrated by Azra Momin

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Grandpa and Grandma Come to Stay by Asma Zaman illustrated by Azra Momin

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This slim, paperback book, is actually really sweet and colorful.  It doesn’t look like much at just 14 pages, but the minimal text conveys a good message of helping elders in the home, and can easily be extended to helping those in the community.  I think this is a great book for 3 to 5 year old.  Little ones will get ideas on what they can do, and new readers will feel accomplished when they turn the last page.

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Little brothers, Muhammed and Musa, are waiting for their grandparents to arrive and are confused when their daddy reminds them to be helpful, since they are little and their grandparents are adults.  The parents explain how getting old is hard to the boys and give them ideas of how they can help.   Once they arrive, the boys spring in to action by helping them unpack, getting Grandma her walking stick, and even helping grandpa find his missing teeth.  They especially love when they help put out the prayer rugs for salat.

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The pictures are simple yet well done.  The women wear hijab, not just the mom and grandma, but the doctor too.  Gender roles are depicted well too, the dad takes his parents grocery shopping, is shown helping in the kitchen, and serves the tea.

I really think if you have elder family, it is a great book to introduce what changes and what responsibilities the little ones can help with.  With my own children it was a good reminder and conversation starter that they need to keep toys off the floor so no one trips, they need to listen the first time to whatever they are asked by the elders to do, and that they need to sometimes even help them walk, or slow their gate.  If you don’t have grandparents in the home, it can extend to people at the mosque, with kids helping get chairs, or even at the grocery store in being mindful of holding doors open and helping return carts.