Category Archives: Elementary Fiction

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

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Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

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This 40 page book caught my attention because I have a son named Mustafa, and the illustrations looked endearing and fun.  The author/illustrator was inspired to write the story when she visited Croatia and saw the resilience of the children.  She also remarks on her website, that children in new places can all relate to the nuanced uneasiness and gradual fitting in process that takes place universally (http://marielouisegay.com/blog/).

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The text is prose-like as young Mustafa ventures from his apartment each day to the park nearby.  He notices things he has never seen before and compares them to the destruction he recalls of his homeland.  He also finds things that remind him of home and things that look familiar. From little ladybugs and a heart-shaped leaf, to the changing leaf colors and kids dressed up in costumes, there is so much to take in and understand.

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As the days go on, he begins to wonder if he is invisible.  Finally, a little girl with a cat makes a small beckoning gesture to him that doesn’t need language to be understood, and just like that, the world gets a little more welcoming.  This gentle story shows what being new can feel like, and reminds us that sometimes all it takes is a simple act of kindness to change so much.

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The book mentions that Mustafa came on a long journey, but does not specify where he has come from.  He draws his house being bombed in the dirt with a stick and mentions loud noises and fire.  The mother wears hijab, and obviously his name would identify them as Muslims, but other than that there is no reference or mention of religion.

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Overall, the book would be great for ages 4-8.  The passages are a little long, but with the illustrations and relatable concepts, I think children will reflect on what the author is trying to convey, and be able to process what Mustafa has been through, and how hard even the littlest things can be in a new place.

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The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Amazon & The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Mars by Hena Khan and David Borgenicht

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The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Amazon & The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Mars by Hena Khan and David Borgenicht

There is nothing Islamic or religious, with either of these books, but I wanted to review them, as the author Hena Khan, who has brought such lovely picture books to our book shelves (Night of the Moon, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets), inspiring elementary books to the mainstream (Amina’s Voice, On Point, Power Forward), and who showed Curious George what Ramadan is all about, is Muslim.  She has done a tremendous job of blending culture and religion with everyday life making her stories relatable and found on bookshelves across America.  She also has written books that are just good books void of any religion and culture, that hopefully they remind our youth that you can write books about anything, appeal to everyone, and be successful as well.

Both books are like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I remember from the 1980s except these are much better written, and I think I might have learned facts about Mars, space travel, and the Amazon from them, without even realizing it.  Aimed at 3rd to 5th graders, these two books were checked out from the library and read countless times by my kids and myself alike.  They are entertaining and not easy to predict.  It is worth noting that while I did make it the entire length of the Amazon, after four tries I gave up trying to survive the journey to Mars and back.

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SYNOPSIS:

In both books the cast of teammates is given at the beginning and shows a good diversity of men and women from all over the world with a variety of skills and backgrounds to be on the expedition.  The books then give the set up of where you are going, and how you got chosen.  You then are advised to flip to the back of the book to look through the files and notes that will give you knowledge about what you will encounter.  These pages are in full color and are in diary, note style.  The adventure then begins and you make choices that lead you down different paths to success, or demise, it is up to you to decide how to survive.  

WHY I LIKE THEM:

I love that you learn while making decisions and attempting to make the story continue.  The books are fun and most of the choices aren’t obvious, naturally a few are, but they are well done.  There are comic book style pictures sprinkled throughout and regular black and white illustrations on many of the pages.  I particularly liked that the kids read them more than once and learned a bit about space travel, mars, what would be needed to set up a colony, the Amazon, various animals, and survival skills in the rain forest.

FLAGS:

You might get burned up, or bitten by a snake, but nothing too graphic, as you are the reader and obviously know it isn’t real.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

These books wouldn’t work as book club selections, but I think 3rd and 4th grade classrooms and school libraries would benefit from having these fun books on hand.  Struggling readers will enjoy the fast pace and the number of pages (about 200 each), irregardless of if they are read or not, and advanced readers will enjoy trying again and again to reach the successful end.

 

 

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

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This is the perfect book for back to school.  It can set a beautiful tone of letting all children know that they are welcome, that they are accepted, that they are safe, that they are wanted and that they have value in your classroom.  It could also work to allay children’s fears heading in to a new environment, assuming of course that the environment is as fabulous as the one presented in the book.  

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The large, hardback 44 page book with a poster and large pullout concluding page, is fantastic for ages preschool and up, but would have value as part of any grades back to school message.  

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While the rhyming couplets are sweet and sincere, the real beauty of the book are the illustrations.  Bringing all that diversity to life in smiling kids faces, children with hijabs, and yarmulkes, patkas, baseball caps, glasses, curly hair, straight hair, every color of the rainbow, various physical abilities, all show what a day of inclusion can look like.  No one culture or background is articulated or placed higher than another and the coming together of the kids and then their parents and community is inspiring.

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I love that their is a little muhajaba on the the cover and included in the cultural acceptance of the book.  It shows her praying in one picture and then joining in and smiling with the rest of the diverse group of characters in the other pictures.  Feeling included and accepted whether in a classroom, or in a children’s book, feels good, at any age, alhumdulillah. 

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A special shout-out to all the educators and people in positions of power who go the extra mile to create a safe and accepting space, thank you.

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Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red by Rosemary McCarney illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart

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Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red by Rosemary McCarney illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart

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This book is nearly the mirror of Nanni’s Hijab, just told from a different perspective and swapping out the heroine.  Written in 2015 this book definitely came out first, and while the 24 page book is targeted for  4-8 year olds, if your teaching point of view, this book and Nanni’s hijab could be used for older kids to make for a great lesson.  

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I love that this book is written by a non Muslim and the main character is non Muslim.  The binding the pictures, the size, all make this a wonderful addition to any library in showing that differences can and should be celebrated.

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Rosie loves wearing her red cape, and she loves looking at things from all angles and perspectives.  One day at school she arrives at school to see kids making fun of the new girl, Fadimata and her hijab.  

Unable to stop the kids she reaches out to Fadimata, and transforms her cape into a hijab in solidarity.  After the teacher also talks to the class about being kind, the next day is a surprise for Rosie, when many of the girls are wearing scarves and hijabs in a variety of manners to show acceptance and celebrate differences.

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This is the first book in a Rosie the Red Series, and I kinda really love that in the second book, Being Me, about volunteering at a food pantry and helping a friend, Fadimata is minor character.  She is now one of Rosie’s best friends and is both mentioned by name and illustrated.  This is awesome to me, because while books about Muslims are great, having us be in books as supporting characters solving other problems, learning lessons, and going on adventures, makes us more mainstream and inshaAllah part of the accepted landscape.

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*Side note, if you look at this book on Amazon, and read the comments you can see how truly upset many people are by this book calling it “indoctrination” and criticizing it for not encouraging assimilation.  If you read the book and like it, and like the tone and message it promotes, maybe write a review, and make the world a little warmer.

There is Greatness in Me by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins and Amaya Diggins

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This book is powerful.  The repetition, the message, the rhythm, it is something kids of all ages need to hear, and hear often. 

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The concept of positive self-talk, is brought to life in the short, simple, straightforward sentences per page, and shown with illustrations of children dreaming big.  If you can dream it, you can achieve it.  Turning impossible to “I’m possible,” and not getting brought down by others laughing at your dreams.  The book shows that hard work is needed too.  You start with Bismillah, help others when you can, and brush yourself off and get back up when you fall.

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With a forward by Muhammad Ali’s daughter, Maryum “May May” Ali, and written by a Mother and her daughter who at 10 started her own hijab brand for Teens and Tweens, the book isn’t just reassuring words, it is meant to inspire action and confidence.

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I could see teachers reading this 32 page book weekly to their students, aged preschool and up.  It might start to get cheesy for older kids, but they need it too, possibly even more.  I have read it to my children, and when they’ve had hard days asked them to read it to them selves.  It helps, it really does.

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My only criticism of the book is the superficial stuff.  The binding, page quality, and size are fine, but the text is small, and the illustrations are a bit off.  Not bad per say, what they show is actually wonderful, but the faces on some of the kids are misshapen and not uniform in size, and when they are all standing next to each other they look like they have been copy and pasted together, not that there was a single illustrator.  I hesitate to criticize the illustrations, but the book is an important one, and the diversity the pictures show is powerful, really powerful, that I would have hoped for a $15 book the pictures would have been a bit better.  While at the same time, I understand that the book may only have gotten published going this route and for that I am grateful that it exists.  InshaAllah if more people support these types of books and messages, the publishing quality will improve, and all of us will benefit.

 

 

 

Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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The premise is simple, Omar ate something that didn’t belong to him, and the guilt is weighing on him heavily.  The beauty of the book is how, with his mom’s help and his own determination, he makes things right.  

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Set in Egypt, Omar eats the doorman’s baqlawa, and while he knows he shouldn’t have, he doesn’t know what to do about it.  The doorman, Amo Mohamed, blames the cat and Omar tries to move past the theft.  But the guilt builds up and he even dreams about baqlawa, eventually telling his mom so he can start to fix things.  

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After isha prayer, the two of them make some new baqlawa.  I love that the mom doesn’t get mad, but she is firm that while, “we made the baqlawa together,”  she tells him, “you have to talk to Amo Mohamed on your own.”  

Omar confesses his crime to the door man and apologizes, Amo Mohamed in turn apologizes to the cat, and all enjoy a piece of baqlawa together with smiles.

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The last page in the 38 page book is a glossary and is headed by a hadith by Prophet Muhammad, “Be conscious of God wherever you are.  Follow the bad deed with a good one to erase it, and engage others with beautiful character.”

The illustrations aren’t amazing, but they are sufficient and help walk the reader through the story.  I like that the mom covers when out and about, but not in the home.  The story is great for ages 4 and up, but the amount of text on the page and book length might make independent reading more geared to second and third graders. 

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The book would work for muslim and non-muslim children a like and does a good job of showing a universal situation in a culturally rich environment.

 

 

 

A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

IMG_1514Based on the release date of this book (August), I preordered it in the Spring with the Peg+Cat book thinking they were both about Eid al-Adha.  Oops.  As someone who reads a lot, I really need to learn how to read.  This book is not about Eid al-Adha, it actually mentions Ramadan, but just as a context point, so rather than wait til next Ramadan to post the review, I though, lets do it now and celebrate how much we all have in common and build bridges of friendship across religious lines during this blessed month of Thul Hija.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, Moses and Mohammed live on opposite ends of the same street.  One day they accompany their moms to a store in the middle of the street, and when the boys start touching things they shouldn’t their mothers’ reprimands reveal their shared nickname, Mo/Moe.  

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The boys then pause to look at each other and notice the same dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin, and shy smile.  Add in to the mix that one of them has a bouncy ball, and the boys become quick friends, while their mothers shop.

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The boys hope to see each other again, but don’t.  Weeks pass, and the Feldman family is busy getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and the Hassan family is preparing for Ramadan.  Another chance meeting happens at the park, and the boys are thrilled.  The mom’s are seen chatting and then, the boys are missing, and the moms are panicked.  They are found playing in the dirt, but the relief from the moms, bonds the families who plan an evening picnic together.

The book concludes with the boys in their own homes looking at the same moon and wishing each other a blessed Ramadan and Happy New Year to themselves.

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The book reminds me a lot of Yaffa and Fatimah, Shalom, Salaam, in the way the two characters, one of Jewish faith, and one of Muslim, occupy the same environment and come to know and appreciate one another as friends.

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The illustrations are by the same artist that illustrated Hena Khan’s color and shape books, and they are vivid and fun.  I’ve read the book a few times, and flipped through it a few more times just to marvel at the pictures and the world of these two sweet families.

A great book, that I hope to use in an interfaith story time when the opportunity arises!

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Sidenote, the shop keeper is the nicest one ever, he gives the boys taffy, and warm falafel, and doesn’t scold them.  The book mentions a few foods and at the end of the book there is a factual paragraph about the holiday and a recipe to try.  There is also an Author Note and Illustrator Note at the end of the 48  page book.  The book would be perfect for 5-8 year olds, but younger kids and older kids will enjoy the book as well.