Category Archives: Kg-2nd

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.

Welcome Ramadan by Lila Assiff-Tarabain illustrated by Gurmeet

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As many of us are setting out our Ramadan decorations and pulling our Ramadan books from the shelves, or realistically browsing Amazon, the quality and presentation of Islamic picture books is impressive.  And with this new expectation, there is also an increase in price, this book however, is the opposite.  Ranging from .97 cents to $3 online this little 6.5 inch by 9.5 inch 24 page book is a lot of bang for your buck.welcome ramadan1

Starting with finding the moon, big sister Maysa tells her younger brother Bilal all about Ramadan, in (mostly) rhyming couplets none the less.  She tells him about walking up before dawn and explains that yes that means no lunch.  She also explains that because they are little they aren’t required to fast. They then explore breaking the fast, going to the mosque to pray, having good manners, and learning that a full moon means that Ramadan is half way over.  Reading the Quran is discussed as well as how we have to be generous with what Allah swt has given us. It concludes with Eid and a Parent/Teacher guide at the end to help Muslim and non Muslims alike learn about Ramadan.

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The pictures are cute and comical, albeit small given the overall size of the book.  It covers Ramadan on a level kids of all ages can understand, and because of its easy reading style even older kids can skim through it and find it enjoyable.  There isn’t really a story, it is just a fun way to share the “facts” but a welcome addition to any book shelf both at home and in a classroom setting.

The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan illustrated by Maria Ahmed

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The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan illustrated by Maria Ahmed

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A new Eid book that talks about the religious aspects of Eid, such as praying and going to the mosque, as well as the cultural fun of getting henna done and eating samosas, presented through the shapes a little girl finds all around her.  I liked the idea of presenting Eid through a different lens so to speak, and finally gave in and ordered the $17 hardback 28 page book.  I had touched base with the author before I ordered it to see if it would work for little kids at a masjid story time and she thought it would.  The text is one to four lines per page and rhymes, which allows the little ones to stay engaged.  Some of the lines are forced or seem to break the rhyme scheme, but overall a book about shapes with rhyming lines makes sense.

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The part that I was underwhelmed with was the illustrations.  A book with such a visual concept at its core, to me would require breath taking pictures.  But alas, the pictures seem done with crayon and colored pencils, and on many pages finding the shape is almost difficult for little ones.  The detail is lovely, but the presentation seems lacking. They aren’t bright and shiny, they are muted and flat.  The disconnect of the text and binding with the pictures seemed jarring to me. Perhaps it was just the price point made me expect more, I don’t know.  I like the book, but I don’t love it.  I will be reading it to a group of kids and if they love it I will take back my criticism of the pictures, happily.

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I think the book works up to about 2nd grade, as the geometric shapes are both flat and 3-D, plus getting excited for Eid is something everyone enjoys.  There is no reason this book is limited to Muslim children, but non muslims might be left with more questions after reading it about how Eid is celebrated and what aspects are religiously required and which are just fun customs.  There is a small intro at the beginning to what Eid is, but no glossary or further info is included.

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/)

Stairs Series: Trouble with Babysitting, Allergy Attack, Yusuf’s Robot & Time Travel by Nur Kose illustrated by Shaista Asad and Ayesha Khatib

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Stairs Series: Trouble with Babysitting, Allergy Attack, Yusuf’s Robot & Time Travel by Nur Kose illustrated by Shaista Asad and Ayesha Khatib

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This set of books claim to be for children ages 8 to 12, but I think they work better for 7 to 10 year olds.  They look like leveled readers, and resemble them in their simple linear story lines.  They are broken up in to chapters, that really are not necessary, but because of the volume of text on each page, allows for a young reader to take a break.  All four books in the series are connected chronologically and contain the same characters.  They more or less present a problem, bring over their friends, have one of the friends offer some advice tied to a hadith or ayat from the Quran, and the advice is tested, and then shared once more.  They are about 20 pages and have activities at the end that range from solving clues to writing paragraphs.  The sentences and vocabulary are about a second grade level, with translations of Arabic and Turkish words, along with references to the Quran and Hadith appearing in the footnotes on the page they are mentioned on.

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The best part of the books is that they are written by an 8th Grader, mashaAllah.  I think they teach a lesson in a simple way, and while not terribly suspenseful or comical, they do succeed in showing Islamic lessons in relatable situations for kids.  Some of the details seem excesses or meandering, but again, the fact that it is written by a kid, will inspire readers to listen differently to lessons about patience, accepting Allah’s will, recognizing one’s own limitations, and putting Allah (swt) above all else.

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The pictures are colorful and simple.  They appear every few pages in the book and provide a nice break from the text.  They are sweet and not detailed, but sufficient for the story and level.

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