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.
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.
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.
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.
(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/)
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.
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.
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.
It is hard to believe I haven’t reviewed any of the seven Hamza books in the series. They are perfect for 2-6 year olds (older kids will enjoy them too), and all are both informative and silly. This book is 20 pages and is seven and half inch square in shape.
In Hamza Learns About Charity. Hamza learns what the word charity means as his mom is packing up his old toys to donate to the less fortunate. He also learns you can give money and how donating and taking care of the poor is required in Islam. Hamza’s mom tells how Prophet Muhammad (saw) lived a simple life and was very generous with whatever he had. Hamza also learns the word for charity in Arabic. When his mom leaves to take the stuff, Hamza decides to show that he understands and is ready to give everything away and live a simple life. Alhumdulillah, mom returns in time to shoo the neighbors away and convince them that the house, and car, and household items are not for sale. Thus, Hamza also learns that we aren’t required to give everything away, and when making big decisions we should get our parents’ permission first.
The illustrations are cute and colorful. They are not overly detailed, but Hamza’s facial expressions are engaging and expressive. The book works well for story time and bedtime and seems to be geared for Muslim children.
Oh how full my heart is after reading this book, and wiping a tear from my eye. When the daily news angers and frustrates, a story as sweet as two friends helping and worrying about each other gives hope to the future of the world. I know that is probably over reaching the impact of a children’s book, but sometimes it really is just one person helping another person, just finding similarities instead of differences, and above all having a big heart.
Yaffa and Fatima are neighbors and both grow dates. The two women, one Jewish and one Muslim, share a lot of similarities they both fast, pray, celebrate, and help others. They often sell their dates next to each other in the market and then share their food and customs with each other. During one growing season, rain is scarce, and each woman begins to worry about if the other has enough- not just to sell, but to eat as well. Secretly they both help each other and prove the power of friendship and kindness is universal and powerful.
The illustrations are smartly done. This isn’t the book for bright and colorful or overly cartoonish depictions. The simplicity of the words introduce the reader to Islamic traditions and Jewish traditions, but the purpose is to show their similarities and the illustrations mimic that sentiment beautifully. The contrast of red and blue show the differences with the larger muted tones being the same. The warmth in the characters faces mirror the warmth of their actions and the detail is balanced with intriguing the reader without distracting from the text. The illustrator does a good job of also showing the women covering their hair in public, albeit differently, but not within their homes. And of also showing the different ways the women worship without the words having to do so.
The author has a note at the beginning acknowledging the roots of the story as a tale about two brothers in both Jewish and Arab traditions. And at 24 pages it works for children of all faiths and all ages, two years old and up. The book was recommended by a woman, who I hope to meet next week, when she and her Jewish community join us at the mosque for our monthly story time. With a theme of friendship, this book will be the focus of what bridges and connections we can all make in our personal lives to make the wold a little better. I can’t wait to share it with our children of both faiths!
This 22 page, simplistic book written in rhyming couplets, is such a timely and necessary book. Much like Owl and Cat: What Islam Is… this book has value that extends far beyond its audience level (not AR but, I’d say three years and up), as the content breaks down stereotypes while being framed in a positive, non condescending way.
A brother and sister pair, Jack and Jane, go about their day when at dinner Jack remarks that he learned that two of his classmates are Muslim and they look like them. Thus arises the question, what do Muslims look like? The book then goes on to break down stereotypes and broaden views in the same rhyming manner that keeps the book light and child friendly. The conclusion is that like people of other faiths, everyone is different, and that no one should be judged on what is on the outside.
The book appears to have been started on Kickstarter in 2012 and Alhumdulillah it got the needed funding to get published. I got my copy through the public library system, and I am beyond thrilled that I found it where hopefully a lot of people can get their hands on it. Reading the author’s campaign on where the concept came from, he would have had no idea how much more timely the book is now, then when it was first published. I get asked quite regularly from old school friends, how they can introduce Islam or get the ball rolling to talk to their kids about Muslims, and this book would be a great start. Told from non Muslim kids perspectives, with very hip parents, the book does not discuss any tenants of faith or belief, it just identifies the many shapes and sizes and colors that Muslims come in. It would work well to show that Muslims are everywhere not just in the news, without overwhelming even the youngest of readers.
The pictures in the book are absolutely perfect in complimenting the story. They are not only silly, but also diverse as the book’s text would require. Interestingly there are ladies with hijab and those without, and scarves are not mentioned in the text, and also noteworthy is there are no bearded men in the pictures. Overall, a wonderful book that I would love to have on my shelf with extras to hand out.
I love when tales from the past provide timeless lessons in relevant ways. Inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, a royal advisor in Muslim Grenada, Jules creates a story that works for children of all ages and backgrounds.
The Grand Vizier’s son, Samuel, bumps into the tax collector’s son, Hamza, and the boys don’t rub each other the right way. Later that day, Samuel spills his drink on Hamza and can’t convince him both were accidents. Hamza calls Samuel some mean names and storms off. Samuel and his father think the name calling is uncalled for, but the vizier does not solve his son’s problem and instead assigns him to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.” Samuel imagines ways to teach Hamza a lesson or punish him, but some ideas are too complicated and some just silly. This is proving to be a hard task. The next day Samuel shows up to Hamza’s house with a lemon. He thinks forcing Hamza to eat it is a good punishment for a mean mouth, however Hamza thinks the lemon is to help with the stain that ruined his clothes, and tells him his mother already tried that. Caught off guard by Hamza’s reaction, the two somehow end up playing catch with the lemon and enjoying the afternoon together. The next day he shows up to Hamza’s house with ink and paper thinking he will make Hamza write him an apology. Hamza however, thought Samuel showed up to draw, and once again the boys enjoy an afternoon together. This carries on until the boys are so used to seeing each other and having fun together, they become friends. Samuel fears that he disobeyed his father and did not handle Hamza only to realize that by befriending his “enemy” he did in fact make sure Hamza never said a mean word again.
The book is 32 pages with an Author’s Note about the real life events that the story draws upon. The book is not AR, but the large bold typeface and the warm simple pictures make this book work great for story time with young children. It compliments themes about bullying and making friends as well as being silly. It works well for third graders and older ones too, as they might understand people of different faiths struggling to get along or people of different socio-economic classes, or even just imaging how they would solve a problem without their parents doing it for them. I was pleasantly surprised by the book and how it handled the Muslim/Jew staging of the characters. Especially right now in today’s world, this story has a poignant lesson for us all. If we all spent time together having fun, we too could end up being friends, or at least getting along. I think the story and its lessons have merit and relevance, and thus a place on the bookshelf.
Quite possibly there is nothing Islamic about this book, but the main character’s name, Samira, is traditionally an Islamic name and thus it caught my attention. I also think one could argue that the mom in one of the pictures (see picture below) is possibly wearing a hijab. So, probably I shouldn’t include it on the blog, but the book is so disturbingly creepy, in a fantastical way, that I thought, why not.
Samira learns that everyone has a skeleton and bones one day at school, and it frightens her. She starts seeing everyone’s skulls instead of their outward body parts and she refuses to accept that she has such morbid parts or that her friend Frida does too. Knowing that she is chewing with teeth, skeleton parts poking through, at lunch is too much and she can’t even be near Frida. When she gets home she tells her mom she wants to be free of her skeleton, and her mom agrees. Yes, agrees! They resolve the tooth fairy will be delighted to get a whole skeleton, not just a few teeth. So the mom, gets some tools and preps a table to perform the surgery required to remove her skeleton. Luckily Samira runs for it and finds Frida, and alas the girls accept that they have skeletons and use humor to diffuse the fears they have of what lurks beneath their skin. That is of course until the next day at school comes, and they learn that they have muscles, just like steak.
The imagination of the girls is quite remarkable. I love that it starts with a lesson and that information about skeletons and animals, such as jelly fish that don’t have them exist, is sprinkled through out. I also like the approach, its weird, but in a delightfully fun way. It also lends itself well to a discussion of how we are more alike than different. Our outward appearance doesn’t define us when we are all made up of bones and muscles. The story doesn’t address it, but some kids might infer it or connect the dots with a little prodding.
The book is not AR, but I think most 5 year olds and up can read it or follow along giggling all the way through. It probably isn’t for every child, but those with a darker sense of humor will enjoy all 34 pages.