Category Archives: Leveled Reader

Katie Woo’s Neighborhood: Open Wide, Katie! by Fran Manushkin illustrated by Laura Zarrin

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Katie Woo’s Neighborhood: Open Wide, Katie! by Fran Manushkin illustrated by Laura Zarrin

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Oh how I love when a popular series includes diverse characters, and more specifically Muslims, I’m biased that way.  In this Katie Woo early reader for KG-2nd grade, a trip to the zoo and wondering how animals clean their teeth ties in to Katie’s trip to have her teeth cleaned by Ms. Malek, a hijab wearing dental hygienist, and having her teeth checked by dentist, Dr. Ali.  Spread over three chapters, the 5×9, 32 page book familiarizes kids with what happens in a dental check-up and shares some silly facts about animals too.

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SYNOPSIS:

On a trip to the zoo, Katie’s dad jokes that the alligator must need a big toothbrush.  This reminds Katie’s mom that Katie has an appointment with the hygienist the following day to have her teeth cleaned.  The next day on the way to see Ms. Malek, Katie sees her friend Haley, who along with her brothers also goes to the same dentist.  Everyone seems to love Ms. Malek.  In the waiting room theres lots of toys and when she gets called back, she gets to sit in the big blue chair that tips back.  Ms. Malek uses a little mirror to  check every tooth, before she brushes them.  She then tells Katie that hippos let fish clean their teeth.  This visit Katie doesn’t need X-rays taken but next time Dr. Ali says she will.  After picking a new toothbrush and toy, she is all set to go home.

On the way home, Katie sees some more friends and tells them about hippos using fish to clean their teeth. Pedro tells Katie that the dentist at the Zoo has to clean the tiger’s teeth.  Thinking that he must be really brave, Pedro explains that the dentist first puts the tiger to sleep.  Later that night, Katie brushes and flosses her teeth and then tells her dad that maybe when she grows up she can work at the zoo and clean the elephant’s tusks.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the diversity of Katie and her friends, and the people in her neighborhood.  Normalizing diversity in literature is a great way to open kid’s eyes to the world around them.  I also like that there is a glossary of words in the back, many dental in nature.  There is a page of Katie’s questions to get readers thinking.  And there is even an interview between Katie and Ms. Malek the dental hygienist.

FLAGS:

None.  There is nothing religious in the book, other than the names of the dentist and hygienist and the scarf on Ms. Malek.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book would be great at story time, and in classrooms.  It isn’t meant for a book club, but I think even in a group setting, kids will be reassured about a trip to the dentist and find the animal information funny and informative.   Kids might even have some more fun animal teeth facts to add to the discussion.

The Little Green Drummer by Taghreed Najjar retuld by Lucy Coats illustrated by Hassan Manasrah

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This book is perfect for early readers that are more fluent than picture books, but not quite ready for a full on chapter book.  With five chapters, pictures on every one of its 73 pages, this book is a joy to read both on your own or out loud to a group.  It is fun for Muslim children and non Muslim kids, and a great addition to bedtime or story time at Ramadan, or any other time of the year for that matter.

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SYNOPSIS:

Samia and her Yaba live in Lifta, Palestine and her dad’s job in the month of Ramadan is is to wake the whole village up as the dawn waker-upper.  Samia loves his important job, and hopes one day to do it too, but her dad says a girl has never done it before.  Samia doesn’t understand why, girls can shout and bang drums as well as anyone else.

The day before the start of Ramadan, Yaba is not feeling well and doesn’t know what he will do.  Samia sees her chance and says she can do it.  Her drum is loud, her lantern is bright, and her dog, Barkie, will keep the wild wolves away.

As she sets out in the dark, she sees orange scary eyes in the woods and sings a song to herself to keep her brave as Barkie defends her.  When she gets to the first house, they are surprised to see her, but the children of the home rush out to join her with their own drums.  When the three children and Barkie get to the next house, their friend Omar wants to join in with his tambourine.  This continues as the village children join together with whatever instruments, even pots and pans, they have to make sure everyone gets up in time for suhoor.  For five is louder than four, all the way up to nine being the loudest of all.

The children all sing and the villagers reward them with candy and treats.  On the way back home the wolves stay away and when they reach home Samia’s dad is feeling better and can’t wait to hear of her adventure.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is based in truth which is detailed at the end of the story on three pages that tell about Lifta, and how after a war the people were not able to return.  It also tells about Ramadan as the story text itselft mentions it very little.  Yes, it takes place in Ramadan, and the people need to be woken up to eat before the day starts to fast, but the afterword gives a bit more about the holiday and Eid that follows.

I love that the book is about a girl doing something because she can, I was afraid it was going to be like Hiba Masood’s Drummer Girl, but it takes a different turn in showing Samia having to be brave, showing team work and cooperation in getting the job done, and the village not even really caring who wakes them up, her being a girl doing a “man’s job” is never even mentioned again.

The book is fun with the sound effects and inclusion of everyone and the illustrations are incredibly well done.

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FLAGS:

The book is clean, the “scary part” is quick and while it adds a little tension, not enough to scare even sensitive little ones.  The dog stands his ground and becomes the Dog King of the Village.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m trying to see if I can do this as an online story time during Ramadan amid Covid 19.  It is a super quick read, and is a lot of fun, but the small (8×5) size might make the pictures hard to see.  I think all kg through 2nd grade classes should have this story.  It explains a cultural celebration of Ramadan in a universal way that will make Muslims feel proud and non Muslims excited to learn about something new.

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Adam & the Tummy Monsters by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

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Adam & the Tummy Monsters by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

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Book two in the Adam Series was the first Zanib Mian book I ever read, and for the last three years I’ve been looking for the first book.  So, while thrilled to finally find it secondhand in the US, I realize my review of it is a bit selfish.  I’m hoping that if it appeals to you that maybe we can encourage the author to re-release it somehow or write more books in the series, I’m not entirely sure how publishing and copyrights work, but I feel like it is worth a shot.  There aren’t a lot of early readers with Muslim characters out there, let alone ones that are done well.  The book is 32 pages, hard back and is would work for 5 year olds and up that know their site words and are pretty fluent at sounding out new words. Ideally, kids that have had the story read to them a few time will be able to pick it up faster, as the story is compelling, the spacing between lines and the variety of fonts will hold their interest, but some pages do have a lot of text and some words are a bit complex. 

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SYNOPSIS:

Adam has a tummy ache, aka tummy monsters, and while he doesn’t want “yucky medicine” from the doctor, he is happy when his dad, puts on a silly hat and assumes the role of “Detective Doodle” to solve the case.  They determine that he ate porridge for breakfast, but so did Adam’s sister and brother, who are feeling fine, so that can’t be it.  He washed his hands before eating, and said “Bismillah” before he started too.  It seems he followed all the eating rules, but when Adam’s sister Mariam stumbles on a scene in the playroom, the culprit is uncovered.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the family has a silly approach to a very common childhood problem.  I also love that while, solving the case, reminders about eating etiquette are sneaked in without being preachy or cumbersome.  Once the reason for the tummy ache is uncovered, Adam’s parents don’t scold him, but it is safe to say he probably learns his lesson.

The pictures are engaging and colorful.  The mom wears hijab, and the characters are warm and happy.  The background color of the pages changes and sets a nice tone for the book.  

In the text, Adam isn’t asked if he said bismillah, but rather if he said, “in the name of God,” but in the illustration, a speaking bubble has him saying bismillah, which makes me wonder if the author was trying to make the book accessible to both Muslims and non Muslims alike.  It definitely could be, I think the story is fun and the consequences for gorging on chocolate pretty universal.

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FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Like the second Adam book, this book will work perfect for story time in small groups  and bedtime on repeat.  I think in a classroom it would be great to have small groups read the story and then discuss.  Not a traditional Book Club, obviously for the length of the book and the target audience, but I do think that even little kids will have a lot to say about Adam and his silly family.  More importantly, I think they all will have stories of their own “tummy monsters” to contribute and discuss.

A Race to Prayer: Sulaiman’s Rewarding Day by Aliya Vaughan

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A Race to Prayer: Sulaiman’s Rewarding Day by Aliya Vaughan

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This 56 page (only 38 pages of story) early chapter book is a simple book with a lesson.  For kindergarten to 2nd grade readers the book could be a short story, but the added minuscule details (how he got in the car, slid over, and buckled up) and the illustrations, flesh the book out in to seven chapters with a note for parents/educators at the beginning, and sections of: evidence from the Quran and Sunnah, comprehension questions, inspiration behind the story, glossary and information on the author at the end.  The book isn’t bad, just kind of dry and bare bones.  Satisfactory for young readers that enjoy quad races, and ideal for those that whine whenever it is salat time.

SYNOPSIS:

Sulaiman loves watching quad races and playing football (soccer, the book is British), but feels like, “Every time I want to do something exciting, it either rains or it is time to pray.” one afternoon when he is feeling particularly grumpy, his dad offers to take him to watch the quad races at a nearby stadium.  Grandpa joins them and grandma sends them off with lunches and duas.  First the car won’t start, then they take a bus and wait in line.  Once they are inside the day looks up, the races are fun and then it is Thuhr time.  Sulaiman wants to wait until a break, but it is winter and the days are short meaning Asr will be approaching fast.  They go find a place to pray and when they return their seating section is closed.  Part of the roof fell in due to the rain.  Feeling fortunate that they had left to pray, Sulaiman sees the value of praying on time in this duniya.  They later are given better seats and Sulaiman feels blessed that they had gone to pray.

The story was inspired by a real event, according to the “Inspiration Behind the Story” at the end, where the author says that her husband was at a football match in Algeria when an earthquake struck.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the character is relate-able to most of our young Muslim children.  He is a good kid, but has a hard time stopping what he is doing to pray.  He has to be reminded to make wudu and brush his teeth.  I like that grandpa gets to come along, but I wish he would get to tell some of his stories, rather than just have Sulaiman shush him and be annoyed.  Similarly, I like that the dad is a “fixer” but some character development would have been really great.  I understand the reading age isn’t tempted by back story, but a little investment in the characters would make the climax that much more intense.  I was surprised by the roof falling in, but it snuck up so quick and was resolved equally fast, that I didn’t really feel it.

Also, I am not entirely sure what quad racing is. I mean I get that they are 4 wheelers racing on a stadium track.  But, I didn’t realize it was such a thing to be watching it on tv and then heading to watch it live nearby.  I’m glad I learned that kids dig it in Britain, but I’m thinking that it might be a little foreign .  A soccer match or another race, might have made the story a bit more appealing.

The book is for Muslims by a Muslim despite the glossary at the back. The pictures aren’t great, but they make the page breaks appeal to the younger kids.  The font, binding, and presentation makes for a nice looking and feeling book.

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FLAGS:

None, alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be really great in small groups.  I can see it being used in Sunday schools or in Islamic schools, where Language Arts teachers and Islamic Studies teachers crossover to drive the importance of salat home.  I think this would easily inspire this age group to then write their own copy-cat stories of why salat is important.  The questions at the end could even make it like an extra credit novel study or a read aloud story with the questions used to verify comprehension.

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Yes! Yes! Yes! A strong and relatable 2nd grade, Pakistani-American Muslim girl, with stories written on a AR 2.4 -2.5 level, learns lessons and grows in everyday scenarios.  Seriously, this book is overdue and so well done, I can’t wait for the author, illustrator, and publisher, to team up to do more.  The book I have, Meet Yasmin! contains all four stories: Yasmin the Explorer, Yasmin the Painter, Yasmin the Builder, and Yasmin the Fashionista. You can buy each of the books separately in a larger format, and possibly a longer story.  The version I have is 5.5 x 7 and 96 pages long which includes a Think About It, Talk About It section at the back as well as a glossary of Urdu words, some facts about Pakistan and a recipe for Mango and instructions to make a bookmark craft .  The individual stories are 6 x 9 and 32 pages, and whether you buy the collection or the individual stories, they are under $6. Fabulous all the way around.

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SYNOPSIS:

Yasmin the Explorer:  The book starts out with Yasmin’s dad telling her about explorers and maps.  Inspired, Yasmin decides to make her own map of the neighborhood, which gets really exciting when her mom asks her if she wants to join her on a shopping trip to the farmer’s market.  While they stop at different stalls and Yasmin adds to her map, the temptation of a playground draws Yasmin away from her mom, but luckily her map can guide her back.

Yasmin the Painter:  Yasmin’s school is having an art competition and Yasmin is nervous because she doesn’t consider herself a very good artist.  Her parents show her videos and gift her supplies.  Unhappy with how her attempts are turning out, she decides to find her own style and with the support of her parents she enters her painting and waits nervously to see who wins and what the mystery prize is.

Yasmin the Builder:  I think this story is my favorite because she really had to rely on herself when the class is building a city and Yasmin can’t figure out what to build.  She perseveres and works hard, and ends up connecting the dots and making the city come to life by finding a way to make her favorite part of the city, going for walks, a part of the class project.

Yasmin the Fashionista:  Mama and Baba have gone out for the evening, so Yasmin is hanging out with her grandparents.  When Nani and Yasmin play dress-up and Mama’s shirt gets ripped, Yasmin and Nani have to solve the problem!  Not only that, they get inspired to transform Yasmin’s pajamas, and when Mama and Baba come home they are treated to a fashion show!

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WHY I LIKE IT: 

There is a lot to love about these stories.  Yasmin is not great at everything, and things don’t necessarily come easy for her.  But she is bright and surrounded by people that love her, and she is allowed and encouraged to shine in her own way.  I like that her painting wasn’t great, and that she stayed in from recess to figure out what to build.  I love that her dad is involved in her projects and ideas as much as her mom, if not more.  I love all the little nuances that accurately show a Pakistani-American family and a Muslim one; not an exaggerated version, or a dumbed down one either.  Yasmin has to wait for her mom to put on her hijab, it doesn’t explain that she isn’t wearing a hijab in the home, but it is shown.  It shows the characters in ethnic clothes and in western clothes.  It shows Yasmin’s classmate building a church, and one building a castle.  Yasmin is spunky, she makes mistakes, she works hard, and she is a breath of fresh air, that I think kids of any and all backgrounds will relate to her and enjoy the stories.

The pictures are bright and colorful and detailed. They are age appropriate and make the chapters within the stories really come to life and keep new readers engaged.  The font and binding and layout is well done.

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FLAGS:

None.  

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TIPS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I honestly think little kids could read this and discuss it and might actually enjoy having a discussion about Yasmin: what they like about her, what things they have in common, what she does that makes them laugh.  It might come across as a girl book, but really, it isn’t she is relatable for everyone. 

There is nothing Islamic mentioned, just depicted in her mother’s and grandmothers hijabs.

 

 

My Own Special Way by Mithaa Alkhayyat retold by Vivian French translation by Fatimah Sharafeddini illustrated by Maya Fidawi

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A mainstream Early Reader book with a cute little muhajaba on the cover and a premise that she’ll be a big girl when she wears hijab seemed like a book I should adore.  And while it isn’t bad, and I’m glad it was in the library,  really I’m not sure how I feel about it.

In someways, I’m just confused.  Why would you pick one of the characters to be named Hind, in a book urging readers away from picture books and into chapter books, it isn’t going to be pronounced with a short i sound, it is going to be pronounced like a “be-hind,” umm not so good for the age demographic you are trying to show another culture to, there will just be giggles and jokes.  Also, many of the illustrations are cute, but what is wrong with the dad and with Jamila’s sleepy eyes, they kind of border on creepy. And not the creepy, in a cool way, more like creepy in an awkward way.  And finally, with an author, a retold by, and a translator, and presumably a ton of editors and proofers at Orion Children’s Books, I found veil to be a very formal word to use throughout.  It does say it is a scarf at one point, but the word of choice throughout is veil, and I think to be culturally accurate, hijab would have been a better choice.  Even for English readers, scarf would have been a better fit.

The book is 62 pages, there is no glossary and it is not AR, but is a transition early reader book for kindergartener and first graders.

SYNOPSIS:

Little Hamda wants to spend time with her four big sisters, but they all say she is little and have other plans.  When her mom reminds her that they were small at one time too, she realizes that when they were small they didn’t wear hijab, or in this book, a veil, and now they are big and where one when they go out.  So, in her mind, once she starts wearing one, she too will be big, and thus the challenge of finding a way to wear it comfortably begins.  She is helped and supported by all her family and finally she finds her own special way to wear her veil.

I like that it is a mainstream book trying to include some diversity.  The family is relatable and the themes universal even if portrayed in a minority muslim framework.

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WHAT I LIKE ABOUT IT:

I love the premise of the book and that it is very clearly Hamda’s idea to wear a veil, no one is forcing her.  The text and illustrations align to show the girls cover when they go out, not in the home.  The dad needs help at one point finding his shoes to go to the mosque.  However, it doesn’t tell what a mosque is, or explain that the family is Muslim and wearing hijab is an Islamic act, which might be a comprehension block for young readers.

I really go back and forth on the illustrations.  On the first reading I thought they were creepy, when I went back to write the review they were kind of cute.  When I asked my kids, two said they were fine, and one said they were ugly and was positive I am the only one to have ever checked out the book.  Yeah.

FLAGS:

Fine, and Islamically nothing erroneous.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Obviously not a book club level book, but I would be very interested to have some first and maybe even second graders read it and give me feedback, like I said I’m on the fence with this one.  Check to see if your library has it, read it, have your kids read it, and let me know.

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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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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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The Lost Ring: An Eid Story by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

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This is a good little story about Eid ul-Adha for 2nd through 4th graders.  It is not AR and at 29 pages it balances information about Islam and Eid with a simple little story that keeps the target demographic interested.  It isn’t great, but for a book that would probably be a level reader equivalent of a three, it suffices in being a bit of a mystery, a bit of a comedy, and bit of a lesson on why and how we celebrate Eid.

Rahma’s Grandma and cousin, Muslimah, are visiting for Eid. The girls start off the story trying on their beautiful dresses and feeling like princesses.  The girls and Grandma then get to work on making samosas for Eid.  Rahma sees her grandmother’s ring next to the bowl of dough and tries it on. The story moves fluidly and the girls take turns helping  with the folding of the samosas.  Some more adults come in and add tidbits to the story about giving gifts on Eid and getting ready for Salat and depicting a typical practicing family.

The story shifts to dad asking the kids what they remember about Eid-ul-Adha and what they know about Eid-ul-Fitr, the Festival of Sacrifice. On the day of Arafat the children fast, visit the hospital and take gifts to people in the community and the neighbors.  After Salat-ul-Maghrib dad reviews some of the sunnah acts for Eid as well.  It doesn’t get too preachy, or overly detailed, it is more highlights and brief summary revisions.

Eid day is fun and exciting, but when night falls and the family prepares for people to come over, Grandma can’t find her ring.  The kids want to be detectives, but Rahma suddenly realizes that the ring must be IN one of the samosas. So the children decide to eat them all to check. When the ring doesn’t turn up, Rahma and her cousins recite Ayat-ul Kursi, ask Allah for help and decide to tell Grandma the truth.  Just then Mum yells and the ring is found in her samosa, the truth is revealed and they all enjoy a good laugh and resolve to “always remember this as the Samosa Eid.”

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There is a lot of text on the page, and a fair amount of “foreign” words that I think the book is probably meant for Muslim children, or those familiar with the basics of Eid.  There is a Glossary in the back, but it still might be a bit too much for non Muslim children to grasp without someone to answer their questions. The illustrations have the elder females with hijab and the girls uncovered when not praying.  The small pictures are detailed and complimentary, but the younger readers will wish they were a bit more engaging.  Overall, a good book to have in a classroom, and a great one to check out from the library to encourage young readers, or just to enjoy before Eid-ul-Adha.

Max Celebrates Ramadan by Adria F. Worsham illustrated b y Mernie Gallagher-Cole

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Max Celebrates Ramadan

Max is a character in a series of leveled readers that explores familiar topics to build reading confidence (Max Goes to the Doctor, Max Goes to School, etc.), and introduces new ideas as the reader’s skills build (Max Celebrates Cinco de Mayo, Max Learns Sign Language, etc.).  I love that Ramadan was included and this 24 page AR 2.0 book is spot on, in what a new reader can handle without getting frustrated or bored in terms of content, and ability.

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Max goes to his friend Omar’s house to celebrate Ramadan.  He learns a little about the month, what the Quran is and about Eid al Fitr too.  The foreign words are explained in the text and there is no explanation of belief or doctrine.  There are just simplified, age appropriate, descriptions of what a Muslim does and what you might see during Ramadan.  Very level appropriate for Muslim and non Muslim children.  Omar’s family is inviting and kind, and the illustrations show them to probably be of Indian decent as the mother and other females are wearing saris.  None of the women cover, but the males all wear kufis.max1

The book doesn’t stand out in any way, but most leveled readers, in my opinion, don’t.  If you have young readers check and see if your library has the book, the kids will enjoy it.  It works ok in small groups, but not for story time so well, as it is rather repetitive in a dry, not predictive way.  If you are a kindergarten through 3rd grade teacher, I think this book would be a great addition to your book shelf, as well as the others in the series as a way to learn about other people in an independent way.  My son going in to first grade read it by himself fluently and enjoyed the pictures.  Someone new to the concept of Ramadan, i think, would also be able to grasp the concepts without much outside help.