Category Archives: Muslim Author

Controlling Your Anger by Saaliha & Ali

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Controlling Your Anger by Saaliha & Ali

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I love little picture books for toddlers and early elementary kids that introduce children to Akhlaaq, good manners and characters.  The book’s tone, however, seemed a bit off to me, so I put it away a month ago and pulled it out again today to read it, knowing I would have forgotten most of my initial thoughts, but somehow, they resurfaced with a vengeance, unfortunately.  And while the pictures and binding and theme are all absolutely wonderful in this 23 page book, I didn’t like the main character at all, and being it is based on a real person, a child, I feel awful saying that.

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Saaliha starts the book keeping her anger just under the surface as her friend Hannah has borrowed and lost her pencil.  Hannah says she’ll look for it after lunch, and Saaliha controls her anger and basically says that it needs to be found now because it is the right thing to do.  All of that is fine, but for some reason she seems bossy and controlling and I really don’t know why.  Maybe because once they look for the pencil and then find it, Saaliha gives her peer (and thus the reader) a teaching moment by saying that she knew she didn’t lose it on purpose.  Hannah’s response is more believable when she feels embarrassed and admits she should be more careful, but I found Saaliha’s reaction smug because she was so close to getting mad, and then to be self-righteous about it, seemed a little passive aggressive to me.  

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As the book continues, Saaliha recounts that accidents can happen at any time and to not get mad, which is great, it gives the example of when her younger brother Ali, accidentally knocked her ice cream out of her hand with his basketball or when he broke her pencil.   She seems to have a thing with pencils, there should have been a different example.

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It then moves on to an incident with a friend, Jalal, who took a donut without asking, but it was an accident for not asking as he normally asks.  The repetition of the word accident here, I get is to carry the concept, but that doesn’t seem like an accident, it seems like he forgot, and an apology should have been in order, not Saaliha having to justify it solely.  Being it is a book about Akhlaaq I feel like the illustration of Jalal winking and eating the donut, seemed off.  

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I like that Saaliha reminds her friends not to get angry as anger comes from Shaitan, but then when the book says she always says A’uthu Billahi Mina Shaitan Nir Rajeem to keep her anger in check, one wonders why in the opening scenario she didn’t say it.

I can’t pinpoint why I didn’t love this book, or maybe I just didn’t like the main character and I would probably give the series another try, but I’d like to hear your thoughts if you have read the book, and more importantly what your children thought of it.

 

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Mikaeel and Malaika: The Quest for Love

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Mikaeel and Malaika: The Quest for Love

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The beautiful hardback book is pricey, but fun.  I didn’t have any expectations when I read it, but now that I’ve read it three times and had my children read it, and my mom a reading specialist/teacher of 45 years read it, I feel pretty confident in saying, its a well-done book.  I think it can get a bit cumbersome when reading aloud, because some lines rhyme and some don’t, but on the third read through I read it to six kids ages two to nine and all throughly enjoyed it.

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The sibling superhero duo are on a quest to find out how to have a pure heart.  They try praying aloud, praying quietly, then they go and talk to the Big Boss, their dad, who speaks in rhyming clues.  The play on words might make the book utterly confusing to children younger than five, or kids of all ages if full attention isn’t being given when read aloud.  For independent readers, they will delight in the words that sound the same yet have completely independent meanings.

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Eventually their quest also takes them to Agent M.O.M who loves them more than anyone else they can imagine, but the big reveal is that Allah (swt) loves us even more.  I don’t know that it is crystal clear that getting a pure heart involves loving the one who loves us most. But, I think by the end, the readers are just entertained that they figured out Allah loves them more than anyone else in the world and is the creator of us all.  The last page has an ayat from Surah Rehman, ” So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?” Which again adds one more thing to the story about being grateful for all that Allah has given us, keeping it from being a completely streamlined story, but adding to the overall love and appreciation for Allah.

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The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and engaging, the amount of text and the font is perfect for ages 6-8 and the messages is fun and educational.  I hope that there are more in the series, alhumdulillah.

 

Escape From Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

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Escape From Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

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N.H. Senzai’s newest book (published in January 2018), gives a face and a voice to the grave situation in Syria.  Like Senzai’s other books, she uses the rich culture and history of a country to inform the reader, and a compelling front story to keep middle school readers entertained.  This 336 page book is not in the AR data base yet, but fourth grade and up should be able to follow the story and be able to handle the violence and destruction presented.  The story is unique in the genre, in that it doesn’t focus on getting to a safe country, but rather on the heroine’s journey to simply get out of a dangerous one, Syria.  The storyline is fairly linear with flashbacks of life before the war making the story informative, but not necessarily gripping.  I wanted to love it, but found myself forgetting about it when I stopped reading.  

SYNOPSIS:

Fourteen-year-old Nadia, has a fun full life in Syria: a large extended family, she stars in a commercial, has good friends, and a lot of opportunity and perhaps privilege.  All that, however, slowly disappears as civil unrest and ultimately war consume the country.  As a child she gets glimpses of the changes coming, but is able to still hide in her ignorance and focus on things like her nail polish and Arab Idol.  As food gets short however, she sneaks out to get bread with some cousins, and is hit by shrapnel.  While, her leg is able to heal, her anxiety of going out alters her life and makes her family’s attempt to get to the Turkish border later, a hard mental obstacle she must face.  Her inability to move quickly with the family on their covert escape route, and the bomb that hits their home, separates her from her family and leads to her getting left behind.  As she tries to remember how to get to the designated meeting location, she must navigate Syrian soldiers, rebel factions, ISIS, secret police, violence, hunger, and being lost.  With her cat, Mishmish, for companionship, Nadia reaches the location only to find that her family has left for Turkey and will wait on the border for her.  Luckily for Nadia, amidst this devastating news, she meets an old man, Ammo Mazen, and his Donkey, Jamilah, willing to help her reach the border.  Along the way the two face long odds of surviving, not only from the war around them, but also the weather, the old man’s illness and lack of food and water.  As they journey through Aleppo, snippets of history and culture are shared, two more children join their journey and mysteries as to who Ammo Mazen really is come to light. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book’s premise is simple, allowing the reader to focus on Nadia and her companions and not get bogged down in the political factions and names and alliances.  The book is not about all of the aggressors, it is about a girl trying to reach her family, and the growth and ability to choose kindness that she learns along the way.  The girl is not religious, but culturally it is a part of her environment.  Her companion Tarek, is religious and he spouts Islamic tidbits as they journey, adding some knowledge to be conveyed about Islam which is sometimes informative and sometimes comical as his character is often a bit awkward. 

I love the cultural beauty that is conveyed, and the heaviness in Syrian’s heart that “What had taken five thousand years to build had taken less than two to ravage.” The saving of historical artifacts, the showing of cooperation between people of different faiths as the characters meet in mosques and churches and meet people of all backgrounds, makes the loss of humanity and history so palpable. 

I also love that there is an Author’s Note at the end.  The whole book I kept having to shush my mind as I felt like this was the story of Mariam in Senzai’s book Shooting Kabul.  Yes that takes place in Afghanistan, but it was so similar in that it was a girl getting separated from her family in an escape attempt during a war, and sure enough she mentions that, that is where Nadia’s story grew from.  

FLAGS:

There is a lot of violence and death, but nothing gruesome or sensationalized.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a great Book Club choice, because it would encourage readers to keep at it and finish the book.  While reading it, the book is wonderful, but for some reason, I had to urge myself to pick it up and start it again.  Perhaps it is because I have read all of Senzai’s books and I was pretty confident all would end well, or because I’ve read quite a few books now about war and refugees and Syria, but while it reads quick it did take me longer than it should to finish it.  I think parts of the book that detail a lot of the skirmishes and fighting might be hard to visualize in the mind’s eye so as an assignment or Book Club selection would benefit the readers to allow them to discuss all the mini climaxes, understand the terrain and architecture, and to really put themselves in Nadia’s shoes.  The transformation in Nadia from a brat, more or less, to a compassionate, strong, determined young woman is a journey that I would love to hear feedback from other kids about.  I think they would definitely have thoughts and opinions that would really bring the humanity of us all out, and make us connect with the plight of those trying to get out of such horrific circumstances.

Publisher’s Page: http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Escape-from-Aleppo/N-H-Senzai/9781481472173

Teaching Guide: https://www.teachervision.com/teacher-discussion-guide/escape-aleppo-reading-guide

Author’s Page: http://www.nhsenzai.com/escape-from-allepo/

 

The Swirling Hijaab by Na’ima bint Robert illustrated by Nilesh Mistry

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Written in 2002 I’m not sure why this book isn’t in libraries or easy to find, it is wonderful.  We all got so excited when Mommy’s Khimar came out, and for good reason, it is great, but I feel like this book is very similar and somehow not appreciated.  The book is written in verse, with just one line on each page, there are 20 languages that this book appears dual language in, and the author is incredibly well known (Ramadan Moon, From Somalia With Love, Boy Vs. Girl, Going to Mecca, She Wore Red Trainers).

The large pictures show a small girl using her mom’s hijaab to play pretend with as a fort, a boat’s sails, a cloth for her tea party, a comfort when mom isn’t there, and most of all as a covering as a part of one’s faith.  The book shows the little girl as a desi bride, an African warrior queen, a beduin, and a relatable little girl having fun.

The book works well for little ones, with its simple text and large pictures, and is perfect for story time and bedtime alike.  The pictures aren’t bold and vibrant, but are colorful in their muted state and engaging as the swirling hijaab transforms into so much more than a piece of cloth.

It doesn’t mention Islam or Muslims, but just that the hijaab is worn as a sign of faith.  It depicts the girl praying, but doesn’t offer and text regarding it.

 

Jameelah Gets Dressed by

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Jameelah Gets Dressed by

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These books in the Mini Mu’min Dua Series are a great way to introduce familiar concepts in an Islamic framework to preschoolers and teach them the accompanying duas for them.  I previously reviewed Sajaad is Sick, which pleasantly surprised me, and this book proved that the series has consistency and value.

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The pictures are colorful, but basic, there are no faces or people included.  The text rhymes, yet has a nice cadence that doesn’t seem overly forced throughout the 38 pages.  The book is large, 8×10, with a glossary cover, and decent weight and binding.

This book includes a few footnotes: defining hijab, giving the ayats for the commandment to draw your veil over your bodies, the hadith about starting with your right, etc.  There are four duas included, the one for getting dressed, the one for wearing something new, the dua for when someone else wears something new, and the dua for getting undressed.

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It’s Jummah! The Sunnah and Etiquettes of Friday! by Najia Rastgar & Lyazzat Mukhangaliyeva illustrated by Zainab Arshad

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It’s Jummah! The Sunnah and Etiquettes of Friday! by Najia Rastgar & Lyazzat Mukhangaliyeva illustrated by Zainab Arshad

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This is a very straight forward toddler board book about what you should do on Jummah.  The simple text, the blocky pictures and the overall size and feel of the book make it a great teaching tool for establishing routine. 

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The book is 10 pages and measures at about 6×6 inches.  It is very sturdy and solid and perfect for babies up to 2 or 3 years old.

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The day starts with waking up for jummah, taking a bath, reading Quran and praying in the mosque.

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I like that it is completely linear, and that the words under the pictures offer the Islamic vocabulary.  There are also no faces in the pictures. There isn’t a story, but the opening line of “Let’s wake up!” make your little one the star.  

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There aren’t a lot of toddler board books out there, and thankfully this one doesn’t have any flaps to lift up or more text than a one year old can handle.  

Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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This is the second review of a Zaydo Potato book on the blog, and much like the first book this one caters to toddler and early elementary aged children who will enjoy the large colorful pages, the silliness of finding a potato on each page, and who can benefit from the repetition of events to understand a concept.  In this 32 page book the concept being conveyed is taking care of each other, as established by the hadith at the beginning of the book.

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Zaydo and Raya dress up as superheroes, but find their power in saving the day involves using their capes, and masks, and belts, and gloves, to help those around them who can benefit more. They use a bandana to sling a hurt arm, a towel cape to cover a spill, and silly gloves to make a baby stop crying.   They call themselves Muslim Superheroes and after showing the reader that it is good to help one another, praise Allah, and do what is right, they ask if you want to join their force.

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I read the book to my own children and then to a group of about 25 kids under the age of 6 and it went over pretty well.  The amount of text on a page is sufficient to convey the repetitive scenarios.  Honestly, I don’t really understand why the book takes place in Ramadan.  Other than the first page saying that they are the fasters of Ramadan days, and the last page repeating it, there is nothing Ramadan specific about the story.  In fact the Grandma is drinking tea on the first page, so yes maybe she is excused, but it is a bit confusing to have the Ramadan element in there when it is not a facet of the story at all. 

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The word ‘super’ is used a lot, and if reading it aloud can get your tongue a bit tied.  I also don’t understand why Raya has a last name or second part to her name, Raya Amaraya, maybe to go with the rhyming of Zaydo Potato? Either way by adding super, before their names, and the rhyming second name, I felt like a lot of the book was just saying names. The only other critique of an other wise solid book about teaching kids how to truly be super in a practical way, is that the Grandma is in a lot of the pictures in the background sewing so that when she surprises them with real costumes, the kids can enjoy going back and see she was working on them the whole time.  Except I thought, my kids thought, and the story time kids all thought she was knitting, and the costumes don’t look knitted, so it is a bit jarring.  On closer inspection there is just one needle, not two, but it is really large, almost crochet hook size, so a sewing machine illustration would have been a much better choice.

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The activities and lessons at the end and the founding premise of the book really make the book an important one to share with your little ones.  The binding and glossy pictures of smiling children having fun will entertain and educate them at the same time.  My critiques are small, but I feel like a few test readings by the authors, and the minor quirks could have been eliminated all together.  

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