Category Archives: Picture book

Sadiq Wants to Stitch by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Niloufer Wadia

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Sadiq Wants to Stitch by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Niloufer Wadia

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This 40 page AR 4.5 book touches on gender norms and breaking cultural expectations, as well as a mother’s love and a child’s determination.  The beautifully illustrated pages show Kashmir’s landscapes and culture.  The message is for third graders and up with its longer passages and understanding of gender roles, but younger children will enjoy the story just as well.  My only concern is the timeline of the story, the mother has a week to make two embroidered rugs and worries when she awakens with a fever on the day the rugs are expected, exclaiming that she hasn’t even started the second rug.  How was she going to meet the deadline even if she wasn’t ill? Even with the extension, she asks for a few days, not a few hours.  That aside, the book is a lovely glimpse into a nomadic culture and people.  There is no glossary at the end explaining namaz or Chacha or Bhai, but there is a bit of information about the Bakarwals of Kashmir at the end that provides context and enhances appreciation.

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Sadiq wakes up to the sounds of the river Lidder, he prays and drinks his cha and heads to the meadow to milk the sheep and take them out to pasture.  His father died two years ago, and now the responsibility of the flock is his. After his chores are done he sits and watches his mother embroider.  He sometimes stitches his own patterns on the edges, but his mother does not like him sewing.

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When an order from the city comes in for two rugs by the end of the week, Sadiq offers to help.  His mother refuses his assistances claiming that the women stitch and the men tend to the sheep in their community. Sadiq dreams of the designs and colors he would like to sew and decides he will do so in secret.

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On the day when the rugs are to be picked up, Sadiq’s mother has a fever and cannot stitch.  When the man comes, Sadiq’s mother starts to explain that they are not ready, but Sadiq surprises them both with his completed rug.  The man likes it, but notes it is not what was ordered. Ammi wants to keep Sadiq’s rug and asks for a few more days to complete the second one, now that she has her son to help her.

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Abdul agrees to a few more days, and the next morning Sadiq’s mom has hung Sadiq’s rug for everyone to see, and is proudly crediting her son’s work.  She hugs him, just like she did in his dream, and chides him that she still expects him to do all his other chores before he sews.

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Fatima’s Great Outdoors

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Fatima’s Great Outdoors

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As a partially brown person who enjoys camping and does it frequently, I have been anxiously waiting to get my hands on this beautiful 40 page, kindergarten to fourth grade picture book. So, trust me, I’ve read it multiple times to myself, to my children, and even to a Muslim storytime group to try and figure out why I like it, but, unfortunately, really don’t love it. Ultimately, I think it is because there is just too much going on.

Everything about this book is wonderful: the idea to encourage brown people to go camping, to highlight that time in the wilderness is for everyone and doesn’t have to look a certain way, that bullying and micro aggressions are oppressive, that immigrants have diverse and full lives in their home countries and work hard when they come to America, that culture and language and food and music is diverse, yet universal, that learning new skills and trying hard things makes you a super hero, that dad’s can cook and mom’s can be great fire starters and critter catchers, truly it is all so powerful and affirming, it is just a lot for one book.

It could easily be a three book series with just the information and layered themes presented, and I really wish it was spread out. If you are a 4th grade desi kid who has been camping or desperately wants to go camping this book is a great glimpse to mirror your place in the hobby without compromising your unique spin on it, but I think for anyone not in that demographic, many of the little celebrations, messages, themes, and cultural nuggets will simply be lost.

I wanted to hear the campfire stories and jokes, and laugh at the lyrics being belted out, not just told about them. I wanted to feel Fatima’s accomplishment at helping set up the tent and maybe see her struggle and rebound, not just be told she suggested reading the directions. The book has a ton of industry praise and personally came with a lot of expectation for me, so perhaps I’m overly critical, but kids in my storytime were struggling to stay focused when they couldn’t relate to the cultural touchstones being tossed out, they didn’t get the “not being good at math stereotype,” they needed the non text pictures to be explained to grasp their impact on the story, and they wanted to know why of all the Islamic things a Muslim family could do while camping, halal bacon was the only Islamic reference and came with precious little contextual defining.

The story starts with a Fatima and aapa waiting to be picked up after a terrible week of school to go camping for the first time. The Khazi family has immigrated from India and their father has told them that camping is an American pastime. During the week Fatima has been teased for her pronunciation and lunch, had her hair pulled and done poorly on a math test. But when her parent’s pull up with a packed car and the girls jump in to enjoy samosa and Bollywood songs, the weekend holds promise.

When they get to the campsite, Fatima and her dad tackle the setting up of the tent. Dad cannot seem to figure it out, and after the week she has had, Fatima is scared to help, but after a while she suggests looking at the directions and it seems that does the trick. The family enjoys shami kabab and rotis from home for dinner, before the girls climb in the tent.

A spider on the outside of the tent is magnified inside, and has the girls terrified it is a monster. Mom, the ever brave lizard and scorpion disposer in India reassures them that it is nothing and sends them off to brush their teeth before settling in for the night.

The next morning mom shows the girl the small spider keeping the mosquitos out and they all share a laugh while dad is cooking anda and roti on a gas grill. He calls the girls to come out in urdu to attempt a campfire to cook the halal beef bacon on like other American’s do. Dad and Fatima can’t get it to light, so mom, who is from a smaller town in India has to show them how it is done. Along the way Fatima looks at the other campers and is annoyed that they aren’t having trouble and that her family always is so different. The other families it is worth noting are white.

The Khazi family then starts to pack up and then they go for a hike, play in water and when the time to leave comes Fatima is sad. She doesn’t want to go back to the life they live where they are different and teased and her parents have to work two jobs each. But aapa suggests she share her fun at show and tell, and the family reassures her that they will be back.

The book ends with Fatima telling her class she is a superhero because she can build fires and tents and isn’t afraid of spider monsters. There is no glossary to define the urdu words used and spoken, but there is a reference at the end about the author’s @brownpeoplecamping initiative.

I think the book is rather remarkable and ground breaking because of its subject matter. The illustrations are wonderful, and the book a great reminder that camping and being outdoors is for all. I just wish it focused on a theme or two and highlighted them for this Indian American Muslim Family with relate-ability for other types of minority groups. The book set its own standard in what it wanted to achieve and convey, and sadly I think it missed the mark.

Maryam’s Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani by Megan Reid illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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Maryam’s Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani by Megan Reid illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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This 40 page nonfiction biography is beautifully illustrated and informative.  I had never heard of Maryam Mirzakhani the Iranian born, first female winner of the Fields Medal.  Her life from loving stories and not liking math, to becoming a student and later a professor in the United States is remarkable and inspiring.  Second through fourth grade readers that both love and struggle with math will be drawn in to her unique way of looking at the world, and the math she found to serve as her magic wand in explaining it.  I don’t know if she identified as Muslim, while in Iran she was forced to cover, but when she left, she no longer did.  The illustrator is Muslim and religion aside, I am thrilled that a book like this exists, and that such a brilliant woman and her accomplishments can be presented to young readers.

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Maryam loves stories.  She reads them to her sister, her best friend Roya and her browse bookstores and dream themselves into plots of their favorite stories.  On the weekends she spreads long rolls of paper on the floor to draw and color her imaginary worlds.  She wanted to be an author when she grew up and knew how lucky her generation was to attend school after the war that tore her country apart.

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Math made her head spin, she would rather be doodling, but when she was 12 her teacher introduced her class to geometry.  It was different, the numbers held stories and the shapes were pictures. She made stories about the problems and wondered about them as if they were characters.

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In high school, Maryam and Roya entered the International Mathematical Olympiad.  The first year they received participation medals, but the next year, Maryam won the grand prize with a perfect score. She finished her schooling in Iran devoting her life to the stories that numbers told and left Iran to start graduate school at Harvard in the United States.

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When she had a hard time solving problems she would spread large rolls of paper on the floor and solve them.  Her daughter would tell people she was a painter.  She wanted to stretch the mind and how people went about solving equations.  She became a professor and a lecturer and one of her discoveries became known as “the magic wand theorem.”

In 2017 she passed away from breast cancer and the world lost a remarkable storyteller, mathematician and human.  The book concludes with an author’s note, important dates, and books to reference to learn more about Maryam Mirzakhani.

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It’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr! by Richard Sebra

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It’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr! by Richard Sebra

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Sigh, another erroneous children’s nonfiction book from a holiday book series targeting classrooms.  This 24 page book is meant for pre-school to first grade and in addition to being vague and repetitive, states that Muslims have a holy book that was written in Ramadan.  It never states the Quran by name, and clearly it wasn’t written, it was revealed in Ramadan.  It later also states that Eid al-Fitr is the last day of Ramadan, failing to acknowledge that it falls on the first of Shawwal, when Ramadan is over.  The table of Ramadan dates at the end spanning from 2016-2022 is also problematic if you are trying to explain that we often don’t know until the night before when Ramadan and Eid will be because we need to sight the moon.  These errors may appear minor, but when they seem to fill every recently published children’s nonfiction book, it really makes the correction of such assumed facts that much harder to overcome.  If our non-fiction books are so consistently flawed, our sense of reality is being shaped erroneously, and imagine what else we have consumed as fact that isn’t accurate over the years.  Please speak out when you come across these errors, in Islamic books and all non-fiction works.

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The book is filled with simple short sentence and often repeats the same basic information on multiple pages.  The two page spreads contain the text on one side and a realistic photograph on the other with critical thinking prompts to consider.

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It starts off by establishing that Muslims have a calendar based on the moon, that Ramadan is the ninth month and it is a holy month.  The next page again reasserts that Ramadan is not one day, but a whole month before introducing the idea that families get together to pray.  The erroneous page about the Islamic holy book follows and then the concept of fasting: not eating or drinking during the day is presented.  The critical thinking point asks readers to consider how fasting might change your day.

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There is then a page about prayer which includes that we kneel on rugs, pray everyday, but pray more in Ramadan.  I’m not sure why this page didn’t follow the page that first mentioned prayer, especially since the next page goes back to talking about food which probably should have followed the page on fasting.

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The page about Eid being on the last day of Ramadan is then followed by more sentences over a few pages about Eid being a festival, there being food, and gifts. There is a table of Ramadan dates at the end, as well as an index and books to further read.  There isn’t a proper glossary because there really isn’t any vocabulary presented  in the vague descriptions, but there is a picture glossary with words such as celebrate, dates, gifts, and prayers.

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The Prayer to the Merciful for Little Ones by Saniyasnain Khan illustrated by Bindia Thapar

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The Prayer to the Merciful for Little Ones by Saniyasnain Khan illustrated by Bindia Thapar

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This 14 page board book is a prayer based on Surah Fatiha and explores the first few ayats with reflective and thoughtful duas.  It has soft muted illustrations of birds and nature on small 5 by 5 pages.  The idea of the book is sweet and soft that I can imagine reading it with a child in your lap after salat, or perhaps whispering into them at bedtime, but it really is a prayer for the parents to read.  Children might understand from the text that everything is from Allah swt and He is always with us and helps us, but because it doesn’t repeat those notions, I don’t think the message will stick. The vocabulary is not reflective of toddlers understanding, and really the comfort comes from them listening to a loved one’s voice not the text or pictures.  I have five kids, this book was purchased when I was pregnant with the first one, I don’t think it has ever willingly been picked up by any of them or sat through in the idyllic picturesque manner that a person with no children would imagine spawning from such a heartfelt book.  I hope I’m in the minority and other families have loved and appreciated this book as it was undoubtedly intended.

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The book starts with a complete english translation of Surah al Fatiha.  The next two page spread is entitled “Praise be to Allah” which is explored in the text of praising Allah for the blessing given and knowledge of Allah being close. The theme isn’t entirely on point, but follows the rhythm of duas: praising Allah swt and glorifying him mixed in with making your requests.

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“Lord of the Universe” is the next heading, followed by “The Compassionate, the Merciful,” “Master of the Day of Judgement,” “You alone we worship and to You alone we turn for help.”  The final section is “Guide us to the straight path.”

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The book came out in 2003, and I was ecstatic to see it available, however, there are now just better and more varied options available, that this one will once again be lost on my shelves.

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My First Book About the Qur’an: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children y Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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My First Book About the Qur’an: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children y Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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I had planned to review the Ramadan book in Sara Khan’s My First Book about series, but needless-to-say all of the board books in the collection look remarkably similar and the one on my shelf, that I thought was the Ramadan one is this one, the one about the Qur’an.  Rather than find another Ramadan book, I figured to just go with it, Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an after all, and the book is both informative and engaging for little Muslims.  The soft detailed pictures and sturdy binding introduce toddlers and up to the belief in Allah, the pillars, care for all creation and being good to one another.

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The book starts out stating the the Qur’an tells us in the beginning there was only Allah, and that He created everything.  His creations are as big as the heavens and the Earth and as small as the creatures we cannot even see.  He created the trees and mountains and the angels and jinn, as well as the people, He made us all special.

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Allah wants us to follow His rules and sent books and Prophets to show us how to act.  He wants us to be good to one another, to be thankful, to look after our world, and everything in it.  Allah wants us to worship Him alone and pray five times a day, fast in Ramadan, give money to the poor, and go for Hajj.

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He also wants us to have families and to get married and raise our children to be good Muslims, so that when we die we will go to Paradise.  The book ends with facts about the Qur’an and questions and answers that can help further the conversation, increase understanding, and encourage love for the holy book.

Ramadan by Mari Schuh

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This 16 page holiday book is one in a series of six.  It keeps the text simple, the images bright and inviting, and turns the pages in to a search and find activity to increase time spent with the material.  The information is accurate and basic, there is nothing wrong (phew) with this recent addition to the very crowded nonfiction holiday book field.  In fact I appreciate that dates are explained and that the food looks tempting even if non Muslim children aren’t familiar with the dishes.  It shows a child in sajood and explains that he is praying. The realistic pictures show smiling faces and Muslim kids will feel represented. Non Muslim readers will become familiar with Ramadan as a time of fasting, the Quran, and prayer.

The pictures to look for are given at the beginning and again at the end with the “answers.” The limited pages have very minimal text.  The first one mentions a lantern being hung for Ramadan. It then states that Ramadan is a Muslim holy month where people fast, don’t eat or drink.

It shows a picture of the Quran and says it is used to pray, before showing someone praying on a prayer rug. When the sun has set it is time to eat. Dates are a sweet fruit to snack on after dark. It then shows a child and adult making dua and again reiterates that the holy month is for praying and helping others.

‘Tis The Night Before Eid by Yasmin Rashidi illustrated by Mariam Aldacher

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On the surface this 32 page inspired re-imagining of the classic Christmas poem might not seem that impressive, but it is really quite effective in highlighting general key points of Ramadan, the mix of sadness that Ramadan has gone too quickly with the excitement of Eid, and showing the diversity of Muslim families and communities.  The large 8 x 10 hard bound pages showcase fun and relatable illustrations that would help inform those unfamiliar with the holiday, while also mirroring and encouraging Ramadan and Eid excitement.  It is already a favorite at our house and with simple rhyming lines, the book can lend itself easily to more in-depth discussions (there is a glossary at the back) or be kept as a sweet flowing story that you don’t mind reading repeatedly at the prodding of toddlers and preschoolers alike.

img_8997The story starts with it being the night before Eid.   Ramadan has flown by, iftar eaten, dishes are put away, trips to the masjid for Taraweh have concluded and now it is time to prepare for Eid.  The house is cleaned, clothes ironed, sweets prepared and dreams of gifts filling the kids minds.

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The narrative bounces back to Ramadan to explain that fasting is not eating til sundown for 30 days, that Quran was revealed during the blessed month and that we hold on to the lessons of Ramadan all year long.

 

I pre-ordered mine from the author’s website https://rashidibooks.com/home , but it is also available at Crescent Moon Store https://crescentmoonstore.com/products/twas-the-night-before-eid.  There are also printables on the author’s website.

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Zara’s New Eid Dress by Nafisah Abdul-Rahim

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Zara’s New Eid Dress by Nafisah Abdul-Rahim

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The search is on for an eid dress that reflects Zara’s African American Muslim culture.  This much needed representation highlights more of looking for a dress and the process of having one made, than providing information about Eid or the African American Muslim experience over its 30 pages.  Iftar is mentioned on one page in parentheses, so if you omit that word it could reflect either Eid preparation.  The book is cute if you are looking for a slice of life and coming together of a child, mother, and grandmother over the creation of a dress that has what Zara is wanting: pink, fluffy and containing flowers.  It falls short if you are looking for a book to learn about Eid, Ramadan, what a cultural African American Muslim dress would look like, or a peek into an under represented culture.  The illustrations are sufficient.  I felt the girl looked younger in some of the depictions, and I was surprised that the girl’s rain boots and clothes were worn over multiple days in her search for a dress, picking out fabric and inside her house when the dress is completed.  Similarly, on Eid day while her dress is stunning and fabulous, her friends are wearing the same eid clothes they wore at the start of the book from years past.

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Zara has worn a salwar kameez from Pakistan with her friend Sana, an abaya like her friend Noura one year too, but this Eid, she wants a dress that shows “her own style, her heritage, a reflection of her culture as an African American Muslim.  As her mom is preparing iftar she asks when they can start shopping for her Eid dress.  She knows it won’t be easy to find and convinces her mother to start looking this weekend.

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She pulls on her rainboots as they head out the door to find “something bright, pink, fluffy, and has flowers on it.” They go to several stores and kind find anything just right.  Her mom suggests asking Nana to make it.  Zara’s mom recalls the fabulous dresses her mom used to make her to wear on Eid.

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Nana and Zara head out to the fabric store the next morning. First they find the pattern, then they find the fabric.  After a few days of hard work for Nana, the dress is complete.

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On Eid day, Zara meets up with her friends in her dress that is uniquely her own.

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We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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This 8×8 hardback rhyming book for ages 4 and up is filled with detailed pictures that will remind children of all ages how important salat is despite how tempting it often is to neglect it.  I think six and seven year olds will benefit the most from this 30 page book that also has an activity poster included, as they start to take on the responsibility of praying on time and making good choices.  The gentle parents, the relatable scenario and the adorable little sister, bring this story to life, and will hopefully be a benefit for young muslims and their families.

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A small family of a mom, a dad, a brother and a sister are out working in the garden when the athan is heard.  The five prayers are mentioned as they set off to pray just like the Prophet (saw) did.

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They all head in to make wudu as wudu and salah go hand in hand.  They start with bismillah before going through the simplified steps to wash their sins away.  They are about to start, when the doorbell rings.

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Friends have come to play.  Mom and dad tell the boy to pray.  The boy says there will be time after they play.  Once takbeer is called, the boys slip out on their bikes.  The boy wants to have fun, but something is nagging at him and he wonders what the Prophet (saw) would have done.

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Whispers urge him to enjoy the beautiful day, but he realizes what he must do, and when his friends ask what is wrong he suggests they go pray.  Aqeemus salah!

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They head back to the boy’s house, make wudu and pray together. The steps are named and explained and after concluding he sees his proud parents watching.

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There is a glossary at the end and the poster has the steps of wudu and salat as well as an activity to put the steps in order.

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