Category Archives: Poetry

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruus Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

Standard
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruus Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

stepping stones

I usually have a running lists of books to check and see if the library has in their catalogue, and another list for when I have a few extra dollars and/or a reason/excuse to purchase books for my own.  I’ve seen this book recommend by countless critics, educators, refugee resettlement volunteers etc., and was thrilled that I could get it from the local public library.  However, it isn’t enough to have this book and mull over the artwork and prose for three weeks, it deserves a permanent place on the shelf.  Or better yet, open hands to pass the book around to within your home, to reflect on the humanity that binds us all, and the plight of so many in the world.

FullSizeRender (12)

The story is fairly simple, Rama and her family have a good life in Syria and the war changes that, forcing her and her family to flee on foot to Europe with what they can carry.  The emotions on the other hand, are not that simple.  The book is illustrated in stone, but the reader would have to have a heart of stone to not be moved.  Written on an AR 3.2 with 28 pages, the book is written in both English and Arabic.  The book is not sensational, but it does discuss the shortage of food, and going hungry, how they are not free, not really, how bombs fall and kill people going to the market,  and it does show that people were lost in crossing the sea.  The family has to walk, there is no going to the airport or cars to take them across borders so easily, this is contrasted to the beginning of the book where Rama was free to play and go to school, things the reader can relate too.

stones

Ultimately the book is full of hope.  The fictionalized account of a horrific reality still on going, pales only to the story of how the book came to be.  The Foreword is wonderful and gives the book so much more warmth and heart.  How the author saw the artisans work, sought him out, and built the story around his pieces, gives even the youngest reader a sense of reality for an unfathomable situation.  After the story is more information about the author and the illustrator, as well as a list of resources to volunteer, donate and help.  Portions of the book sales go to help resettlement organizations across North America.

stones2

The publishers page gives info and has a youtube book trailer as well: https://steppingstonesthebook.com/

FullSizeRender (11)

The book would be great at story time or in a classroom setting followed by an activity with making pictures with stones previously collected.  At bedtime the book is great to read aloud and let the words sweep your listener toward empathy and compassion.  Check your library first, and if it isn’t there, I don’t think you’ll regret your purchase.

A Bedtime Prayer for Peace by Akila Dada & Sukaina Dada illustrated by Michael Wagstaffe

Standard
A Bedtime Prayer for Peace by Akila Dada & Sukaina Dada illustrated by Michael Wagstaffe

MKPLC308-Bedtime-Front-Cover_frontzoom

This is a slow, deliberate, thoughtful book, that does a good job or setting a prayerful tone with short rhyming sentences.  Intended for preschool age children, early elementary children also will enjoy this book in rotation at bedtime or nap time.  

FullSizeRender (9)

The book thanks the creator and asks for protection for all things small and large, seen and unseen, in a gentle dreamlike manner that really could go on for so much longer than the 32 pages present.  Some items mentioned like the plants and trees a preschooler will know, but some of the concepts introduce little ones to something bigger, “Give shelter to families who need a home, Help all the people who feel alone,” “Guide us with your grace and might, keep us safe from every plight.”  

FullSizeRender (8)

The prayer is voiced by a mom to her young boy, Esa, and the illustrations show traditional subcontinent dress as well as western clothes being worn.  The author’s are Muslim but the book is not overtly Islamic.  Sometimes the mom is in hijab, but when in the home she is not.  More distinctly, the word Allah is not used, only God is, and thus the book and prayer, really would work for any monotheistic child as the book does say, “Dear God, protect my beautiful son, You are the Truth. You are the One.”

FullSizeRender (10)

The true treasure of this book is that the main character is in a wheelchair.  Showing different abled characters is always such a blessing as it normalizes it and inshaAllah makes us more accepting when out and about.  The illustrations don’t wow me, but their quiet simplicity keeps the pace of the book, and don’t scream for attention.  Some of the smaller details are endearing and help sleepy eyes linger on page without feeling rushed.

With a hard 8×8 cover, the book is a good size for little hands to read over and over again, alhumdulillah. 

 

My Special Angels: The Two Noble Scribes by Razana Noor illustrated by Omar Burgess

Standard
My Special Angels: The Two Noble Scribes by Razana Noor illustrated by Omar Burgess

angels

The book starts with a brief introduction to Kiraman Katibin, the two recording angels, and reminds parents that before the age of maturity only the good deeds are recorded. That being established the book then works to develop the conscientiousness of having all of our actions recorded, so that we train ourselves from a young age to be mindful of what we do and say.

angel1

Following a precious little boy with fantastic hair, and a bit of a mischievous smile, the reader learns how we each have an angel on our right and left side.  We learn how sharing makes the angel on the right happy, as does stopping ourselves from getting mad.  We learn that its the little things and the big things, the stuff we do in public and the stuff that we think no one sees that get written down.  The angel on the left notes down all the mistakes too, and these make the angel sad.  But alhumdulillah apologies and forgiveness can rub away good deeds, guiding us on the path to jannah, inshaAllah.

angel22

The beautiful full color pictures are beyond adorable, and the rhyming couplets work perfect for preschoolers.  The font, the playfulness of the text on each of the 24 pages, the hardbound book and the 10 x 10 size make this book absolutely perfect for books shelves and for story time.  There is a glossary at the back that defines not just the Arabic words, but also some of the english vocabulary words that might need some explaining:  glee, deeds, angels.  My only complaint is that there isn’t a whole series of books by this author and illustrator coaching and guiding our little muslims in manners and basic belief.

angel 4

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

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

shapes of eid

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.

The-shapes-of-Eid-According-to-me1

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.

shapes 3

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

Standard
Rafiq & Friends’ The Ramadan Date Palm by Fatemeh Mashouf illustrated by Vera Pavlova

datepalm-cover

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-_-friends-5

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.

rafiq-_-friends-sample-2

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.

rafiq-_-friends-sample-4

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.

Rafiq-Product-Set_dropshadow-350x350

(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/)

The Sky of Afghanistan by Ana A. de Eulate illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

Standard

sky-of-afghanistan_book-cover

An Afghani girl dreams of peace in this illustrated 24 page poem.  She soars and flies like the kites against the wind and giggles and learns and hopes with her feet on the ground.  The book is written on a third grade sixth month AR level, but even at that the poem is hard to follow for elementary age children.  The voice doesn’t sound like a child’s, it is far more reflective and mature for how she is presented.  The text, not really a story, wanders and alludes to what obstacles face Afghani’s but doesn’t detail them.  The author assumes the reader knows that Afghanistan has been under war for decades, that war is painful and gloomy and gruesome.  Adults maybe can find the hope for peace and the struggles inspiring, but I don’t think children will really have a clue as to what the text is about. Luckily the pictures are AMAZING.

 

The illustrator does an amazing job in keeping the story light and hopeful and showing the culture without judgement or despair.  The domes of the masjids, the hijabs, the mendhi on the hands and even the smiling faces beneath the niqabs are done with lightness, kindness and beauty.  There is even a touch of whimsy that reminds the reader that this is supposed to be from a child’s perspective.

The sky can be full of kites, I think to myself,

but it can also be full of dreams…

And mine flies up high, high into the sky,

towards the stars…

The book overall is poetic and artistic.  I can see children enjoying the illustrations and maybe falling asleep to the melodious words, even if they can’t really make sense of them. The book says that profits go to charity, and that the book was translated from Spanish.   For the illustrations alone, the book has merit and older children may be inspired to take something difficult and turn it into something beautiful with their words.

 

Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Standard

sitti

Sitti’s Secret was published in 1994 and given the events of the week, I’d say it is more relevant today than it was when written.  And if by some chance the events of the week haven’t affected your children, then the poetry and soul of the book still makes it an amazingly powerful story.

Mona travels from America to Palestine to visit her grandma, her Sitti.  Without the ease of speaking the same language, Sitti and Mona learn to communicate and build a tight bond cut too short by a vacation coming to an end.  When Mona returns she sees the news and writes a letter to the President, telling her Sitti’s secrets, telling him they would be great friends, and telling him they only want peace.

Truly Nye is a poet, even in Turtle of Oman her words transport you to a place where time slows down and the connection between a child and a grandparent make you nostalgically yearn for a simpler time.  Having spent my summer’s abroad visiting my grandma I could relate to so much of this book and truly had to still my heart.  The little things, like examining your grandma’s hand, or hanging out laundry, or brushing her hair. Even that dreaded final hug as you prepare to leave,  I could relate and it was enchanting.

No where in the book does it mention the Middle East or Islam, only at the beginning does she hint at it by dedicating the book to her 105 -year-old Sitti in Palestine, it mentions that she speaks Arabic and a few words are sprinkled in. And the Grandma does wear a scarf.  Other than that the book is by and large not political.  If you know that Nye has a Palestinian father and American mother and often writes semi auto biographical pieces, the book can take a bit of a different role to the reader.  Many reviews criticize the activism upon her return (the letter to the President), and found it disjointed to the rest of the story.  But in today’s climate I found it empowering and hopeful.  The world will only find peace when we put a face to those that are different to us, and even children can change our stereotypes.  I love that my children are seeing that they can make a change in the world today, and to see it reinforced in literature was gratifying.

The book is 32 pages and written on an AR 3.9 level.  The illustrations are beautiful.  They bring the words to life in a tender and heartfelt way.  The detail is subtle but deep and i have found myself thumbing back through the pages to get lost in the illustrations multiple times.  I think the book works on different levels for different age groups.  If you have a family that has to overcome great distances to be together, even younger readers will be able to identify with the story’s tenderness.  If you are in 3rd-6th grade and are aware of what is happening in the world you will be inspired.  If you just are looking for a sweet book, subhanAllah it manages to fulfill that category too.