Category Archives: ramadan

Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Before she was Grandma Najma, she was just Najma.  A girl in Turkey with a secret dream of being a musaharati, the person who walks the streets waking up the neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan.  But, a girl had never done this and thus the dream stayed hidden until she was 12 and the neighborhood musaharati was feeling ill.  Confiding in her baba, his love and support makes her dream come true against cultural norms and naysayers.  The line from her Baba, “Girls can be anything they like,” is so clear that her one girl revolution grabs the hearts of the reader and turns readers into cheerleaders.  The added beauty is her father’s support is not limited to his words, he accompanies her out every night almost challenging anyone to say she can’t do it.  Overtime she becomes the pride of the area, and her brothers accompany her if she doesn’t want to go alone, and then eventually her husband and her children.

drumemrgirl2The book warms the soul and uplifts the spirit.  The text seems geared to 7 year olds and up, as there is a lot of it, and at 26 pages does require some ability to focus. But with minor tweaks and condenscing the story appeals to children 4 and up and the pictures help hold their attention as they create a mood of wonder and whimsy.

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Structurally the book is hardback and dust jacket free, yay! the cover is printed on and thus easier to maintain.  The book is longer horizontally with most illustrations on the left side making it great for story time where the kids can see the pictures and the reader can hold and easily see the text without blocking the children’s line of sight.  There is a glossary, an author’s note telling where the story comes from, and a little biography of the author and illustrator and publisher in the back.

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A beautiful, beautiful book to share with children this Ramadan and all year long, alhumdulillah.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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/)

Snow White: An Islamic tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Shireen Adams

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Snow White: An Islamic tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Shireen Adams

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A lot of the twists that I was surprised by and endeared to in Fawzia Gilani’s Cinderella, seemed lacking in her re-telling of Snow White.  Perhaps it is the mere fact that Cinderella has a legacy of being re-told from different cultural perspectives and in different time periods, where Snow White doesn’t, that made this book stumble where her other sailed much more smoothly.

The basic premise of this Snow White version is naturally the classic tale.  Snow White is the envy of her stepmother, in this case however, it isn’t a magic mirror, but a jinn who answers her questions. Once the huntsman is convinced not to kill her, and a boar’s heart and liver are taken instead,  Snow White finds the companionship and shelter of the dwarves.  In this re-telling, it is a female crew with countless skills that they are happy to pass on to their newest friend.  When the evil stepmother finds out Snow White still lives she concocts poisonous dates to present in disguise to Snow White who is awaiting the appointed iftaar time.  The dwarves arrive home too late to save Snow, but see who has done the evil deed.  The Prince makes his brief appearance as he arrives at the cottage, makes dua’a for Snow and then sends his mother to nurse her back to health.  In fairy tale tradition a wedding soon follows, but the evil step mother has one more trick up her sleeve, she poisons a comb that Snow is surely to use as she prepares for the big day.  The dwarves cannot thwart the stepmother and Snow is only saved when the stepmother in all her vanity accidentally picks up the comb to fix her own hair.  Over time she recovers and Snow forgives her and they all presumably live happily ever after.

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Perhaps it isn’t fair to compare the two books, but I would imagine they are often purchased together and I feel like there are some notable differences that are worth mentioning.  In Cinderella, the setting is Andalusia and they are all about the same skin tone.  Snow White seems to resort back to old stereotypes and the stepmother seems to be the only one with a darker complexion with all the others being more fair.  Granted her name is Snow White, but it is established on the first page that her mother prays for a child with a “heart as pure as snow,” so really that doesn’t hold up.  Also, where I felt that Cinderella could work for Muslims and non Muslims alike, I think this one would be a hard sell for non Muslims.  There are a lot of references to dua’as of Noah and Job, there is Ramadan, the role of the jinn, she even does tayammum at one point and readers may be confused why sometimes she is in hijab, and when home with the women she is not.

Like Gilani’s Cinderella, the book is very thorough in being Islamically appropriate.  The sisterhood is a nice twist and the Prince has a really small part.

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The illustrator is the same, yet for some reason the pictures seem a bit dull in this book.  The bottle of poison is shimmery, but the other illustrations seem muted and almost rushed.  The book is 41 pages with a glossary and Reference for Quran in the back, and is very text heavy.  Probably 3rd or 4th grade level with some assistance on the Islamic concepts.

Better Than a Thousand Months: An American Muslim Family Celebration by Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey

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To be honest, I didn’t get the book.  I mean I understand that it was derived from stories the author told his children, and I’m guessing it was written to show similarities between Muslims and Christians, but I don’t understand how the 168 pages with lots of photographs and text from the Qur’an got published as a book.  That is not to say it isn’t without merit, it just leaves a lot to be desired.  The teacher in me really, really, really, wanted to pull out a purple pen and start editing.  I checked twice to see if I had an advanced copy or uncorrected proof, I even Googled the book to see what I was missing.  It doesn’t work for me as a completed book.  To me, however, it is a wonderful outline that is desperately wanting to be fleshed out.

SYNOPSIS:

A man in San Fransisco is sitting on the train when there is an earth quake, thus delaying his trip home.  As he dozes off he imagines interactions with his children that share his knowledge of Islam with them, and thus the reader.  The first interaction is with him and his young daughter discussing Christmas, and how Muslims view Jesus and the power of Allah the creator of all.  They jump in the “time machine” truck and drive through the hills of San Francisco reflecting on the concept of patience.  As Ramadan comes and the narrator dreams we get bits of how Muslims in America celebrate Ramadan, and some of the tenants of faith.  When he is awake we get some story about his family, how he came to Islam and his Grandma passing away.  But nothing is explained or even connected.  I have no idea how many children he has, what the story is with the step children and the confusion from having two daughters with the same name.  The story goes back and forth with his dreams being more “real” then his awake time, and both kind of moving in the same direction of explaining how Islam is practiced as a family in America (praying together, waking up for suhoor), the questions that arise from the children (how to pray at school, why Ramadan decorations don’t decorate the city), and how we are all more alike than different (same Prophets, similar stories).  The final dream sequence is sweet with the father and daughter showing, not just talking, about giving and charity, that I really want to send the author back to finish writing the book.  There are so many tangents that would give it depth that are stated in a few sentence paragraph that could so easily be developed in to whole chapters.  Unfortunately, as is, the reader is just left disjointed and confused.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I really like the premise, I like the literary flip of telling the story in the dream.  The ideas are just not presented smoothly.  I don’t think that a tween would get it, and the choppiness of the ideas bouncing around from short paragraph to short paragraph would dissuade even the most seasoned middle school reader.  The book has some good tidbits, but they are lost in the short glimpses of story and long passages of meaning of the translations from the Quran.  The Arabic Calligraphy is nice, but it isn’t stop in your tracks beautiful, and the font of the English translations are difficult to read.

FLAGS:

None, the book is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I tried to get my daughter to read it, but she was so lost and even asked if it was a collection of stories or a chapter book, that I couldn’t force her to finish.  If you can get through it, one could discuss how to “fix” some of the struggles the book has, thus emphasizing what the reader liked and imagining the back story for all the questions that arise but are ultimately not answered.

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif

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This book fails on so many levels: the writing quality, the title, the representation of Islam and Ramadan, messages about weight and beauty, and female self-worth to name a few.  This 299 page 5.0 AR book looked great as I was skimming through the library book catalog.  I knew it was young adult romance and saw that it would involve crushes and boys, and “typical” teenage stuff, but really this book has so few redeeming qualities for any demographic, I’m not sure why it was written, why it was published, and why the library shelves it.

SYNOPSIS:

Almira is a 15-year-old girl of Persian-Syrian descent living an all American life in Florida. She has good friends, is a good student, and is financially well off.  She is Muslim, but doesn’t really know what Islam is, “I’ve been to a mosque exactly twice in my life” she says.  She doesn’t pray, her parents only do on occasion, yet she feels “different.”  This over stretch is the first of many plot holes, that make the tone of the book more whiney and shallow, than the premise requires.  Having tried fasting the year before and been found cheating by her culturally strict grandfather, Almira is determined to fast this Ramadan to lose weight and prove she has willpower.  There is a glimmer that her shallowness will fade, but the weight issue is mentioned every few paragraphs and thus there is no pushing it away.  The author presents Ramadan as one giant weight loss program.  There is no mention that Ramadan as a spiritual time or reflective time.  Nope.  She is fasting to lose weight, and everyone around her is supporting it, by constantly commenting at how much better her size 8 is looking as the month progresses.  The biggest storyline in the book is that Almira wants a boyfriend.  Again, this is contrary to Islamic practices, but naturally crushes and crossing rules is a reality.  However, even to girls not faced with a religion that forbids boyfriends, the messages in this book regarding boys is pretty pathetic.  Almira changes her self to impress the boy, pretending to have interests that she doesn’t have.  She is willing to sacrifice her best friend since Kindergarten to get said boy, and while they mention that everyone treats them superficial based on their looks, they too treat each other the same way.  Almira and her friends get so much of their self worth and confidence from how boys ogle them that I found myself often cringing with disappointment.  Now, granted it is a YA book, and 15-year-old romances probably are pretty shallow, but again the whininess just starts to be too much.  There is a brief glimmer of hope when the family goes to the mosque and prays and breaks fast together, but it is short lived as Almira finally gets the boy, finishes Ramadan, and celebrates in a bikini on the beach, “And look at us, half naked on Eid,” she says to her Muslim friend, Shakira, as if that is the epitome of making it in America.

I don’t expect all books to have a message, but if you are going to have a moral message in a book, I would hope that a book written on a 5th grade level would have a good one.  This book’s lesson is to lie and lead a double life.  And no that is not me over simplifying and putting my own bias on the author’s storyline choices.  “I’ll sneak out with Peter whenever I can, while I show my parents a goody-two-shoes facade that will be impenetrable.  I can keep this secret,” thinks Almira as the book concludes (page 287) and everything is right in her world. She feels a tinge of guilt that she can’t talk to her parents, not guilt at her actions, which is really the epitome of my confusion to why the book has an Islamic implied title.  Ok I get maybe she wants a bit of cultural layers to add depth to the characters, but why structure the book on religion when religion is made to be such a joke by failing to give it any substance? Had she made it more cultural and the characters culturally are Muslim, even that would have worked better.  But, they aren’t.  The parents are really really one dimensional.  Mom is “hot” and even when the family is talking she is in the corner doing crunches.  She loves karaoke and doesn’t like grandpa is about all we know about her.  Nothing about her dreams, her family, her life growing up, her fears, her education.  Dad similarly is pretty flat.  He is a dentist and just looks at people’s teeth. He goes from being uber mellow and cool, to deleting pictures on her computer and yelling at her that she can’t date.  Neither trait seem to define him, and make an already shaky premise, more awkward.  Almira whines and complains about her parents, but they overall seem supportive and kind, again a plot hole that makes the book lose traction.  Grandpa is the scary old-world stereotypical character, that calls everyone a prostitute that doesn’t dress modestly, but goest out of his way to teach Almira to drive.  The grandma fades into the back ground, but oddly enough the author takes time to mention that recently she started wearing a scarf and used to wear heels and make-up, so did grandpa call her a prostitute? Again things don’t line up and once again the female characters are defined by their looks, and the males as being hot tempered and judgemental.  It is unfortunate that the foundation of the book is so weak.   Additionally, all the pop culture references, already start to date the book (it was written in 2011), most 15 year olds today probably are not obsessed with Robert Pattinson and Angelina Jolie. The author tries really  hard to sound like a teenager, that at times it seems overly forced.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously I’m not a big fan of the book, so finding things I like is a bit of a stretch.  I have more hope that girls can be strong and independent and not completely boy and appearance obsessed.  And while I know that is wishful thinking, this book just validates the sad idea that self worth is tied to looking good in a swimsuit and having a boyfriend.  I feel like our daughters deserve more, are capable of more.  I like that Almira is willing to try new things, like fasting and going to the mosque. And I do like that she more or less puts up with her grandfather in a kind manner, even though they disagree about most everything.  In terms of the “romance” aspect at least the author didn’t go overboard.  The characters kiss and hold hands, it does stay within the PG-13 guidelines. So, Alhumdulillah, if a young Muslima picks it up thinking she might actually read about an amazing, spiritual Ramadan experience, she will be terribly disappointed, but at least she wont be exposed to something R-rated.

FLAGS:

The flags are with content, presentation, and writing style. There is no language.  The idea of violence, if her grandfather caught her with her boyfriend stoning her, seems out of place and not a realistic threat.  There is nothing negative per se about Islam, as there really is no Islam in it. I doubt even someone with no Islamic knowledge would equate anything in the book with Muslims.  They may wonder if in fact we lose weight during Ramadan, but that is about it.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There isn’t much to discuss in the book, just criticize unfortunately. The author’s blog reveals that Islam and cultural characters seem to be a common back drop in her books, but I doubt I’ll muster up the desire to read any other novels of hers to see if they ever serve more than that.

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.

 

 

 

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi illustrated by Lea Lyon

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Lailah's Lunchbox

Another standout in a crowded field of Ramadan picture books, mashaAllah, Lailah’s Lunchbox works well even outside of Ramadan for Muslim and Muslim children alike.  In 32 pages, the reader gets to know Lailah and understand how hard it has been for her to move to America from Abu Dhabi, make new friends, how nerovus she is to be identified as different, as well as how excited she is that her mother has finally agreed to let her fast this Ramadan.

Lailah is excited to wake up and have sehri with her family before heading to her new school, fasting for the first time.  Her mother has written a note for her teacher, but on the bus, Lailah reads the note and suddenly worries if her teacher will even know what Ramadan is ,and decides not to give it to her teacher.  Lunchtime arrives, and when the teacher asks Lailah if she forgot her lunch, her voice fails her, and her classmates offer to share their lunch with her.  Lailah decides to leave the cafeteria and finds herself in the library spilling all her worries and stresses and fears to a kind librarian.  (Yes the librarian is the hero, and really no one should be surprised, right!?) With the librarian’s urging and Lailah’s determination, she writes a note to the teacher explaining that she is Muslim, and fasting, and even includes a poem.  She leaves the note on her teacher’s desk at the end of the day.  The following day, the teacher has written her back and the reader, along with Lailah, know that having courage and staying true to one’s self can often be scary, but also wonderful too.

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While the story is billed a Ramadan Story, it really just is the back drop for a lot of really good messages.  I think 2nd and 3rd graders to early middle schoolers could really benefit from the book.  It is semi autobiographical and I think the authenticity of the emotion woven in, makes the book very relatable and powerful.  I plan to discuss it with my daughter going in to 5th grade, who is also a bit shy on occasion: the way Lailah worked out the problem, the way she found someone to trust and talk to that was patient with her, to point out to her that the kids in her class were very kind and that most of her fear and anxiety was with herself, not them.  I also really like the message that she was so excited to fast, and how her nerves took that excitement away, but having the courage to face her fear, brought back her happiness and enthusiasm.

The end of the book has an Author’s note, telling how the story came about and a bit more about Ramadan. It also tells the definition of Sehri and Iftar, the only two “foreign” words in the book.  I found it interesting that the word Sehri, an Urdu word, was used instead of Suhoor, if they are coming from Abu Dhabi, but perhaps the author is of subcontinent heritage.  The illustrations are colorful and realistic, complementing the story and tying in the range of emotions and events Lailah is experiencing.

I was pleasantly surprised at the book, and even more excited to see that it is available in the public library system.  Here is the link to the author’s blog I hope she plans to write more, as her style and message resonate with Muslim American kids, and their parents, alhumdulillah.