Category Archives: STEM

David’s Dollar by Tariq Toure’ illustrated by Anika Sabree

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David’s Dollar by Tariq Toure’ illustrated by Anika Sabree

This early elementary 20 page story is an entertaining, yet informative look at community and economics on a kid’s level.  It features black Muslim characters, business owning women of color, commerce, charity, and relevance.  I loved the cadence of the book, the illustrations, and the simple text. Sure, maybe a dollar isn’t much and it is a transparent simplistic view, but it makes the point of how when you shop local everyone benefits, and how the path money takes impacts everyone it touches.

David is getting his dollar after doing his chores, and he is ready to head to the candy shop to see what to spend it on.  At Sammy’s sweets, he decides to get five peppermints, and just like that his hard earned money is gone.  He asks his dad where the money went and off they head to Mansa’s juice shop. When Sammy comes in and buys a drink, out comes David’s dollar and now it is in Mansa’s hands.

David and his Daddy follow the money and see it change hands at Layla’s Pizza Shop, and then Madame C’s Braids, before heading to Uncle Kareem’s hardware store where the dollar too has ended up.  It is time to pray so Uncle Kareem, Daddy, and David head to the mosque.

After Salah the Imam tells the crowd that a family’s house has burned down and they are collecting sadaqah.  David tells Uncle Kareem that that dollar should go to the family.  At night, David recalls all the places his dollar traveled and resolves to learn more math.

The book starts with a beautiful heartfelt gratitude message to Allah swt and the community of supporters.  The end of the book features a detailed bio of the book’s poet author and his successes and praises.

The story is rooted in an Islamic community, but is for all readers of all faiths.  There is no preaching or details about belief. many women have hijab on, there are Islamic names, they go to the mosque, they pray, and they give sadaqah.

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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Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Incredible People by Burhana Islam illustrated by Reya Ahmed, Deema Alawa, Nabi H. Ali, Saffa Khan, Aaliya Jaleel and Aghnia Mardiyah

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Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Incredible People by Burhana Islam illustrated by Reya Ahmed, Deema Alawa, Nabi H. Ali, Saffa Khan, Aaliya Jaleel and Aghnia Mardiyah

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The 30 stories presented over 197 pages are inspiring, and this compilation so desperately overdue. The book is not chronological it is completely random, and at first I was confused, but as I made my way through the book, I actually grew to love not knowing who I would be reading about next.  Yes, there is a table of contents, but the point being that you don’t have to be born into royalty, or be a warrior, or have lived a long time ago to be amazing, you just have to follow your passion.  I learned so much about people I thought I knew about, and was tickled to learn about people I have never heard of: bakers, athletes, actors, educated slaves, architects, spies, singers, scientists and politicians.

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At the end of each six page illustrated blurb is an “Interesting Fact” and at the end of the entire book are some activities in the “Amazing Extras” section.  Readers can crack a code like Noor Inayat Khan who helped the Allies decode and send secret messages from France to Britain or write a poem like Rumi, a song like Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), draw a superhero like G. Willow Wilson, make a camera following the science of Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham, or color a picture of Muhammad Al-Idrisi.

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My favorite biographies were those that I knew little or nothing about before hand.  If I had to pick two favorite among all of those sections, I’d pick Khawlah bint Al-Azwar and Ayuba Suleiman Diallo.

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In 600 CE Arabia, Khawah, the masked knight, learned how to fight along side her brother and eventually served with Khalid ibn Waleed in battle.  It is said that she killed the Byzantine leader that captured her and then asked for her hand in marriage.

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Ayuba Suleiman Diallo in the 1700s in modern day Senegal was a highly educated man who was captured and forced in to slavery in Maryland, USA, interacted with James Oglethorpe, found himself being sent to England and with the help of a Thomas Bluett was able to be freed and eventually return home a free man. SubhanAllah!

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This book has it all: famous Muslim men, famous Muslim women, Black Muslims, Arab Muslims, European Muslims, American Muslims, Asian Muslims, African Muslims, Muslims who lived a long time ago, Muslims who are still alive all jumbled up and beautifully presented by a Muslim author and a handful of Muslim illustrators. This book is wonderful for 3rd graders to adults and would be a benefit on any book shelf.  It is worth noting there are no sources given, and doesn’t explain how the people were chosen to be included in the book.

Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant by Allan Drummond

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Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant by Allan Drummond

Set in Morrocco, the fictionalized framing of a children’s story about solar energy and sustainability at the the world’s largest solar plant in Ghassate will appeal to curious children in kindergarten and up. Told through the every day life of Jasmine, a little girl living near the plant, the concepts are not technical, but give a broad overview allowing readers to understand how impressive solar energy is, as well as the disparity that exists in the world. Over 40 pages with factual sidebars and an author’s note at the end, children who enjoy the story and are curious about the reality of it all will find an easy opportunity to learn more.

Jasmine and her friend Nadia live in Morocco between the High Atlas mountains and the huge Sahara desert. It is always sunny where they live.

They talk a lot about making energy from sunshine as they watch trucks going and coming from the world’s largest solar plant. Their teacher likes to ask them about the big changes happening in their world.

As the villagers tend to their sheep and cows, they cook on open fires and bake bread in clay ovens all while keeping an eye on the workers making the largest solar tower in the world. Jasmine’s dad rides a mule to work and many classmates parents work at the state of the art plant. The contrast is obvious.

The next day at school Miss Abdellam the teacher asks the students about sustainability. And the book doesn’t define the concept right away. First the class goes on a field trip to the solar plant.

At the plant the size of 3,500 soccer fields they see the 660,000 mirrors that follow the sun like sunflowers and bounce the rays to the 800 ft tower. The tower gets to a thousand degrees on top and heats water whose steam powers turbines and is turned into electricity.

The kids go home to work on their sustainability homework. With no internet or computers even, they have to think for themselves. The remaining pages define and provide examples of how solar power is changing life for the villagers and improving life for people not just in Morrocco or Northern Africa but potentially the entire world.

I love that the concept of sustainability isn’t just a definition it shows how it is in every day things, and those every day things lead to big things that are both tangible and ideological. The author/illustrator acknowledges his own surprise and bias when he learned that the largest solar power plant was in Nothern Africa. I love that some of the females wear hijab, and some do not, and that the teacher and some of the parents at the solar plant are female. There is nothing religious even mentioned in the book, but the visibly Muslim characters are empowering and honest for a story about science and Morocco.

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter

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The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter

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This non fiction book spread over 56 pages on an AR 4.0 level is the biography of the famed Iraqi architect’s inspiration, triumph over obstacles and accomplishments.  It doesn’t go in to great detail of her life, but gives enough information for children to become familiar with her and be inspired by all that she accomplished not only as an Arab, Muslim woman, but as an architect and trail blazer of design and structure.  The pages are beautifully illustrated and the simple text flows and dances around the pages like her buildings in real life.

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Born in Iraq where rivers flow, wind swoops across sand dunes, and cities existed thousands of years ago, Zaha finds designs and shapes throughout her home and the city of Baghdad.  She has ideas about arrangements of furniture and designs of clothing, she loves that dunes and rivers and marshes don’t have corners.

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She is a Muslim that attends Catholic school and loves math.  She goes to London for college to study to be an architect. She is relentless in her passion and fills notebooks with plans, paintings with what she sees in her mind and graduates with honors.

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She opens her own office and with a few friends, she designs buildings that swoosh and zoom and flow and fly.  The world is not a rectangle, but unfortunately no one wants to build her designs.  She keeps entering competitions, and winning, but they refuse to build her buildings.

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She designs buildings that come from her memory of grasses swaying, and wind blowing over dunes, and shells being cradled.  She designs an opera house like a pebble in the water, with the singer the pearl.  A ski jump that reaches the sky like a mountain.

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One by one, Zaha’s designs become buildings all over the world.  She has over 400 employees and designs buildings, shoes, doll houses, furniture, she does what she likes and urges others to do so as well.  Zaha passed away in 2016, but her visions are still carried out.

 

 

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed illustrated by Stasia Burrington

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Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed illustrated by Stasia Burrington

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Inspired by the early life story of astronaut Mae Jemison this 36 page AR 3.0 children’s picture book is inspiring and encouraging.  It is not a biography of the first African American woman in space for children, infact with the exception of the note at the end, there really are very few specifics about how she went from being discouraged by a teacher to flying in outer space.  That isn’t to say the book isn’t beautiful and impressive, because it is, and it shows how no one should limit your dreams or your success.  The book radiates warmth and determination and for children, preschool to third grade, if desired, offers a way to start a discussion about racism and sexism all while celebrating the amazing accomplishments of Mae Jemison.

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Mae is a dreamer and her homework one day asks her what she wants to be when she grows up, she tells her family she wants to see the Earth from up there, pointing to the sky.  Her mom tells her that she will have to be an astronaut to do that.  Nervous that it might be too lofty of a goal, her family reassures her that if she can dream it and believe it and work hard for it, that anything is possible.

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From then on, Mae reads books about space from the library, plays pretend, and makes herself a space suit from old curtains and a cardboard box.  She dreams about being in space and looking back at Earth, and she tells everyone she can about her dream to be an astronaut.

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At school when the teacher asks what everyone wants to do and be in the future, Mae’s answer gets her laughed at.  Ms. Bell tries to encourage her to be a nurse instead.  Once home, Mae breaks in to tears that her teacher didn’t believe in her.  Mae’s mom tells her that her teacher was wrong and that she hoped Mae didn’t believe her.  She told Mae that no one could stop her from pursuing her dreams.

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With her family’s unwavering support and a lot of hard work, Mae goes to space. The book ends with her keeping her promise of waving to her parents and looking down on Earth.

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The book touches on a lot of powerful issues that I really hope adults will point out and discuss with their children.  Why her teacher didn’t think she could be an astronaut, not as a belittling of the nursing profession, but as a woman of color what would make her teacher think that was her best option.  When and how should we handle when teachers, or people in authority,  do or say something that we disagree with. I also hope that the note at the end that tells more about Dr. Jemison’s accomplishments is poured over again and again and again and appreciated.  Truly she is a hero!

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There is nothing Islamic in the book, I’m assuming the author is Muslim, but honestly I didn’t find anything in my Google searches that would indicate that she is or isn’t.  It is really just my assumption about the name and my wanting to share this inspiring story with beautiful illustrations with the people who frequent my blog.  Enjoy!

You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

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You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

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This OWN story, upper middle grades book, is heavy on the pop culture, relatable on the Islamic family presentation and honest in its portrayal of Islamaphobia, yet somehow the tidiness in which everything wrapped up seemed too forced and a bit flat.  At 293 pages, including a three page glossary, the book is a quick read meant mainly for girls.  It involves robotics, academic achievement, and invention, while also discussing crushes, a character coming out to his family and friends, and mention of girls not praying at certain times of the month.

SYNOPSIS:

Layla lives in Australia and goes to the Islamic School of Brisbane. Her Sudanese family: older brother, younger twin brothers, and parents, her Doctor mom and medical machine tech dad, are active Muslims and proud of their culture.  They assimilate to Australian norms in varying degrees, but with all the kids at ISB, Layla doesn’t feel all that different in her school and social life.  Unfortunately she wants more, she wants to be an adventurer, and when she meets Adam over the break and learns about the various opportunities he has it his school, Layla decides she wants to prove herself on a larger stage.  Going in to “shut down” mode Layla has tunnel vision to ace the scholarship and entrance exam and go to a new school.

She gets in to Mary Maxmillion Grammar School and when she goes to meet the board they let her know that the decision to accept a girl like her was not unanimous.  Layla is an immigrant, she is black, she wears hijab, she is loud and proud, and apparently very smart, but as one trustee asks, is she brave?  On the first day of school she arrives late to first period, insults the teacher repeatedly and also makes friends with a group of slightly diverse boys.  At the end of the day however, Peter, a boy who had insulted her earlier, reinforces his disapproval of her being allowed at their school and pushes her.  Standing her ground, she verbal attacks and then head butts the boy in front of a large portion of the school at dismissal.  No one offers any help, nor speaks up when she is suspended for a week, her scholarship and admission put on probation, no one even asks for her side of the story, Peter, is let off completely free, as he is also the son of the Board Chairman.

Layla decides to prove she belongs at the school she is going to win a prestigious robotics competition and since everyone already is on a team, she decides to go for it solo.  The only problem, is she doesn’t know what to invent.  When she returns to school, her friend that she is crushing hard on is acting weird, and she gets caught up in a lie of sorts that serves as both the idea and silliness turned cleverness of the book.  While choking on gummy worms, she says she is working on an edible actuator for her robot, and somehow has to make that come to fruition.

The rest of the book is Layla making a lot of silly errors of judgement: missing classes being in SD mode in the workshop, forgetting to file the paperwork and registration to actually compete in the competition, and leads up to the resolution between her and Peter, learning her crush is gay, and deciding to be herself and proud of it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I actually like the majority of the book, I really like how Islam is presented and lived.  They pray and say salam and cover, and recite tasbeeha to reflect, and quote hadith very naturally, even how others attack them, and the anger that Layla’s brother Ozzie feels at his inability to get a part time job reads and feels very authentic.  I also like how one of the teacher’s own experience as being a descendant of the forgotten generation and being a first nations ethnicity is woven in.  I felt the side character being gay was added and forced in as an after thought and I don’t know why, as it didn’t show Layla to be a particularly good friend.  She handled his coming out well, but when he was miserable she was wrapped up in her own stuff and didn’t reach out very well, even though he ended up being the spark for her invention.  Her friend at ISB is also an under developed character, that while I get is used to show another side of Layla, in many ways also showed her to be a rather poor friend.

I found the pop culture references annoying, not in and of themselves, but in knowing that they will date and make the book irrelevant in a few short years.  There is a lot of repetition of phrases and ideas that a few times when I put the book down I struggled to re-find my place (I know bookmarks, right?) but certain refrains and paragraphs seem so very similar.  I

There is a lot of good information about Sudan and their food and culture and traditions.  There is also a decent amount about Muslims in Australia.  I like that even within her family there are different views on how much to assimilate, and how much to fight back against perceptions, the fact that there is a lot of gray makes non Muslims and non immigrants reading the book hopefully realize how diverse all people are and to not assume anyone is only one way.  I would have liked more about Layla’s mom and being recruited to come to Australia, and how she was perceived at work, by patients and colleagues.  I also would have liked some sort of resolution about Ozzie and his job search.  Really though my biggest complaint is Layla, herself.  What does it even mean to want to be an adventurer? I like that she is fallible and human and in some ways she does grow, but I felt like her being smart and a go-getter is the foundation of the story, but that she didn’t seem to have much common sense seems a bit off.  Yes she is loud and funny and puts in hard work, but the way she talks to teachers, and misses classes and deadlines, and behaves seems like a disconnect from the pages constantly telling me how smart she is.  To me, part of being smart is knowing when to lash out and when to listen, I don’t feel like her growth arc was all that great, in a nut shell, she changed schools and confronted a bully, that is the story, while not a bad story, it could have been so much more.

FLAGS:

There is crushing, violence, a gay character, mention of alcohol at a party Layla didn’t attend, talk of hooking up in passing and some language.  There is lying but it is acknowledged guiltily, and not familiar with Australian slang, regular use of the phrase, Janey Mack, which according to google is a replacement for Jesus Christ.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know why I wouldn’t use this book as a book club selection.  It just didn’t strike me as something they would benefit from.  I wouldn’t be opposed to someone picking it up and reading it in my house, but I doubt I’ll recommend it to my daughter and she is the ideal reader: she wears hijab, is in 8th grade at an Islamic school, and loves to read.  The book is really not memorable as good or bad, it just fell flat and I doubt I’ll read it again, luckily it only took two sittings to read, so I don’t feel like it was a waste of time, but seeing as I had to pay cover price and international shipping, I kind of regret rushing to buy it.

Teacher guide: https://www.penguin.com.au/content/resources/TR_YouMustBeLayla.pdf

The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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This 22 page beautifully illustrated picture book clarifies that it is not a science book, but rather an invitation to think deeply.  For ages 4 and up the rhyming pages will appeal to children’s sense of wonder and Allah’s perfection and precision.  Older kids will appreciate the journey through the cosmos and how limitless Allah swt is in all things.

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The book starts with Earth and how the spinning of our planet on its axis allows for the alternation of night and day, it then moves to how going around the sun at Allah’s command gives us our seasons.  But because it rhymes and is not a science book, the text is more imagery and tangible in nature, rather than a list of facts.

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It touches on the moon reflecting borrowed light and the power and strength of the sun before moving on to the planets and gravity.

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It then extends out to the Milky Way and has a page on black holes before coming back to Earth for us to recognize how we only are a small part of something so much bigger.

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There are two pages at the end with talking points, an ayat from the Quran, and emphasis that science and Islam are not at odds as Allah is the creator and governor of all things.

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The book is 6×9 and with the beautiful illustrations I truly wish the book was larger.  Not only to dive in to the glossy pages easier, but also so that the book could be used at story time to small groups.  The tone is contemplative and marveling as it challenges the readers to find mistakes or flaws in the perfection of outer space. I love that science-y Islamic kid books are now available that appeal to children’s sense of wonder and understanding.  Really the only other suggestion I would have liked to see, would have been a page defining the word “cosmos” as it is used on every page, and while I think kids will figure it out as the continue through the book, I think it is a bit of a block for the younger readers.

Najma by Anousha Vakani illustrated by Ayesha Sohail

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Najma by Anousha Vakani illustrated by Ayesha Sohail

 

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In a world of new STEM books and female powered books, this 28 page fact driven story adds one more empowering element, Islam.  With beautiful pictures on thick glossy pages, the 10×10 book is both educational and endearing for boys and girls ages 6 and up.

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There isn’t a story with a climax or moral, but there are characters, Najma and her astronomer Mom, who move the book along, and keep it “grounded” so to speak.

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Little Najma loves the stars and space above her, she knows Allah created them, but she wants to know more about them, what they provide, and how Allah made them.

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Mama and Najma look through a telescope as Mama teaches the life cycle of a star in simple terms over 11 pages.

 

 

Najma then asks what stars are for, and Mama tells her the benefits of the sun that Allah swt made for us and the stars as well.  Mama explains Allah only has to say, Be and it is.

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Every scientific concept, and daily life example is tied back to Allah swt.  And with Najma’s adorable little face, and the beautiful complimentary illustrations, the book conveys facts about the universe, love between mother and child, and awe at Allah’s signs.IMG_7189

Thank you Crescent Moon Store for amazingly fast delivery of this brand new book.  InshaAllah there will be more books like this combining science, Allah, and strong females for us all to learn from and enjoy.