Category Archives: Toddler

Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Board books from the UK! The glory of a well bound chunky book for toddlers to tote around, chew on and hopefully learn something from, with all the joy of international shipping.  I delayed buying these books for so long, because of it, and finally I gave in and just in the nick of time as I have started a weekly preschool story time, and this series is perfect for three and four year olds with limited attention spans and in need of repetition.

Zara and Hakeem, a brother and sister duo wake up to find their mother not feeling well, and instructions that they will have to help Daddy, Grandad and Grandma with the daily chores.  Then Mummy sneezes and says, Alhumdulillah.

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It seems the books  all have a pattern, something happens that sets the stage, then Hakeem and Zara pause and think hard about what to say, there is then an English translation/explanation about the meaning and then a universal, Muslims from all around the world say or do this, before the story resumes.

I don’t mind the break in the story, but the phrasing is a bit cumbersome and slightly off in this book.  Why are the kids thinking hard about what to say, when Mummy had just said it? If they were thinking hard about what she had said or where confused why she said it, I feel like it would make more sense. 

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I really like that the book shows that all Muslims say something the same, it is a good time to start to show this age bracket that they are connected to something bigger, without overwhelming them.  

The story continues with Hakeem helping daddy vacuum and Hakeem sneezing when some dust flies up.  Then Daddy and Zara mow the lawn when the grass makes Zara sneeze, everyone, Grandad, Grandma, all take a turn sneezing in different scenarios and everyone practicing to say Alhumdulillah.  

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By dinner, Mummy is feeling better, but Daddy has a sneeze attack and takes to laying down as he is not feeling well, and tomorrow the kids will have to help Mummy with the chores.  A humorous full circle, that even toddlers will laugh at.

The kids I read the book to, loved the loud Atchoos and the cute illustrations, a few of the older four year olds, wanted to know why Yar Hamukumallah was not also said.  They also wanted to know why when the dad sneezed four times they only said Alhumdulillah three times.  I read a variety of books about being sick and we talked about using tissues and sneezing into our elbows, washing our hands, and not coming to school when we are sick.  The book was great to explore how mom was sick and dad must have caught her cold.  But that sneezing from pepper and cat hair, didn’t mean you were sick.  The kids also saw that everyone in the house has to help out, sick or not, old or young, male or female, which is always a great lesson to reinforce, Alhumdulillah.

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The book is 18 pages of text.  The illustrations show the mom and grandma in hijab, they are bright and colorful and engaging.  Children will enjoy getting carried away with the sneezes and the Alhumdulillahs when read aloud and will enjoy looking back at the pictures and details independently afterward.  This is a great story to put on repeat and then watch your own toddler retell the story on their own.

Overall, well worth the shipping! I hope US bookstores will stock the series as our little ones need books that are funny, clever, and well done.

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P is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

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P is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

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I first heard about this book maybe a year ago when it was making waves for including such passages as “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!” The book was in limited supply however and hard to find.  Recently a 2nd edition came out and is widely available in major outlets. 

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The book follows the well established genre of giving each letter in the alphabet a page to depict in picture and words details about a given subject.  The form usually rhymes and appeals to little kids learning about something specific, and adults, who enjoy the topic at hand.  

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While this book is fabulous because it exists, and praiseworthy because it celebrates Palestine, Christmas and Eid and the birthplace of Jesus and Lebneh and Quds and olives and grape leaves and everything else that makes Palestine so close to one’s heart, the stanzas themselves are really forced and inconsistent in rhyme and meter.

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Granted, one doesn’t buy or even pick up a book like this for its literary merits, but the text is really a bit all over the place.  “Can we sing the ABC anywhere? With a woolly bear or in thin air? L is for Labneh is like yogurt.  I eat it for lunch, wearing my loafer! B is for Bethlehem, my birthplace with the best Baklawas, put it on a plate not in a vase! K is for Kuffiya, the best kind you can hang on a hook in Hebron souk! E is for Eid, it means Festival, like the Muslim Eid al-Fitr when we eat enticing eats, get excited over gifts, and enjoy seeing out extended families. J is for jesus, Jesus was born in my hometown (Bethlehem), not Jamestown!”

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I of course overlooked some of the awkwardness because the illustrations are lively and beautiful and the parts I thought needed explaining, I chalked up to me not being Palestine, nor having visited there.  

Many of the passages are touching and memorable and make the book so important.  M is for Miftah, Key of Return…Mama’s Mama, and my Jiddah’s Mama’s, for which I yearn! T is for Thob, a traditional dress wtih tatreez (embroidered pieces).  Takes time to make, with thousands of tiny threads, if you please!

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There is an Appendix in the back, giving a tad more information on the main idea mentioned for each letter.  There is also a Publisher’s note.  While there was some controversy that the book is anti Semitic or spreading propaganda, I think the book comes from a place of love and culture.  There is Christian and Muslim concepts and a character named David making grape leaves.  It does not mention Israel or Zionism blatantly, which I think shows that Palestine has its own culture and isn’t solely defined  by the crimes committed against them.  Interestingly, the author is from Iran.

 

Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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I don’t often do two books in the same series, let alone three, but for as much as I enjoyed Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan and Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid, I was a little disappointed in this story.  For starters, the title seems like it should read, Go to “the” Masjid, no? 

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The story starts off with the notion that this is Aneesa’a first time to the masjid, which seems bit off.  Presumably mom and Hassan have been before, but mom’s excitement, and Hassan’s questions through the book, and knowledge about masjid etiquette make you wonder if it is their first time too.  A little odd, if you’ve read their other books, but ok, I’ll accept it and move on.

The family starts by marveling at the exterior architecture.  They enter and separate, Hassan going with his dad and Aneesa going with her mom, as it points out that men and women pray in separate areas.  It is a good tidbit of information, but again, it just seems a bit off in the way it is phrased that Aneesa wouldn’t know this.  

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The tone of the book is almost negative, again, a striking contrast to the other stories.  Aneesa splashes and wastes water when making wudu, doesn’t she make wudu at home? And the mom gets her clothes ruined in the process making her upset.  The illustration shows her to look really mad!

I would think a little context about not wasting water or even sharing the hadith about not wasting even if making wudu in a river, would have been a great lesson to convey, but instead the pictures show a lot of water by others also being wasted, and only mom looking really frustrated.

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The two of them, put their shoes up and marvel at the dome and the soft carpet.  Aneesa then sees that the ladies prayer area over looks the mens and she begins screaming for Hassan.  Her mom corrects her and points out that “you should speak quietly in a masjid.  You might disturb someone if you shout.”

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Hassan turns and waves, and then rushes off to see a school friend.  But, first he is reproached for nearly walking in front of someone praying.  Again a good tidbit, but the phrasing of how the information is shared is rather negative, and these repetitive reprimands don’t make the book joyful.

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Hassan then learns about he mihrab and the mimbar before the athan is called and they all pray.  After salat they put some sadaqa in a box and the family heads home.

The illustrations are as sweet as ever, and the price very reasonable, but this book, compared to others in the series, is really wordy and there is a lot of text on EVERY one of the 20 pages.

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The framing of the book is awkward, thus making some of the behavior issues come off as negative, it is a minor thing that keeps the book from being great.  If the premise would have been maybe the kids talking about their favorite things about the masjid and reminding themselves to talk quiet and not waste water, the tone overall would have been lighter while still being really informative.

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If this is your first Hassan and Aneesa book, you might not be bothered, but if you find it a little off putting, try the other two.  The books says for ages 2 and up, but I think it would be better for 4 and up.  The younger kids you could tell them the story while showing them the pictures: what to expect at the mosque and how to behave, but there are too many words, and they will probably have a hard time staying focused.  Older four and five year olds, will enjoy seeing things they recognize and maybe learning some of the vocabulary for the architecture and being reminded on proper behavior at the masjid.

 

 

Raihanna’s Jennah by Qamaer Hassan illustrated by Yasushi Matsuoka

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Raihanna’s Jennah by Qamaer Hassan illustrated by Yasushi Matsuoka

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Raihanna is back and learning about Jennah with her two best friends, Safiya and her cousin Maryam.  In this beautiful 8×10 book, the character who last fasted her first Ramadan fast is now having a sleep over and learning just how wondrous and worth the wait heaven will be.

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The story starts with the three girls parallel playing as a veterinarian, firefighter and world class chef.  When hunger strikes and the cookie jar only has one cookie, Raihanna has to decide to eat it or divide it into thirds.  

With mom looking on as Raihanna decides to share, a teachable moment about jennah presents itself.  The mom, in her consistent purple uniform, tells Raihanna she will be rewarded in jennah for her good deed.  Which leads Raihanna to ask why she can’t be rewarded now.  The explanation is a bit text heavy, but using ice cream to explain a reward in this world, and having whatever you want in the next, sets up the format and story line for the rest of the book.

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The girls start off asking for pretty simple things like kittens and bikes.  But mom encourages them to think of something beyond their imagination.  The girls come up with castles and world’s made of candy, and flying like birds, and golden kitchens. 

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The mom responds virtually the same after each girl expresses what she would want.  She says, “…beyond your wildest dreams,”  then, “…beyond your imagination,” then “beyond belief,” then “beyond description,” then back to, “…beyond your imagination.”   It gets a bit repetitive, but not necessarily in a good way because it doesn’t function as a refrain that the little ones will pick up on.  It just gets annoying I think for the reader if the book is requested too often.  I wish she would have maybe picked one, giving the book a comforting pattern, and something that the young ones could remember and benefit more from.  The book is for preschool to early elementary kids, but because of the amount of text on the page, it will be read to that age group, not read independently.

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As with the first book, I love the warm colorful cartoonish illustrations, they both attract and engage children as young as two or three.  The hard back binding and glossy pages also make it sturdy and a wonderful gift.  This is a book for Muslim children that I think little girls especially will enjoy. I sincerely hope there will be more books in the Raihanna series.

Allah Knows All About Me by Yasmin Mussa

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Allah Knows All About Me by Yasmin Mussa

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This adorable 24 page board book by Learning Roots has been adapted (with permission) from a book by Kate Toms called “God Knows All About Me.”  The 7.5 x 7 book is perfect for little toddler hands, and the repetition will help convey even to little ones that Allah is ever-present and all-knowing.

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The illustrations are soft and warm and as with all Learning Roots books, I believe, the characters do not have faces.  The text is large and clear and many of the stanzas are silly is they show bottoms and talk of being smelly.

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It covers Allah swt knowing us from our heads to our toes, when we are happy and sad, when it is raining or snowing, in all situations, all hours of the day, all environments, He knows and is always there.

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The reassurance that we are never alone or never apart from Allah’s love is a great message that is well done in this little book. A mention of Allah’s applicable 99 names might have been a nice addition at the end, but perhaps being the book is redone from an existing book, it wasn’t possible.  Hopefully parents will take the book to the next step and teach kids all of Allah’s many attributes in ways similar to how the presence of Allah is presented in this one.

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Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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This 32 page, 9×12 story book, for ages five and up, focuses on character education and is meant to be a relatable story with clear lessons about how to behave and deal with situations in life.  The opening page bullets all the lessons readers should learn from the story and the end of the book offers directions to make a balloon craft.  

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I don’t mind books with lessons and morals so clearly delineated, and I like that the morals come from such an adorable character with a whole cast of supporters, and a number of books to her series.  

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My problem is more the story itself, for a lesson on how to make new friends, and dealing with the universal struggle of moving and feeling like ‘no one wants to play with me.”  The book spends nearly seven pages on Burcu making a surprise breakfast for her family before hearing the news that she is moving because the landlord says they should.

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They pack and move seemingly the same day, and then the point of the book gets going.  Burcu has to say goodbye to her friends and doesn’t feel like even going out at the new house to make new ones.

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Her brother, Alper, has no problem making new friends, and finally Burcu gives it a try.  Only a little girl attempts to get to know her and Burcu dismisses her because she is so young.  She tries to be included with the other children, but they don’t know her and aren’t willing to let her play.

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Burcu finally confides in her dad, that she can’t get anyone except the little girl to play with her.  Her dad encourages her to give the little girl a chance.  Burcu does and finds out they are the same age, she just looks really young, and then all the kids are friends and happy.

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The real hero to me is the little girl, Katherine, who didn’t give up on an ageist Burcu that didn’t want to play with her.  Seems odd that Burcu wanted a friend, and then was arrogant to complain about the one she got.  Plus, I would imagine kids who have moved and don’t have friends, would turn to a book like this for tips and hints, and ways to feel less alone.  The book offers none of that.  It doesn’t tell how finally Burcu makes friends, or gets included, other than it took time.  Which is great, but not exactly helpful if you are five and crying everyday because no one will play with you.

The writing is very dry.  I think it has been translated from Turkish, many of the sentences are passive voice, and the sentences choppy.  The book doesn’t have any glaring errors, it just seems like it would work as a story time, or as part of a lesson, and  maybe once as a bedtime story, but not a book that kids will clamor to hear over and over again.

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There is nothing Islamic in the story, but most of the major online Islamic bookshops carry the Burcu series, so I would imagine the authors, and publishers are Muslim.

Overall, the book sets off to teach a great lesson, but falls a bit short.  The illustrations are adorable and the large size and playful font are very well done, the diction, not so much.  The books are reasonably priced and if you see a title that works for a lesson, or theme you are discussing, I think you can make the books work.  If you are looking for a book to read over and over to your kids, you might, however, be disappointed.

 

A Whale of A Wish by Razana Noor illustrated by Rahima Begum

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A Whale of A Wish by Razana Noor illustrated by Rahima Begum

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I’ve seen this book on Amazon countless times, and not really been interested in a Prophet story written in rhyme.  It seemed like it would be overly forced and  there’s enough slightly creepy songs out there trying to be clever in their retellings, that I never added it to my cart.  But, when Noura over at Crescent Moon Store convinced me to take a look and hooked me up, I trusted her, and am glad I was so terribly wrong.

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The story of Yunus (AS) is told from the whale’s perspective.  And shows how he always wanted to do something unique and swims around helping those in need.  He even befriends his foe, a giant squid.

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When he feels compelled to swim to the surface in the middle of the storm, Allah commands him to swallow Prophet Yunus and later commands him to return him to land.

The whale listens to Prophet Yunus praying all day and night and feels blessed to be part of Allah’s big plan.  His dua is also included at the end in english and arabic and arabic transliteration.

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The 18 page book is 8×10 inches in size and the illustrations are sweet, soft, happy and well done.  Children two and up will enjoy the story, and while it is meant for Muslim children, I believe Christian and Jewish children will recognize the story and with some oversight would enjoy it too.

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The rhyme is surprisingly not as forced as I feared.  On only one occasion the rhyme is a  stretch: squid, bit, but the meter is regular and flows easily making the story great for  story time and bedtime alike.