Tag Archives: action

Nightly News with Safa by Helal Musleh illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Nightly News with Safa by Helal Musleh illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Having Really liked Zaid and the Gigantic Cloud, I convinced myself to spend $15 on a 20 page book by the same author.  I knew it was paperback and 8×8, but I loved the message in Zaid, and the summaries of Nightly News with Safa online all talked about how a little girl creates her own newscast with a positive spin to tell her mom about her day. A lot of positives for me: a creative girl, problem solving, imagination, and journalism.   So I ordered it, and when it came, I thumbed through it, and counted only 10 pages of story, yes that is right, 10 pages.  The rest of the pages tell about the author, the illustrator or are colorful, but blank, before and after the story.

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Price and length aside, the book is really cute and clever.  The target audience is probably first grade to third grade, and the pictures are colorful, detailed and very well done. A girl, Safa, doesn’t like when her mom watches the news as it is sad, serious, and angry, so she builds a tv, puts herself inside and tells her mom about the happy highlights of her day at school in a news format.  Very creative, but that is it, there isn’t a message or really a point, or any story about Safa and her mom.

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With guidance and oversight, however, the book is a great starting point for how kids can be problem solvers, and is a great springboard for encouraging creativity and thinking outside the box to get your way.  The publishing company even has a free “Book Study Package” on their website http://www.myeverydayclassroom.com/2016/02/book-study-freebie-nightly-news-safa/  The package is 13 pages, it is longer than the book.  Which is funny to me, but not surprising, as there is a lot to discuss after reading the book.  My 10 year old enjoyed it and tried to convince my 6 year old who didn’t get any of it, all the lessons it alludes to.  It would work great in a classroom setting where you read the book, divide the class up and have them make their own newscast to talk about their day, or as a social studies or literature activity.

There is no mention of Islam in the book, the characters are not visibly muslim, there are no Islamic words, or references.  The character’s name is Safa, which may or may not signify faith.

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Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Presenting the stories of refugees to young children often involves a balancing act of fact, emotion, and restraint, all while finding the common ground to create empathy in the reader.  Increasingly on bookshelves are successful picture books that use illustrations to build bridges of understanding and bright colors to convey hope.  For older children there are books that can devote time to explain issues or offer first hand accounts along with political back stories and historical events.  For elementary age children 2nd and 3rd grade particularly, chapter books on refugees are not very common.  Children this age seem to relish in silly outlandish characters with a few font happy sentence and pictures on each page or stick to series that are easily predictable as they present tidbits of history or simple mysteries.  All reasons to encourage your child to read Blackout! and break the monotony and gain some empathy.  As delicate as the subject matter is, the book manages to resonate with most children how good they have it and how fortunate they are, without getting preachy or pretentious.

SYNOPSIS:

Yusuf, a 12-year-old Canadian boy is anxiously waiting the arrival of his cousin Ahmed from Syria.  Ahmed recently lost his father when their makeshift boat capsized, and while coming to Canada is a blessing, he is still haunted in his dreams and memories by all that he has seen and endured.  This idea that being safe now, doesn’t erase all the pain and fears experienced, is a concept most adults understand, but I was surprised that my children had to talk it out a bit.  They understood that he would be sad, but hadn’t really thought how hearing loud noises would immediately remind him of the explosions he heard in Syria and of his home and buildings crumbling down.

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The story’s focus is the present however, and follows Yusuf.   The backstory of Syria and Ahmed’s escape is juxtaposed with an ice storm turning Toronto powerless and cold.  As Yusuf deals with the annoyance of a few days without electricity he learns a bit of compassion for others in the world, who endure a similar situation indefinitely.  In a beautiful way, Ahmed’s enduring optimism changes Yusuf as they find reasons to smile at the raccoon rummaging through their food put outside to stay cold, or playing in the snow to pass the time.  The characters have a lot of heart, for a short book, and you really feel like you get to know them and feel for them.  Yes, Yusuf whines, but he is a kid who’s winter vacation plans have gone awry and is frustrated and bored.  Ahmed, while a survivor, still struggles, but maintains a personality much more than just victim.  The other family members are background, but they aren’t flat, they have warmth and humor and pain in equal parts, implying if the book was longer, we’d get to know more about them too, and probably like them as well.

Despite the refugee story line, and the blackout, the crux of the story is actually helping one another and being neighborly.  Ahmed at one point is telling a story of how he began helping someone in a refugee camp and that it gave him purpose.  This reminds Yusuf that they have an elderly neighbor and the radio alerts had encouraged people to check on one another.  The boys rush over to find Mr. Caldwell, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning brought on by his kerosene heater. Luckily an ambulance is able to get there just in the nick or time. On the third day of the blackout, the Imam speaks about helping one another and making this obstacle into something positive.   Ahmed tells Yusuf how the neighbors in Syria would gather in the winter to share what food they had.  This brilliant idea gets the support of Yusuf’s dad, the Imam and the whole congregation as they rush home to invite the neighbors to a neighborhood BBQ.  The perishable food needs to be consumed, so what better way to enjoy it, than to share it.

When the power comes back on, Yusuf is not the same kid, he has grown in compassion, and patience, and inshaAllah the reader will be similarly affected for the better.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book addresses a hard topic on a kid level.  It does not overwhelm the reader or frighten them.  MashaAllah, it balances what they can understand, with something bigger.  The illustrations keep it light in their doodle like appearance and the font, spacing, chapter length and presentation are perfect for the target audience.

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The women wear hijab, they pray, they go to the mosque, yet they don’t quote hadith or Quran or say a lot of mashaAllah and Alhumdulillah, making the book work easier for non Muslims.  The coming together of community is nice.  No one asks or worries what religion, race, or ethnicity anyone in the neighborhood is, they just come together to share a meal and welcome Ahmed and his mom to Canada.  The Imam is relatable and the dad is involved and generous, the mom is competent and respected, all normal behaviors that reinforce community and normalize diversity and acceptance.

FLAGS:

The violence of war may affect young children differently.  Nothing is sensationalized or graphic, but Ahmed does get stuck in the rubble when his house is destroyed, and his father’s drowning is discussed.  Nothing is talked about in depth, but the ideas are presented.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be perfect for a young book club.  I’m looking forward to reading it with my six-year-old son and my eight-year-old niece so that I can see how what they get from the book.  There is a brief explanation on refugees at the back of the book, and I think current events would naturally make a book club discussion easy to facilitate.  I think gathering items and meeting refugees after, would also be a wonderful way to turn the fictional story into real action.  It is also worth noting 100% of profits from this book will be going to the Syrian Canadian Foundation‘s mental health and wellness initiative for Syrian newcomers.

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Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz illustrated by AG Ford

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Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz illustrated by AG Ford

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I had hoped to have a handful of selections to review for Black History Month, but alas I started too late in collecting titles, inshaAllah next year I will be better organized.  I did want to share this beautiful book though, as a great story of hope and love, that I don’t think is often included when we study Malcolm X or talk about him today.  This is the story of his parents and the philosophy of equality they tried to raise him in before hatred and bigotry destroyed his family, before he went to prison, before he became “Detroit Red,” a member of the Nation of Islam, before he became a civil rights leader, a Muslim, before he became Malcolm X.  This is a story, based on love, written by his daughter to give children of all ages something to think about.

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The story of Malcolm Little, is a story that I feel cannot be rushed, it is very heavy in text and at 48 pages, the warm beautiful pictures make it accessible in pieces to younger children, but it is written on an AR 6.5 level (sixth grade fifth month).  The book tells about how his mother and father met, believed in universal equality and justice, and started a family where these values took center stage.  The family suffered for their beliefs and their home was burnt down, but they rebuilt and the family continued to find strength and see the power of possibility.  The books shows the lessons taught in everyday activities such as raising a garden, doing laundry, reading books, doing homework, and even fishing.

When Malcolm’s father was killed, however, and his mother taken away, the family was forced to separate and Malcolm to deal with an unwelcoming world, more or less alone.  The book ends with Malcolm in 7th grade so, to young readers who have maybe only heard his name in passing the book is full of hope and roots for the man he would become.  It is almost a fairytale start to a man who would be cut down in his prime years later.  They will understand how unfair society treated his family, how warm and educated and strong his mother, Louise was, and how inspiring his father as a preacher was. The takeaway will be how Malcolm’s upbringing and personality allowed for him to rise up and refuse to stay down during horrific events in his life.

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For older elementary and middle schoolers it is a story of possibility, of how quickly things can change, and the effect of hate.  They should also see how institutionalized and normative the oppression of African Americans was and how it really wasn’t that long ago.  When Malcolm’s English teacher Mr. Ostrowski tells Malcolm that he as an African American should not have such high expectations, readers should realize that the acts of the Ku Klux Klan may be viewed as “extreme” but society as a whole was systematically enabling such bigoted acts.  The lessons passed on to Malcolm by his parents are universal themes of hope and love and equality that still have to be stood up for today, and even young listeners can grasp that, and also grasp that because of their skin color alone they were seen as second class citizens.

The book shows depth to a historical character that gives some insight to what made him so dynamic.  Many young readers will be surprised at how quickly Malcolm’s world unraveled, and some of the reasons why, while empathizing with the injustice of it.  The Author’s Note at the end is also fascinating as it details the family members and their stories about the characters in the book.   I liked the softness of the book and the smaller lessons for children that it presented.  It didn’t shy away from the violence and prejudice that the Little family faced, but presented it through a lens of optimism to hopefully inspire children to carry on with the social activism that still needs to be done.

 

 

The Treasure at Bayan Bluffs by Farah Zaman illustrated by Kim Zaman

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The Treasure at Bayan Bluffs by Farah Zaman illustrated by Kim Zaman

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At 231 pages this book claims to be for ages 9 to 18 and that’s a pretty large spread for a mystery, yet alone an Islamic fiction one by a first time author.   In a tone reminiscent of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys,  it should really should just say 9 and up, I was hooked!

SYNOPSIS:

Adam and Layla along with their younger twin brothers Hassan and Hakeem from America are visiting their family home of Bayan Bluffs in Midan for the summer.  Their grandfather and great aunt and a few long time servants aren’t much entertainment for the children, so their parents arrange for their college friends kids’ Zaid and Zahra from Crescent City, a few hours away, on the other side of Midan to join them.  The children get along right away and decide to try and solve a mystery of a hidden treasure that they have heard bits and pieces of over the years.  Their search for the Moon of Masarrah starts innocently enough, but quickly escalates as they learn they aren’t the only ones searching for the missing gem.  As they learn more about the jewel and the circumstances of its disappearance the gem and the murder of Adam and Layla’s great grandfather get further entwined.  With a few of the suspects still alive and many of their family members still in the city, the children soon find they themselves in danger as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The biggest reason I like it, is it is well written.  There aren’t confusing passages, or too many characters or boring preachy paragraphs.  The plot is good, the dialogue believable and the fact that they are Muslim children, just depth to the story.  They plan to meet after asr or before Jummah, and they say inshaAllah and mashaAllah, and its just a really good balance of who they are, but not all they are.  In retrospect, maybe they all get a long a little too well, but it isn’t syrupy and they have some minor annoyances, so it doesn’t hinder the story.  The only thing I caught myself looking back on was the age of the twins.  At times they seem like toddlers and at other times much, much older.  Even the author says they are “about six years old,” and having a six year old myself, I do believed that they can vacillate to both extremes in any given moment and thus I accepted their antics and let it go.  Additionally I wish she included a map.  It isn’t confusing, but it would have been great to look back upon as the action speeds up, and would definitely help younger readers visualize the details.  The terrain vocabulary for anyone younger than nine might need some explanation.  There is a glossary at the end for some of the Arabic words, and for some of the specific ships and weapons mentioned.  Their are a few illustrations that I think help the younger readers, they aren’t needed for the story, but they don’t impede it either.  I wasn’t crazy about them within the story, but I did appreciate that they show the girls in hijab and the illustrator clearly put a lot of work in to them.

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I wish that the cover was more appealing, for a story that was so good, I wish it begged to be picked up.  InshaAllah word of mouth will carry the book, so that more like it are written and published.

FLAGS:

None, mashaAllah it is clean and wholesome.  There are good and bad Muslims and no judgement is put in a religious context.  There is some violence, but it is nothing even a seven year old would find offensive.  Alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to do this as a Book Club book for 5th through 8th grade.  The writing quality and the different characters the students would be able to identify with, would make it a lot of fun.  There isn’t any deep or though provoking discussion points to accompany the book, but I think the genre is hard to come by and Muslim kids seeing Muslim kids solving a crime and going on a treasure hunt, is just exciting.  I couldn’t find any study guides or even much information on the book or author, but none is needed to enjoy the story.  Farah Zaman if somehow you see this review, know that I hope you keep writing, and I thoroughly enjoyed your book!  Happy Reading Everyone!

 

 

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

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the tyrant's daughterI was intrigued to see this book offered by Scholastic in the teen Reading Club Catalog as it sounded both action packed and cultural.  The jacket cover summary was vague in describing the characters as being from an “unnamed Middle Eastern country,” but with the slightly veiled girl on front, I figured they probably are Muslim, and I should at the very least how they/we are being portrayed.  The book is 295 pages long and that includes the story, the Author’s Note, and a  Truth in Fiction section.  The author is a former undercover CIA officer and the intense action, intertwined with cultural  understandings, leave the reader second guessing and on the edge until the end.  The AR level is 5.1, but with the profanity, sexual situations, and violence I would recommend the book to those in high school and up (15+).

SYNOPSIS:

Fifteen-year-old Laila flees her homeland, when her father, the head of the county, is killed.  Trying to fit in, in Washington, D.C. is not easy for a girl raised like a princess.  She has to navigate not only the social norms and high school drama that most kids her age do, but she also has to examine what type of ruler her father was and what price her privilege came at.   There are a lot of plot twists, and her mother’s efforts to broker deals with rebel fractions and CIA operatives, keep the plot moving forward.  The interpersonal relationships in the background give the characters some depth and memorable traits by contrasting the intensity of a country on edge with the daily dramas of daily life.  Surprisingly with so much going on, I thought the book was well written, my only major critique being,  I wish i knew more about Laila, the main character telling the story.

WHY I LIKE IT:

It’s a fun story, simple as that. The plausible political plot, the young adult characters with their own heightened sense of self worth, is well crafted by-in-large and the book was engaging.  I read it quickly because I wanted to see how it unraveled and it kept my interest.  Will I remember it a month from now? Probably not, but often books like this as YA or adult fiction are delicious empty calories and nothing more-or-less than that.

FLAGS:

The “royal” family is “Muslim.” Yes, the quotes are intentional, because they don’t identify as Muslim, yet those in America identify them as such.  A teacher asks her if she is ok with dissecting a fetal pig and she seems confused as to why that would be a problem.  A boyfriend is nervous to make a move, and again she seems taken aback that there would be a religious reason not to, as she sees it as a cultural one only.  Even at the end when she is discussing going back to her country her mother remarks that she hates wearing a veil and Leila says she never really minded it.  Laila’s mom drinks alcohol and always has, as many heads-of-states of Muslim countries are assumed to do. There is violence, some crude language, and some relationship situations.  Again I would not recommend it for younger teens.

One aspect that is worth noting is how the “bad guy,” Laila’s uncle, is painted as being “religious.”   I would hope that readers would realize that he is an extremist, an exception to the mainstream followers of Islam.  But I don’t know if they would.  He is harshly critical of how Laila and her mom dress calling them “whores,”  he uses religion as a means of power to oppress and condemn others and is just generally awful.  I think the author by largely leaving religion and the name of the country out of the book, isn’t making a judgement on the faith or region, as much as providing plausible pieces to craft an interesting story.  That is just my opinion though, and it could probably be changed.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t teach this book, or use it for Book Club, but the supplemental information in the back of the book is definitely interesting, and I think among friends, good discussions about the story’s origins would be fruitful, speculative and engaging.

In a high school setting you could definitely connect it to a Social Studies unit or the Arab Spring.

 

 

Invincible Abdullah: The Car Theft Kidnapping by Haji Uthman Hutchinson

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 I don’t usually post a review of the second book in a series so close to the original, but I wanted to read this one and see if it would be a better fit for Book Club being it takes place in England.  Nothing against  Invincible Abdullah and the Deadly Mountain Revenge, but we’ve done a lot of books for Book Club set in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I want to make sure that the students see Muslims in a variety of settings. This book has the same main character, but is not dependent on the first book for understanding in any way.  Writing style is about a fourth grade level and it is just 152 pages, with sporadic pictures and a glossary of terms at the back.

SUMMARY:

Abdullah and his Malaysian friend Zaki are karate buddies that train and worship together while attending college.  The book opens with the two sparring and Abdullah going home to a letter from an old karate friend, John, who got mixed up with drugs and stealing cars and is now in prison.  John asks Abdullah to come visit him to answer some questions he has about Islam.  After a few visits John takes shahada and changes his name to Abd ur-Rahman. When Abd ur-Rahman gets out Abdullah and his family support him and the sensei even lets him back in to the dojo.  However, things don’t stay calm for long and when Zaki’s car gets stolen, and Abdullah is kidnapped, the boys friendship, loyalty and faith is tested.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The story is face paced and action filled, it also never waivers from being a strong Islamically based book.  The characters balance religion, and day-to-day living in a realistic and inspiring way that engages the reader and makes the character’s morality seamless and believable.  I love that the characters forgive a convict in words and actions and that the friends are from a variety of ethnicities that again, seem realistic and not preachy and forced.  The twists and turns in the story keep the reader’s interest and although you know things will end up alright, the author does keep you curious.

FLAGS:

Obviously there is an element of criminals and drugs that while presented in a negative light is central to the story.  There are not a lot of details about the drug use, but there is some violence that the characters go through, and mention of guns.   There is also brief mention of a bar in the book that is visited to make a few phone calls from.  The only concern that I have, was that it could be perceived that John had to change his name when he takes shahada and I don’t know if I agree that, that is mandatory.  In the book it weaves a little bit of a side story and is presented very positively, but it is something to be aware of none-the-less.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I will probably use this book for the 3rd to 5th grade Book Club selection later this school year, because I think there is a lot to talk about. Topics of rehabilitation, taking shahada, and being a good friend are prevalent through out and something I think kids can wrap their heads around and have opinions about.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about the book online and I’ve heard from one distributor that the book is out of print, but on some sites there are still copies available and there is also a workbook.

Invincible Abdullah: The Deadly Mountain Revenge by Haji Uthman Hutchinson

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I’m pretty sure I’ve seen and handled this book hundreds of times in my involvement in four Islamic Schools, as a teacher, a librarian, and host of book fairs.  So, it is a little embarrassing to admit that this is the first time I actually cracked open the cover and read the book.  Written in 1992 with a less than attention grabbing cover, I had minimal expectations, but with a newborn and down time, I thought I needed to give it a chance, and I’m glad I did.  The book is definitely geared to boys (there isn’t even a female character in it), and is pretty action packed and quick paced.  You know the boys will get out of the predicament at hand, he is “Invincible” after all, and there are three more books in the series, but you don’t feel bad reading it anyway, because it is sufficiently entertaining.  The book isn’t amazing, but it holds its own largely because it doesn’t talk down to the reader.  The characters are independent and thoughtful and yes they are teenagers battling drug carriers in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and yes they are wielding guns and hiking over glaciers, but mind you they never miss their salat or fail to thank Allah (swt) for their success which kind of makes the book that much more fun.  The book is 218 pages with a glossary at the back.  It is not an AR book, but I probably will make it into one at about a fourth grade fifth month level (4.5).  I also am considering doing it for book club, but might wait and read the rest of the series to see which one will have a wider appeal.

SUMMARY:

Abdullah travels to Pakistan from England to visit his cousin Hasan.  At the airport Abdullah’s bag gets switched with someone else’s and the boys find themselves getting accosted by the rightful owners who have a half a million dollars in their suitcase.  The boys talk to the police and learn that the money is part of a heroin operation going on in the tribal areas and that the inadvertent switch messed up the police’s sting to catch the criminals.  The boys run in to the drug runners again in the bazaar, and after an all out brawl decide when an opportunity to go into the tribal areas presents itself, that they should take it and do what they can, to put a stop to the criminal’s drug ring.

WHY I LIKE IT:

There is drugs, violence, and guns, but it is all done for the right reasons, in an action filled manner.  The “good” guys are all religious, and while the “bad” guys have religious sounding names, clearly are not, which lends it self to a decent discussion about what makes a good person and what makes one religious, clearly not just their name or culture.  It also lends itself to a realistic conversation about drugs, their effects on the users, and on drug culture as well.  The guns, well the guns are there to make threats, and to hurt people, at best it gives you a seg-way to discuss your views on guns with your children, but in the book, it is what it is, not a moral or religious issue as the drugs are made out to be.  The boys, the heroes of the book, are all very devout mashaAllah, and their actions, manners, and thoughts reflect this.  I like that this is consistent with their character.  They are respectful to their families, to each other and are ever mindful of themselves as Muslims in all facets of their adventures.

FLAGS:

Just the content of drugs, violence, and death. Mild compared to most TV shows or movies, but present, none-the-less, nothing a third grade and up can’t handle. (Spoiler, only one person dies and it isn’t directly at the hands of anyone, nature steps in to save the day).

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There is a workbook that apparently can be purchased to accompany and teach the book: http://www.islamicbookstore.com/b9648.html

The author gives pause as the characters have to decide what to do next and to weigh the pros and cons and possible repercussions of their decisions.  These moments would lend themselves well to a book club discussion to find out what the students would do, what they would be willing to risk, and at what cost.