Tag Archives: animals

Ahmed and the Very Stuck Teapot by Sarah Musa illustrated by Rania Hassan

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Ahmed and the Very Stuck Teapot by Sarah Musa illustrated by Rania Hassan

This 36 page early elementary book is packed full of choices and lessons packaged in a sweet story that kids and adults will enjoy reading and discussing over and over. My only real critique is the title. I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for nearly a year thinking it was just a silly book about a calf with a teapot on her hoof that is stuck and would probably involve different people and methods and attempts to get it off. But the teapot is off by the tenth page, and the story is really just getting started. Like all Ruqaya’s Bookshelf picture books, the large thick shiny pages with a stiff soft cover binding make the story a great choice for storytime and bedtime alike. There are Islamic threads and references, but the story overall is universal.

Ahmed and his friend Tariq are practicing their kite flying skills for tomorrow’s annual competition, when Ahmed’s kite gets destroyed in a tree. Heartbroken Tariq suggests he hurry to buy a new one before the store closes at Maghrib. As the boys rush off they come across a brown calf with a teapot on her hoof. Ahmad recognizes the teapot as his mother’s and feels like he should help the poor animal. Tariq keeps reminding him that the shop will close, but Ahmed decides to take the cow to Amo Waseem’s to get help.

Amo Waseem, is able to help the cow get free, but in the process, the cow get’s hurt. The cow needs help from a shepard, Amo Salih, but Amo Waseem can’t go, and Tariq wants to practice more. Ahmed knows the cow can’t be left untreated, and takes the little cow to get help. The cow then needs to get to his owner, and the story continues until the shop is closed, and Ahmed realizes he won’t have a kite for the competition. He goes to the mosque for salat and starts to feel better, he knows that he did the right thing, and inshaAllah Allah will reward him in some other way. His reward comes quickly, however, much to Ahmed’s surprise and in gratitude he also manages to find a way to help his mother.

I love the gentleness of the lessons of doing what needs to be done, even when you don’t really want to, and your friends are not supporting you. Ahmed had chances to walk away, but he didn’t and he was at peace with the outcome. His friend wasn’t mean or bad, he just made different choices. There are discussion questions at the end as well. I think this book would foster great conversation with even the littlest listeners, and I can’t wait to share it at our masjid’s storytime.

Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

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Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

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The author of this wonderful middle grades novel reached out to me after I reviewed her book A Galaxy of Sea Stars, to let me know that this book too has a Muslim character.  As we exchanged emails back and fourth I learned more about her work with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven Connecticut (IRIS), and the impact the people she has met there have on her and her writing (the new paperback version of Galaxy has bonus content that reflects this).  Allies and advocates are gifts for Muslims and for our fictional representation.  The details and warmth of her Muslim character, Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, is seamless and accurate, and while this is not his story, his support of the main character helps normalize Muslims as friends and in daily life.  He takes time out for his five daily prayers, he refuses to shake a female’s hand, and he uses the word inshaAllah.  The story is Ruby’s though, and her journey pulls you in from the first chapter and leaves you cheering for her long after you close the book.  Over 295 pages (AR 4.1) you witness Ruby find her voice, dare to not be invisible, accept friendship, and help others.   

SYNOPSIS:

Ruby has just moved to frozen Vermont from their last “forever home” in Florida.  Originally from D.C., Ruby and her mom have been moving to places they have vacationed to try and find joy.  Since Ruby’s father, a police officer, died, the two of them have been broken and barely surviving.  The only constant is a cousin, Cecy, who helps them out and convinces Ruby’s mom to come back to her childhood town of Fortin, and to be closer to her.  The winter is bitter, the house is freezing, and even with Cecy arranging for Ruby’s mom to have a job, it only takes a day for Ruby’s mom to be arrested, fired, and for Ruby to be on her own.  With only a garbage bag full of belongings, and some thrift store finds for warmth, Ruby’s plan is the same as it has been in every other town they have landed in: keep her head down and be invisible.  Ruby’s dog, Bob, though has other plans, and when he takes off into a neighbor’s yard filled with ‘No Trespassing’ signs a meeting with Abigail takes place that will change Ruby.

Abigail Jacobs is known in Fortin as the “Bird Lady.”  She has a home, but lives in a shed on her property, dresses in layers of scraps and scarves, feeds the birds, and keeps to herself.  The rumor is that she killed her husband and daughter, everyone knows it, it could just never be proven.  There are also stories that she has a moon rock.  When Ruby meets her she is angry and cold, but the way she interacts with the animals and her knowledge of the moon, keeps her intrigued and even though Ruby’s mom forbids her from visiting Abigail, Ruby and her develop a friendship of sorts.

At school Ruby’s plan to go unnoticed is challenged by Ahmad Saleem, a refugee who lives with his uncle a grocery store owner and is teased by a few classmates for his accent and disappearances at lunch time when he goes to pray.  He is kind and and determined to help Ruby and immediately declares her his friend.  Ruby tries to avoid him, but eventually he starts to win her over.  With the upcoming wax museum, a Fortin favorite, drawing near, Ruby tries to explain to her teacher that they will be leaving back to D.C. before the final presentation, but Mr. Andrews isn’t letting her off and somehow she finds herself researching Michael Collins, the astronaut that stayed on the space shuttle alone to circle the dark side of the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their historic walk. 

With the mayor singling out Abigail with his new ordinances, Ruby’s mom deciding not to take the plea deal and fight her case at trail, the short cold days, the desire to return to D.C., the wax museum approaching, and Ruby needing answers, Ruby at some point will have to stand up and speak out.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story unfolds in layers.  You don’t know where it is going, but the slow peeling away shows the complexity of people and situations.  The book doesn’t shy away from confronting stereotypes and looking beyond appearances.  I like that there is some discussion of Islamophobia, when Ahmad is overheard speaking Arabic for example, but the character that needs the most standing-up for is an elderly white woman.  The small pivot allows the book to avoid a familiar theme and shows the reader a Muslim shop owner helping the tattered woman that the town fears and resents. I enjoyed the strong reminder of how women and science and their careers have not been widely accepted until recently.  I think many readers will be surprised that much of Abigail’s rumors stem from her being a brilliant educated woman that society struggled to respect then and now.  I absolutely love the science and space aspects that bring Ruby Moon, her neighbor, and her class project together.

I wish there was a little bit more about her mom and her relationship at the end.  The disconnect in their relationship warranted the sparse information in the majority of the story, but I needed some hope for the two of them.  Same for the relationship with Cecy.  I get that Ruby doesn’t have a good relationship with her mom’s cousin, but as Ruby grew in so many ways, I wish that her appreciation of what Cecy has done for her and her mom would have also been realized in some capacity.

FLAGS:

Ruby being dishonest. Death, injury of a pet, physical assault, bullying, teasing, Islamophobia.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t focus an entire book club on this book, but I think it would be a great addition to a summer reading list.  The insight into a character trying to find herself within her own family and experiences with connections to history and science would be a benefit to any child to read and reflect upon.

Salaam, World by Samia Khan illustrated by Teresa Abboud

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Salaam, World by Samia Khan illustrated by Teresa Abboud

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This 26 page rhyming picture book starts out basic enough with salaam being said from various locations, but it digs a little deeper as the book progresses to explain what salaam means, and how to respond. A good introduction to the greeting of peace for ages three and up. The pictures are jungle animals testing out the word and the 10 by 10 size is sufficient for bedtime and in small groups. My picky critiques are I don’t like the font as I think it is hard for early independent readers to decipher when capitalized, words such as “catastrophic” and “salutation” are a bit advanced for the demographic, and I wish there was a bit more Islam in the book, but overall it is sufficient, and an effective tool to helping get little ones to say salaam.img_0246

“Salaam from above, salaam from below, salaam from the mountaintops covered in snow,” is how the book begins as a cat hanging from a tree and braving the elements offers his greetings. A donkey then asks us to hold up and explain what the word means.

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Salaam is defined as meaning peace in Arabic and a word that Muslims use that is like ‘hello’ only kinder. It is sending peace to those you say it to, and a show of respect. The animals say it to others before noting that you can say it short or long: Salaam or Assalamualaikum.

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The book then asks how to respond before teaching us to say walaikum-assalam and telling us not to be alarmed the next time we hear the greeting, but to return it and spread it.

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The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha illustrated by Yujo Shimzu

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The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha illustrated by Yujo Shimzu

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This 40 page true story about Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel of Aleppo aka the Cat Man shows how one person can make a difference even in the middle of a war.  The amount of text on the page, the topic covered, and the detailed illustrations will most appeal to second graders and up, but younger kids, particularly those that love animals, will enjoy the story as well.

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Alaa loves his city: the markets, the foods, the people.  When war comes, he doesn’t flee, he keeps working as an ambulance driver.  He has a big heart.  His sees destroyed neighborhoods where everyone has left, except for the cats.  There is no one to feed them and give them water, and Alaa feels for them.

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After his shift he buys meat, and feeds over a dozen cats.  He does this everyday and soon a dozen turns in to fifty and he realizes that he can no longer care for the cats alone.  He needs a place for them.

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Word spreads and volunteers and donations start pouring in.  He purchases a building with a shaded courtyard and soon cats are everywhere.  When people leave Aleppo they bring their beloved cats to him, and even other animals start arriving.  Alaa even builds a playground for the children and digs a well so everyone can have fresh water.

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The book is pretty straightforward and steady, it doesn’t have much emotion for such a powerful true story, but it will still hit the mark in inspiring children to show kindness and compassion for animals and others.

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There are notes from each other and the illustrator at the end that share light on their connection to the story and the situation in Syria.  There is nothing religious in the book other than a few females in hijab.

Katie Woo’s Neighborhood: Open Wide, Katie! by Fran Manushkin illustrated by Laura Zarrin

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Katie Woo’s Neighborhood: Open Wide, Katie! by Fran Manushkin illustrated by Laura Zarrin

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Oh how I love when a popular series includes diverse characters, and more specifically Muslims, I’m biased that way.  In this Katie Woo early reader for KG-2nd grade, a trip to the zoo and wondering how animals clean their teeth ties in to Katie’s trip to have her teeth cleaned by Ms. Malek, a hijab wearing dental hygienist, and having her teeth checked by dentist, Dr. Ali.  Spread over three chapters, the 5×9, 32 page book familiarizes kids with what happens in a dental check-up and shares some silly facts about animals too.

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SYNOPSIS:

On a trip to the zoo, Katie’s dad jokes that the alligator must need a big toothbrush.  This reminds Katie’s mom that Katie has an appointment with the hygienist the following day to have her teeth cleaned.  The next day on the way to see Ms. Malek, Katie sees her friend Haley, who along with her brothers also goes to the same dentist.  Everyone seems to love Ms. Malek.  In the waiting room theres lots of toys and when she gets called back, she gets to sit in the big blue chair that tips back.  Ms. Malek uses a little mirror to  check every tooth, before she brushes them.  She then tells Katie that hippos let fish clean their teeth.  This visit Katie doesn’t need X-rays taken but next time Dr. Ali says she will.  After picking a new toothbrush and toy, she is all set to go home.

On the way home, Katie sees some more friends and tells them about hippos using fish to clean their teeth. Pedro tells Katie that the dentist at the Zoo has to clean the tiger’s teeth.  Thinking that he must be really brave, Pedro explains that the dentist first puts the tiger to sleep.  Later that night, Katie brushes and flosses her teeth and then tells her dad that maybe when she grows up she can work at the zoo and clean the elephant’s tusks.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the diversity of Katie and her friends, and the people in her neighborhood.  Normalizing diversity in literature is a great way to open kid’s eyes to the world around them.  I also like that there is a glossary of words in the back, many dental in nature.  There is a page of Katie’s questions to get readers thinking.  And there is even an interview between Katie and Ms. Malek the dental hygienist.

FLAGS:

None.  There is nothing religious in the book, other than the names of the dentist and hygienist and the scarf on Ms. Malek.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book would be great at story time, and in classrooms.  It isn’t meant for a book club, but I think even in a group setting, kids will be reassured about a trip to the dentist and find the animal information funny and informative.   Kids might even have some more fun animal teeth facts to add to the discussion.

Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

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Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

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I know this AR 2.1, 156 page graphic novel probably doesn’t deserve a review, but for as important as OWN voice books are, books with Muslim characters thrown in the mix are important for representation too.  Yes sometimes we are the star and we definitely need to tell our own stories, but we are also friends, and side-kicks and supporters too.  In this case we are a purple duck with a headscarf named Aziza, that thinks she is smarter than the other 4th graders in Mr. Wolf’s class, but fits right in with the quirkiness of the anthrmorphized cast too.  There is nothing mentioned about the scarf or about Aziza’s faith, there is also a boy named Abdi in the class that is a cat and could also be Muslim, but really, in this silly book which is the start of a series, I was just so giddy to see a Muslim included and grateful for the representation.

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SYNOPSIS:

It is the first day of 4th grade and Mr. Wolf is nervous.  Margot is new too, but the other kids seem to know each other already.  Aziza, Abdi, Randy, Sampson, Henry, Penny, Bobby, Lola, Oliver, Stewart, Miguel, Noah, Molly, Lizzy, Oscar, and Johnny are all different animals and all unique.  The book is really just a handful of the characters trying to survive the first day of school.  Whether it be confronting another teacher about stealing your stapler, making a friend on the bus, having rats steal your lunch, falling asleep in a box because your new baby brother kept you up on all night, or trying to figure out why you have to show your work when on a math assessment.  The book will resonate with kids 2-4th grade and make them giggle at the silliness of it all.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the teacher is more nervous than the kids about the first day of school and that they all seem to be doing the best they can.  Aziza is earily irritated by her classmates who don’t seem to want to do their work, but she is no more annoying than the other students and all seem to have diverse backgrounds and issues at hand.  The author was an educator and the book reads true to any one who has littles or has been in a school environment, making it all the more charming.  There are four books thus far in the series and my kids say Aziza features prominantly in the second book too.  I have had this book in my house for a while now, and for some reason just now paid attention to the cover today when begrudgingly scolding my kids about leaving books out everywhere.  I asked if the duck had on a hijab and two of my boys without budging to put away said book, replied, “yeah it is Aziza.” As if seeing a muhajaba duck is the norm, who knows maybe it is.  So, I sat down to read the book with enthusiasm and 20 minutes later, thought how great it is to be included. Representation does shape perception, and non Muslim kids may not think anything of it, or my own kids who are flooded with Islamic fiction books, but I can only imagine how ecstatic I would have been as a kid to be included as the norm without fanfare or explanation given.

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FLAGS:

They talk about if farts are better or ice cream in the creation of a venn diagram.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Wouldn’t do it for a book club, but would definitely have it in a class library and school library.  Fun book, seemingly fun series, and easy reading for all levels.

https://www.mrwolfsclass.com/interviews-and-press

The Adventures of Nuh’s Ark by Khadijah Khaki illustrated by Tashna Salim

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The Adventures of Nuh’s Ark by Khadijah Khaki illustrated by Tashna Salim

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If you are looking for a comprehensive or somewhat detailed story about Prophet Nuh (AS), this book isn’t for you or your child.  If you want a silly story with hilarious animals to introduce your little one’s to the concept of the animals boarding Nuh’s Ark as a commandment from God, then order this book already!

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This 24 page rhyming hardback 8×10 book written for preschoolers through early readers takes the idea of animals boarding Nuh’s ark and tells what it is like in a fictional account narrated by the animals themselves.  And focuses on a pair of confused koalas as to what is going on.

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The poor koalas, are not prepared for rain and don’t do well in small spaces.  They pack too much and can’t keep up, but luckily the other animals are nice and they all work together until it stops raining and they can disembark on to land.

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The pictures are cute and comical and bring the text to life.  With the conversation bubbles adding to the story, even the pages that are a bit text heavy keep the younger listeners engaged, as they know something funny is about to be said.

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Also, the book is one in a series or three, so far, and the characters are the same ones found in the Adam and God’s Creation book as well (might be in the Ibrahim one too, but I haven’t read that one), making the nameless animal characters actually memorable as they say silly things, and are pictured being rather unique too.

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The books do not use the word Allah, but do mention God, and the Arabic of Nuh, rather than Noah, and there is mention of why there is a flood and how long it will last, but nothing quoted directly from the Quran.

My older elementary and middle school kids found the books silly as well, and giggled their way through.  It is a a fun read that even adults won’t mind repeating.  If you want a more Prophet story retelling, Migo and Ali Love for the Prophets is a good non fiction book, and it, along with the three book Lunar Learners serious can all be found at my favorite supplier Crescent Moon Store.

 

 

 

Allah Made Everything: The Song Book by Zain Bhikha illustrated by Azra Momin

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Allah Made Everything: The Song Book by Zain Bhikha illustrated by Azra Momin

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I’ve reviewed a few song books over the years and often don’t love them, this one however, is awesome!  This 30 page hardbound 9×9 book is a great size for toddlers and up, the only thing hard about the book is reading the words and not singing them.

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The text is large and easy to read as it dances around the pages.  It follows the song exactly, just not the repeating lines.

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Each stanza tells a bit about an animal, and the animal answers who created them.  The chorus is that Allah is our creator and some attributes.

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The back of the book says for ages five and up, and yes some of the vocabulary is a bit advanced, but the general feel and point of the book is appropriate for little ones and the pictures will keep the littles engaged as well.

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The bright colorful illustrations are playful and fun.  They make the book able to stand alone even by chance you have never heard the song, or had it stuck in your head for days.

The book recently came out and it appears that they have plans to turn other songs of Zain Bhikha’s into books, which inshaAllah will be just as enjoyable and faith reinforcing as this one.  Special thanks to http://www.crescentmoonstore.com for their friendly service when I purchased the book. https://crescentmoonstore.com/products/allah-made-everything

The Blessed Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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The Blessed Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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 A fable with lessons of kindness centered around the Salawat, definitely is a great premise and for the most part I really enjoyed the book. 

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The 8.5 by 8.5 hardcover, 50 page book feels great in your hands and the illustrations are sweet and expressive.  The book is long, and is text heavy so I’d say the target audience is maybe 6 to 10 years old.   The font is incredibly small and irritating.   It should have been larger and more inviting to children in my opinion.  It doesn’t match the size, binding, and illustrations, and actually becomes a distraction if trying to read it in a group setting.  

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The story itself is smooth and intentional.  Rico, a blessed, yet ungrateful monkey, lives atop an ever abundant banana tree.  However, he attributes his blessings to his own hands and does not thank Allah swt.  He is mean and greedy toward people and animals alike.  Yet, something is missing in his life and he doesn’t know what. 

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When a little mouse, Chico, comes to him to ask for a banana and gets scolded at instead.  Chico makes dua for Rico asking Allah to guide the monkey to goodness.

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Tucana, a toucan, then stops in Rico’s banana tree after a long flight to be rebuffed by a foul tempered monkey who wants to be left alone.  When Tucana  leaves she forgives Rico for his rudeness and asks Allah to be merciful to him as well.

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Rico then makes signs to keep people and animals away.  Which works for a while, but along comes Simon, an elephant, one afternoon to ask the monkey to climb his tree and help direct him back to his herd.  Rico of course refuses, and Simon reminds him that they are brothers in Islam and to please help. He begins shouting at the elephant to leave, and as Simon is pacing back and forth, he slips on the banana peels, grabs the tree to support himself and shakes the tree back and forth in the process.

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Rico begins hollering for help and sure enough the animals he had turned away previously, return to help him.  They had forgiven him as they hope Allah will forgive us all.  To calm the monkey, chico shouts, “Salawaat’alan Nabi!” in Simon’s ear and when he recites “Allahuma sali’ala Sayyidina Muhammad,” peace and calmness is restored.

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With all the bananas on the floor, many mushy and trampled, Rico has to decide if he learned a lesson, and how he will put his new knowledge into action, or if he will resume his life of ungratefulness.

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The book ends with each animals favorite banana recipe, information about the author and illustrator and benefits of reciting Salawat and an ayat from the Quran.

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The story and how it weaves Islam into the lessons is beautifully done, my only hiccup is the constant refrain of Rico counting his bananas.  I realize it is a fable, and maybe with talking animals interacting with humans, reality is notably suspended.  But, it seems misplaced to me.  How do you constantly count a perishable item? Does Rico only eat a certain amount a day? How many new ones grow a day? What is the number that he is adamant to have at all times? So, many questions, that I didn’t get why he was counting them, why he was irritated when he lost count, and why this detail was in the story and a big part of the story none-the-less.  Like the font, its a minor detail, but a distracting one for me unfortunately.  Clearly, however, I’m in the minority as the book has won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Islamic Writer’s Alliance Creative Story, so give it a read, and let me know your thoughts, jazakhAllah kher.

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