Tag Archives: Biography

Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo illustrated by Jamel Akib

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Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo illustrated by Jamel Akib

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This 40 page biography written on an AR 6.5 level, tells the story of Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and his microcredit banking initiative.  The book topic is inspiring and for the most part the author does a good job of bringing it down to a middle school level. You can tell the author tries to flesh out Muhammad Yunus by starting the book with him as a boy, and relaying how he was raised and how his parents and boy scouts shaped him.  Despite her efforts however, at times it reads more like a resume, not a children’s picture book.

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Other than his accomplishments, and work history, I didn’t learn anything about him that made him relatable as a person, nor did I learn much about Bangladesh, or Islam.  And yes, I know it is a biography, but it felt like it was a void that needed filling.   I did learn about the program he started, a few of the obstacles that had to be overcome and I particularly liked that those receiving the microloans also had to learn about money, finance, and banking to pass a test before getting approved  And that 94% of those receiving the help have been women.  Grameen Bank is now a global bank, and the help he has given to so many is truly inspiring and something our youth should understand through humanitarian, economic, and compassionate lenses.

The title comes from the incident that brought Muhammad Yunus’ desire to help to fruition. He saw a woman weaving a beautiful basket, and learned that she could not afford the supplies to weave the basket, to sell in the market and as a result needed a loan.  Banks would not loan the equivilant of 22 cents because it was too small, and money lenders would charge so much interest, that after the basket sold, and the money lender repaid, there was scarce enough funds to purchase enough food for the family, let alone enough to buy new supplies, and thus the cycle was unbreakable.  He wanted to make her and those like her independent, not needing charity or the kindness of others to get her ahead, and thus the seven day course, test, and microcredit system evolved.

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The illustrations I think are both rich and well done.  The effect of the watercolors flesh out the text heavy pages with detail, but don’t create a distraction from the concepts and accomplishments being presented.  Following the story is a two page afterward telling additional awards and continuing the story of Muhammad Yunus with two real life photographs.

 

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.

 

 

Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

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Sitti’s Secret was published in 1994 and given the events of the week, I’d say it is more relevant today than it was when written.  And if by some chance the events of the week haven’t affected your children, then the poetry and soul of the book still makes it an amazingly powerful story.

Mona travels from America to Palestine to visit her grandma, her Sitti.  Without the ease of speaking the same language, Sitti and Mona learn to communicate and build a tight bond cut too short by a vacation coming to an end.  When Mona returns she sees the news and writes a letter to the President, telling her Sitti’s secrets, telling him they would be great friends, and telling him they only want peace.

Truly Nye is a poet, even in Turtle of Oman her words transport you to a place where time slows down and the connection between a child and a grandparent make you nostalgically yearn for a simpler time.  Having spent my summer’s abroad visiting my grandma I could relate to so much of this book and truly had to still my heart.  The little things, like examining your grandma’s hand, or hanging out laundry, or brushing her hair. Even that dreaded final hug as you prepare to leave,  I could relate and it was enchanting.

No where in the book does it mention the Middle East or Islam, only at the beginning does she hint at it by dedicating the book to her 105 -year-old Sitti in Palestine, it mentions that she speaks Arabic and a few words are sprinkled in. And the Grandma does wear a scarf.  Other than that the book is by and large not political.  If you know that Nye has a Palestinian father and American mother and often writes semi auto biographical pieces, the book can take a bit of a different role to the reader.  Many reviews criticize the activism upon her return (the letter to the President), and found it disjointed to the rest of the story.  But in today’s climate I found it empowering and hopeful.  The world will only find peace when we put a face to those that are different to us, and even children can change our stereotypes.  I love that my children are seeing that they can make a change in the world today, and to see it reinforced in literature was gratifying.

The book is 32 pages and written on an AR 3.9 level.  The illustrations are beautiful.  They bring the words to life in a tender and heartfelt way.  The detail is subtle but deep and i have found myself thumbing back through the pages to get lost in the illustrations multiple times.  I think the book works on different levels for different age groups.  If you have a family that has to overcome great distances to be together, even younger readers will be able to identify with the story’s tenderness.  If you are in 3rd-6th grade and are aware of what is happening in the world you will be inspired.  If you just are looking for a sweet book, subhanAllah it manages to fulfill that category too.

Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam by Diane Stanley

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This is a beautiful historical biography of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, that I felt worth sharing despite it not being fiction.  Written on an AR Level of 7.0 the 48 pages are highly wordy, and cover a lot of historical ground.  There is a post script, a glossary and bibliography at the end.  The pictures are detailed and bright and inviting, but even for a 7th grader, I think the book would be a challenge.  If one has an interest in the time, or has studied it and knows some of the supporting characters, the book in fantastically interesting, and insightful for the format.  To an average middle school or even high school student, they might thumb through it and keep it on the shelf as a reference tool, but that might be about it.

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With any historical account, particularly those trying to simplify and appeal to children, the author gets to pick in what historical light to present the events.  The book starts with an Author’s Note detailing the fight for Jerusalem up until the first crusade. It then begins with the story of Saladin’s life.  Born in 1138, he was named Yusuf ibn Ayyub, and then tells a bit about his upbringing and the basic tenants of Islam.  It explains how he came to power and how the truce with the Franks was broken by Reginald.  It then details the battles, the follies and plans of both sides.  It shows the honor that Saladin had for his enemies and even the respect he had from Richard the Lionheart.  It shows the politicking in Europe and the toll of the Crusades on the people there and in the Middle East.  The book also tries to show Saladin outside of his battle armor as a family man who was devoted to his wife Ismat.  “When she (Ismat) died, Saladin was lying in his tent, seriously ill.  His advisors kept the news from him for three months, until he was fully recovered, for fear the shock might kill him.”

Saladin died in 1193 and  knowing that he was dying he passed on advice to his son oh how to be king.  “Win the hearts of your people and watch over their prosperity; for it is to secure their happiness that you are appointed by God and by me. . . I have become as great as I am because I have won men’s heart’s by gentleness and kindness.”  The book states that he was so generous and unconcerned with money and luxury that when he died he didn’t even have money to pay for his simple burial.  

Admittedly I know very little about the historical accuracies or slant of the author.  I do know that it does inspire pride for Muslims and hope that people of different faiths can one day again co-exist in Palestine and the world, inshaAllah.

 

Muhammad (SAW) By Demi

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This book attempts the enormous task of creating a picture book biography for kids about Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be  Upon Him).  While the text seems adequate and engaging for children with a basic knowledge of RasulAllah’s life, I think it would overwhelm any young non-Muslim reader.  The story starts with Prophet Muhammad’s birth and tells about the major aspects of his life, both as a family man and as a leader.  The text includes ayats from the Qur’an and hadith.  THe information is presented as fact, it doesn’t preface statements by saying, “Muslim’s believe,” making the book a solid, yet dense, book for Muslims of all ages and a good introduction to Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for older non-Muslims as well.

The book has an AR level of 6.7 and is beautifully illustrated.  Some of the illustrations are borderline irreverent, but it is clear that Demi truly respects the Islamic tradition of not depicting Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).   I think it is more jarring because most Islamic books do not depict the angels, buraq, or any of the prophets, where Demi does in her book.  Prophet Muhammad is depicted by a gold silhouette and the proper blessings are bestowed upon him whenever mentioned in the text.

Demi includes a foreword at the begining of her book that explains some of the diction choices and background on the artistic style used, there is also a bibliography at the end of her 42 page story.  The book is ok for independent readers or in small groups to discuss, however for anyone younger than 3rd grade, it is probably just too much information.