Tag Archives: Children’s Islamic Fiction

Laila and Pesto the Fly by Rania Marwan illustrated by Fatima Asheala Moore Jewel Series Story #1 Cheating

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I ordered this book with the hopes that it would be the first book of a wonderful series teaching values in an Islamic context.   It says that it is book #1 in the Jewels Series and it focuses on cheating.  However, the book was published in 2009 and I can’t find any other books in the series.  Sadly, I can possibly see why.  The book is not great.  The illustrations make it so tempting even if all the girls are gorgeous and the illustrations simple, they would seemingly work well with a book aimed at 4 to 8 year olds, and just 24 pages long.

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Unfortunately the text is lacking and doesn’t create a story worth reading more than once. The sentences are repetitive. And the same words are used over and over.  The first page alone says the word “play” four times in three sentences.  It is about 4th grade girls that play, watch cartoons and essentially hold lessons/ book clubs for each other once a week.  A lot going on for a book that on the second page says the word “flies” three times in three sentences.  Needless to say the repetition makes it hard for a story time selection, and the run on sentences hard for young readers.  The first page features a font that is probably about a size 20 and the next page it drops down to one that is about 11, the third page is about a 14 and the trend of the ever-changing font size continues throughout the book.

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Example of repetitiveness from Laila and Pesto the Fly

The story idea is a good one at its core.  A girl teaches her friends about flies.  Then the fly talks about Laila and how she is kind and honest. Then the next sections returns to Laila not being ready for a math test and she is tempted to cheat when Pesto, the fly, distracts her and writes a message for her in glitter.  I’m not sure how the glitter stays on the page, but, the message is received by Laila and emphasized by the author sharing a hadith, “He that deceives us is not one of us.” The last page of the book is a bulleted list emphasizing the harms of cheating, and how to overcome the temptation as the girls urge you to join their Cheat Deceit Foundation.

Overall, the book is awkward and doesn’t work for me.  There are a lot of better books out there.  That being said, if the author wrote another book, I may give her another chance, it isn’t hopeless. It just needs some tweaks. The fly is a silly likeable character, but the group of friends are a monolith and have no individual roles.  The message is clear and important, and we need books like this, but alhumdulillah the standards have gone up, way up, and the writing quality isn’t where it needs to be to attract Muslim children or their parents.

 

Nusaiba and the 5th Grade Bullies by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Zul Lee

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As someone who deals a lot with reading and comprehension, I really misread the description of this book and assumed erroneously that it was a chapter book targeting 5th graders.  Oops, alhumdulillah, my confusion and slight disappointment didn’t last long as I got swept up in Nusaiba’s spunky imagination and endearing personality.  The message of the book is powerful.  Not only does Nusaiba have to deal with bullies, but she has to wrangle with accepting herself, even if that means being different.

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Nusaiba is almost to school when she overhears some 5th grade boys making fun of her mom and what she is wearing.  Nusaiba’s mom is wearing a hijab, and the story is set up to imply that that is what they find “weird.”  This morning encounter bothers Nusaiba all day, and while she doesn’t talk to her teacher about it when asked, she does spill the beans to her best friend Emily.  The next day Nusaiba distances herself from her mom and asks to walk to the school gate alone.  The bullies don’t say anything, but Nusaiba feels guilty about leaving her mom like that. Later that day when Mom picks Nusaiba and Emily up from soccer they swing by a local hijab shop for some clothes shopping.  I don’t know why, but I found the premise for taking the girls clothes shopping a little forced.  It seemed too words of a setup, and I couldn’t help but wonder why Emily would be dragged along.  As mom tries on skirts for work, the girls in their boredom get swept up in using the scarves as costumes and transforming themselves from queens, to underwater divers, to fisherwomen, to mountain climbers, to fantastic cleaners ready to clean up all the scarves on the display.  Her mom lets her pick one to buy, and she decides to wear it to school the next day.  It is noteworthy that Emily doesn’t try on any of the scarves.  She is an amazingly supportive friend, and even in make-believe is right there with Nusaiba, but she doesn’t put one on, and I kind of want to know the author’s reasoning or purpose as to why.  So the next day at school, Nusaiba asks her mom to again walk with her, and when the 5th grade boys call her mom an “odd-ball.” Nusaiba finds her courage to confront them.  Nusaiba and the reader discover the boys are making fun of Nusaiba’s mom, but it isn’t for her hijab.  Nusaiba and her mom set the boys straight and giggle in the process, as Nusaiba realizes she can be anything she dreams.

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The book is 44 pages and probably about a second grade mid year reading level.  The pictures are big and bold and beautiful making it a great option for story time to ages 4 and up.  The pictures do an amazing job complementing the story and going back through to look at them after the “twist” at the end was even more delightful.  The illustrator draws you into Nusaiba’s world and you really do cheer her on when she stands up for herself. The book easily lends itself to discussion, and there is also a question guide at the end, incase you get stumped. It reads more like a school assignment, but it could obviously be re-worded to engage a child at bedtime or in a read-a-loud environment.  The font is a nice size, however, I found it distracting. On some pages it is white on others black, on some it has a shadow and on others it does not.  I’m certain most people would not notice, but for some reason it was jarring to me.  Alhumdulillah, alhumdulillah, if that is the only negative in a book, I think everyone who reads it will be glad to have a copy of their own to read again and again and again and again and….

 

King For A Day by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Christiane Krome

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Its time for Basant, the Lahore, Pakistan kite flying festival, and Malik and his siblings are ready.  Ready to launch Falcon into the sky, ready to set other kites free, and ready to put the bully next door in his place.  While some kids have huge kites, and some have many, Malik has just Falcon, a speedy little kite that Malik prays can get the job done.

King for a day inside

Once again Rukhsana Khan does a remarkable job of taking a universal theme, adding some culture, and finding artists to empower minorities without making it an issue, all in a 32 page children’s book.  Written on an AR level of third grade ninth month, readers see characters handling a bully by beating him “on the court” so to speak, a character having confidence in his abilities, yet still asking Allah swt for help, and a boy in a wheel chair celebrating a fun spring time festival with his family.

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The illustrations are rich with texture and angles, which contrasts the font and text presentation.  Little kids probably won’t be tempted to pick this book up, but as a read-a-loud first and second graders will enjoy the story and the kite flying action.  Third and fourth graders will enjoy reading the book independently, and find themselves cheering for Malik, appreciating his kindness, and wanting to pick up a kite and head out themselves.  The author includes a note at the back which provides more information about Basant and how it is celebrated.  Although it takes place in Pakistan and is a festival not celebrated in America, there isn’t a “foreign” feeling to the book, as kids can relate to bullies, wanting to be the best and the satisfaction of succeeding and feeling like a “king for a day.”

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The Secret Message: Based on a Poem by Rumi by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Bruse Whatley

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The Secret Message

Once again Mina Javaherbin retells a Rumi story in a fun, charming way to children that probably have never heard his stories before.  The illustrations bring this 32 page tale written on an AR 4.6 level to life.  While written for older elementary children, this book works well for kindergarteners and 1st graders in story time as well.  The pictures and descriptions make for an engaging story for all levels and the twist at the end make you want to go back and read it again and again.

A wealthy Persian merchant brings a parrot from India to call and sing to those passing by to come in to the shop.  The parrot helps make the merchant famous and before long he has completely sold out of all his wares.  He plans to return to India and asks his family what they want him to bring back, he even asks the parrot.  The parrot asks for nothing but a message to be delivered to his friends about how he misses them and about his new home and cage.  The story follows the merchant to India and through it, showing and telling about the sites and goods.  On the way back the merchant stops in a tropical forest to deliver the parrot’s message.  The birds listen carefully and then one by one, fall off their branches with their backs on the ground and their feet in the air.  When the merchant returns he delivers the message and the same thing happens to his parrot.  (SPOILER). Sad that he has caused his parrot to die, he takes him out of the cage where in an instant the parrot flies out of the hole in the domed ceiling all the way home to his friends in India.

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Islam isn’t shown, and I debated including it, but culturally it is relevant with the character journeying from Iran to India and the author being from Iran.  Plus it is based on a Rumi poem.  There is nothing un Islamic in the book, and there is plenty of little places in the book to get kid’s opinion on the action, thus making it a book definitely worth your time.

 

 

 

Silly Chicken by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Yunmee Kyong

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Silly Chicken is a story about sibling rivalry, except there isn’t a sibling, there is a chicken.  Rani feels that her mom, Ami, loves a chicken, Bibi, more than she loves her.  Rani is jealous of the attention Bibi receives and finds the chicken in general, silly.  One day when Rani and Ami leave their home by tonga to visit her father’s grave, a dog gets in and when they return, Bibi is no more.  Ami is devastated and Rani is sure she closed the gate.  It isn’t until Bibi’s egg hatches by surprise, that the story comes full circle and Rani responds to Ami’s chiding that she loves the baby chick more than her mother, that the reader and Rani realize how silly that would be.

I really liked this 32-page, brightly and playfully illustrated book.  It is written on a AR 2.3 level and is fun out loud or at bed time.  The story takes place in Pakistan and a lot of reviews online remark that it is a good book about Pakistan or for showing Pakistani culture, critiques that I both agree and disagree with.  Every kid, everywhere, through out time, can probably relate to being jealous of something or someone occupying their mother’s attention.  The concept of a pet and loving it and being sad and feeling guilty, are all universal themes.  That being said, both the author and illustrator do a remarkable job of breaking stereotypes without drawing attention to them.  Ami and Rani are relatable and are clearly Pakistani, subtly removing an us and them stance.   Rani’s dad has passed away, but Ami and Rani seem to be doing well.  Ami seems very self-sufficient in daily activities and brave when they think a burglar may be present.  The two chat with neighbors and travel independently breaking down the erroneous stereotype that women cannot go out or be recognized without a male.  The mother wears hijab and traditional Pakistani clothes while Rani being young obviously does not cover.  Their clothes are bright and colorful and their expressions relatable and inviting.  The way that Bibi’s death is handled is age appropriate and a child could possibly think she simply was run off rather than killed, either interpretation would allow the reader empathy for Ami and be a great topic to explore with a child.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Nadia’s Hands by Karen English illustrated by Jonathon Weiner

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nadia's hands.jpegNadia’s aunt is getting married and she gets to be the flower girl in the Pakistani-American wedding.  She also will get mehndi put on her hands for the big event.  Her cousins warn her that she might mess up and even in the midst of her excitement she begins to worry what the kids at school will say when they see her hands on Monday.  As her aunt prepares the mehndi and the application process begins, various uncles peek in on her and her aunt gifts her a beautiful ring.  The mehndi has to sit on the skin for a while to set and as Nadia practices sabr, patience, I couldn’t help but think something seemed off in the story.  I’ve been at, in, and around a lot of Pakistani and Pakistani-American weddings, and this story didn’t seem to reflect the tone of such occasions.  The book doesn’t reflect the hustle and bustle and near chaos, it doesn’t sound like the tinkle of jewelry and laughter as the women sit around chatting and getting mehndi put on together, the pots on the stove are referenced but not described so that the reader can smell the sauces thickening and hear the pans crashing and taste the deep rich flavors.  It is lonely.  Nadia is lonely and filled with anxiety about Monday.  Durring the wedding she is walking down the aisle and suddenly freezes when she looks down and doesn’t recognize her hands.  Her cousins seem to show unsupportive “I-told-you-so” expressions as she searches for some comforting encouragement to continue on.  When she finishes her flower girl duties, her grandma asks if she understands why looking at her hands makes her feel like she is “looking at my past and future at the same time.” Nadia doesn’t understand and the author doesn’t explain.  At the end she is ready to embrace that her hands are in fact hers and that she will show her friends on Monday.  But the reader has no idea how it goes, or what exactly the significance of her painted hands are.  The book fails to give any insight or excitement for a culture bursting with tradition at a time of marriage.

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There is a glossary at the beginning for the few Urdu words sprinkled in the book.  There is no further explanation however, of  mehndi, or weddings, of the brides clothes etc.  The illustrations are adequate, but because the text doesn’t offer much warmth or vibrance, they seem a little drab, and raise more questions about what some of the traditional items depicted are.  The book is a standard 32 page picture book and is written on an AR 3.8 level, which I think is a little high.  Granted my children are familiar with mehndi, but my first grader read it to me with little assistance.  There isn’t any mention of Islam and could probably be argued that the story reflects any wedding from the subcontinent background performed in the west.  The bride has a duputta on her head in the picture, but that is neither here nor there, and no one in the audience appears religiously covered.  I would assume they are Muslim because of the minor characters’ names: Omar, Saleha, Amina, Abdul Raheem.  Also, the word Sabr, an Arabic word, suggests that they are Muslim.  Plus they eat kabobs which the glossary defines as mincemeat, so probably not Hindu.  Overall the book is not, “bad” or “wrong,” I just wish there were more to it.

 

Elephant in the Dark: Based on a poem by Rumi retold by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

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Elephant in the Dark

Rumi’s poem The Blind Men and the Elephant has been retold and transformed over time to emphasize many lessons: getting the whole story, defining truth, not being nosey, understanding points of view amongst others.  The basic story is that each person touches a part of the elephant in the dark and cannot fathom each other’s perspectives or what an elephant is, thus they take to bickering and proving that they and they alone are right.Elephant in the Dark inside

A big fan of the Karen Beckstein early reader version, that involves 6 blind men and is presented on a 2.6 level I was skeptical of this 32 page AR level 3.0 version.  The bright pictures and large picture format quickly won me over.  This book works so well for story time as the kids all know what an elephant looks like, they can all understand how the people are getting confused and all can see how their arguing isn’t helping.  All without much adult prompting.  The kids get so annoyed by the villagers not respecting Ahmad’s personal property and not listening to one another that when the illustrator has the children being the smart ones and enjoying the elephant at the end, the reader/listeners are giggling and feel like they are “in” on the truth.

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one translated version:

Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out
saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
A water-pipe kind of creature.
Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving
back and forth, fan-animal. Another, the leg.
I find it still, like a column on a temple.
Another touches the curved back.
A leathery throne. Another the cleverest,
feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.
He is proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place
and understands the whole that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark
are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
and if we went in together, we could see it.

Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

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Set in Pakistan, Saba has to cross the courtyard to get to the bathhouse.  Fearful of the chickens that seem to have it in for her, she braves the distance in a dashing sprint and slams the door to relish in the safety of a chicken free patch of space.  However, today as she searches for courage to face the chickens after her shower she spots a snake near the door.  She is afraid, and wants to scream for her grandma, her Nani, but worries that the snake will bite anyone that comes through the door.  Realizing she must face this fear and solve the problem on her own, not only empowers her, but puts the chickens in to perspective.

This 32 page picture book written on an AR 2.6 level is a good book when discussing overcoming fear.  It reads aloud well, as the short sentences from Saba’s perspective convey her trembling fear, her determined resolve, and her elation and freedom after she faces the snake.  The illustrations on first glance, and even after the first reading seemed off.  They didn’t seem to compliment the story smoothly, however, after revisiting this book, I think I have grown to appreciate the exaggerated features of the girls face, and the simplistic blurred images of her surroundings.  I think it shows her focus and skewed view when faced with such a fear.

The Author’s website & teaching guide

The Lost Ring: An Eid Story by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

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This is a good little story about Eid ul-Adha for 2nd through 4th graders.  It is not AR and at 29 pages it balances information about Islam and Eid with a simple little story that keeps the target demographic interested.  It isn’t great, but for a book that would probably be a level reader equivalent of a three, it suffices in being a bit of a mystery, a bit of a comedy, and bit of a lesson on why and how we celebrate Eid.

Rahma’s Grandma and cousin, Muslimah, are visiting for Eid. The girls start off the story trying on their beautiful dresses and feeling like princesses.  The girls and Grandma then get to work on making samosas for Eid.  Rahma sees her grandmother’s ring next to the bowl of dough and tries it on. The story moves fluidly and the girls take turns helping  with the folding of the samosas.  Some more adults come in and add tidbits to the story about giving gifts on Eid and getting ready for Salat and depicting a typical practicing family.

The story shifts to dad asking the kids what they remember about Eid-ul-Adha and what they know about Eid-ul-Fitr, the Festival of Sacrifice. On the day of Arafat the children fast, visit the hospital and take gifts to people in the community and the neighbors.  After Salat-ul-Maghrib dad reviews some of the sunnah acts for Eid as well.  It doesn’t get too preachy, or overly detailed, it is more highlights and brief summary revisions.

Eid day is fun and exciting, but when night falls and the family prepares for people to come over, Grandma can’t find her ring.  The kids want to be detectives, but Rahma suddenly realizes that the ring must be IN one of the samosas. So the children decide to eat them all to check. When the ring doesn’t turn up, Rahma and her cousins recite Ayat-ul Kursi, ask Allah for help and decide to tell Grandma the truth.  Just then Mum yells and the ring is found in her samosa, the truth is revealed and they all enjoy a good laugh and resolve to “always remember this as the Samosa Eid.”

The Lost Ring inside

There is a lot of text on the page, and a fair amount of “foreign” words that I think the book is probably meant for Muslim children, or those familiar with the basics of Eid.  There is a Glossary in the back, but it still might be a bit too much for non Muslim children to grasp without someone to answer their questions. The illustrations have the elder females with hijab and the girls uncovered when not praying.  The small pictures are detailed and complimentary, but the younger readers will wish they were a bit more engaging.  Overall, a good book to have in a classroom, and a great one to check out from the library to encourage young readers, or just to enjoy before Eid-ul-Adha.

Better Than a Thousand Months: An American Muslim Family Celebration by Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey

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To be honest, I didn’t get the book.  I mean I understand that it was derived from stories the author told his children, and I’m guessing it was written to show similarities between Muslims and Christians, but I don’t understand how the 168 pages with lots of photographs and text from the Qur’an got published as a book.  That is not to say it isn’t without merit, it just leaves a lot to be desired.  The teacher in me really, really, really, wanted to pull out a purple pen and start editing.  I checked twice to see if I had an advanced copy or uncorrected proof, I even Googled the book to see what I was missing.  It doesn’t work for me as a completed book.  To me, however, it is a wonderful outline that is desperately wanting to be fleshed out.

SYNOPSIS:

A man in San Fransisco is sitting on the train when there is an earth quake, thus delaying his trip home.  As he dozes off he imagines interactions with his children that share his knowledge of Islam with them, and thus the reader.  The first interaction is with him and his young daughter discussing Christmas, and how Muslims view Jesus and the power of Allah the creator of all.  They jump in the “time machine” truck and drive through the hills of San Francisco reflecting on the concept of patience.  As Ramadan comes and the narrator dreams we get bits of how Muslims in America celebrate Ramadan, and some of the tenants of faith.  When he is awake we get some story about his family, how he came to Islam and his Grandma passing away.  But nothing is explained or even connected.  I have no idea how many children he has, what the story is with the step children and the confusion from having two daughters with the same name.  The story goes back and forth with his dreams being more “real” then his awake time, and both kind of moving in the same direction of explaining how Islam is practiced as a family in America (praying together, waking up for suhoor), the questions that arise from the children (how to pray at school, why Ramadan decorations don’t decorate the city), and how we are all more alike than different (same Prophets, similar stories).  The final dream sequence is sweet with the father and daughter showing, not just talking, about giving and charity, that I really want to send the author back to finish writing the book.  There are so many tangents that would give it depth that are stated in a few sentence paragraph that could so easily be developed in to whole chapters.  Unfortunately, as is, the reader is just left disjointed and confused.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I really like the premise, I like the literary flip of telling the story in the dream.  The ideas are just not presented smoothly.  I don’t think that a tween would get it, and the choppiness of the ideas bouncing around from short paragraph to short paragraph would dissuade even the most seasoned middle school reader.  The book has some good tidbits, but they are lost in the short glimpses of story and long passages of meaning of the translations from the Quran.  The Arabic Calligraphy is nice, but it isn’t stop in your tracks beautiful, and the font of the English translations are difficult to read.

FLAGS:

None, the book is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I tried to get my daughter to read it, but she was so lost and even asked if it was a collection of stories or a chapter book, that I couldn’t force her to finish.  If you can get through it, one could discuss how to “fix” some of the struggles the book has, thus emphasizing what the reader liked and imagining the back story for all the questions that arise but are ultimately not answered.