Tag Archives: courage

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf

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The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf

star outside.jpg

Woah! Domestic abuse, foster care, murder, astronomy, and above all hope and bravery. It is so, so much, and so beautifully dealt with from the perspective of a child, that I’m still living in Aniyah’s world and praying she is doing ok.  As the beginning of the book states, it is a story written for everyone, but it then goes on to say that there could be triggers and difficult things to read. So please, while it may be written for ages nine and up, you should know what your child can handle before suggesting they read such a heartbreaking 306 page book, and if they aren’t able to handle it yet, make a mental note to have a discussion when they are ready, it is important.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with a map of London and the chapters start with constellations, maps to the stars, and a little girl who wants to be a star hunter.  Drawing on Simba from the Lion King and wholeheartedly believing that stars are people who’s hearts were so big that when they die they light up the night, she maps the stars outside her foster house window, on the lookout for a new star, her mom.  Not remembering all the details that brought her to this foster home, she and her little brother Noah are trying to figure out their new life, the foster home rules, the loud pain they felt, and if they are winning the game of hide-and-seek with their father.

Unable to speak, Aniya, breaks her silence when a news story on TV tells of a star breaking the rules of gravity and flying by Earth.  Convinced it is their mom, Aniyah and Noah with the help of fellow foster kids Travis and Ben hatch a plan to go 73.6 miles from Waverly Village to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, to make sure the star hunters name the star the correct name, and not the random computer generated one the contest rules dictate.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is inspired by the author’s aunt who was a victim of domestic abuse and killed by her husband.  The love and pain she feels at her loss, I believe is conveyed through the pages and felt by readers of all ages.  I had my 10 year old son and my 12 year old daughter read the book, because this book’s topics are heavy and weighty, but handled with such sensitivity and childlike innocence that it is a great introduction to the topic, without being overly heavy and weighty.  The author is amazing, and I was curious how she would follow up her amazing debut novel The Boy at the Back of the Class, and I think this one is just as powerful, if not more so. 

All of the foster kids suffer from some form abuse and there is even a note at the beginning about how the author does not like the term “domestic abuse” and there are resources and information at the end of the book for children or adults suffering or how to help someone they know suffering abuse.  There is also a page about Herstory, the constellations, and some personal anecdotes about the author’s aunt.

The book is truly heartbreaking because as an adult reading the book I could easily figure out what happened, that the father killed the mother, and that the games the mom would have the kids play were not games at all, but ways to mask what was going on. The book is very subtle in how it talks about what the mom and kids endured and some kids will not get it, and others will, either way, parents should be aware and available to discuss that abuse is never ok and that if their friends or someone they know is suffering/surviving, there is help.

The book is powerful also in the way the foster kids for the most part stick together, I think the way they are so willing to help and risk their own chances at adoption is selfless and memorable.  Also the way they put up with Noah, a little kid, who gets annoying, but handled lovingly,  because family means so so much when you don’t have one. 

On the surface though, it is an adventure story, can a ragtag diverse group of kids with little money, injuries and a deadline travel nearly a hundred miles to name a star?  Its fast paced, interesting, and emotional on many levels.

There is nothing Islamic in the book, not even a Muslim name in passing, but the author is Muslim and the story universal.

FLAGS:

Halloween is when they run away.  There is a lot of lying, but they know it.  Lying when the mom covers her bruises and marks, and how she is doing, lying when the kids run away and steal the bikes and sneak on a bus without paying, and break in to the observatory.  The kids feel guilty and know right from wrong in every instance, but when they opt to do something uncouth they rationalize it because they have to name that star!

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m seriously considering reading this as a middle school book club selection.  It is written for a younger audience, but I think I want to open up the topic of abuse and have the school counselor come and listen to the discussion.  The book is that good, and that important, and that powerful, that a discussion and lessons, will keep these characters’ stories in the middle schoolers’ minds as they grow and hopefully teach them empathy, compassion, appreciation, and patience.

 

 

Circle of Sandcastles by Mariam Al-Kalby, Illustrated by Yee Von Chan

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circle of sandcastles

The second book by Mariam Al-Kalby in The Prophet Says Series, is just as good, if not better than the first book, The Apple Tree.  Dedicated to her second daughter Maimuna, this story focuses on the hadith, “Whoever amongst you sees an evil, he must change it with his hands; if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart; and that is the weakest form of Faith” (Sahih Muslim).

The book follows shy Maimuna as she goes from stopping bullies picking on a deaf classmate within her heart, with her tongue and finally as she has to get her hands involved.  Once again the illustrator does a wonderful job bringing the story to life with joyful playful illustrations and detail.  I used this book with the preschoolers at story time when talking about the five senses and with the kindergartners when talking about bullying and being mean, in both scenarios the book had a strong impact on the students.  I’ve had students remind me in passing how we should handle bullies in our heart or with our tongue and even my own 4 year old has referenced the book when seeing people communication in sign language.  Like the first book, the discussion that follows can be different with each reading, which keeps it in regular rotation.  The bullies are not all bad, but one doesn’t feel guilty giving lots for the reader to speculate upon if they so choose. Shy Maimuna has to be courageous and assess the situation if it is something she feels she can get involved with or not.  Mu’min, the child’s whose sandcastles keep getting destroyed, shows us that Allah swt made us each different, but really the same too.

The book has four Urdu words in it, that actually kind of seem awkward and forced, I simply translated them to English when reading to students (there is a glossary in the back), if you are familiar with Urdu they are fine, but rather unnecessary in my opinion.  The book has 32 pages, is hardback and beautiful inside and out. The author’s website has a cute coloring page http://apocketfulofnotes.com/2013/11/14/circle-of-sandcastles-coloring-sheet/ and inshaAllah your kids enjoy the book as much as mine do, I can’t wait to see what she writes next.