Tag Archives: culture

Yippee! Ramadan is over, It’s Eid by Farjana Khan

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Yippee! Ramadan is over, It’s Eid by Farjana Khan

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A friend loaned me this book from the local public library, so I was not only excited that a book about Eid was readily available, but also hopeful that it was good quality.  Then I saw the title.  I mean I get that the “Yippee!” is a title part of a series of books on the different holidays Muslim’s celebrate, but for as excited as Muslims are for Eid, they are usually very sad that Ramadan is over.

Nevertheless, I opened it up and hoped to be swept away.  The list of Eid activities and rituals however, were very dry and anticlimactic.  The characters are not named, the pages are meant for pre-schoolers I would imagine, but the lack of excitement in the language is disappointing.

yippi hugThere are 19 pages of text, and the first few pages start off pretty well with a little boy seeing the Eid moon.  Then the family goes to the mosque and learn that Eid marks the end of fasting and the month of the Quran.  The boys father then gives money to the mosque, it doesn’t say that it is charity, but if one is familiar with Eid, one could assume. However, the book seems to be for those unfamiliar with Eid, so for me, this is where the book started to be lacking.  The next page also is where the list seems to start, and some of the items on the list are a bit of a stretch.  “We hug family and friends,”  followed a few pages later by a whole page dedicated to “My mother sets the table.”

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The book is also obviously desi as they eat parathas and firni.  At one point the kids play a game, not sure what game, it only says what sister’s favorite game is, and then a page is dedicated to the fact that “sister’s team wins.”

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Perhaps I am too harsh, as the book is colorful and shows family and friends happily interacting.  There are women covered, not covered and with niqab, and there isn’t anything erroneous in what is written.  I just would hope for more.  The book is small in size, 8.5 x 8.5, and could have been fleshed out a lot more.  It reads like a child’s rough draft, each page or so, being a topic sentence, without the details.

I really don’t know what one would learn or get out of this book, that they wouldn’t get out of a fictionalized account or even a character driven story at Eid time.  Online prices don’t convince me the book is a stand out either.  There are much more fun, engaging, and memorable Eid books out there, not sure why the library chose to invest in this one, but alhumdulillah, I suppose it is better than nothing.

Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

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Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

IMG_4757I was really excited to learn about this book from the author, as it seemed to be a book that would stand out in a very crowded genre and work for both Muslim and non Muslim kids.  When I tore off the package however, the face on the cover seemed a bit off for my taste, the glossary is on the back cover and while the pages are full size and full color, the book starts on the first page and somehow seemed more “home done” than “professional.”  Which isn’t a bad thing, and I’m happy to support local writers, but alas I do often judge books by their covers and format, and my first impression had to be stuffed away so I could give the book a fair chance.

The book is 20 pages with the 20th page being recipes.   I would guess children 5 and up would be considered the target audience.  It basically is a book telling about Ramadan with the author trying to blend in a story, that for me, sometimes worked and sometimes really didn’t.

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It starts with Zachariah, a 12 year-old-boy waiting for his mom to wake him up to fast, a day he has been waiting his whole life for.  Why he had to wait to fast at age 12 is not clear to me or made clear in the story.  His 10 year-old-sister only does half days, but in the illustrations she seems to only look about 3 years old, so I’m not sure where the arbitrary age requirements for fasting come from.  There is also a third sibling in the pictures that is never mentioned, not sure why, my kids and I speculated a lot more on that than we probably should have.  It isn’t told from Zachariah’s point of view but he is the focus as his day gets started.

The characters are undoubtedly desi as the book is very steeped in subcontinent cultural over tones.  Sehri, the pre dawn meal, is described in abundance of detail, “His mom made omelets, fried potatoes, with curry and tomatoes and his favorite parathas: thin leavened dough that is friend in olive oil or butter”  It’s a bit detailed of how the items are prepared for a kid’s book, and that is just page one of two pages dedicated to detailing the food on the table for breakfast.  Iftar the meal to break the fast is also two pages of description and cooking methods, but about double the amount of text.

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Culture is often food, and Ramadan has its own food traditions, but there is a lot of space dedicated to food in this book,  and it kind of takes away from the message of fasting, and moderation, and not going in excess.  Later in the book the mom does pack up some of the food to take to the less fortunate which is great, but she does it while the rest of the family is breaking their fast.  Not sure why she couldn’t have done it before or after and joined them.

After sehri is presented the family talks about Ramadan and what it means and what they like best about it.  There is a bit of dialogue that is actually sweet and funny, and gives some warmth to the story.  It is clear the author is just trying to flesh out the facts about Ramadan, but for a kid’s book, I think getting the facts in and presenting them in a fictionalized setting is a useful tool.

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The story seems a bit lopsided when it shrinks Zachariah’s day at school to one five line paragraph saying it was wonderful and then moves on saying “Later, he helps his mom.”  After spending 10 pages on the predawn meal, I would have liked to know a bit more how school went for him, it is his perfect day after all.  Also, the lapse in time by the narrator seemed a bit off to me in the sequential flow of the story, as it was following him in real time so to speak, and then fast forwards the bulk of the day only touching on lunch time, and

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Alhumdulillah, the family is sweet and excited for Ramadan. They pray together and are seen with smiling faces.  There isn’t much diversity in the pictures, the family has darker skin, the friends at lunch are more fair.  The mom wears hijab and is in the kitchen, dad doesn’t seem to be, but Zachariah helps his mom.

The book is colorful, and busy.  I’m not sure if the pictures are meant to be a stylized reality or look computer generated, but they seem a little blurry in places.  The font and backgrounds are nice.  There is a verse from the Quran in English and Arabic, as well as the athan and some Islamic calligraphy.

Overall, there is nothing “wrong” with the book, it just isn’t memorable.  There are some really good Ramadan books out there, and this one does it’s job of explaining Ramadan, but lacks the characters to leave an impression.  I definitely don’t regret buying it, but I don’t know that my kids or I will read it again this Ramadan, it doesn’t create that reaction.  It will probably stay on the shelf until next year, when we can’t recall many of the details and give it another go.

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The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan illustrated by Maria Ahmed

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The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan illustrated by Maria Ahmed

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A new Eid book that talks about the religious aspects of Eid, such as praying and going to the mosque, as well as the cultural fun of getting henna done and eating samosas, presented through the shapes a little girl finds all around her.  I liked the idea of presenting Eid through a different lens so to speak, and finally gave in and ordered the $17 hardback 28 page book.  I had touched base with the author before I ordered it to see if it would work for little kids at a masjid story time and she thought it would.  The text is one to four lines per page and rhymes, which allows the little ones to stay engaged.  Some of the lines are forced or seem to break the rhyme scheme, but overall a book about shapes with rhyming lines makes sense.

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The part that I was underwhelmed with was the illustrations.  A book with such a visual concept at its core, to me would require breath taking pictures.  But alas, the pictures seem done with crayon and colored pencils, and on many pages finding the shape is almost difficult for little ones.  The detail is lovely, but the presentation seems lacking. They aren’t bright and shiny, they are muted and flat.  The disconnect of the text and binding with the pictures seemed jarring to me. Perhaps it was just the price point made me expect more, I don’t know.  I like the book, but I don’t love it.  I will be reading it to a group of kids and if they love it I will take back my criticism of the pictures, happily.

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I think the book works up to about 2nd grade, as the geometric shapes are both flat and 3-D, plus getting excited for Eid is something everyone enjoys.  There is no reason this book is limited to Muslim children, but non muslims might be left with more questions after reading it about how Eid is celebrated and what aspects are religiously required and which are just fun customs.  There is a small intro at the beginning to what Eid is, but no glossary or further info is included.

Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Before she was Grandma Najma, she was just Najma.  A girl in Turkey with a secret dream of being a musaharati, the person who walks the streets waking up the neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan.  But, a girl had never done this and thus the dream stayed hidden until she was 12 and the neighborhood musaharati was feeling ill.  Confiding in her baba, his love and support makes her dream come true against cultural norms and naysayers.  The line from her Baba, “Girls can be anything they like,” is so clear that her one girl revolution grabs the hearts of the reader and turns readers into cheerleaders.  The added beauty is her father’s support is not limited to his words, he accompanies her out every night almost challenging anyone to say she can’t do it.  Overtime she becomes the pride of the area, and her brothers accompany her if she doesn’t want to go alone, and then eventually her husband and her children.

drumemrgirl2The book warms the soul and uplifts the spirit.  The text seems geared to 7 year olds and up, as there is a lot of it, and at 26 pages does require some ability to focus. But with minor tweaks and condenscing the story appeals to children 4 and up and the pictures help hold their attention as they create a mood of wonder and whimsy.

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Structurally the book is hardback and dust jacket free, yay! the cover is printed on and thus easier to maintain.  The book is longer horizontally with most illustrations on the left side making it great for story time where the kids can see the pictures and the reader can hold and easily see the text without blocking the children’s line of sight.  There is a glossary, an author’s note telling where the story comes from, and a little biography of the author and illustrator and publisher in the back.

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A beautiful, beautiful book to share with children this Ramadan and all year long, alhumdulillah.

A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

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The correlation between baseball and cricket provides the foundation for detailing the relationship of  Bilal’s first year in America after having to leave Pakistan in a hurry: the same, but different.  This 248 page book written on an AR 4.6 pivots around sports, but has a lot of heart as themes of family, friendship, and longing, take center stage.  Throw in a whole new culture, the English language, Ramadan and prom and you have a whole lot to cover in this well crafted story.

SYNOPSIS:

Bilal has a good life in Karachi, Pakistan.  He is the oldest of three kids and at 10 years old, his world pretty much involves Cricket, friends, and his dad.  When his father disappears things get frantic, and when his father returns, the family decides to move to America.  Unfortunately Bilal’s dad can’t come.  As Bilal, his mom, his younger sister Hira and younger brother Humza, board a plan to Virginia, everything Bilal knows is left behind.

Virginia is home to Bilal’s maternal Uncle, his wife, and their teenage son, Jalaal.  Jalaal plays baseball and arranges to have Bilal join him at baseball camp for the summer.  Learning the new sport, and a new language, and the nuances of life in a new land are frustrating and often comical as Bilal points out how confusing navigating American life can be.  He also keeps an ongoing list of new things in America to share with his dad over Skype, as they swap memories of an old life in preparation for a new one.  The supporting characters on the field are generally kind and accepting of Bilal, because they have a bigger problem then a foreign boy, there is a girl on the team, Jordan.  Jordan is new too, and the coaches niece at that, naturally they become friends, but its not easy, Bilal has to learn what being a friend really means.

The majority of the book stems from the tension of waiting to hear from Bilal’s father, and to see if he can come to America.  The passing of time with baseball games and school are anecdotal to the larger arc that sets the pace of the book.  Will Baba be able to come, and if so, when?

WHY I LIKE IT:

Interestingly religion has a pretty big role in Bilal’s life and the author does explain some tenants in Islam.  He wakes up for fajr (although he does miss it occasionally), he only eats halal zabiha, the family fasts in Ramadan, and they celebrate Eid.  Bilal wants to fast, but him mom tells him he is too young when they are coming to America, and the following year he doesn’t because of baseball, which is unfortunate, because a lot of kids fast and play sports all over the world.  They go to the mosque on Eid only, and it mentions that the women in his family do not wear hijab like some of the women at the mosque.  His older cousin Jalaal wants to take the neighbor girl, Olivia, to prom, which the family explains awkwardly as something that Muslims don’t really do until they are older, or at least that is how Bilal understands it.  In the end, they let Jalaal go with Olivia and a group of friends, and the whole family Skype’s the family in Pakistan and sees them off.  Even more funny is that they don’t join their friends for dinner before the dance, because Jalaal is fasting and can’t eat until later.  I don’t know if this will confuse 4th and 5th grade readers, but as an adult I found it hysterical, because these cultural contradictions are more common than not.  I did like that nothing was done behind the parent’s backs.  Things were discussed and worked out instead of lied about.

Another thing that I found interesting, but since finishing the book, I have come to appreciate, is that there is no Islamaphobia in the story, or even xenophobia.  The kids are accepting of Bilal’s faith and culture.  He is far more self conscious about being different or not understanding than those around him are.  Its idealistic perhaps, but at the same time, I think it would distract from the core of the story.

While the book focuses on sports, I think even non sports fans will be able to enjoy the story.  The author doesn’t get too technical and it moves steadily with mini climaxes and triumphs through out.  Girls and boys will enjoy the book, Muslims and non Muslims too, the readers might even learn something about baseball or cricket or Pakistan, or even about themselves along the way.

FLAGS:

The book is remarkably clean and what you would expect for a good quality, solid 4th grade and up story.  There is the “prom” issue, but there is no hugging, kissing, longing etc.  They “like” each other, but it isn’t more explicit than that.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if I would use this for a Book Club.  One could, but I think it would require a lot of coaxing to get kids to give a book about baseball/cricket a try.  I have no doubt if they started it, they would finish it, but it might be a tough sell.  The confusion in American life would make for an awesome discussion after being read, because everyone can relate to some of the oddities of the English language, and challenges of learning a new language and culture.  I think how Islam is handled would also make for some good discussion in addressing how each family handles things differently as they arise.  Although written on a 4.6 level if I were to do it in a school setting, I would probably do it for middle school kids who could articulate their own life parallels to the story.

An interview with the author:

http://wordspelunking.blogspot.com/2016/09/a-long-pitch-home-blog-tour-interview.html

Overall a solid decent book about an immigrant Muslim boy making his way in America, while not losing or giving up on who he is, alhumdulillah.

 

The Storyteller by Evan Turk

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The Storyteller by Evan Turk

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Set in Morocco a long, long time ago near the edge of the great Sahara, a young boy goes in search of water.  But just as the city grew and grew and people forgot about the threat of the desert, people forgot about storytellers too.

This 44 page book weaves a tale of story within a story within a story, and combines different times in the past to illustrate how vital stories are to our existence.  Much like the thirst that only water can quench, the human soul needs connections.  With a Djinn threatening to cover the town in a sandstorm and the mysteries of the blue water bird, can a well told story really restore water and safety?  Written on a 4.9 level this book could get a bit confusing to a struggling reader, or a child trying to keep everything straight.  I found this book works best with kids that can get caught up in the story and the imagination of it all, without over thinking all the layers. It, like the story within the story suggests, works best to be listened too.  There is a lot of text, but it is very soothing and engaging.  The pictures are splendid, but in a dream like manner.  The book works well with sleepy children listening to your voice and getting lost in the pictures, making a storyteller out of the reader, and proving the engaging power of a story.  Second graders and up will enjoy listening to the story, and learning about desert life, and oral storytelling in lyrical way.  There is no Islamic element other than the hijab wearing women in the pictures, and the mention of a djinn.  There is is an author’s note at the end telling of the resurgent efforts of public storytelling in Morocco.

When a storyteller dies, a library burns-old Moroccan saying

A Tale from Turkey The Hungry Coat by Demi

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A Tale from Turkey The Hungry Coat by Demi

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It really bothered me that I didn’t love the version I read of  The Parrot and the Turkey about Nasreddin Hodja, especially after finding out how entwined he is in Turkish culture, and reading some of his tales online.  So, when I found that Demi had also rewritten and illustrated a tale from his collection I was anxious to check it out.

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The  Hungry Coat is a charming story and Demi does a great job of bringing it to life with her pictures and storytelling abilities.  The book is 36 pages and a 4.1 on AR.  The text isn’t overwhelming in volume, but to read it definitely requires a bit of an older child’s vocabulary.  Words like caravansary, hostel, banquet, frisky, and commotion are scattered through out.  However, to listen to the story and to understand the message Nasrettin Hoca (an alternate spelling) is conveying, is easily enjoyed by children four and up.  The story flows very smoothly and the catch line of “Eat, coat! Eat!” makes the story absolutely delightful.

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Nasrettin Hoca always keeps an apple in his pocket for any goats he might pass while he is out and about.  One day he helps round-up a goat that has gotten lost, and in all the commotion had become quite a mess and lost too much time to go home and change his clothes before heading to a friend’s house for dinner.  Deciding to go in his patchy, smelly clothes, Nasrettin soon finds that none at the dinner party will sit by him, or even sit facing him.  He slips out quietly from the gathering and has an idea.  He goes home and preens himself, and returns to the party where he is greeted with attention and kindness.  At dinner he begins placing the food in his coat, rather than eating it.  Each time he opens his coat he commands it to eat.  After he fills his coat he pats his belly to the bemusement of all around him as they ask him what he is doing.  He makes his point that when he came in his old coat he wasn’t fed, but when he came dressed so beautifully he was, and thus clearly the coat was invited to dinner, not him.  Everyone cheered and learned the lesson.

“A coat may be fine, but a coat does not make a man.”

The illustrations are rich and detailed, but I did find myself a little put off when Nasrettin seemed to go from looking like an old little man, to being very effeminate.  The inconsistency bothered me a bit, which surprised me for a Demi illustration.  Also, it is worth noting that there is mention of wine in the story, that many may find off for a children’s book, particularly one about Muslims (Nasrettin was an Imam and a Dervish, so he may have drunk, I’m just saying it surprised me).  The last two pages of the book are an afterword about Nasrettin Hoca in real life and the influence of his folk tales and lessons.