Tag Archives: culture

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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a long pitch

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.

The Sky of Afghanistan by Ana A. de Eulate illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

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An Afghani girl dreams of peace in this illustrated 24 page poem.  She soars and flies like the kites against the wind and giggles and learns and hopes with her feet on the ground.  The book is written on a third grade sixth month AR level, but even at that the poem is hard to follow for elementary age children.  The voice doesn’t sound like a child’s, it is far more reflective and mature for how she is presented.  The text, not really a story, wanders and alludes to what obstacles face Afghani’s but doesn’t detail them.  The author assumes the reader knows that Afghanistan has been under war for decades, that war is painful and gloomy and gruesome.  Adults maybe can find the hope for peace and the struggles inspiring, but I don’t think children will really have a clue as to what the text is about. Luckily the pictures are AMAZING.

 

The illustrator does an amazing job in keeping the story light and hopeful and showing the culture without judgement or despair.  The domes of the masjids, the hijabs, the mendhi on the hands and even the smiling faces beneath the niqabs are done with lightness, kindness and beauty.  There is even a touch of whimsy that reminds the reader that this is supposed to be from a child’s perspective.

The sky can be full of kites, I think to myself,

but it can also be full of dreams…

And mine flies up high, high into the sky,

towards the stars…

The book overall is poetic and artistic.  I can see children enjoying the illustrations and maybe falling asleep to the melodious words, even if they can’t really make sense of them. The book says that profits go to charity, and that the book was translated from Spanish.   For the illustrations alone, the book has merit and older children may be inspired to take something difficult and turn it into something beautiful with their words.

 

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.