Tag Archives: desert

Leila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi

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Leila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi

shirin shamsi

This 127 page book has a lot of potential, but ultimately didn’t win me over.  It is one of those that needs a good editor to encourage the author to flesh out the characters, take advantage of a potentially cathartic resolution, and fill the gaping holes in the story.  Meant for ages 8-12 the tiny font, and tight spacing, make the book really dense and intimidating to look at and read.  The book, as written, should be well over 200 pages, if spaced appropriately for the target audience.  Once you accept the presentation and get in to the story, it isn’t an awful read, it just could have and should have been so much more.  I hope the author revisits it and polishes it up- the time travel, the science DNA component, and the death of the protagonist’s parents, offer a lot for Muslim and non Muslim readers to sink their teeth in and be swept away by, but ultimately, I don’t know that most readers will be motivated to finish the book, and those that do, won’t remember anything about it.

SYNOPSIS:

Laila’s dad has recently died, and with her mother having died years earlier, Laila is now 13 and an orphan living with her stepmom and baby sister.  Feeling resentful that her dad remarried and had a child that took time away from her in his final span of life, doesn’t make Laila a very kind person at home.  Her best friend Beth, even points out how cold she is to her family.  With school vacations approaching, Laila is headed for Umrah with her dad’s brother, her uncle, and his wife.  While making tawaf, Laila loses her aunt and uncle in the crowd and finds herself transported to 7th century Arabia.  She hears a baby crying and learns that the baby’s life is in danger.  To save her, she must get the baby, the baby’s mom and baby’s sister from Makkah to Yathrib.  The only way to do that is to join a caravan, and they can only join a caravan if they have a male escort.  So Laila chops off her hair, acts like a boy, and gets them in the caravan.  They meet bandits along the way, but nothing too scary, they arrive in Medina and right before they meet RasulAllah, Laila finds herself back in the present.  She is in a hospital, but the doctors do not know what is wrong with her so they release her.  She returns to the US, relays the story to Beth, and decides that at an upcoming field trip to study DNA, she is going to submit the baby’s hair that she still has for dating.  The results show it is from 1400 years ago and a family heirloom of her step moms reveals that the baby is a great great great great… grandmother of her’s.  Resolved to open her heart to her family, Laila is a changed person, alhumdulillah.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the premise, it is like Sophia’s Journal and When Wings Expand  thrown together and scrambled.  Laila is struggling with her faith and is trying to find it, while also finding a way to move forward after losing her father.  There are just a lot of things that aren’t answered, are contradictory, or don’t make sense.  It says she learned Arabic because her mother spoke it, her dad is desi, but really no hiccups speaking in 7th century Arabia other than forgetting the word for scissors?  She at one point said she was a cousin from the north, but while on the caravan mentioned that she had never travelled through the desert.  There really should have been more action with the thieves and the regrouping when the men came back.  Similarly, her gender reveal should have been a bigger deal than it was.  I was hoping there would be a mention of if her hair was long or short when she awoke in the hospital, I don’t think I missed it, but maybe, or maybe it wasn’t there.  Once back home, there really needed to be a reunion scene with Laila and her stepmom and half sister, I mean the whole point of the time travel was to save a baby. Really? Nothing? I was disappointed that it was glossed over and mentioned as a retelling to Beth and pushed aside.  The second climax is when the DNA testing is being questioned, but I didn’t get the need for the babysitter and everything to be rearranged for a two second conversation with the principal accusing Laila of theft, a phone call should have sufficed, plus when Laila and Beth mention it to the scientist, it seems everyone was questioned, but Beth wasn’t, something wasn’t consistent there either.  Overall, the book needed more action for a book that involves time travel and more emotional attachment and character connection for a book that involves a newly orphaned young teen girl.

I like the conveying of Islamic facts and information and history in a fairly smooth way.  At the beginning, Umrah being explained was a little text bookish, but it smoothed out as the book progressed.  I love the little flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter, I wish there would have been some information about the remarriage of her father and her emotions on the matter at that time.  It is one thing to be grieving, but really she is a brat to her step mom, and if the uncle and aunt live right there, not sure where they live, someone should really be working on getting them all some family therapy, not a quality situation for anyone.

FLAGS:

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use the book as a book club selection, nor would I think it would get read if on a classroom shelf.  I might use the premise of going back in time to meet Prophet Muhammad, as a writing prompt though.  Would be a good assignment with factual and Islamic references to get kids stretching their imagination to make it all come together and work.

 

Azad’s Camel by Erika Pal

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Azad’s Camel by Erika Pal

camel

This beautifully illustrated picture book takes the reader in to the world of camel racing, children jockeys, mistreatment by adults, children being sold by their families and running away, all in a span of 40 pages and on an AR 3.5 level.  Yeah, its a lot for a kid’s book, but it has a happy ending and it does draw attention to an atrocity not often discussed or thought about.

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Young Azad lives with his old uncle in a village outside the city.  He helps take care of the goat and fetches water for tea in the mornings,  in the afternoons he plays with his friends.  One day he is doing handstands on a soccer goal post when a rich Sheikh drives by and sees him.

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The Sheikh comes back and convinces the uncle to let him take the boy to be trained as a camel rider to one day be famous.  The uncle agrees saying he can’t afford to keep him.

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The Sheik takes Azad to the desert with other boys to live and be trained.  Azad learns that food is earned and chores are a must.  The races are dangerous and Azad doesn’t like them, but he is good and is forced to keep racing.

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One night the camel, Asfur, talks to Azad and the two plan to keep running past the finish line at their next race.  The pair are so fast that, they do just that, and no one can catch them.  They run through the city, and back to the desert.

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The other animals of the desert keep them warm when it gets cold and until a Beduin tribe discovers them and takes them in.  At last Azad and Asfur find a home.

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There is information about camel racing at the end including how robots are replacing child jockeys in some countries and how many young children are being returned to their families, school and a normal life.

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I like that the book takes on a real and sad occurrence, bringing camel racing and forced child labor in to light.  The story is truly written for younger elementary kids with short paragraphs on each page, large engaging illustrations, quick jumps in events and glossing over any truly graphic details.

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I do worry that stereotypes are reinforced with the use of calling the rich man who bought Azad a “Sheikh” and the Bedouins dancing at the end.  Culturally the book is a generic Middle Eastern country and doesn’t mention or emphasize religion at all with the exception of the women in the pictures being veiled.

I found the book at the library and think it has good information to discuss with your children, but I don’t know that I can see it being anyone’s favorite book, or a regular night time request.  While, yes, it does have a happy ending, you don’t really “feel” what Azad is going through, you are just glad he finds people that want him.