Tag Archives: differences

A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi

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A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi

This 320 page middle grade novel with alternating point of view chapters engulfs you like a warm genuine hug. It does not have a clear climax, it is predictable, and some characters and cultural touch points could have used more detail, but honestly, I couldn’t put it down. As a half American kid who spent my summers in Karachi, so much of the author’s love of her homeland flows so effortlessly from the pages and took me back to my childhood and how the transformation of comparing the two countries moves to seeing the best in both causes growth within your heart and makes leaving so devastatingly hard. Readers of all backgrounds will seamlessly fall in to the story and enjoy the growth of the main characters, while learning a bit about a culture and the similarities of people.

SYNOPSIS:

The back drop is the sweltering heat of a Karachi summer in the middle of elections. Mimi, Maryam, is visiting Pakistan for the first time in her life. It is her mother’s home land, but her grandparents, and her mom aren’t close. They didn’t approve of Mimi’s dad and mom getting married, and even though they have been divorced for years and he has left, Mimi’s mom hasn’t been home in 12 years.

Sakina narrates the other chapters. She is the daughter of Mimi’s grandparent’s cook. She dreams of going to school, but needs help with her English to pass the admissions test. And even if she passes her family needs her income to survive, and her father’s failing health means that she has to take over his job too.

When Mimi arrives at her grandparents home, it is awkward at best. She doesn’t really know her grandparents, she has never had servants before, and her mother is rarely around. That leaves her to get to know Sakina. Sakina finds this odd as the owners of the home rarely “chat” with her and here this American girl wants to get to know her and is fine with helping in the kitchen. The two strike a tentative friendship as Mimi agrees to help Sakina with her english, and Sakina with the permission of Mimi’s grandmother and with the use of the driver, agrees to show her some of the city.

As Mimi takes in the traditional tourists sites she gives Sakina her first taste of ice cream and soda and other “luxuries” she has never experienced. Sakina introduces her to bun kabobs and other local foods. The budding friendship isn’t smooth, mostly because Mimi constantly compares Pakistan to America and Sakina doesn’t understand why Mimi doesn’t have a father. When the girls find out that Mimi’s dad, a journalist, is in Karachi covering the elections, the girls work together to try and find him.

Throughout all of this, Mimi keeps a journal and the entries are letters to her father.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the girls have to navigate their friendship without and often despite interference from adults. I also like that while societal wise one girl is seen as economically privileged and one is not, the book gives enough for even elementary aged children to see that in America Mimi and her mom are financial struggling, but in Pakistan they are not and how that disparity is arbitrary. They also see that family and safety and security are also a part of life’s quality and not country specific. Things that one girl takes for granted are envied by the other, and it goes both ways.

Even for a middle grades book, there were some plot holes. If Mimi had been late night googling and plotting on a secret map all the places her dad had been writing articles from, she should have had a heads up about Pakistan. She knows so little about Islam and has like one shelwar kamees, so it seems a bit of a stretch that she speaks urdu pretty proficiently. I feel like some stumbling with the language or some back story on that would have been great.

Religion is handled as a cultural touch point, neither girl prays, but both find solace in visiting a masjid. Various characters are in sleeveless tops, the athan is heard in the back ground. I wish there would have been a bit more finding of Islam as Mimi found her culture too, but alas it isn’t there.

The majority of the book takes place within the grandparent’s home with the elections being a big part of why they can’t go out, yet the mom goes out a lot, which really rubbed me the wrong way. She took her daughter shopping once to meet an old friend and that is it. Who travels across the world to spend zero time with her kid. I didn’t like the mom at all, and wish there was some background or even some growth on her part. A lot of the minor characters seemed to fizzle as well in terms of having some depth.

There are some cultural and country facts at the end of the book, but within the text I was surprised that more wasn’t shared. I like that it mentioned Karachi was the original capital, but it should have also in the same sentence mentioned that Islamabad is the current, I think readers would assume that Karachi is still the capital of Pakistan.

The book is an OWN voice through and through and the value of that is felt in every sentence. It isn’t all positive and rosy, but it is genuine. The author loves what she is writing about and it shines through leaving the reader with a favorable sense of Pakistan: the country, the culture and the people.

FLAGS:

The book is clean, possibly some tense moments when Sakina’s family is robbed. There is also discussion of marrying someone your parents don’t approve of, divorce, and Mimi’s mom possibly having a boyfriend. Mimi’s mom is an artist and paints pictures of people. There is lying and scheming.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think the book would be a fine choice for an elementary book club, I think any one older will find the book a tad bit predictable. I plan to have my children read it so we can discuss points of view, experiences, universal traits and social economic classes. There are a lot of wonderful lessons wrapped up in a heartfelt story that I can see 4th and 5th grade children benefiting from over and over again.

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell

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Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell

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A great book about inclusion for back to school, except well with Corona, we aren’t doing things how we always have.  None-the-less this book about the first day of kindergarten for Musa and the friendships and celebrations of diversity (Eid al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, Las Posadas, Pi Day) that will take place over the school year, connect the kids and their cultures in a beautiful and heartwarming way.  The book is 40 pages with engaging illustrations and text perfect for 5-7 year olds.

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It is the first day of school and Ms. Gupta tells the class it is her favorite day of the year.  She also tells the children that the people around them will become their best friends.  Musa doubts this as he looks around at the strangers at his table.

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He also wonders how the first day of school can be any ones favorite day, clearly Eid al-Fitr is the best holiday.  Luckily, every show-and-tell will be about someone’s favorite day, so that the class can join together in celebrating it.  Moises can’t believe that Christmas isn’t the most fun until he learns that not everyone celebrates it.

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When it is Musa’s turn to teach about Eid, his mom and he bring in food and decorations and teach the kids to say Eid Mubarak.  They learn what Eid is like and can see why it is his favorite.

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Up next is Mo’s turn.  He tells everyone about Jewish New Year and how to say Shanah Tovah.  On Rosh Hashanah they light candles and share food with friends and family.

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Moises explains how Las Posadas is how his family celebrates Christmas.  It lasts nine days and there are songs and pinatas and presents.

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In the spring it was Kevin’s turn and he shared his love of Pi Day as his family celebrates science.  On March 14 (3.14) they make different pies and learn about scientists and their discoveries.

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On the last day of school, the children are sad, but their teacher hopes they will remember each other always throughout the year as she hands out calendars for them to keep.

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The book concludes with information about each of the four holidays mentioned. It is possible that on the Rosh Hashanah page the family is two gay men with two children, but it could be just two men as well, and doesn’t say anything in the text that suggests who and how the family is comprised.

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My Name is Fatima. Mine Too! by Fatima D. ElMekki illustrated by George Franco

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My Name is Fatima. Mine Too! by Fatima D. ElMekki illustrated by George Franco

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This book is interfaith, and learning your own roots, and asking questions about your heritage and faith all rolled in to a cute little package for children.  But despite it’s length, 28 pages, and cute little girls on the cover, the book is for more first grade/second grade and older children, rather than toddlers. 

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The message that we are more alike than different is a great message, even for the littlest of readers, but this book goes a little deeper, and the didactic approach will bore them a bit.  Older kids for sure 2nd and up will benefit from the exchanges between Fatima and Fatima and learning both valuable religious lessons about their namesakes as well as respect and friendship for those with different beliefs.

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Fatima is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and on her first day of school in a America she tries to remember her father’s advice, that meeting new people can be a challenge, but also an opportunity.  

At lunch a little girl asks to sit with her, excited to meet someone with her same name.  Fatima asks her why she wears a scarf, and listens to her explain it is because she is Muslim and the hijab is part of her religion.  

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At recess, Muslim Fatima tells non Muslim Fatima that she is named after Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s daughter and asks her who she is named after and if asks she is Muslim, too.  The other Fatima says that she is Catholic and that she doesn’t know why her parents named her Fatima, but that she will find out and let her know.

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That night Catholic Fatima learns that her mom had gone to Fatima, a city in Portugal, a famous city for all the miracles that have happened there and the apparition of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Fatima’s mom had gone there to pray for a baby and promised if she got pregnant that she would name the baby Fatima.

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The next day Catholic Fatima tells Muslim Fatima and also asks her if she has heard of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Muslim Fatima says she has heard of her, but doesn’t know much and that she will ask her parents and let her know.

Muslim Fatima learns that Mary is one of the four virtuous women in Islam and that there is a chapter in the Quran named after her.  When she tells Catholic Fatima the next day at school, the girls marvel at how much they have in common.  They are BFFs despite their differences and beautiful ones at that.

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I love that the book is framed in opposites to show similarities.  I also love that it shows women in our respective faiths with similar values, similar names, and Mary’s role in both our traditions.  So often, when we are building bridges we discuss how Yusuf is Joseph and Musa is Moses, Yahya is John and we go through the old Prophets, this was a nice change in perspective.

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The illustrations are nothing to get excited by, but they do show smiling warm characters and family members.  They serve as a distraction from the text heavy pages that do nothing to grasp the reader with their plan font and majority white backgrounds.

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This book would work for Muslim children, Catholic children, really all children.  It talks about faith, but as the characters view it, not in a one is better or more right than another.  There is a second book in the series about Fatima inviting Fatima to an Iftar party  that I look forward to checking out soon.  I hope it is a little more rich in dialogue and character building instead of just a foil to disseminate the information between the two faiths, but even if it isn’t I still think the book has value and you should check it out.

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

all are welcome

This is the perfect book for back to school.  It can set a beautiful tone of letting all children know that they are welcome, that they are accepted, that they are safe, that they are wanted and that they have value in your classroom.  It could also work to allay children’s fears heading in to a new environment, assuming of course that the environment is as fabulous as the one presented in the book.  

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The large, hardback 44 page book with a poster and large pullout concluding page, is fantastic for ages preschool and up, but would have value as part of any grades back to school message.  

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While the rhyming couplets are sweet and sincere, the real beauty of the book are the illustrations.  Bringing all that diversity to life in smiling kids faces, children with hijabs, and yarmulkes, patkas, baseball caps, glasses, curly hair, straight hair, every color of the rainbow, various physical abilities, all show what a day of inclusion can look like.  No one culture or background is articulated or placed higher than another and the coming together of the kids and then their parents and community is inspiring.

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I love that their is a little muhajaba on the the cover and included in the cultural acceptance of the book.  It shows her praying in one picture and then joining in and smiling with the rest of the diverse group of characters in the other pictures.  Feeling included and accepted whether in a classroom, or in a children’s book, feels good, at any age, alhumdulillah. 

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A special shout-out to all the educators and people in positions of power who go the extra mile to create a safe and accepting space, thank you.

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