Tag Archives: diversity

Ramadan Around The World by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Azra Momin

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Ramadan Around The World by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Azra Momin

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I started this blog because I know the value fiction can have in empowering and exciting people when they see themselves reflected in story lines.  As Muslims, it is a needed tool both for our own children and for teaching other children about us.  So, imagine my surprise when I felt my back straighten up and a smile stain my face for a long while after I finished reading this beautiful book about Ramadan traditions all over the world.  Not because it showed so many beautiful Muslims from rich colorful backgrounds sharing the common bond of loving Allah in Ramadan, that was expected.  Nor was it for the diversity of skin tones, and cultures, and ages, and head coverings, throughout.  No, it was because there are characters with autism, and one that is hearing impaired, one in a wheel chair, and a little girl with diabetes who cannot eat all the candy, just a few.  I didn’t realize how strong that notion hit me.  Me, an adult, a type 1 diabetic since I was 11, there in print, in a book about Muslims.  Yes, I may have had tears, I might still as I write this review.  It is powerful people, to see yourself in a fictional character, at any age.  May Allah swt reward all the authors out there writing books for our children to feel proud of who they are, one beautiful page at a time. You are making a difference.

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Emotions aside, this book is wonderful in and of itself.  It starts with the moon telling a bit about how Ramadan is fasting from sunrise to sunset, doing good deeds, being kind, and how it is celebrated all over the world.  The moon then takes us on a journey to twelve countries: The US, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Scotland, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Madinah, Palestine, and Senegal.  Each location gets a two-page spread of text and gorgeous illustrations that tell about a Ramadan celebration, or tradition, and stress something about the month in general such as iftar, or sadaqah, going to the mosque, helping orphans, the adhaan, saying salaam.  The book concludes with Ramadan ending and the moon signing off.  There is a glossary followed by more information about Ramadan. 

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In all the book is 40 pages, hardbound, and large enough to make it perfect for story time and bedtime alike.  In small bursts the book would work for 4 year olds and up and first graders and up will understand how universal Islam is and relish at the diversity in celebrating “the most wonderful time of the year.”

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My hope is to read this book at a Masjid Ramadan Storytime and to have a few of the countries set up as “stations” for the children to visit.  I can’t wait to try it out and see if we can remind ourselves how blessed we are to be united all around the world as Muslims, alhumdulillah.  For non Muslims this book is not preachy, it shows how a holiday is celebrated in different places, and would do a great job of showing the joy Ramadan contains for Muslims with universal core principals, but how culture and traditions of celebration make it a diverse experience.  

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Mr. Gamal’s Gratitude Glasses by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Nuria Tomas Mayolas

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Mr. Gamal’s Gratitude Glasses by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Nuria Tomas Mayolas

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Asmaa Hussein over at Ruqaya’s Bookshelf has put out two new books, and this gem of a book is one of them.  Mr. Gamal’s class is angry, about lots of little things getting out at dodge ball, the wrong color grapes, having to wait their turn, and it is making for restless, grumpy students.  On a trip to the dollar store, the teacher is struck by inspiration when he sees some oversized pink lensed glasses.  With a pair for each student, the kids have a week  to try out there “gratitude glasses” and report back on their success.

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In 36 pages readers ages 5-8 will get to know some of the stresses felt by kids they can relate to, and ways to find “good things, even in tough situations.”  They will also learn that the real secret isn’t the glasses, but their own brains discovering “new ways to think about stuff!”

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While the kids learn a lesson, Mr. Gamal does too, and so do the readers, alhumdulillah.

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The book would be great fun to read in a group accompanied by glasses to hand out and test Mr. Gamal’s idea with.  I also think it is great to have on the bookshelf to remind kids that they need to find the positive and break out of their slump.

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The kids all have “islamic” names and a few wear hijab (some do not), but there is nothing religious in the book.  It would work well in any environment and does a good job of showing diverse characters.  The pictures are adequate, I don’t love them, but they compliment the story and set the tone fairly well.  The book is a great size for story time (8.5 x 11) and with a thick cover and shiny pages, should hold up to repetitive use.

 

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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Children playing dress-up with their mother’s clothes is a universal activity, that most can relate to.  Playing dress-up in your mother’s khimar is what makes this book both familiar and stereotype breaking in a way that is actually pretty powerful.

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In this 40 page hardback book targeting 4-8 year olds, Salaam Reads, once again brings Muslim characters to the masses, without alienating or talking down to either Muslim or non Muslims readers.

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The story starts off with a little girl explaining that “A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears.  Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.”  She then marvels at the variety of scarves her mother has, commenting on the colors, and prints, and designs, that by the time she is ready to use them as her favorite make-believe accessory, readers will be wishing they too could have such an assortment.

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From using a khimar to be a queen with a golden train, to being a shooting star, the reader also along the way learns that she loves the connection the khimars offer her of her mother, when she isn’t near.  The ladies at the masjid are also part of that connection so that when she dreams of all the fantastical pretend things she can be, she also knows they too are with her.  Even her grandma, Mom-Mom, who exclaims “Sweet Jesus” when she sees her in her yellow khimar, and loves her although she doesn’t go to the mosque like the little girl does, is a part of the love and support the little girl feels by those around her when she is wrapped up in her mother’s khimar.  download (1)I love that it stresses even though her grandma is not Muslim they love each other because they are family.  Muslims and Islam are never mentioned outright, just the mosque and the ladies saying Assalamu alaikum, hint at the khimar being worn for religious reasons.

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Perhaps the best part is the pictures.  The illustrations with their yellowish hues radiate warmth and the faces and smiles are good for the soul.  You can feel the love the little girl both receives and gives to those around her through the pictures that perfectly compliment the simple text.

The diversity of the book in the main character being a girl, a child of color, and a Muslim, is such a beautiful thing to see.  Stories like this are powerful tools when children see themselves in books with positive messages, and remind us all how much more diversity it needed in literature to both highlight our differences, and celebrate our similarities.

 

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

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I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

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Three new kids, not just at school, but to America as well. Maria is from Guatemala, Jin from Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia.  All three telling about what they are faced with as they settle in to their new life and routine, and all tell a bit about how things were back home.  FullSizeRender (48)

This book is not entertaining or fun, it is educational.  Written for ages 5-8 this book is very straightforward as the three characters stories are interwoven to show the growth and settling in that they experience.  The simple sentences, allow the reader to learn real, tangible ways that this children are finding the transition hard.  It also alleviates any sense of pity as it shows the full lives they had before coming to America. 

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I love that the other kids in the class are involved in real life ways to help welcome the new kids to class. Sometimes we are harsh on kids that don’t show empathy or compassion, forgetting that often they don’t know how.  This book works for adults and children in all situations.  We all need to put ourselves in other peoples shoes and see what struggles they are facing, we all need to help one another, and we all need to facilitate environments where these actions can take place.

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The book in many ways would fit well with One Green Apple, as it gives the perspective from the character who is new and articulates some of the obstacles they are facing, while also showing the interactions that help one to feel welcome and comfortable.

The pictures are crucial to the story as they show the feelings of the children and give context to the simple storyline.  I love that their is so much additional diversity in the illustrations: children of all body shapes, there is a student in a wheel chair, Fatimah wears a hijab, and there are male and female teachers in the book.

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The Author’s Note at the end of the 32 page story tells of her experience as a white American child living in South Korea, and some of her feelings and thoughts of being in a new country.  There is no mention of Islam, just implies Fatimah is a Muslim based on her dress, her mother’s clothing, and her country of origin.  

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

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Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

wishtreeI saw this book on Scholastic when I searched for “Muslim” on the website, a regular endeavor of mine, and was surprised to see it pop it since the synopsis on the back doesn’t mention Muslims or Islam.  So I researched it a bit, and sure enough the discrimination of a Muslim family in this tree’s neighborhood is the catalyst of this giant Oak Tree, sharing her story and enlightening the characters and readers with her wisdom.  At 215 pages, this slow and thoughtful book is a short read on an AR 4.2 level.  The pages are well spaced and the black and white drawings keep the reader engaged. And while I bought the beautiful hardback book, I didn’t read it, I listened to the two and a half hour audiobook version, and it was fabulous as well.

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SYNOPSIS:

Aside from maybe Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, I can’t recall too many books being narrated by a tree, but like The Giving Tree, the lessons and wisdom come through loud and clear and stay with you long after the story has ended. Red, is an old Oak Tree that has been around for over 200 years.  She has many stories that she shares with her inhabitants: the possums, the raccoons, the skunks, the birds, her best friend a Raven named Bongo, but never humans, for they must not hear her speak, that is kind of a rule.  But when 10-year-old Samar’s family moves in and people don’t respond well to the new Muslim neighbors, the tree considers getting involved.  Samar spends a lot of time near the tree, and the animals enjoy her presence, while most people tie wishes to the wishing tree on May 1st (Wishing Day), trees are good listeners and Samar tells Red that she wishes for a friend.  This coupled with the act of vandalism someone commits against Red by carving “LEAVE” into her trunk, pushes the tree to ponder what makes people friends and how can she help Samar.  When the owner of the home who’s land Red resides on decides to have her cut down, Red throws caution to the wind and speaks.  Hoping to bring two kids together that need one another, and by extension their families and the whole neighborhood, Red has her work cut out for her.  Luckily she isn’t alone, her animal friends are up for the challenge and the lucky reader gets to laugh with the funny animals, ponder roots, and inclusion, and friendship, and diversity through the loving gentle manner of a tree.  It may be written for fourth graders, but I think everyone can draw upon the lessons, the depth, and the compassion needed to help Samar, to save Red, and to learn to be better to one another.  

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WHY I LIKE IT:

It flows like prose, the deliberate manner in which the story is told, grabs hold of you and halts time.  I love the relevance of inclusion and differences, there isn’t a magic wand, that makes everyone like everyone at the end, but there is hope.  And sometimes that is more powerful.  I listened to the book with my daughter, a 6th grader, and it was nice to chat about it with her after.  What makes people friends? How do people become friends? We move a lot, so she was really insightful about how sometimes friends are just friends because of proximity or because their parents are friends, she really had to think about what has kept certain people in her life, and I loved that this book gave us a starting point to have such a meaningful dialogue.  There isn’t much about Islam in the book other than that the Samar’s family is Muslim and that her mom wears hijab.  

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FLAGS:

None. It’s clean.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would absolutely do this for a 3rd to 5th grade Book Club.  It has so many lessons presented in a non preachy way that the students would add themselves so naturally and effortlessly into the narrative and grow from it.  The book has won numerous awards, and the author is well known, so it also will encourage children to read other books of hers.

Author’s website: http://wishtreebook.com/

Teacher’s Guide: https://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9781250043221TG.pdf

 

Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

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Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

I’m going to review two of the eight books in the Museum Mysteries Series that have Amal on the cover:  The Case of the Missing Museum Archives and The Case of the Stolen Space Suit.  The series focuses on four characters of diverse backgrounds who have a parent that works in one of four Capital City museums.  Amal Farah is Somali American and her dad works at the Museum of Air and Space, Raining Sam is Native American and loves the American History Museum his mom works at, Clementine Wim’s mom works at the Art Museum, and Wilson Kipper’s favorite is the Museum of Natural History.  The kids solve mysteries and introduce the readers to real facts and tidbits of real information.  The AR level is 4.0 and 4.1 respectively, but I feel like they really are on a 2nd-4th grade level.  When a child is done with Ron Roy (A-Z Mysteries & Capital Mysteries) and Magic Treehouse, they are ready for these.  Much like those series, readers are similarly introduced to new vocabulary, but not overwhelmed with back story, detail, explanation, or much character development.

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SYNOPSIS:

In The Case of the Missing Archives, (the second in the Museum Mysteries Series), eleven-year-old Amal and her friends have to figure out who stole the plans for the German “Bat Wing” Plane, and fast.  If they don’t Amal’s father, Dr. Ahmed Farah, a museum archivist, is going to lose his job.  Luckily in 117 pages the kids suspect and rule out a “friend,” identify a mystery subject, and finally solve the case by piecing together the security guards clues and being perceptive.  Along the way you learn a bit about the characters, but nothing substantial.  You don’t feel a connection to the characters, and are only slightly annoyed when Clementine kind of takes over. 

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The second book where the Museum of Air and Space, and thus Amal are leading the plot is The Case of the Stolen Space Suit (#6 in the series).  I didn’t like this book as much as the earlier one because while yes, I learned about Sally Ride and how women in space are often over looked, I felt like the culprit was let off the hook with little reprimand for stealing Sally Ride’s space suit.  Once again the four kids come together to solve a mystery this time it involves two of the museums: Air and Space and American History Museum.  There is a bit more blatant lying in this book, which is normal in this genre as the kids have to snoop around and not get caught, but they seem a little less apologetic this time around.  The red herrings aren’t as believable, and the real culprit is only spotted by chance, no real sleuthing.  

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WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously I like that a Muslim girl is included in this very diverse foursome.  She wears hijab, has a muslim name, tucks her phone in her hijab to go hands free, and is of Somali heritage.  Her father is educated and not over bearing or stereotypical, and her background is just detail.  Her group of friends seem to appreciate each other’s cultures and talents as well as their passions and hobbies.  The kids vary in age from 10 to 13 with two girls and two boys.  The only lack of diversity is perhaps that they seem to all be middle class and fully able bodied.  Faith, family structure, culture, all run the gambut.  

There is no religious reference at all.  The book mentions her scarf only as a hands free life saver, and we learn her favorite hijab is blue with little stars on it.

I like that all the books are full color about 120 pages.  There is factual information at the begining and at the end.  There is also a summary on each kid at the begining.  The story concludes with a glossary,  writing prompts, discussion questions, and information about the author and illustrator.

I love the covers.

 

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FLAGS:

There is lying, but the rest is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t use this book as a book club selection because there isn’t really much to discuss.  I would definitely have this series in the classroom or recommend it to other early chapter book readers.  Like Brezenoff’s other series the book is satisfying in its simplicity and a good book to build interest in a variety of things while feeling accomplished at reading a book.

 

nine, ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

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nine, ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

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I still struggle with the fact that 9/11/2001 is taught as history, it seems so current and fresh in my mind, that I really struggle with how works of fiction (and non fiction too) try to tell me about the pulse and the mood and the impact of something that I lived through and recall so clearly.  I suppose this isn’t a unique predicament, but because of the magnitude, one that I still wrestle with.  The author of nine, ten glosses over the big picture and in a lot of ways, the events of 9/11, but instead tries to show the paradigm shift that occurred and the division drawn as life before and life after.  She attempts to do this on an AR 4.8 and in 197 pages.  No easy feat, but one that definitely has some hits, and for me at least,  a few misses too.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from four different perspectives that intersect at the opening and at the close, the reader meets the characters two days leading up to 9/11, spends some of September 11 with them, and then peeks in on them again a year later.  The characters all cross paths at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

The first character is Will.  A middle school boy struggling to come to terms with how his father died helping someone on the side of the road.  Often more responsible and mature for his age as he helps his mom with his younger siblings, he lives in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and finds healing with helping those affected by the plane that goes down there.

Next we meet Aimee, who has just moved to California and is starting a new school.  Her daily drama is more missing her mom who travels a lot to New York for business, but is relatable as she tries to make new friends, fit in, and find her place in a new environment.  Her mom is in New York during the duration of the book, and has a meeting in one of the Twin Towers on the 11th.

Sergio lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a math wiz who gets a special award and recognition for his achievements.  He lives with his loving grandma, but it is the stressful encounter with his deadbeat father that sets him on a fateful subway trip that introduces him to Gideon, a New York fire fighter.

Naheed is the fourth character, and is an Iranian American Muslim girl, who is struggling to handle friends, and new questions about the hijab she wears.  Her friend drama consumes her, until 9/11 happens and she has to now prove her love of America at every turn.

The characters each take chapters divided by dates and while short, they do form a connection in their snapshots.  You feel like you get to know the characters and you do feel a tinge of stress knowing how they are all related geographical to what will transpire on the 11th. But in the afterward, the author explains why she intentionally keeps the carnage at bay to show how connected we all are, especially children, at the forefront of her fictionally retelling, and to show how much we all were affected that day.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that breaking up of the story, it adds some dimension to the book.  I know some reviews feel it is over done, but I think it is deliberate, and highlights how we all are inter connected and for late elementary, early middle school readers, I think the choppiness it allows, keeps the book on their level.  I like that each character has their own struggles, it isn’t that life was rosy and then 9/11 ruined everything, these kids have their own issues and stresses and realistic personalities before and after.  I also like that the Muslim character is not from the Middle East, it further shows how groups get lumped together for different reasons giving the book a bit more for readers to consider.

There are however, some real issues in how they present Naheed, which seems odd, since the book is so politically correct, and given the topic, you’d think the author and editors would work overtime to get the islamic parts correct.  But alas at one point Naheed’s visiting Uncle wants to know why Naheed doesn’t pray the mid day prayer, thuhr, at school, to which the mom replies, “she makes up her prayers at third prayer.” What? Yes I laughed out loud, no one calls the prayers by their numbers! I have never used numbers to describe our prayers, they have names, and we use their timings to describe them to others, not numbers. At one point, Naheed is making wudu, ablution, and the author gets it wrong. “And lastly, feet.  Right foot with right hand. Left foot with left.  Toes to ankles.” Left hand for both feet.  I also take some issue with Naheed having to wear hijab at age nine.  Hijab becomes required at puberty, so yes it could have been when it became required of her, but it seems a little young for her, and it seemed a bit forced.

In terms of plot, I would have liked a day or two after 9/11 to juxtapose the differences in priorities and the lens of how we got to a year later, or two years later, or 15.  Also, how they all went to New York on the anniversary to tie the story together made for a nice ending, but why they all went was a bit of a stretch, ok a big stretch.

FLAGS:

For a book about 9/11 there is relatively no violence.  The only death is in talking about Will’s father and the only blood is when Sergio helps a man on the subway.  There is some hate speech at the end, but even that is minimal.  Will does kiss a girl he likes. And both Will and Sergio skip school.  Aimee worries if her mom is having an affair (implied) and if her parents are getting divorced, but it isn’t explicit.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this would be a good book for a younger book club.  With its overt commitment to political correctness and breaking down stereotypes, it reinforces how similar we all are through strengthening bonds of humanity, rather than being divided by our skin color, or religion.  I think it would also lead so easily into faccilitating discussion of today’s kids putting themselves in the story.  What in their lives wouldn’t matter any more or what would matter more. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book, along with an Author’s Note and Acknowledgement, that easily lend themselves to more discussion ideas.

Curriculum Guide: http://www.norabaskin.com/nine-ten-curriculum-guide/