I 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.
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.
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.
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
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.