Tag Archives: egypt

The Magical Reality of Nadia by Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly illustrated by Douglas Holgate

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The Magical Reality of Nadia by Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly illustrated by Douglas Holgate

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This middle grades AR 4.5 OWN voice book by Muslim author/comedian/surgeon/activists Bassem Youssef mixes text, comic strips, and illustrations over 166 pages to tell a story about ancient Egypt, friendship, leadership, xenophobia, and life sprinkled with magic.  It has a lot of potential, and I liked the lessons that Egyptian-American Nadia learns, but it just seemed lacking to me.  It seems to be book one in a series, and in many ways it reads like an introduction.  The magical element is underdeveloped to me and often just annoying.  The micro aggressions,  racism, and character’s ages would suggest upper middle grader readers would gravitate toward the book, but the overall writing style and length would more appeal to younger readers.  This disconnect makes the book hard to pin down and hard to connect with.  I’ll definitely check out future books in the series even though no religion is mentioned, because this brown girl has a lot of potential to break down Arab-American stereotypes and empower readers to be proud of where they and their families are from as universal obstacles are worked through.

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SYNOPSIS:

Nadia has just come back from a summer vacation visiting family and friends in Egypt and can’t wait to get ice cream with her best friend Adam.  She picked up an Egyptian comic book for him and is anxious to see if he likes it.  Except the comic book seems to have disappeared and when she asks her many bobble heads to help her find it, her necklace with a hippo amulet starts to glow and an ancient Egyptian teacher, Titi, starts talking to her from the now found comic book pages.  As Nadia figures out how to control this ancient man who lives around her neck and in papers around her, she also has to deal with a new kid that acts like a bully and has the admiration of her best friend Adam.  Nadia loves facts and her and her friends call themselves the Nerd Patrol.  Nadia can be a bit bossy though, and while usually her friends let it go, she seems to be stepping on toes lately, especially with Adam.  When a competition at school is announced that will result in an exhibit at the Museum of American History, Nadia will have to use her “genie” to get help coming up with ideas for her display, coping with a bully, restoring friendships, and learning how to be a leader before her friendships fall apart.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Nadia is so proud of her culture and doesn’t feel like she has to pick one of her hyphens over another.  She brings Egyptian food for lunch, wears Egyptian inspired clothing, and is still very “American” as well.  Ancient Egyptian tidbits as well as modern day Egyptian information seeps through and weaves into the story smoothly.  The  diverse side characters are also a plus.  I think her trying to handle the bully in multiple ways makes the story resonate with other kids and gives readers something to ponder over.  I worry that most readers, however, won’t know who Elvis Presley is, or get if Titi is really helping or not and how it all comes together for him.  I am curious to see if he is a major character in future books, because I still have a lot of questions about his knowledge and understanding of the world after being trapped in an amulet for so long. Really, she could have learned so much from him, she just scratched the surface.

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FLAGS:

There is teasing and bullying and racism, subtle and overt.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is too short and superficial for a middle school book club selection, but it could be a fun read aloud in a 3rd or 4th grade class.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

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The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

This series is adult fantasy written by a Muslim author for her ummah and contains Muslim characters. I think the series as a whole is definitely not YA, as the main characters would age out of the target demographic, but I think that book one could qualify. I’ve contacted the author to get her perspective on the matter, and will update this if I hear back. So why am I reviewing it? Because it is so good, and I’ve heard of a lot of people letting/encouraging their teens to read it, and honestly, I did as well. There is complex world building, implied physical interactions, one hinted at gay romance, alcohol, concubines, violence, djinn, ifrits, killing and one kiss/slight make out session. There is also Middle Eastern culture, Islam, and a fiery protagonist that make the 530 pages in the first book fly by. I’m only reviewing the first book, and I think 14 years and up can handle it, I know my 14 year old and I haven’t stopped talking about it, and it has been quite fun to fan girl with her over it.

SYNOPSIS:

Nahri is living in 18th Century Cairo. She is completely alone and always has been. To survive she relies on her healing abilities and her ability to steal, cheat, and con her way to food and shelter. She knows nothing of her past, but is able to pick up any language after hearing a few words. At a performance to con a family needing help healing their daughter, she accidentally summons a djinn, Dara, which in turn awakens a graveyard full of ifrit, and sends Nahri on the run. Not trusting Dara they are travel companions none-the-less as they make their way to Daaevabad, a protected home of the fire beings, and the only place Dara thinks she will be safe. Along the way on the month long journey, Nahri tries to learn about the djinn, called Daeva, and the creatures they are running from. She also learns that she is the last surviving Nahid, healer, and while she may be a shafit, a half blood, she has powers and lineage the kingdom desires. Dara isn’t forthcoming with information, as a result his dark past and incredible powers keep Nahri on edge. She is constantly plotting her escape from the magic carpet carrying them and the future that she doesn’t understand let alone know if she wants.

The book is told from Nahri’s perspective and from Ali’s as well. Ali is the second born son to the king of Daevabad and has been raised away from the palace at the citadel. With a soft spot for the shafit, second class citizens of Daevabad, he gets tangled up in a plot to free child slaves and gets called back to the palace to be watched and tested as his brother’s future Qaid, the top military official that he has been preparing for his entire life. Ali is already an outcast to his family, as a devout Muslim in practice, belief, and actions, unlike his family who identify as Muslim for political unity.

Once Nahri and Dara cross in to Daevabad and the two narratives come together, the politicking, deception, deceit, and historical complexities get intense. The king demands that Ali get to know Nahri so that she can be persuaded to marry the emir, Muntadhir, but Nahri is in love with Dara and struggling to learn how to be a healer in the mythical world. To say that the story gets messy with the djinn tribes, and the manipulation of power and historical atrocities would be a simplification. But the writing is superb, and the world building encompassing. The book doesn’t drag and even after reading all three volumes, you’ll find yourself thrilled to know that the author has some additional points of view online.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The author takes a lot of liberties with Prophet Suleiman’s story, but it is fiction and I don’t think that anyone would be mislead by the information given about him and his control over the djinn. The “Islamic” elements in the book are really just that, elements, they aren’t plot lines, or more than just a layer to the setting and the characters. The history and the cultural richness is made more complete by the foods, clothes, and salat times mentioned, but there is nothing Islamic fiction about the text.

I love the writing. Period. It is engaging and doesn’t lag or feel repetitive. The characters are very fleshed out: no one is good or bad, the entire cast is shades of gray, and their motives and intentions are often debatable. My daughter and I have argued and I don’t think we have tried this hard to convince each other about characters since Harry Potter, and it is so great!

FLAGS:

SPOILERS: Dara and Nahri have chemistry and they kiss and long for each other, but it isn’t the bulk of the story line. Ali starts to fall for Nahri, but he has poor judgement so it is by and large dismissed. Muntadhir is always drinking wine and courting courtesans and is never in his own bed, nothing is detailed, it is said in passing, or implied. It is also hinted that Muntadhir is in love with his best friend, a male, and pretty much everyone knows, and they just look the other way. It does not state anything explicitly about them, but it is hinted at, implied, and mentioned by the other man’s father that the prince has broken his son’s heart numerous times.

Wine is always present, as is stealing, and lying. There is a lot of violence, not overt gore, but occasionally graphic as Nahri is a healer and there is a war simmering in the current time line, and a historical one that wiped about a whole tribe that is discussed throughout.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t be able to do this for middle school, but perhaps closer to the end of the school year, I would suggest that the high school book club consider it. There is a ton online for this award winning debut novel, so I’ll just include the author’s website: http://sachakraborty.com

Happy Reading!

Yusuf’s Ramadan Lantern by Jasmin Zine illustrated by Brad Cornelius

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Yusuf’s Ramadan Lantern by Jasmin Zine illustrated by Brad Cornelius

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The soft illustrations on 32 pages, surrounded by ample, large, well -paced text for second graders and up give life to a sweet story about a young boy, his grandfather, and the passing on of a Ramadan heirloom.  While not a chapter book, and a little too long for little ones to enjoy as a simple picture book, the book may not beg children to pick it up and read it, but if they do, they will enjoy a sweet story that parents won’t mind reading more than once.

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Synopsis:

Yusuf’s grandparents have just returned from their trip to Egypt and Yusuf is excited to see them, and receive the electronic fanooz he asked them to bring back. But when Grandpa takes Yusuf outside to give him the gift, it isn’t the modern light up lantern he asked for, it is an old rusty, cracked metal fanooz.  Grandpa explains that the old fanooz used to be his when he was a young boy and begins his story of himself going out with his father to wake their neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan.  The subtle details of how he would be woken up, how his dad would beat the drum and the song they would sing as they would walk around, keeps the story slow and engulfing.  He then tells about returning and eating dates soaked in milk, and bread and fava beans before the white thread of light appeared.

Slowly the little boy, seeing how happy his grandfather is in his reminiscing, realizes that the fanooz he has been entrusted with is far better than the electronic one he asked for.  As he walks his grandfather out the door, he is surprised with the gift he originally wanted, the fancy new fanooz.  Not excited, his grandfather asks Yusuf what is wrong, and Yusuf, realizes that he likes the history filled one better.

The old fanooz finds a permanent place in Yusuf’s room, and he and his father fix the broken glass and polish up the metal to be regularly lit on Ramadan mornings and remind them all of grandfather as a little boy walking and waking people up before dawn.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the subtlety and detail.  There are now so many books about the tradition of waking the neighbors up for suhoor, but this one focuses on the bonding of the grandfather and his father as well as the bond between the grandfather and Yusuf.  The story speaks of the tradition with the drum, yet somehow it is the lantern that ties it all together.

There is sufficient referencing about Ramadan and fasting to appeal to Muslim kids and inform non Muslims a bit.  The book is not preachy, it is cultural and religious in a narrative story sort of way.

My only main complaint is that I don’t know who the target audience is with the long pages of text, and full page pictures.  It is a hard book to place.  The illustrations are sweet and compliment the story, but in the pictures, Yusuf just seems too young.  His ability to appreciate his grandfather’s old lantern verses the electronic fanooz he asked for implies a bit older child.  In the pictures he looks like he is three or four years old, a disconnect that often distracted me from the story.  I also wish they would have used an Arabic word or title for the grandfather.

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FLAGS:

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

It is obviously too short and not the correct format for a book club, but I am hoping to share it at story time.  It will be a bit of a challenge for little children to sit through, but I’m thinking it is worth the effort, inshaAllah, bismillah…

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The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

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The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

 

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This 36 page picture book tells a beautifully presented story that incorporates events from the author’s real life that convey a story of loving your culture, finding similarities and giving people a second chance.  Ideal for students between 2nd and 4th grade, younger children will enjoy having the story read to them, and older kids will benefit from the message as well.

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Kanzi is about to start her first day of 3rd grade in a new school.  It doesn’t specify if she has just come from Egypt, but being she seems to speak English well, knows that she’d rather have peanut butter and jelly instead of a kofta sandwich and mentions that she got a quilt when she visited her grandmother, in Egypt, she possibly is just starting a new school, not her first in America, but it is considered an immigrant story, so I’m not certain. E403D261-438B-4263-A2FB-C3F8693C9D3E

When she arrives in class and introduces herself she bravely says that she is Egyptian-American, but on the way to school she turns down the Arabic music in the car, so the reader sees that she is a little nervous about being seen as “different.”  When her hijab wearing mom brings her forgotten kofta sandwich and calls Kanzi ‘Habibti,’ classmate Molly teases her that she is being called a hobbit.

A crying Kanzi tells her teacher and Mrs. Haugen reassures her that “being bilingual is beautiful.”  That night Kanzi asks her mom to send her a turkey sandwich for lunch the next day, and before beds she writes a poem as she snuggles in her beloved quilt.

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At school Molly apologizes to her and says that it just sounded funny.  Kanzi tells Molly it is because she doesn’t speak Arabic and that her mom says that “learning different languages makes a person smarter and kinder.”  Molly dismisses the comment and smugly walks off.

Mrs. Haugen sees Kanzi’s poem about her quilt from her grandma in Egypt and asks her to bring her quilt to school. The kids love it, and Friday Kanzi’s mom shows up to help with a special project: an Arabic quilt with the kids names.

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Molly is not enthusiastic and Mrs. Haugen writes English words that come from Arabic on the board: coffee, lemon, sugar, algebra.  Telling the kids that “we can speak non-English languages and still be American.”

Kanzi and her mom write the kids names down and the children copy them.  The teacher cuts them out and makes a quilt to hang in the hall.  On Monday when everyone sees the quilt, they love the beautiful letters and colors.  Even Molly sincerely apologizes and asks Kanzi to write her mom’s name in Arabic as a gift.  The two hug and seemingly will become friends.

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Across the hall another quilt is hung with names in Japanese, as another student and teacher were inspired by Kanzi and her quilt.  The last page of the story is a letter Kanzi has written to her parents telling them how grateful she is that she has two languages and that she will speak them without guilt.

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The story is beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated on well-sized 9.5 x 10.5 pages in a hardback binding.  The mom wears hijab and it mentions it, but there is nothing religious about the text.  It is a universal story of coming to be proud of your roots and inviting those around you to learn and grow.  There is a Glossary of Arabic Words at the end and a bit about the author and illustrator.

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My kids favorite page by far was reading the names written in Arabic and they all enjoyed the story (ages 13, 10, 9, 4).  I actually had an issue when Molly apologized the first time, feeling that Kanzi’s response was a bit pretentious to what seemed like an 8 year old being told to go say she was sorry, but my older three unanimously and fervently disagreed with me, saying that she was obviously insincere and Kanzi knew it.  I’d love to hear from other readers if they felt like Molly was sufficient in saying sorry and admitting that it sounded funny and that Kanzi was arrogant in saying that people that know two languages are smarter and kinder, or if Molly was being rude and racist and Kanzi was sticking up for herself.

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Irregardless, the book is well done, enjoyable, and will get repeated reads by a large range of readers.  My children keep pulling it off the book shelf, and for that I need to thank Gayatri Sethi (@desibookaunty) who generously sent me the book the same day I checked it out from the public library.  Her generosity once again is a gift that I hope to pay forward in the future.  This book also highlights how amazing teachers can be and often are in facilitating inclusion, understanding, and respect.

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Ibn Yunus: The Father of Astronomy by Ahmed Imam

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Ibn Yunus: The Father of Astronomy by Ahmed Imam

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This book is part of a new Muslim Scientist Series featuring 24 glossy colorful 8×8 pages highlighting a great Muslim from the Golden Age of Islam.  Meant for Muslim children ages 4-7, the book sets out to teach and inspire little Muslims, and does a pretty decent job of presenting it in a memorable easy to understand way.  Adults might have to explain and help out a bit, but the book accounts for that too.

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The book starts off with some “Notes to Parents and Teachers” about supplemental activities and conversation starters to make the book relevant, and show how beneficial their contributions to science were and still are today.

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The book is a simplified biography of Ibn Yunus, and I would imagine the other books: Ibn Majid, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Al-Batar, follow the same pattern.  It tells about where he was born and when, and what he is famous for, before telling a bit about his family, an ayat from the Quran that inspired him is then given in English and Arabic and translated, before it shows how he worked toward his goal, and the accomplishments he made in his lifetime that still are used today.

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The fun illustrations make Ibn Yunus’s field of study easier to understand and will keep the littler listeners interested.  Adults will hopefully also learn something in the reading, and feel the same pride and inspiration of Muslim’s contributions to science.

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It is critical to teach our children about the accomplishments and discoveries of Muslims, and this non fiction series is a great introduction to Muslim scientists, scholars, and adventurers, that they might not otherwise learn about.

Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution by Sherine Hamdy & Coleman Nye illustrated by Sara Bao & Caroline Brewer

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Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution by Sherine Hamdy & Coleman Nye illustrated by Sara Bao & Caroline Brewer

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When I first started teaching I wasn’t a big fan of graphic novels, slowly I saw their benefit for struggling readers, and eventually I came to appreciate them as an enhanced tweak in story telling for everyone.  This book however takes the concept to the next level, for me anyway.   As the inside flap claims, it is a book “that brings anthropological research to life in comic form, combining scholarly insights and accessible, visually-rich storytelling to foster greater understanding of global politics, inequalities, and solidarity.” As a coming of age story of two friends at its core, yet taking on breast cancer, kidney failure, parental loss, different cultures, different religions and with a back drop of the Egyptian revolution, I’d say the book is meant for high school and up.  Not so much for content as for understanding and appreciation of all that went it to creating this ethnographic book.

SYNOPSIS:

Unlikely friends Anna and Layla cross economic, religious, and cultural differences to build a life long friendship.  The book is divided into three parts: Cairo, Five Years Later, and Revolution.  In the first part we see Layla’s family serving as the caretakers of a building and the two young girls bonding over pranks, arrogant tenants, and just being silly.  Anna’s family is American and the father works for the oil companies, thus they are financially very well off, however, the father is rather distant and the mother is dying of cancer.  The section concludes with the passing of Anna’s mom and the family going to Boston for the funeral.

Five years later finds the girls in college.  Layla in medical school and Anna at a university in Boston.  Layla’s father is suffering from renal failure and is unwilling to consider a transplant.  While Anna is trying to see if she carries the same genes as her mother and if insurance will cover it.  She also has to decide if she would want to have a complete double mastectomy, if she would want her breasts reconstructed, if she should do it now or later.  She gets a lot of opinions, but ultimately decides to find a way to pay for it and have it done.  Her father doesn’t understand, and Layla dismisses it forcing Anna to have to handle it alone.  But when news come that Layla’s father isn’t going to make it, she rushes back to Egypt to offer her support.

In the final section, the revolution has spread and Dr. Layla is helping those injured in Tahrir Square during the protests, and Anna is helping to identify bodies despite being attacked for being a foreigner and part of the problem.  Anna has kept the secret of her mastectomy from Layla and Layla assumes she has cancer.  At odds with their roles in the revolution, and with keeping secrets from each other and their differences in financial opportunities coming to a head, Anna returns to Boston.  When Layla’s brother is shot and loses an eye, however, Anna returns to Egypt and the two friends work to keep their relationship.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is grounded in so much conflict and turmoil, but fights hard to keep a character based narrative.  With two illustrators and two authors trying to convey medical approaches, two cultures, two religion, two friends, and a revolution, the last 70 pages of the 302 page book are details about how the book came about, interviews with the various contributors, a timeline of the revolution, discussion questions, key references and a teaching guide.  The book at times was confusing to me, and I’m not sure why, it quickly resolved itself or a flip back a few pages would clarify it, but I think some of the illustrations were just off enough that it complicated things.  Anna by and large is depicted oddly on a few pages along with her family as well.

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Layla’s family is definitely religious and at times has to challenge their thoughts to understand Anna and their own circumstances too.  I think it is handled really well and allows the reader to consider things without answers being clear cut, is it Allah’s will to not have a transplant and accept death as being written for you or to have the transplant and ask Allah to make it successful?  By and large the book poses questions through the juxtaposition of the two characters and the experiences they endure, and while it shows the choices they made, it draws the reader in to wonder what they would do in their shoes without judgement.  The book provides a lot of facts and leaves them there making it more thought provoking than a simple story.

The characters are often composites of real characters the academic author’s learned about, yet some are directly based on activists and leaders of the revolution.  The graffiti artwork is attributed and powerful.  There is a lot of information in the notes after the comics end.

FLAGS:

There is death and revolution, Layla’s brother is taking Tramadol, and their are sketches of breasts as Anna learns about her disease and prognosis.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club as I don’t know how much middle schoolers would get out of it and the book is pretty pricey.  I would recommend people read it though as it gives a different perspective on numerous things many of us take for granted.

http://lissagraphicnovel.com

 

 

Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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The premise is simple, Omar ate something that didn’t belong to him, and the guilt is weighing on him heavily.  The beauty of the book is how, with his mom’s help and his own determination, he makes things right.  

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Set in Egypt, Omar eats the doorman’s baqlawa, and while he knows he shouldn’t have, he doesn’t know what to do about it.  The doorman, Amo Mohamed, blames the cat and Omar tries to move past the theft.  But the guilt builds up and he even dreams about baqlawa, eventually telling his mom so he can start to fix things.  

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After isha prayer, the two of them make some new baqlawa.  I love that the mom doesn’t get mad, but she is firm that while, “we made the baqlawa together,”  she tells him, “you have to talk to Amo Mohamed on your own.”  

Omar confesses his crime to the door man and apologizes, Amo Mohamed in turn apologizes to the cat, and all enjoy a piece of baqlawa together with smiles.

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The last page in the 38 page book is a glossary and is headed by a hadith by Prophet Muhammad, “Be conscious of God wherever you are.  Follow the bad deed with a good one to erase it, and engage others with beautiful character.”

The illustrations aren’t amazing, but they are sufficient and help walk the reader through the story.  I like that the mom covers when out and about, but not in the home.  The story is great for ages 4 and up, but the amount of text on the page and book length might make independent reading more geared to second and third graders. 

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The book would work for muslim and non-muslim children a like and does a good job of showing a universal situation in a culturally rich environment.

 

 

 

Magid Fasts for Ramadan by Mary Matthews illustrated by E. B. Lewis

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Magid Fasts for Ramadan

The intent of this 48 page chapter book is good, however, a few things rubbed me the wrong way about how Ramadan and Islam are presented.

Nearly eight-year-old Magid wants to fast on the first day of Ramadan, but everyone says he is much to young.  He decides to deceive everyone and fast anyway.  I’m actually okay with this main story line, as I could genuinely see a child wanting to do it so much they would lie about it.  The author even has the family sit down after the truth comes out and discuss how honesty is important and this is not how Ramadan should be celebrated.  Lesson learned for Magid and the reader, right? Nope, the author kind of blows it and takes it to the other extreme.

Magid’s sister Aisha is twelve and is “forced” to fast so she isn’t the only girl not fasting at her all girl’s school in Egypt.  What a sad reason to fast, The whole reason Magid wants to fast is to be a “truly obedient Muslim” which sounds great on the surface, but it get’s repeated so often that Magid at one point is judging a classmate who isn’t fasting and isn’t always at Jummah (Friday) prayers.  The parents decide at the end to let Aisha fast until school is out, hence shortening the day for appearance purposes, and Magid can fast til lunch.   He is told he can fast full days when the days are shorter.  Again a really odd reason to wait when fasting has been prescribed for us, to make it an issue of convenience.

So aside from the very negative view of Ramadan and the kids rejoicing at the end that they don’t “have” to fast, the lying, the disobeying your mother, and the judgmental laden diction of being truly obedient, the book does cover a lot of ground well.  The book shows the characters doing wudu and praying, it shows them trying to be kind to one another, it talks about how the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan and it does have a plot.

The water color illustrations are nice, and I also like how it showed a bit of Egyptian culture with the lanterns, singing, and food.  Interestingly the author says it is harder for Muslim’s in America to fast, but elsewhere says that Aisha has to watch the girls at school not fasting, eat lunch.

I really wouldn’t recommend this book, for the intended audience of 3rd through fifth graders I think it would do more harm than good in promoting Islamic values in Muslim children and in showing non-Muslims what Ramadan means to Muslims.