Tag Archives: elementary

Stuck in the Middle by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Diana Silkina

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Stuck in the Middle by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Diana Silkina

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At 122 pages this early chapter book with frequent illustrations is a great book to share with 2nd-5th graders.  It is has a great message and lesson with lots for children to relate to with regards to life with siblings, getting frustrated, making mistakes and recovering.  The lesson is strong, but doesn’t become preachy as the protagonists voice rings true to her age.  Mistakes are made by many characters and situations are fleshed out so the reader can understand why things are done.   By showing that there isn’t one side to a story, and that knee jerk reactions are common, readers will get that ultimately we are still responsible for how we act, and learning from our transgressions is part of growing up.

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SYNOPSIS:

Salma is the middle child in a busy family, and very little is in her control.  When her frustration over her brother stealing a chocolate bar, causes her to lose her cool, and then she is forced to run errands with her family, homework doesn’t get done in time and she finds her self in detention.  Normally a very good student, teachers and other students are shocked that Salma is in trouble.  Things don’t improve when her brother steals her carrot cake the next day, and in a plot to get even, Salma ruins her brothers brand new PS4 controller.  She also turns a blind eye at school when she sees someone picking on him.

Doing her best to avoid being discovered as the culprit, or being in a position to see her brother being bullied, her guilt starts to get to her.  When an ambulance has to come to the school for a kid that got pushed and needs stitches, she realizes she has to make things right, even if that means getting in trouble.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is so relatable, honestly switch Salma with my middle son Haroon, and the 13 year old boy that doesn’t want to go out with the family, with my 13 year old daughter that doesn’t want to go out and we are looking in a mirror, haha.  The family is Muslim and they practice and let the religion shape their view of the world and how to function within it.  The girls wear hijab and use the hadith premise that they have to fix a bad deed with a good deed to provide the solution to the mistakes made earlier in the story.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I already made my middle child read the book, and because of the length it wouldn’t lend itself to a book club, but I can see teachers having kids read it and then discussing, just like I am doing in my family.  It is sweet and well done and a great addition to your bookshelf.

 

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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Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Jen Hill

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Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Jen Hill

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I usually post chapter books on Fridays, but on this one week anniversary of the horrific Mosque attacks in New Zealand, my fragile heart is being kept together by the pictures and notes shared on social media about the kindness people are bestowing on one another.  Company’s setting up prayer spaces for Muslim employees, communities standing guard outside masjids, friends leaving flowers for their Muslim acquaintances, strangers donning hijabs in solidarity, individuals carrying signs of welcome and unity, truly the list goes on and on.  Muslims and non-Muslims reaching out to one another, Kiwis and the rest of the world coming together.  And yet I know so many people are at a loss at what to do, and how to respond to their feelings in an appropriate manner.  I know I often am.  Thats why books like this one are so important for children to learn how to be kind.  We often tell them to be nice or kind, but what does that mean? What does that look like? How do we know if it worked? As adults we often don’t know, so while this book isn’t written or illustrated by a Muslim, there are Muslims in it, and that is why after seeing another blogger a few weeks ago mention it, I want to share it with all of you.  The illustrations show a little girl saying hi to a desi garbed man named Omar, and two hijab clad girls in her view of the world, amongst so many other diverse faces and characters, because that’s the point right? We are one, each of us responsible to one another to be kind.  

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The book starts off with Tanisha spilling grape juice all over her new dress and a classmate being at a loss as to how to console her.  She makes what she thinks is a reassuring comment to Tanisha, but it isn’t received that way, and the little girl ponders and reevaluates what it will take to be kind to Tanisha and what kindness is in general.

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As she works to unravel what kindness is, she explores also what it can look like.  I love that it is seen in terms of action, giving ideas to stay with the reader.  It discusses that sometimes it is easy like saying hello, or not littering, and how important just using a persons name can make someone feel.

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But, it also talks about how sometimes kindness can be hard, requiring patience and a little bravery. I can only imagine how brave people had to be to enter a mosque for the first time and step out of their comfort zones to offer their support.  

The book then takes an important pause when it acknowledges that maybe all this little girl can do to help Tanisha is to sit by her.  I think Muslims around the world are in awe of the Prime Minister of New Zealand for all she is doing, but also for just showing up and hugging people and listening.  A rare gift in todays wold of soundbites.  

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The little girl then imagines her small acts of kindness joining others and making the world a better place.  My favorite part is actually the end.  Tanisha never smiles and tells the little girl thank you, there is no big praise for being kind.  In fact, I bet the little girl doesn’t even know the power her actions had on the little girl.  We the reader know because we see Tanisha hanging the picture up in her room.  But, that let down is real life.  We can’t be kind because of the reward, we must learn to be kind because it is the right thing to do.  And often when people are kind to us, the effect isn’t instantaneous, its weight manifests in the dark when we are looking for hope and reassurance and for this book to contain all of that, in 32 pages with only few words (AR 2.2) is truly amazing.

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The illustrations are gorgeous and engaging.  The hardback 9×10 format makes this book a great addition to any library and should be read regularly.  It isn’t enough to not be mean, action and intention need to be taught so that we all might be more kind, inshaAllah.

 

Ilyas and Duck: Ramadan Joy by Omar S. Khawaja illustrated by Leo Antolini

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Ilyas and Duck: Ramadan Joy by Omar S. Khawaja illustrated by Leo Antolini

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The fourth book in the popular Ilyas & Duck series is perfect for instilling joy about Ramadan, and excitement in overcoming Mr. Mean.  But first readers along with Ilyas and Duck, will have to understand what fasting means, realize that it is hard and not all fun, learn some Arabic words and concepts such as compassion, empathy, and gratitude, before they can save the neighborhood from a menacing villain wanting to destroy the blessings of Ramadan.

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As always, with Ilyas and Duck, the rhyming book asks questions that kids think about and is silly in a way that they can relate to.  The illustrations are bright and engaging and the hardback book is 38 pages of fun and information, perfect for ages 5 and up. 

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The book starts with the ayat from the Qur’an that says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (chapter 2, verse 283).  The book concludes with a mock newspaper spread of the Current Times, full of tidbits about the crescent moon, benefits of fasting, Ilyas and Duck Ramadan cards, a crossword puzzle, and a classified add for Eid Goodie Bags posted by an anonymous, Mr. “M.”

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The book cleverly conveys how a day of Ramadan is practiced without getting preachy.  It shows Ilyas and Duck, praying and eating dates and decorating and getting excited.  the women wear hijab, but nothing about singling out that this is a part of Islam or Muslims is really mentioned.  The reader just is going along with Ilyas and his pal Duck.  It does remark that Allah is the provider and fasting helps build your relationship with Allah, but not to the point that it would seem preachy or alienating to non Muslim children.  Meaning I think you could read this book to your child’s public school class, or scout troop and not have any problems, while similarly giving a Muslim child an awesome story to identify with.

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A lot of the behavior details of what one should and shouldn’t do in Ramadan actually come from Mr. Mean, as he like all villains, lays out his evil plan.  He is hoping to spray a poison that will make kids play instead of pray, and he is leaving cookies around to tempt kids to break their fast.  He is also planning to spread rumors, and encourage gossip, and get kids to make promises they cannot keep.  Alhumdulillah, Sheriff Ilyas and Deputy Duck run him out of town because “there’s no room for meanness, only goodness in Ramadan.”

Khadijah: Mother of History’s Greatest Nation by Fatima Barkatulla

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I depart from the Islamic Fiction that I enthusiastically seek out and read, to share and review a work of non-fiction that swept me off my feet.  Perfect for children eight and up, and particularly ideal for girls, this book is absolutely physically beautiful and the content is as well.  This 176 page book flows like a story not a history book, and at times a love story between Khadijah (RA) and our beloved Prophet (SAW).  The font and spacing invites young readers to absorb each word without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.  

SYNOPSIS:

The book is a biography of our mother, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.  It starts just before she is made aware of Muhammad and ends with her death, followed by a few reflections of RasulAllah missing her.  For the most part the story keeps her at the focus and for the age group the slips into seerah are no problem.  But I wanted more about her.  I learned that she was married twice before she wed Prophet Muhammed, but I wanted to know more of her children with these other men.  I wanted to know if they ever accepted Islam.  I wanted to know of Khadijah’s childhood and her parents, and her tribe.  I wanted to know more about her sister who sounded like her, and if she had any other siblings.  It scratched the surface, and even my 10-year-old daughter wanted more, in a good way.

It covers their marriage, and it reads like a sweet fairy tale that is absolutely full of noor and love.  It shares how she supported the Prophet at every turn and the hardships of the boycott.  It drops names and places, but not in an over burdening way. In many places I actually wanted more detail as to how they all fit together in time and place. As she has children and grows ill and time passes, the story comes to an end.  Almost too quickly, as her day-to-day life as a mother and wife are missing, and I was hoping there would be more.  Yes the  growth of Islam and the plots of the Quraysh are so important, but I wanted more Khadijah, in a book claiming to teach us about our “legendary mother.”

WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously the story is great, and really the way it is presented is how our kids need to know our history: with love and compassion and enthusiasm.  You feel the love between Khadijah (RA) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) you see how patient and devoted she is in a very emotional way.  Truly the author has given life to a story many of us know, and filled us with a connection and relationship that is very personal and inspiring in nature.  When you finish the book, you feel like Khadijah is a friend, an amazing friend, but someone you know intimately and proudly, not just as a historical figure.

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I would absolutely do this for like a 4th -6th grade book club.  I think it should be mandatory reading.  I would probably invite someone well versed in the seerah and Khadijah to answer the children’s questions.  How wonderous it would be to hear the kids discussing her life and offering parallels, lessons, and inspiration to one another from their new found knowledge of Khadijah (RA).