Tag Archives: faith

Enduring Freedom by Jawad Arash and Trent Reedy

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This isn’t the type of book I am naturally drawn to, and had it not been offered to me as an arc, I didn’t even request it, I probably would not have read it.  So, to say that this young adult OWN voice 246 page post 9/11 war story had a lot to overcome for me personally, is putting it mildly.  I gave in and decided to read it for the simple fact that I was curious to see what the narrative is in today’s literature, as we approach the 20 year anniversary of the attacks on US soil.  The afterward is very clear that the agenda of the two authors, one an Afghan and the other a US veteran, was to show a personal view of growth and assumptions on both sides and how the future of Afghanistan needs to be rooted in education and stability.  I think the book accomplished its goals, and made very clear how the terrorists first victims were their own people, and that extreme ideologies of the Taliban were and are still not reflective of the larger population.  The pacing of the dual narratives, however, was a bit off to me, and I really felt that some of the major plot points didn’t get explored in a meaningful way, that they were simply glossed over and brushed aside to keep the book inline with the authors’ objectives.  The book is not overly political, and the Muslim characters are religious and knowledgeable, but for a book that talked about how even in war the people, the soldiers, are the story, I wanted to see more internal wresting with choices and their outcomes, then what was offered.

SYNOPSIS:

The book is told in alternating view points, one is that of Baheer an Afghan boy living with his large extended family in Kabul next to a Taliban compound.  The family is religious, Baheer’s grandfather, Baba Jan, is well read in poetry and religious text and often quotes the Quran by ayat and surah number.  The family sells carpets, and often hides the latest movies or news recordings in the rolls, so that they can be brought home, the blackout shades pulled and the tapes enjoyed.  They are fearful of being harassed for not having long enough beards, shaved heads, turbans and the like. Baheer and his brother Rahim do not enjoy school with the strict and abusive teachers.  The talibs seem to touch them inappropriately and scold them harshly.  Their older sister is not allowed to attend school and never has even though the family used to live in Pakistan where the boys enjoyed school. It doesn’t explain why they were there or why they returned.  One uncle is assaulted by the Taliban and soon after, a news clip showing the attacks on 9/11 is secretly watched by the family.  As a result they decide to move to Farah, in Western Afghanistan where Baba Jan has family and property, to be away from the impending US attacks and Taliban assaults.

Joe Killian is the other voice.  When the book starts he is sitting in class, his senior year, when news about the attacks on the World Trade Center starts to break.  He had joined the national guard that summer for the college money, and as his classmates sit glued to the televisions in Iowa, he is nervous that he is about to be called up to war.  He doesn’t get called up that day, he graduates, and is studying journalism in college when the call finally comes.  He is preparing for combat, but when he is deployed and discovers it is a reconstruction mission he is angry and annoyed.  A year of helping what he terms barbarians, is not what he signed up for.

The majority of the book reads like a ‘day in the life’ of each of these two voices, as they adapt to life in Farah, as they deal with each other’s presence and as their friendship forces their assumptions to change.  The interactions between Joe and Baheer show the power in getting to know someone to alter perceptions, and the threat of the Taliban on both the average citizen and the US forces on the ground as a unifying enemy to allow the friendship to grow.

The book concludes when Joe’s year of deployment is up, but really the authors’ notes at the end are a better conclusion to the real life friendship and growth of the two authors that resulted in the writing of the book

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the family sees the planes hitting the towers and is mortified at the brazen destruction and loss of life.  They immediately start praying for the victims even as they realize they will be the recipients of the backlash. I like that it highlights where practicing Muslims and extremists differ, by having the Quran quoted and explained as opposed to the rhetoric the Taliban is spouting.  Baba Jan’s manner for speaking the ayats is a bit awkward in that most people don’t in daily conversation source and reference their dialogues, but it does grow on you.  I think the book is very simplistic in making the Taliban to unequivocally be the ‘bad guys’ without any context of how they gained traction. It talks about the Soviets, but I think it will leave the readers wondering where this group came from and why the Afghan people allowed it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of nuances and complexities that are overlooked by such a simple narrative, and allow for an inaccurate picture to be formed.

I like that Baheer pushes back on Joe who thinks America is perfect and that Afghanistan is less than, by pointing out the flaws in American society as well as his own.  I was ok with Baheer pushing the cultural limits to talk to a girl, it was innocent and I think understandable. My biggest concern is that I really felt that there needed to be more space on the page dedicated to understanding the repercussions of him being an informant to the Americans, and his brother passing on information to the Talibs.  People were taken in to custody and injured and killed as a result of these boys’ actions and to just chalk it up to something to be forgiven, was not enough for me.  I wanted them to hash it out and wallow in their choices, not forgive and move on so quickly.  I also wanted to know more about their reconstruction efforts.  It seemed rather minimal: relocating explosives, helping a burn victim, sending supplies to a school, I think in a year, that there would be more mixing with the people than the book would suggest.  And finally, I felt like the sister not getting to go to school was handled as an obligation to address, not that any insight or understanding was really given to such a hot button issue.

The book is really slow and dragging at parts, I couldn’t tell you about any of the dozen or so soldiers that are mentioned, I don’t even recall any of their names. I think the book has a lot of potential, and perhaps it does shine in showing the effects of war and terrorism on the Afghan people.  It held my attention while actively reading it, but I just as easily could have put it down and forgotten about it if I wasn’t under obligation to offer an opinion in exchange for an early copy.

FLAGS:

There is language, stereotypes, physical abuse, sexual misconduct, death, killing, violence, acts of war, bloodshed, a crush. Upper middle school and high school can handle it.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think I’d select this book as a book club selection because I’m not sure what would be gained from the book.  The characters assumptions are challenged and evolve, but I think most minorities know that, getting to know someone is often the best way to have their image changed.  I think the book still functions to make Americans feel better about  invading Afghanistan, rather than have us question what the long term affects of our involvement have been.

Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq

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Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq

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At 224 pages, this graphic novel tells an important OWN voice story in beautiful and powerful illustrations, but despite reading it multiple times, I ultimately found the pacing off, the narrative and plot holes quite large, and the conclusion too forced.  It claims to be for middle grades which would explain the happy ending, but the assault, trauma, mental health, Bengali history, language, and protagonists age (13), make it more suited for upper middle school readers.  I read a digital ARC in predominately black and white images, so I’m hopeful that part of the problem is on me, and that I simply missed or misunderstood parts that seemed to jump around and assume, or that because it was an uncorrected proof, some revisions are still to come.

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SYNOPSIS:

Nisrin is 13 and lives in Oregon with her mother, and maternal grandparents.  Her mom travels a lot and she seems to spend most of her time with her loving Nani, grandmother.  The story opens with Nisrin in 8th grade giving a presentation about her Bangladeshi heritage to her school.  On the way home with a friend, Firuzeh, she is still wearing the cultural clothing and they are playing around with the scarf, when they are violently attacked and the scarf is ripped off of Nisrin’s head.  Her hair is pulled out in the process and the two girls are taken to the hospital and when released maintain professional counseling to process and deal with the assault.  Nisrin fears leaving her house and is increasingly isolated within her home.

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Over the summer we see her and her Nani go over to some cousin’s house where Nasrin is gawked at with her short hair and everyone is unsure how to act around her.  She joins some cousins playing video games where she asks about a cousin in hijab who says that it is essentially her choice between her and Allah (swt), that it isn’t any one else’s business.  A younger cousin tells that she plans to start hijab soon and is surprised to learn that Nisrin’s mom is not Muslim.

As summer comes to an end, Nisrin will be starting high school and exits her room the night before wearing a hijab, or in Bengali, an orna.  Her family freaks out, her Nana, maternal grandfather, is furious claiming that she should have been raised better, and Nisrin is scooted off to her room by her Nani, so that her mom and grandfather can argue.

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On the first day of school, Nisrin tries to talk to Firuzeh, but once again things are awkward between the two girls.  A teacher refuses to try and say Nisrin’s name and becomes angry and aggressive, and at PE she is called a slut and asked if she will be beat for showing her legs.  Nisrin goes home to research Islam and hijab, but everything is so angry and opinion based that she is more confused than when she started.

The next day she meets a nice girl, Veronica, and the two work on an assignment in class and then have lunch together.  Veronica suggests that Nisrin learns about Islam like she would a school assignment and go research it at the library.  Later at home, Nisrin starts to understand what her grandparents and mother saw and endured in the war of 1971 when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan.  Her mom and Nana argue over what was seen and Nisrin starts to find her voice in her family.

Nani takes Nisrin shopping for long sleeved clothes and scarves, things are worked out with Firuzeh and Nisrin’s family accepts that Nisrin is not asking permission to wear her scarf, but is hoping they will accept it.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is such a flip on the over-used-stereotype that Muslim girls are forced to wear hijab, in truth many are encouraged not to.  At one point Nisrin says, “If I can’t be safe…then can’t I at least be proud.”  She was attacked for just playing with a scarf and putting it on her head, so she reasons, that there is not safety from racism and hate, she might as well be proud of who she is.  I also love the strength in the idea that she doesn’t need anyone’s permission, it is her faith, her head, her choice.

There is a lot of good in the book, but I struggled understanding quite a bit of it.  It mentions that she was at Texas and she loved it, but there was bullying? No idea what it was in reference to or what purpose it served.  At the beginning the two girls seem like they have been friends for a while, but yet Nisrin warns Firuzeh that her Nani will force her to eat.  Nisrin seems to really love her sleep overs, and I don’t know if it is just to show at the end the healing by coming full circle, but it seems a bit juvenile to be that excited about it to me.

The family dynamic and history, left me very confused.  Nisrin doesn’t know her cousin wears hijab, and is confused that her aunt doesn’t.  Nor do her cousins know that Nisrin’s mom isn’t Muslim?  These cousins call Nisrin’s Nani, Dadi, and since there is no father in the picture it is obvious to even none desi folk that these cousins are related through the mom’s family and the cousins father, so why when Nisrin decides to wear hijab is the maternal side so upset? Why does Nasrin’s mom ask if her cousins have put her up to it? Ok if the mom isn’t religious, but does she actively practice another faith? Why in one of the portraits on the wall does the woman seem to have a bindhi? The Bangladesh independence admittedly is something I should know more about, but I don’t, and this book, didn’t really fill me in.  How is the grandfather both siding? He doesn’t like invader nationalism, but I still don’t completely understand why he left, and what that solved.

The pacing and tone at times are off too me too.   I didn’t feel the strain on Nisrin and Firuzeh’s relationship, the text suggests that they are and were best friends, but when Veronica asks if Nisrin’s stress is in part to the cute girl she was staring down, I was curious too if there was more to their relationship.  A lot seems to happen between the attack and Nisrin starting to wear hijab and I wish we were allowed inside Nisrin’s head to know how she feels about her mom, her nana, starting high school, her attack, her desire to wear hijab, it seems a bit rushed.  Which is odd since, the story spends a few pages detailing when Nisrin feels like everyone hates her after Nani picks her up on the first day of school and Nani points out that not everyone hates her, the squirrels don’t, and the dogs don’t, etc..  It seems really childish for the incredible ordeal she has been through.

I like the informative section at the end about Bangledesh. I wish the book would have shared some of what Nisrin learned about Islam in her own research, she goes to the mosque, but doesn’t detail if she plans to pray regularly, fast, etc..

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FLAGS:
Language, violence, war imagery, rape mentioned, physical assault. Use of the word slut.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that this would work for a middle school book club at an Islamic School, graphic novels are often to quick of reads, but I have a few friends from Bangladesh and I really want them, and their daughters, to read it and clue me in to what I am missing, their view of independence and their impression of the book.

Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness Series Book 1) by Adama Bah

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Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness Series Book 1) by Adama Bah

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This is the first book in a new middle grades nonfiction series and is Adama Bah telling her own story about being detained as a 16 year old and falsely accused of being a suicide bomber.  A story that sounds like a movie plot is painfully real and terrifying and hearing it in her own words is powerful and impactful.  The writing is very basic in its linear format and straightforward presentation of the experience through her eyes.  It is not sensationalized or overly explanatory about how this situation came to be, how she got out of it, or what the family had to go to to find lawyers and pay for them, for example.  It is how she felt, what she understood at the time, and how the experience shaped her.  While the writing style is sufficient for middle grades, her story is intense.  A big part of her experience is being strip searched, exposed, and seeking asylum to avoid female circumcision.  The 128 page book is a great way to show the realities of our world.  It took place in the 2000, the recent past, to a New York teenager that enjoyed different colored sneakers, chatting with her friends, and spending time with her family, no different than the readers picking up her story to read.

SYNOPSIS:

Adama was born in Conakry, Guinea in 1988 and moved to America as a child.  She attended public school until high school when she was then sent to an Islamic boarding School in Buffalo, New York.  Her family was not particularly religious, but Adama become more visibly Muslim returning home after the attacks on September 11, wearing niqab and wondering why she was being treated with such hostility at the airport.  As she resumes her education in public school, she slowly makes the choice to take off her niqab, while maintaining her hijab and modest clothing.  In 2005 she and her father are taken in to custody early in the morning from their home and detained.  During the questioning at 16 years old, Adama learns that she is not a legal US citizen.  Her father is separated from her, to be deported, and she is moved to Pennsylvania as the youngest person swept up in a terrorist roundup.  She is being accused of being a potential suicide bomber and is detained for six weeks before a plea deal is brokered.  She will wear an ankle monitor for three years and have a nightly curfew.  During this time she is responsible to care for her family as her father has been returned to Guinea, her mother speaks very little english and she has four younger siblings.  Even after the bracelet is removed she finds herself still on no-fly lists and finally after one more time being denied and detained at the airport, she sues the Attorney General, FBI Director, and the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center. When they learn of this they offer to remove her from the no-fly list if she withdraws her case. She is granted asylum and while she had to drop out of school, she dreams of going back.  She has since married, her dad has been able to return to America, and she continues to study Islam and believe that things could have been worse.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is her story, from her eyes and perspective, but I worry that some of the details are misplaced.  She details enjoying talking bad about the government with a friend after she is released knowing that they are listening in, but maintains that she is constantly in fear of being returned to jail and that she considers America her home.  I’m not saying all of those things can’t be true and co exist, but some additional context would help the choppiness in this example and others.  I appreciated that the genital mutilation was clearly attributed to culture and not religion, I think when others tell stories about cultural and religious practices they often conflate the two.  I wish there was more information about where this mysterious list came from, what happened to the Bengali girl that was taken, how the Islamic community reacted.  The story is powerful and moving, and readers will be drawn in as they see themselves in her.  There are also questions at the end that help connect readers to her situation, and the reality that this is the unjust world we live in and can easily be consumed by as she nearly was.

FLAGS:

Detailing a strip search, detailing taking off her clothes, having orifices checked, and using the bathroom in the open.  There is talk of female circumcision although it doesn’t define it explicitly.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think in a high school Social Studies class or current events discussion this book would be a great topic to explore and voice to highlight.  The book is short and can be read very quickly.  It is an important story to know, to learn from, to sympathize with, and be acutely aware of for people of all ages.

My First Book About Allah: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children by Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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My First Book About Allah: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children by Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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This 26 page non fiction sturdy board book packs in a lot of information in a really simple way that will keep little one’s attention and hopefully encourage them to ask deeper questions as they grow.  The illustrations are soft and alternate between detailed familiar scenes and simple background style scenes that draw attention to the text on the page. It covers the Shahadah, who Allah (swt) is, it mentions that He has 99 names,  that He sent us the Quran and the final messenger is Prophet Muhammad (saw).  The book at times is wordy, and perhaps the vocabulary a bit above a toddlers level, but the flow is smooth and the tone is warm, inviting, and is requested often by my little ones. (It is reasonably priced by at small bookstores, and double the price on Amazon).

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The book starts off by stating that Muslims believe that there is only one God and His name is Allah.  It shows it in Arabic as well on a very muted background.  The next page is much more lively with illustrations showing someone pray, a picture of the ka’aba, a family eating, and a mother reading Quran and making dua.

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The family is then depicted gathered together with the little children asking “WHO is Allah?” and the book dedicating the next few pages to explaining that Allah swt, is the One who made everything and has power over all. He makes the sun rise and set and everything in the heavens and the earth belong to Him.

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The book explains that Allah even loves us more than our own parents before explaining that Allah has 99 names and Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim are the ones we hear the most.  The background has many of the names of Allah written in Arabic.

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The family prays knowing Allah is All Hearing and All Seeing.  An illustration of a cave with a bird and spiderweb accompany the page that tells us that He sent us the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (saw) to show us how to live. InshaAllah if we do as we are supposed to, we are promised paradise and Allah never breaks His promise.

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The book concludes with Facts about Allah and Questions about Allah (swt). The pages are glossy and 6 x 8 in size.

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How Much Does Allah Love Me? by Heba Subeh-Hyder illustrated by Aatena Hasan

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How Much Does Allah Love Me? by Heba Subeh-Hyder illustrated by Aatena Hasan

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I waited to review this book to see if my initial response would change, and before I got around to writing up the review, the second book in the Maymunah’s Musings has come out.   So I am admittedly a bit late and quite a bit behind, and based on other people’s review I’m in the minority on my opinions.  This 40 page book is wonderfully presented with a multicultural girl asking her mother about Allah’s love for her.  I wanted to absolutely love the text as much as the playful illustrations, but I felt like it was a bit wordy in places, a bit out of order in the mom’s explanation to the little girl making it somewhat repetitive, and ultimately I wanted a bit more.  More ayats or references or even specific examples.  There is truly nothing wrong with the book, but at its price point I was a bit disappointed.

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Maymunah is looking out the window and thinking about Allah swt: what she has learned in Sunday school and about His remarkable creations.  She recalls the amazing animals, the vast number of stars in the sky, the different type of trees, and her family.

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She loves Allah, and wants to know how much He loves her.  So she rushes to find her mother, the only person that can answer that question (I’m not sure why no one else can).  Her mother lovingly and patiently situates herself with Maymunah in her lap to answer the important question.

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Maymunah’s mom explains that Allah loves her more than the billions of stars in the sky, more than all the fish in the ocean, more than all the raindrops that fall, more than the billions of people in the entire world, more than all grains of sand on the beach, and blades of grass in the meadow.

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Then Maymunah’s mom asks her if she knows how much Mama loves her. Maymunah repeats back all the examples her mother has just given for how much Allah loves Maymunah.  The mom then says and Allah loves you more than that.  

Maymunah is satisfied and reflects on how much Allah loves her and then remarks that her love for her mother and her mother’s love for her is bigger than the whole wide world. The last page of the book mentions that her love for Allah is more than that and that Allah’s love for her was even bigger, but it seemed muddled to me as it started stressing how big a mother and child’s love is.   

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I felt like the natural order would be to explain to a child how much a mother loves them, then say Allah loves you even more.  Not tell all the ways Allah loves you, then talk about how much Mama loves you with the exact same examples and then say Allah loves you more.  It doesn’t even say Allah loves you ‘the most.’  

If you don’t read it over and over and take it on the surface it is probably fine, and I realize I might be overly harsh, but with only a single ayat at the end, I really wanted to feel that a child’s curiosity would be satisfied with this book, and I think it ultimately fell short for me and my children.

Ultimately, despite all this, I don’t regret buying the book from the wonderful Crescent Moon Book Store, and I will be buying the new one too inshaAllah.  I hope this review helps you to determine if this book is right for your toddlers and preschoolers.  

Khadijah and Cat: Ramadan is Here by Shamsa Ahmed illustrated by Afsaneh Bagherloo

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Khadijah and Cat: Ramadan is Here by Shamsa Ahmed illustrated by Afsaneh Bagherloo

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New this year in the Ramadan category is this gorgeous 40 page hardback book that mixes information about the blessed month with personable characters very well.  It stays on track without getting silly, even with a talking cat and a reoccurring super hero dinosaur, but I don’t understand the attempted rhyme scheme.  I’ve read the book over a dozen times trying to map it, and sometimes it is so natural that it makes reading it aloud smooth and lyrical, and sadly a few times it seems so forced that it makes the sentence nonsensical or awkward.  There is so much information, so beautifully paced and illustrated for children 4 and up, that I’m willing to overlook the few sentences that irked me to recommend this book for you and your children to enjoy this Ramadan.  Without a glossary though, it is probably best for Muslim children, or those with someone who can explain words such as: suhoor, iftar, adhan, SubhanAllah, dua, Allah, etc..

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Khadijah and Cat are looking for the moon to know if it is the start of Ramadan, and once they find it, they rush to spread the news.  Immediately everyone starts decorating and celebrating and sharing delicious food.

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They then head home to sleep so they can wake up early for suhoor.  They make a point to eat something healthy to sustain them for the whole day, then they pray and go back to sleep.

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Cat wakes up ready to eat and is surprised that they have to wait until sunset before they can eat or drink anything.  Khadijah explains that Ramadan is a holy month and one of the five pillars of Islam.  The illustrations show the other pillars, but the explanation of Ramadan is a bit advanced with words such as regression, unpriviledged, compassion, and purifying.

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The next page continues listing off what Khadijah and Cat are learning about Ramadan, as they spend time praying and reading the Holy Quran.  At the sound of the fourth Adhan they break their fast.  The names of the salat or that they pray five times a day is not mentioned, but lends itself to a great teaching point.

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They then pray and eat and take the neighbors some gifts.  Cat is convinced that the day was good and is ready for the next 30.  The last ten nights are identified as important and Laylat al Qadr is mentioned as being special, but it does not tell why they are unique.

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Khadijah and Cat then invite you to fast and see why Ramadan is so special.  The end of the book has some questions, a Ramadan count down and a coloring page.  I was surprised that there was not a glossary as the Arabic words in the text are enlarged, and often not defined.

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I love the font and binding and horizontal 10 x 11.5 layout.  The illustrations are gorgeous and the details in the decor and Khadijah wearing hijab while out, but not at home are very well executed.  I’m not sure why the Meer-Rex is in the book, he is never identified or given attention, maybe in future books he will have more of a role, inshaAllah.

I ordered mine from Crescent Moon Store and received it within days of placing the order, thank you!

We are Muslim, Al-Hamdu Lillah! by Kathy Fannoun

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We are Muslim, Al-Hamdu Lillah! by Kathy Fannoun

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In digging through and pulling out board books for my nine month old to chew on, I realized I never reviewed this staple.  Published in 1994, this 16 page 4 x 5 book does a good job in rhyming verse discussing the universal bond of Islam for our littlest ones.

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It starts out by stating that we are children form many different nations, and are different shapes and sizes, but that Allah swt created us all.

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It reminds us that even though our words are different, and some of us are rich and others poor, we still enjoy God’s gifts and love our families, because in the end we all praise Allah, and are Muslims, Al-Hamdu Lillah!

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The illustrations are clearly hand drawn and filled in with colored pencils, but they show diverse skin tones, a few different ethnic dresses, some in hijab and kufis, others not, and all smiling.

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This book is basic, which makes it perfect for little ones at bedtime and even in small groups.  Younger children appreciate the simple message and rhyme scheme and it is the perfect size in their hands.

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This book is probably bringing back memories for many of you, as it was one of the first books of its kind.  A board book, that is Islamic, cute and fun, for English readers. I remember in high school reading it to my Sunday school preschool class at the masjid, sharing it at story times at the masjid as an adult, and reading it to my own kids over the years.  The binding is still holding strong, and the words still remind me how blessed I am to be s Muslim, Al-Hamdu-Lillah!

Zainab is Different by Irfana Khan illustrated by Josh Wise

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This 24 page picture book for kindergarten children and up, is sweet in its handling of being labled “different,” without getting overly negative or caught up in the manifestation of discrimination.  Unfortunately, with so much emphasis on different religions: the places of worship, the holidays celebrated, the manner of dress, etc., faith becomes inadvertantly highlighted as the root cause for the division and discrimination.  Perhaps I am reading too much in to it, and the book just needs a few more examples to make the author’s point that we are all different and unique, but as it is, I didn’t love it, my kids all thought it was cute though, especially my daughter named Zainab.

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Zainab walks to school every morning with her mom.  She says hi to the neighbor and can’t wait to get to school to her best friend Melissa and her amazing teacher Mrs. Sperber.

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One day Melissa and Zainab want to play hide-and-seek and ask Matt if he wants to play too.  He responds, “Eww, I don’t want to play with Zainab! My dad said she’s weird and different from us.”

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Having never been called that, Zainab is bothered by the words and tells her teacher.  The teacher points out that they have different colored hair, but can see that Zainab is still hurt and tells her not to worry, she has an idea.

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At circle time the teacher starts of by highlighting differences with the kids identifying their favorite color, and her writting their names on the ones they like best.  She then asks about places of worship they visit: churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and again writes their names on the ones they have been to or frequent.

IMG_0559 Next she moves on to holidays celebrated, and then special clothing, only hijab is mentioned though.  The teacher then discusses feelings and how things about us might be different but our feelings are the same.  We like it when we are all nice to each other, and are sad when someone is mean.

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Zainab sees her name with different people’s names on the pictures now hanging up and Matt comes and apologizes for being mean earlier. The teacher also mentions that maybe some haven’t visited any of the buildings discussed.

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The pictures appear to be done in colored pencil and are colorful and detailed with the pictures of the places of worship bein actual images.  The 8.5 by 11 pages are large and would work well at story time or bedtime.

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The fact that Matt’s words are assumed to be about religion seems presumptious to me.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, I feel like there needed to be more there.  A few pages about things other than faith, in my opinion, would make the message of us all being different in some things and the same in other things a bit more powerful.   The pacing too is a bit off. It is a big jump from what is your favorite color to do you go to a church?  The resolution is really quick too, as it is tied into feelings, a little bit more of showing the reader, rather than just telling them, would amplify the process and the message.

 

My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

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My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

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I absolutely love that this 32 page picture book for children five and up breaks so many stereotypes and highlights so many commonalities between all people, everywhere.  I strongly believe that books like this, can change people’s perspective, and as a children’s books can prevent negative biases from forming in the first place.

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Set in Iran, a little girl absolutely loves and adores her grandma.  They pray together, they buy bread together and they share that bread with their best friends, their Christian neighbors next door.  While the little girl and her friend Annette play, the two grandmas chat, drink coffee and knit blankets to donate to the mosque and Annette’s Grandma’s church.

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Grandma sews chadors to wear, and Mina helps.  But, mostly she uses the scarves to make rocket ship forts, and capes to fly to outer space in.  When she returns to base camp grandma has cookies for her and wants to hear about her adventures.

In Ramadan, the little girl wakes up early to eat with grandma even though she is too young too fast.  When she gets older, they go to the mosque together at night too, after they have broken their fast.

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One time she hears her grandma praying for Annette’s grandma to go to heaven.  The next day Annette tells Mina she heard her grandma praying at church for her grandma to go to heaven.  The little girl imagines the two grandmas knitting and laughing together in heaven, on Mars, on Earth, anywhere.

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The book ends with the little girl stating past tense how wonderful her grandma was and  that she still wants to be like her.

The book touches on family, interfaith, love, helping others, faith, religion, friendship, culture, and is just really really sweet.  I wish I loved the pictures, as much as I love the story, but I don’t.  I think I like most of them with their texture and details, unfortunately the faces in some just seem a little off to me.

I absolutely love that there is no over explaining, and no glossary, the author seamlessly brings words like namaz, and Ramadan and chador in to the story, normalizing them as the pretend play, and familial bonds are so universal.

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An Ocean in One Drop: The Tale of Hajar in Hajj by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Layla Abdubaisi & Hameedah Hamadah

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An Ocean in One Drop: The Tale of Hajar in Hajj by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Layla Abdubaisi & Hameedah Hamadah

IMG_7027A story about Hajar (saa), about Zamzam, about Hajj, and how we are all connected through our faith in Allah.  In 32 water color adorned pages, the rhyming couplets tell a well-known historical story for children of all ages, with Hajar front and center.

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The book is framed with a young girl, Jamila sitting with her grandmother who has just returned from Hajj.  She is giving Jamila some Zamzam water as she tells her the story of Hajar, and how at the heart of our Hajj we honor and follow in Hajar’s footsteps.

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Left in the desert with her son Is’mail (as) she runs between two hills, Safa and Marwa looking for water and help. This step of Hajj, Sa’ee, is required by all pilgrims to perform as Hajar did. Grandma explains to Jamila, that after praying to Allah (swt) and after the seventh run, water appeared and still flows today, Zamzam.

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Jamila learns from her grandma the value of the water, and the power trusting Allah has in our lives.  She also learns how the well attracted people and is now the  city of Makkah.  “You see the sacred Sa’ee has many lessons within: Courage, patience, faith and love.” the grandmother tells Jamila before quoting Rumi and liking the desert water to an ocean of history.

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The book contains a two page Glossary of names and terms at the end as well as information about the author and illustrators.  As expected there is also an ayat regarding Prophet Ibrahim and his family from the Quran at the end, and somewhat surprisingly, Bible verses about Hagar.

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I’m not sure that the link to Rumi’s quote and hence the title of the book is smooth, it seems a bit forced.  Also, I’m not sure why the Bible verse and the Bible entry appearing in the Glossary is present.  It seems like an Islamic story for readers of all faiths to know what Muslim’s believe, so I’m confused why the interfaith angle at the end is there.  Perhaps, if there was an explanation or an Author’s Note or a tie-in to the story, but without any of that, it seems inconsistent and random.

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As far as the illustrations on the 8.5 x 11 thick soft bound pages are concerned, they are rather mediocre.  The anime’ style people, the texture, shimmery bits, and the flowing deserts, make me feel like I should love them, and there is truly nothing wrong with them,  I just wasn’t overly wowed by them.  I actually found the illustrations off for the story at hand.  I’m  certain everyone will disagree with me, and some really are gorgeous, but overall I found them collectively, to be just ok.