Tag Archives: Family

Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

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Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

IMG_4757I 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Hamza’s First Fast by Asna Chaudhry

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Hamza’s First Fast by Asna Chaudhry

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Hamza’s First Fast starts out a bit wordy as the author tries to explain what Ramadan is and who is required to fast and why, before getting to the actual story line of the book.  The premise that Hamza’s siblings are fasting and that Hamza doesn’t know why or that it is Ramadan is a little questionable to me, but I doubt most 2-6 year olds are as cynical as I am.  Once the story gets going, however, the amount of text on the page drastically decreases to fit the younger demographic and the point of the book is charmingly exposed.

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Hamza understands that he doesn’t “have” to fast, but decides he “wants” to try. He prays with his dad, his sister helps him to understand how fortunate he is to have food, he goes outside to play, and he even tries to get lost in some video games.  But, it still isn’t time to break his fast and he is hungry! As his frustration mounts he decides to sneak a cookie, but when he gets it, he will have to decide to eat it or not.

I like that it is realistic that fasting for kids is hard, and can be really frustrating. It still encourages them to try, and the family members support him which is nice.  It also stays positive framing it that Allah will be pleased if he fasts, not that Allah will be disappointed if he eats the cookie.  Overall, there isn’t much religious rationale for why we fast and the Islamic traditions celebrated as the book stays on age level in what Hamza does.  This leaves the door open for discussion, lessons, insights, and interpretation, but does not weigh the book down with it.

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Perseverance is the theme of the story and that it feels good to do something hard.

Grandpa and Grandma Come to Stay by Asma Zaman illustrated by Azra Momin

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Grandpa and Grandma Come to Stay by Asma Zaman illustrated by Azra Momin

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This slim, paperback book, is actually really sweet and colorful.  It doesn’t look like much at just 14 pages, but the minimal text conveys a good message of helping elders in the home, and can easily be extended to helping those in the community.  I think this is a great book for 3 to 5 year old.  Little ones will get ideas on what they can do, and new readers will feel accomplished when they turn the last page.

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Little brothers, Muhammed and Musa, are waiting for their grandparents to arrive and are confused when their daddy reminds them to be helpful, since they are little and their grandparents are adults.  The parents explain how getting old is hard to the boys and give them ideas of how they can help.   Once they arrive, the boys spring in to action by helping them unpack, getting Grandma her walking stick, and even helping grandpa find his missing teeth.  They especially love when they help put out the prayer rugs for salat.

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The pictures are simple yet well done.  The women wear hijab, not just the mom and grandma, but the doctor too.  Gender roles are depicted well too, the dad takes his parents grocery shopping, is shown helping in the kitchen, and serves the tea.

I really think if you have elder family, it is a great book to introduce what changes and what responsibilities the little ones can help with.  With my own children it was a good reminder and conversation starter that they need to keep toys off the floor so no one trips, they need to listen the first time to whatever they are asked by the elders to do, and that they need to sometimes even help them walk, or slow their gate.  If you don’t have grandparents in the home, it can extend to people at the mosque, with kids helping get chairs, or even at the grocery store in being mindful of holding doors open and helping return carts.

 

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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This book really marked a shift in Islamic fiction for me and the genre.  First of all I was waiting for the book to come out.  I didn’t stumble upon it or hear about it from someone else.  I knew when it was going to be released, and I knew I wanted to read it. Additionally it was the first books published by Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Which according to their website was “founded in 2016, Salaam Reads is an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”  This is big, huge in fact.  The bar has been raised, and a platform has been given, no more excuses.

Alhumdulillah, Amina’s Voice is a beautiful 197 page book for children ages 8-12.  The book is not AR, but probably will be in a few weeks.  I think it is spot on for 3rd through 5th grade in terms of content, message, and appeal.  The book caters to females and Muslims, but naturally is not limited to those two demographics exclusively.  There are characters of a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds in the novel that play significant roles in saving the day and keeping the book powerfully optimistic and inspiring.

SYNOPSIS:

Amina is starting middle school and everything is changing for Amina. Her friends are acting different, her older brother is skirting with trouble and her religious uncle is coming to visit from Pakistan.  Internally, she doesn’t like the spotlight but desperately wants to get out from behind the piano to sing.  All of this combines in a climax that pivots around the destruction of the mosque she attends and her having to find her voice, and use it to take center stage in her own life.

WHY I LIKE IT:

There is a lot going on in the book, but it doesn’t get over whelming with Amina’s voice keeping the reader focused on her and her view of the events around her.  The author does a good job of getting inside a 12 year-old girls head without being condescending or heartless.  The reader feels her stress that she is losing her best friend, Soojin to Emily, a girl who used to torment the two “ethnic” girls, without belittling her concerns.  You also feel her love of Islam and struggle to understand if music and singing is permissible within Islamic rules.  The book is realistic fiction with school, friendships, and family guiding the story.  Everything from the ups and downs of group projects, inside jokes between siblings, and trying to pronounce the big HAA in Arabic.  The macro of middle elementary years combined with the micro facets of culture, religion, and current events, and you speak to a section of readers that will connect with Amina and what she goes through in a very authentic, relatable story.

The only points that gave me pause is the premise and music in the book.  It is a point of disagreement amongst nearly every group of Muslims, so to have the Imam sitting and listening to her play the piano, is a bit hard for me to accept as the norm, no matter how cool Imam Malik is.  Additionally, I wish that Amina’s mom had some depth, and the relationship between Amina and her uncle, Thaya Jaan, was fleshed out just a tad more.  In both cases I felt something was lacking, and I wanted more.

FLAGS:

Nothing major, but a few minor issues, that a parent may want to be aware of for younger readers.  Mustafa, Amina’s brother, is seeing skipping Sunday school class and reeking of cigarette smoke.  He denies it, and the issue is definitely not glorified.  There is also crushes discussed amongst Amina’s friends and when Amina spills a secret, she has to own up to it and work it out to maintain her friendships.  The destruction of the mosque could also be upsetting to younger readers.  It isn’t graphic, but her emotional response and the intensity of it, is the climax, and a very real part of our world sadly. For parents, this fictional vandalization could possibly be a great place to start a discussion from if your children are somehow unaware of the current status of Islam in the west.  It also shows that people are good, as the whole larger community, comes together to show unity, love, and respect are values to us all, alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be perfect for a 3rd through 5th book club.  If I was starting a new book club I would start with this book.  It has it all. It has real issues, religious issues, universal issues, and heart.  All while staying on age level and all in a realistic fiction safe space to have an opinion about objectively.  The discussions after the book is read will flow naturally, but just in case:

Reading Group Guide:  http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Aminas-Voice/Hena-Khan/9781481492065/reading_group_guide

Author’s Page: https://www.henakhan.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

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The correlation between baseball and cricket provides the foundation for detailing the relationship of  Bilal’s first year in America after having to leave Pakistan in a hurry: the same, but different.  This 248 page book written on an AR 4.6 pivots around sports, but has a lot of heart as themes of family, friendship, and longing, take center stage.  Throw in a whole new culture, the English language, Ramadan and prom and you have a whole lot to cover in this well crafted story.

SYNOPSIS:

Bilal has a good life in Karachi, Pakistan.  He is the oldest of three kids and at 10 years old, his world pretty much involves Cricket, friends, and his dad.  When his father disappears things get frantic, and when his father returns, the family decides to move to America.  Unfortunately Bilal’s dad can’t come.  As Bilal, his mom, his younger sister Hira and younger brother Humza, board a plan to Virginia, everything Bilal knows is left behind.

Virginia is home to Bilal’s maternal Uncle, his wife, and their teenage son, Jalaal.  Jalaal plays baseball and arranges to have Bilal join him at baseball camp for the summer.  Learning the new sport, and a new language, and the nuances of life in a new land are frustrating and often comical as Bilal points out how confusing navigating American life can be.  He also keeps an ongoing list of new things in America to share with his dad over Skype, as they swap memories of an old life in preparation for a new one.  The supporting characters on the field are generally kind and accepting of Bilal, because they have a bigger problem then a foreign boy, there is a girl on the team, Jordan.  Jordan is new too, and the coaches niece at that, naturally they become friends, but its not easy, Bilal has to learn what being a friend really means.

The majority of the book stems from the tension of waiting to hear from Bilal’s father, and to see if he can come to America.  The passing of time with baseball games and school are anecdotal to the larger arc that sets the pace of the book.  Will Baba be able to come, and if so, when?

WHY I LIKE IT:

Interestingly religion has a pretty big role in Bilal’s life and the author does explain some tenants in Islam.  He wakes up for fajr (although he does miss it occasionally), he only eats halal zabiha, the family fasts in Ramadan, and they celebrate Eid.  Bilal wants to fast, but him mom tells him he is too young when they are coming to America, and the following year he doesn’t because of baseball, which is unfortunate, because a lot of kids fast and play sports all over the world.  They go to the mosque on Eid only, and it mentions that the women in his family do not wear hijab like some of the women at the mosque.  His older cousin Jalaal wants to take the neighbor girl, Olivia, to prom, which the family explains awkwardly as something that Muslims don’t really do until they are older, or at least that is how Bilal understands it.  In the end, they let Jalaal go with Olivia and a group of friends, and the whole family Skype’s the family in Pakistan and sees them off.  Even more funny is that they don’t join their friends for dinner before the dance, because Jalaal is fasting and can’t eat until later.  I don’t know if this will confuse 4th and 5th grade readers, but as an adult I found it hysterical, because these cultural contradictions are more common than not.  I did like that nothing was done behind the parent’s backs.  Things were discussed and worked out instead of lied about.

Another thing that I found interesting, but since finishing the book, I have come to appreciate, is that there is no Islamaphobia in the story, or even xenophobia.  The kids are accepting of Bilal’s faith and culture.  He is far more self conscious about being different or not understanding than those around him are.  Its idealistic perhaps, but at the same time, I think it would distract from the core of the story.

While the book focuses on sports, I think even non sports fans will be able to enjoy the story.  The author doesn’t get too technical and it moves steadily with mini climaxes and triumphs through out.  Girls and boys will enjoy the book, Muslims and non Muslims too, the readers might even learn something about baseball or cricket or Pakistan, or even about themselves along the way.

FLAGS:

The book is remarkably clean and what you would expect for a good quality, solid 4th grade and up story.  There is the “prom” issue, but there is no hugging, kissing, longing etc.  They “like” each other, but it isn’t more explicit than that.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if I would use this for a Book Club.  One could, but I think it would require a lot of coaxing to get kids to give a book about baseball/cricket a try.  I have no doubt if they started it, they would finish it, but it might be a tough sell.  The confusion in American life would make for an awesome discussion after being read, because everyone can relate to some of the oddities of the English language, and challenges of learning a new language and culture.  I think how Islam is handled would also make for some good discussion in addressing how each family handles things differently as they arise.  Although written on a 4.6 level if I were to do it in a school setting, I would probably do it for middle school kids who could articulate their own life parallels to the story.

An interview with the author:

http://wordspelunking.blogspot.com/2016/09/a-long-pitch-home-blog-tour-interview.html

Overall a solid decent book about an immigrant Muslim boy making his way in America, while not losing or giving up on who he is, alhumdulillah.

 

What Does a Muslim Look Like? by Mohamed Abdel-Kader illustrated by Abdullah Badawy

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What Does a Muslim Look Like? by Mohamed Abdel-Kader illustrated by Abdullah Badawy

what does a muslim look like.jpeg This 22 page, simplistic book written in rhyming couplets, is such a timely and necessary book.  Much like Owl and Cat: What Islam Is… this book has value that extends far beyond its audience level (not AR but, I’d say three years and up), as the content breaks down stereotypes while being framed in a positive, non condescending way.

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A brother and sister pair, Jack and Jane, go about their day when at dinner Jack remarks that he learned that two of his classmates are Muslim and they look like them.  Thus arises the question, what do Muslims look like?  The book then goes on to break down stereotypes and broaden views in the same rhyming manner that keeps the book light and child friendly.  The conclusion is that like people of other faiths, everyone is different, and that no one should be judged on what is on the outside.

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The book appears to have been started on Kickstarter in 2012 and Alhumdulillah it got the needed funding to get published.  I got my copy through the public library system, and I am beyond thrilled that I found it where hopefully a lot of people can get their hands on it.  Reading the author’s campaign on where the concept came from, he would have had no idea how much more timely the book is now, then when it was first published.  I get asked quite regularly from old school friends, how they can introduce Islam or get the ball rolling  to talk to their kids about Muslims, and this book would be a great start.  Told from non Muslim kids perspectives, with very hip parents, the book does not discuss any tenants of faith or belief, it just identifies the many shapes and sizes and colors that Muslims come in.  It would work well to show that Muslims are everywhere not just in the news, without overwhelming even the youngest of readers.

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The pictures in the book are absolutely perfect in complimenting the story. They are not only silly, but also diverse as the book’s text would require.  Interestingly there are ladies with hijab and those without, and scarves are not mentioned in the text, and also noteworthy is there are no bearded men in the pictures.  Overall, a wonderful book that I would love to have on my shelf with extras to hand out.

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

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It is widely written about, even amongst children’s literature, that in parts of the world, girls are not allowed to go to school, but that many find ways to do so anyway.  What sets this book apart is that it is based on a true story, and while there is some hope for Nasreen, overall it is a really melancholy tale without a happy ending.  At 40 pages, author Jeanette Winter once again conveys a story that shows compassion instead of judgement and undeniable admiration for her characters.  Written on a 4.2 level, the story packs a lot into small, simple sentences, and her illustrations do not shy away from the realities of Afghanistan.  While I was surprised to see that twice the book was challenged, in 2014 and 2016, for showing Muslims praying and for violence, I was glad that it was never banned.   The strength and determination of Afghani women should not be silenced, it should be shared and celebrated.

 

The story is told from the point of view of Nasreen’s grandmother.  She is heartbroken that her granddaughter is not allowed to attend school and practice the arts as she was, and even her daughter-in-law, were able to do as children.  Since the Taliban has come things are dark.  Things get worse when one night soldiers come and take Nasreen’s father with no explanation.  When he doesn’t return, Nasreen’s mother leaves to find him, displaying her own strength to independently take on a society that doesn’t permit her to go out alone.  Unfortunately she does not return either, and Nasreen stops speaking.  Grandma learns of a secret school for girls.  Determined that Nasreen should know of the outside world, great risks are taken for many girls to learn in a private home a few doors down.  Dodging Taliban soldiers and neighborhood boys helping keep their school a distraction starts to pay off as Nasreen finds a friend and starts to open her heart.  The book ends with mom and dad still missing, but hope for Nasreen to see through the window education has opened for her, inshaAllah.

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