Tag Archives: Family

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali


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Now that there is legitimately a genre of YA Islamic Romance out there told in Own Voice, the expectations are high that a book is compelling, realistic, and unique somehow.  While the author’s first book, Saints and Misfits was pretty ground breaking, this 342 page was a great read, but not nearly as remarkable or memorable.  Granted it is not fair to compare the two books, and each day I do age out of the target demographic, but while the story reads authentic and true, albeit a bit serendipitous, it doesn’t have the teeth or grit I was kind of hoping for, and with a mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis my emotions were pretty invested.


Told from both Adam and Zayneb’s perspectives by way of their individual “Oddities and Marvels” journals, our two characters are presented by a narrator who keeps their story on track and interjects when their versions of an event differ. 

Zayneb is a high schooler and activist who has recently been expelled for threatening a teacher who consistently lets his Islamaphobic beliefs take over the days lessons.  In an environment filled with micro aggressions against Muslims, Zeynab’s parents are at a loss at how to keep their daughter from making waves, and thus allow her to leave her Indiana home a week before spring break to visit her aunt in Doha, Qatar.

Adam is at University in London where he has recently been diagnosed with MS and as a result has stopped going to classes, and is literally “making” the most of the time he has by making things.  As the term ends and he officially withdraws from school, he heads home to Doha to tell his dad and sister that he has the same disease that took his mother’s life years early.

The two characters meet at the airport briefly and then again on the plane and then at Adam’s house and the needless to say  their accidental meetings allow for friendship to grow, attraction to be built upon and a relationship to develop. Both characters have their own lives and own obstacles and own maturity that needs to occur in order for a happy ending to take place, and thus the book keeps you interested, invested and cheering them on.


I love the dynamic of how the book and characters are set up.  Both are practicing Muslims, both characters don’t cross a line, both characters have diverse mixed cultural backgrounds, and one is a convert and the other the daughter of a convert.  She is fiery and impulsive and emotional, he is pragmatic and calm and quiet.  While they have some background in common, their life experiences are rather different and it is very much a story about opposites attracting.  

I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, and so I knew my expectations would be too high.  That being said the book warns it is a love story and in some ways, that was what I kind of felt was lacking.  There was the physical attraction that was mentioned fairly often, but the deep connection of ideas or growing seemed a bit lacking.  

I really liked Adam, and his internal stresses and struggles and coming to grips with his disease seemed pretty developed.  Somehow though, and I’m probably in the minority, I didn’t love Zayneb.  She is impulsive and definitely learned and grew from the start of the book to the end, but I didn’t love her nuances with dealing with the Emmas and her friends back home and unraveling her teacher, it felt kind of forced and I can’t articulate why.  I’m glad she matured and she got answers about her grandmother, but maybe I should have felt so much in common with her and when I didn’t, I felt a little irritated.  Clearly I get too invested in fictional characters, I’ll admit that.

I like that Islam is presented in a non defensive way.  The parents aren’t evil, there is no rebelling, even the awful teacher spawns backlash and allies to Zayneb and her cause. There is no apologizing or overly explaining if the characters are pushing boundaries established by Islam or if they are establishing their own boundaries based on their understanding of Islam.  I like this, because it shows that Muslims are not a monolith, we are not one way good or bad.  Zayneb covers and prays and has friends that are boys and her family is kept in the loop of what she does, which alone breaks so many of the predominate stereotypes about Muslims.  Adam himself converted at age nine and plays the guitar and has friends that are girls, and is close to his sister, and likes dogs.  A side character is noted to be incredibly religious, but doesn’t cover.  The story takes place in an Islamic majority country, but attitudes at the swimming pool don’t allow Zayneb to dress modestly while she swims.  

Overall, the book is a delightful read that manages to keep the religious integrity in the characters and show their personalities as they come of age.  It may not be memorable years after reading, but what you do remember will be positive, and while you are reading it, you will have a hard time putting it down.


There is angsty romance, and talk of sex.  The two main characters keep it pretty clean, but the side characters joke about hooking up, being horny, and sneaking off to hotel rooms.  The non Muslim aunt has a secret alcohol and cigarette stash that she gets called out on, but nothing more is mentioned about it. I think 9th or 10th grade and up will be perfectly ok to read.


There is a lot to unpack in this book and I think if one just listens, teens will naturally add their own opinions and perspectives on EVERYTHING the characters experience, feel, question, and cope with.  The book just came out, but I would imagine that over time discussion questions will appear.

Author’s website: https://skalibooks.com/books/

Interview with the author: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/an-interview-with-s-k-ali-author-of-love-from-a-to-z/



Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan illustrated by Ben Hibon

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan illustrated by Ben Hibon

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This book is fun and enchanting, whether you read all 321 pages and fall in to the occasional illustrations and pour over the map, or listen to the audio and get swept away.  It is an AR 4.1, and the first in the three part series.  Told by the point of view of two characters, the book’s short chapters and high action speed are expertly crafted to keep suspense and interest high, while maintaining solid world building events and making the character’s history come alive.  Their isn’t anything Islamic in the books, save some critical and cleverly named characters and ideas, but the author in interviews has said he is Muslim, and that is enough for me to share a book I thoroughly enjoyed on this blog!


Thorn is a fugitive kid, on the run from something left intentional vague and possibly the son of an outlaw.  Raised on the edge of Herne forest (earth), he is good with animals, feels comfortable in nature, has a soft heart for doing what is right, and isn’t afraid of hard work.  He finds himself being sold as a slave to the executioner of Gehenna, Tyburn, and is off to Castle Gloom where he will meet and befriend the new ruler of House Shadow (death/darkness), Lily.

Lillith Shadow’s parents and brother have been murdered and she is now the ruler of Gehenna.  She is also still a child and events around her require her to grow up fast.  To end hostilities with House Solar she is to wed Prince Gabriel, a pompous idiot, who she despises in principle and in person.  

When an attempt is made on Lily’s life, Thorn and an unexpected ally, K’leef a Prince from the Sultanate of Fire, must work together to figure out who is trying to kill Lily, possibly who killed her parents, where Thorn’s father is, who is raising an army of zombies, and how how to get out of this wedding without causing continued war.

The history of the six founding houses that make up this world, and their elemental magical rules and limitations as magic dies out with each passing generation, come together and a tale is told that contrasts easy everyday language in a mystical proper world of royalty and dukes, colored by the dark of death and necromancy and shadows, while somehow remaining light, and funny, and completely relatable as the kids come of age and learn who they are and what they are capable of doing and accomplishing.


I love that the book is clean and that it has both Thorn and Lily’s perspectives to move the story along and give insight into the characters.  I love the world building and how the history of each of the houses is so well thought out and clear.  

“The whole idea of House Shadow is based on the Middle-East. Lily’s dad’s name is Arabic for the devil. Her mother’s the great villainess of the Old Testament and Lily is Lilith, a Hebrew demoness. The view people have of House Shadow mimics the fear the West has of East, and specifically Islam. For that reason all of House Solar is named after archangels. . . Some houses were easier to establish than others. House Djinn was fire as djinns are (out of Arabic lore) beings of smokeless fire. Herne’s an ancient English forest deity, so again a pretty easy fix” (http://www.cybils.com/2017/03/interview-with-joshua-khan.html).

A big plot point is that Lily is magical, and it is against ancient laws, meaning all six houses agree, that women cannot practice magic.  The irony is great, in that even kids can pick up on the fact that the six brothers and founders of the magical houses acknowledge that the source of their magic comes from their mother, a woman, and the hypocrisy of it all is frustrating.  I love that three very different characters have to work together, and pick their battles, it really is a testament to the strength of friendships even with people so very different than yourself.


Pretty clean, not recalling anything cringeworthy as we listened to it in the car (kids ages 3, 8, 9, 12).  The book is dark in that it takes place in Gehenna and there is talk of the undead and bringing the dead back to life and they really celebrate Halloween in their own dark way.  There is murder and death and assassinations, but it isn’t overly morbid or gory or violent.


I think I’ve already 90% decided to start next years middle school book club off with this book.  It is fun and engaging and the discussions would connect this fantasy story to so much in the kid’s lives and greater world that I get giddy just thinking about how fun a discussion it will be.  Sadly the school year is wrapping up and I’ll have to wait until fall.  Here are some of my favorite interviews online with the author:



Author’s Website: http://www.joshuakhan.com/



Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan

Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan


This sweet story shows how even when people refuse to help, we should treat them with kindness, as our actions should be to please Allah alone, and inshaAllah in real life, much like in the story, people will fix their ways and offer their help in return.  This new story reads very much like the old(er) favorite Nabeel’s New Pants, where everyone is too busy to help, but then come around to realizing that helping one another is a way to show people we care.  This 32 page 8.5 x 11 soft back story is well bound with large glossy pages and clear text.  The story works well for ages 4 and up, as they will understand the moral message and inshaAllah feel inspired to find ways to help as well.  


It is a 40 year tradition that Mustafa Amce and his wife Ayse Teyze feed iftar to their friends and families on the first day of Ramadan.  This year, however, Ayse is not well and Mustafa is confident he can enlist the help of neighbors and family to help him keep the tradition alive. 


Unfortunately, everyone has an excuse.  His daughter is tired, his grand daughter is too busy with her video games and his neighbor doesn’t want to get his new shirt dirty.  Their sad reasons don’t stop old Mustafa Amce, and he makes the salad, and cooks the rice and beef by himself.


When iftar time arrives, he offers sweet dates to those at the masjid and invites everyone to come to his courtyard to break their fasts together.  All those that had early refused to assist him feel incredibly guilty and don’t want to take advantage of a lovely meal. Mustafa reminds them that, “God loves those who are generous especially to their families, neighbors, and guests.  and I always want Got to love me.” So they join in the delicious meal.


After food Ayse Teyze shows that while she might be ill, she can still save the day when her husband realizes he has forgotten to prepare dessert.  The guests then offer to wash the dishes and sweep the floor and take the leftovers to the poor.  And best of all when the athan for isha prayer calls out they all without prompting stand to join Mustafa Amce in praying salat together.


The names are Turkish with a pronunciation guide at the end, as well as a paragraph about Ramadan.  The book would work for non Muslims and Muslims alike as the story is set in Ramadan, but more about coming together to help out.  The illustrations are large and detailed and descriptive.  You see the warmth between Mustafa and his wife as well as the apologetic feelings from those that were unwilling to help. 


Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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I seriously wish I could get back the few hours I spent reading this 281 page AR 4.8 book.  The blurbs talks about a girl being torn between the world around her and the world her Muslim-Indian-American parents want for her, unfortunately the protagonist is rather unlikeable and her worlds are actual not that different.  Islam is not represented at all, it is just mentioned as a checkpoint almost for the main character to continually justify her identity as “other” and try and illicit sympathy.  It seems to be a part of the story so that the story line of Islamaphobia can be addressed, but the book is cultural at best, and even that is rather lacking.


Maya Aziz is 17 and missing a dance her senior year to attend a wedding because she is not allowed to go to such events as the daughter of conservative Indian Muslim (dentist) immigrants living in Illinois.  But, immediately the hypocrisy shows itself as at the wedding, a boy, Kareem, deemed suitable by her parents is presented to try and woo Maya and possibly marry her, and the two of them wander off together, and consider meeting up at an after party.  As the reader gets to know Maya and her circle of characters, we meet her “cool” Aunt who lives alone and wants Maya to have a life of boys and partying and going to school in New York.  Her parents are never really defined except to maintain the stereotype of being controlling, focused on food and appearances, and not understanding their only daughter.  At school Maya has a best friend Violet who loves to flirt and remains loyal to Maya throughout, a cute boy Phil, who she has been crushing on for years, and some side figures that stir up some trouble.  

The premise of the book is that Maya loves film and wants to go to NYU to attend film school, her parents, want her to live at home and go to the University of Chicago.  The idea is that because they are immigrants, and culture and religion dictate all, that she get educated and married.  This conflict is intensified by Kareem, her sudden relationship with Phil, and a terrorist act that is first blamed on Muslims occurring hundreds of miles away in Chicago and giving someone at Maya’s school a reason to take out his anger on her and her family.


I don’t like it.  The book is presented as an own voice minority representation piece, but it isn’t.  I get that Islam is personal and that people identify with it and choose different paths, but this isn’t a case of her looking at Islam and saying it isn’t for me, this is a book that is billed as Islamic fiction, yet the character does nothing Islamic, seems to know nothing of Islam and has no moral conscious for anything about the faith.  She says she doesn’t pray or go to the mosque, the parents lament after hate crimes materialize against them, that maybe they should have gone to the mosque at some point.  She wears shorts, and tank tops and a bikini and doesn’t feel a tinge or reflection.  Even if she were to remark that this is an act of rebellion the reader would know, oh because she was perhaps raised with modesty, but no, she wears whatever.  She constantly mentions that she can’t have a boyfriend because she is Muslim, but then makes out with Kareem on like their second meeting, kisses him in her parents living room before deciding she doesn’t like him, repeatedly kisses Phil, practically spends a night with him, and then in the epilogue is kissing a Hindu guy she kind of just met.  Yes, there are Muslims that do this, I’m not judging, but how exactly is being Muslim then stopping you from doing that you want to be doing?  At one point when out with Kareem, he is drinking wine, Maya remarks she has had it before, and that at least it isn’t eating pork.  Misguided and off the mark, yes  some Muslims do drink, but with all build up that she can’t do things like that, only to find out she has, and it isn’t a big deal, and she doesn’t even see it as a deal breaker or worth mentioning to her parents who have set her up on this whole path to semi arranged marriage, seems so off.

Anyone hoping to pick up a pice of Islamic fiction to identify with, are going to be so completely let down.  The book seems to be written for non Muslims to feel good about having read a book with a minority character.  It’s like a coming of age story, except there is no self reflection or understanding of the world, no lessons learned, or wisdom gained, unfortunately.

I kept reading hoping that if even the Islam was poorly done that the love story would be sweet, or the presentation of hate and Islamaphobia would be on point, but it also was shallow.  Really only one kid had it out for Muslims, and yes he got violent with Maya and threw a brick through her parent’s dental practice, but it could have been used to show light on misguided hate and it didn’t, I don’t really even know what it was used to show.  Maya’s parents got scared and wanted to keep her close, thus forbidding her from going to NYU, but they were already on the fence about it.  Yes, maybe it added to the catalyst of her running away from home an in to the arms of Phil, but even that ended up seeming lame, as she left for NYU and was in someone else’s arms by the end of the book.  So, not sure really, what religion at all had to do with anything, and why the author and publishing team would want to advertise the book with such a strong religious angle, or even cultural one for that matter.  The parents are both successful dentists, who let their daughter do whatever, yes they have an opinion on her future, but Maya reads like a brat, I wish I could like her, and take her side against her tyrant parents, but they don’t actually seem written that bad, and Maya doesn’t make any effort, so she really comes across as whiney, privileged, and entitled.  


Alcohol, lying, hate crime, terrorism, physical altercation, kissing, hand holding, talk of condoms, sneaking out.  I would not let a 4th grader read this or even a 7th grader, based on content.  Quality, I’d encourage most kids to skip it altogether.


I wouldn’t consider this as a book club, I considered not even reviewing it, with the fear that people wouldn’t read the whole review and would just assume I was throwing my support behind it.  I am a bit disappointed that the book is available through Scholastic as its back flap reads very different than the text within.  



My Name was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov illustrated by Allan Eitzen

My Name was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov illustrated by Allan Eitzen


It isn’t often that a 32 page AR 2.4 picture book will haunt you after you read the last page.  Especially a book with short simple sentences, that is poorly organized and reads like two separate nearly disjointed stories, but alas this book has stayed with me for months and upon rereading it to write this review, the images and empathy and reflections stirred have not lessened.  This is an important book to read, to think about, and to return to sporadically as your children and their understanding of the larger world grows and evolves.


Hussein is a Roma, or a gypsy living in a small village in Bulgaria.  Their ancestors migrated many years ago from India and they are Muslim.  Hussein and his family love Ramadan and the delicious smells of food and warmth of grandparents and family all year round, but particularly during the blessed month.  


Eid is the best, with family and fun and new clothes.  Hussein loves his life and his name.  It was his grandfather’s name and his grandfather’s grandfather’s name.  But then one day all that changes.


Tanks and soldiers with guns come to their village and close that mosque and tear up their identity cards and tell all the minorities that they must choose Christian names and give up their culture and identities.


Hussein and his family do not want to give up Islam and their names and their traditions, but they don’t know what to do.  Feeling like they have no choice they change their names and Hussein asks the reader at the end if you would call him Hussein or Harry?  


The last page of the book is an author’s note, and tells that this is based on his own life story.  That in the 1980s Bulgarian minorities were forced to change their identities.  That more than one million Muslims, including Roma, Turks and other minorities were forced to choose Christian names and that until he was 22 years old, his name was Hussein.

The illustrations are illuminating to the images that the simple words discuss.  Truly they are a powerful and integral part of the story.  The women wear hijab and the use of color to set the tone is spot on.  The book is hardbound and the 8×10 size allow the pictures to be enjoyed fully.


The book published in 2004, was not easy to find which is unfortunate as it really sheds light on a recent history not known in the US at all, and one that should be known and remembered.  The first part of the book reads like a Ramadan story detailing iftaar and Eid and how Ramadan is celebrated by this culture, but the second half goes back to Ramadan and how it is different with the soldiers and the pressure to give up who they are.  There aren’t a lot of details about who the soldiers are or why they have come or what they are going to do to the Romas, but the fact that in recent history and this was what people were faced with, should be a powerful reminder to us all at how fragile this world is and make us appreciate that we aren’t forced to make such a decision.


Mustafa and Arwa go on a Ramadan Adventure by Mekram Mohammad

Mustafa and Arwa go on a Ramadan Adventure by Mekram Mohammad


Ramadan is two months away and this little book is a great way to introduce and stir up excitement for little Muslim toddlers and preschoolers. It could work for non Muslims, but the general overview given would need some details and explanations, and this book seems more geared to introduce excitement and a few key concepts for the blessed month.


In 27 rhyming pages the brother sister duo explore some of the feelings of the month, activities that make the month special and what to expect at suhur, iftar, and taraweeh at night.  


I like that it makes it clear that you don’t eat one bite, that you fast even if you are at work or school, that you use your time to do good and help people, and that you ask Allah for paradise.  


The end is Eid and while the text presents some great general info, the illustrations are what really give the minimal clear text life.  Seeing the kids giving presents to people and looking for the moon and enjoying iftar together with smiling faces, show kids the warmth of Ramadan.  


The book doesn’t have a story, it just talks about Ramadan, but the tone in this book and in Mustafa and Arwa go on a Prayer Adventure is very fun and light.  It doesn’t get into rules or articulate what little kids are expected or required to do, or even why Muslims do it, it just gives them some knowledge and some emotion to create the feeling of it being a grand adventure.


The book is paperback 8.5 x 8.5 and the thickness, sheen and quality of the pages makes it durable and enjoyable to read at story time (in small groups) and bedtime alike.  This book most likely will be on repeat in the weeks leading up to Ramadan and then referenced throughout the month to remind children about what they are seeing and experiencing.  

Peeper and the Peeping Boy by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir

Peeper and the Peeping Boy by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir


I see the author regularly posting positive feedback for this book and after feeling let down by the last book of hers that I read, that had a great premise, I tentatively reached for this one.  The book is meant for children in grades 2 through 5, but the writing seems a bit all over the place and some of the vocabulary is above that level. The book is 67 pages and reads like a rough draft that has so much potential to be fleshed out, enhanced, and cleaned up.


The book takes place in Pakistan and is told from the perspective of Akram, an 11-year-old boy and a Jinn who he names Peeper.  Akram is apparently funny looking and behaves old for his age.  Those around him find him too contemplative and off compared to his peers.  He seems to be an only child and his family is middle class, but they live in a really weird neighborhood and while they have a maid, they are really tight with food and money.  Akram has a passion for peeking in on old houses and imaging stories for the inhabitants. 

Peeper is a Jinn, a good one, who doesn’t like to see suffering of small children.  He sneaks on Akram and sees what praying is and what being a Muslim is.  When he says “no” to his tribe to help plan a party for shaytan, he is punished and made human.  And as a human he and Akram explore the six abandoned houses next to Akram’s house snooping, making assumptions, involving the police and ultimately saving the day.


I love the premise of a boy and a jinn learning about Islam and trying to help those around them who are suffering.  I like that the foundation of being Muslim is what shapes both boys perception of the world as they pray and use AllahuAkbar as a super word to protect themselves.  Unfortunately the author’s writing style is very befuddled and these lessons are not clear.  The tenses change through out as does the point of view, with sometimes it being the characters being in the story and sometimes them preaching to the reader.  There is a lot of repetition of ideas, often disconnected random ideas, and in such a short book it really stands out.  Similarly, everything is really vague, no characters other than the main two are named, numbers of people aren’t identified, “…came in with 10 to 15 people, (page 62).”  Everything is very fluid and not in a helpful way.  The verdict of Peeper getting expelled from his tribe should have been a major plot point, but it is so quick and anti-climatic, that it really makes no impact. In a fantasy story, world building is critical, and there is nothing understood about the world of the jinns.  It says they are evil and horrid, but Akram misses them and wants to go back, which makes no sense and their are no details to show why he would think some in his tribe are good and kind, so when at the end they take shahada, it is completely fuzzy and confusing how one concept links to another.  Even the point of the story is befuddling, sneaking is wrong, but their intentions were pure, they got all their assumptions wrong, so they get medals and get rewarded and are encouraged to sneak more, but with permission? So, ya, all over the place.  The happy ending is that the mom is suddenly praying and religious, but no explanation of what changed her is given, so it falls rather flat.

Aside from my own thoughts on the story, there are blatant contradictions that aren’t explained.  Peeper says he wish he knew Arabic, but he came from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran, so how does he know English, but not Arabic from Syria?  Peeper also says on page 28 he doesn’t understand fajr, but on page 23 he says he watched Akram pray all 5 daily prayers.  The whole premise of Akram and Peeper being drawn to each other is their nosy curiosity and their compassion for others, but the whole scene with how they let the maid take the fall for the missing food is so out of character, and then when Akram is rude to Peeper about what his parents would say if they saw him is very jarring to how the character has previously been presented.  Neither situation is really resolved either and I really am worried that the maid lost her job and Akram didn’t even try to fix it.  The author tells us they are nice, but shows us two examples when they are not, so it isn’t very convincing that they truly are nice until they try to help the neighbors.  The inhabitant in one of the abandoned bungalows they assume is poor and deliver biscuits to him, but they note that he has bars of gold in his cupboards, so obviously he isn’t poor.  It is noted that Peeper can deliver the mail secretly with no one knowing where they came from, yet the police know that Akram is the one that alerted them to everything going on in the six bungalows, another contradiction that isn’t explained.

Some of the vocabulary was also troublesome for me.  The glossary at the end of the story and before the activity coloring and word search pages, jinn is defined as ghost, but they aren’t dead human spirits, so I disagree with that.  At one point the book mentions “elders of Islam” which is vague and odd, as well.  There are poems at the beginning of each of the 21 chapters, that are very forced rhyme and use words I had to look up:  hoary, momento mori, atavistic, not saying that kid’s can’t handle hard words, but there are many passages that have words more middle school in nature and with unconnected concepts, context clues are rather non existent.

There are little illustrations scattered throughout, but they are inconsistent in style and the copy quality is a bit poor, so they are not really helpful.  Akram does not have a face drawn in, but the jinn does. 


There is nothing alarming.


I wouldn’t do this as a book club book, and I wouldn’t stress having a copy on a library shelf as I don’t think a child would willingly read it and understand it.