Tag Archives: fasting

Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated Omar Burgess

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Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated Omar Burgess

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Another factual Ramadan book, with a fictional storyline that utilizes the banter between children and their parents to teach the reader about the blessed month.  Not a unique or original storyline, but somehow it still manages to be cute.  The book has very little doctrine discussed, and more hands on action of charity, visiting other families for iftar, and taking treats to non muslim neighbors as the focus of the book.

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Hassan and Aneesa are young, and the book is similarly written for young kids.  The back of the book says 2 and up, and the short declarative sentences definitely work for younger children.  The pictures are warm as the characters are smily and detailed, but not overwhelmingly so.  At home the mom does not cover, but does when she is out, as does the little girl.  The family is depicted as warm and affectionate to one another and I love that they visit a non-muslim-sounding-named neighbor and are rewarded with a non “ethnic” treat of chocolate cake.  I also like that the kids are encouraged to fast for parts of the day, even if it is the second half of the day.  The book appeals to today’s children who may at times chose “ethnic” food and clothes and sometimes not.  The book is small in size at 6.5 by 7.5 inches and is 24 pages with a glossary in the back.  It is for pre-school kids and while it might work for non-muslims, I think for the age group, if a child didn’t know a Muslim at least, the book would be a bit hard to grasp.

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Hassan and Aneesa are excited as mom and dad tell them Ramadan starts tomorrow, but a confused Aneesa sneaks downstairs and suhoor time wondering why her parents are eating breakfast in the middle of the night.  The next day they read Quran and gather up toys to take to the thrift store.  While there Aneesa donates some money too.  As they leave they are invited to an Aunt’s house for iftar.  After iftar they have to rush to Tarawih at the masjid.  That night Aneesa and her mom discuss why Muslim’s fast in an age appropriate manner, and the two kids decide they want to try, even though they don’t have to yet.

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The next day the fasting kids cook enough dinner to share with their neighbor Mrs. Smith.  Aneesa breaks her fast early, but Hassan hangs in there, and all are rewarded with a surprise chocolate cake from dad!

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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.

Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

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Before she was Grandma Najma, she was just Najma.  A girl in Turkey with a secret dream of being a musaharati, the person who walks the streets waking up the neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan.  But, a girl had never done this and thus the dream stayed hidden until she was 12 and the neighborhood musaharati was feeling ill.  Confiding in her baba, his love and support makes her dream come true against cultural norms and naysayers.  The line from her Baba, “Girls can be anything they like,” is so clear that her one girl revolution grabs the hearts of the reader and turns readers into cheerleaders.  The added beauty is her father’s support is not limited to his words, he accompanies her out every night almost challenging anyone to say she can’t do it.  Overtime she becomes the pride of the area, and her brothers accompany her if she doesn’t want to go alone, and then eventually her husband and her children.

drumemrgirl2The book warms the soul and uplifts the spirit.  The text seems geared to 7 year olds and up, as there is a lot of it, and at 26 pages does require some ability to focus. But with minor tweaks and condenscing the story appeals to children 4 and up and the pictures help hold their attention as they create a mood of wonder and whimsy.

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Structurally the book is hardback and dust jacket free, yay! the cover is printed on and thus easier to maintain.  The book is longer horizontally with most illustrations on the left side making it great for story time where the kids can see the pictures and the reader can hold and easily see the text without blocking the children’s line of sight.  There is a glossary, an author’s note telling where the story comes from, and a little biography of the author and illustrator and publisher in the back.

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A beautiful, beautiful book to share with children this Ramadan and all year long, alhumdulillah.

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi illustrated by Lea Lyon

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Lailah's Lunchbox

Another standout in a crowded field of Ramadan picture books, mashaAllah, Lailah’s Lunchbox works well even outside of Ramadan for Muslim and Muslim children alike.  In 32 pages, the reader gets to know Lailah and understand how hard it has been for her to move to America from Abu Dhabi, make new friends, how nerovus she is to be identified as different, as well as how excited she is that her mother has finally agreed to let her fast this Ramadan.

Lailah is excited to wake up and have sehri with her family before heading to her new school, fasting for the first time.  Her mother has written a note for her teacher, but on the bus, Lailah reads the note and suddenly worries if her teacher will even know what Ramadan is ,and decides not to give it to her teacher.  Lunchtime arrives, and when the teacher asks Lailah if she forgot her lunch, her voice fails her, and her classmates offer to share their lunch with her.  Lailah decides to leave the cafeteria and finds herself in the library spilling all her worries and stresses and fears to a kind librarian.  (Yes the librarian is the hero, and really no one should be surprised, right!?) With the librarian’s urging and Lailah’s determination, she writes a note to the teacher explaining that she is Muslim, and fasting, and even includes a poem.  She leaves the note on her teacher’s desk at the end of the day.  The following day, the teacher has written her back and the reader, along with Lailah, know that having courage and staying true to one’s self can often be scary, but also wonderful too.

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While the story is billed a Ramadan Story, it really just is the back drop for a lot of really good messages.  I think 2nd and 3rd graders to early middle schoolers could really benefit from the book.  It is semi autobiographical and I think the authenticity of the emotion woven in, makes the book very relatable and powerful.  I plan to discuss it with my daughter going in to 5th grade, who is also a bit shy on occasion: the way Lailah worked out the problem, the way she found someone to trust and talk to that was patient with her, to point out to her that the kids in her class were very kind and that most of her fear and anxiety was with herself, not them.  I also really like the message that she was so excited to fast, and how her nerves took that excitement away, but having the courage to face her fear, brought back her happiness and enthusiasm.

The end of the book has an Author’s note, telling how the story came about and a bit more about Ramadan. It also tells the definition of Sehri and Iftar, the only two “foreign” words in the book.  I found it interesting that the word Sehri, an Urdu word, was used instead of Suhoor, if they are coming from Abu Dhabi, but perhaps the author is of subcontinent heritage.  The illustrations are colorful and realistic, complementing the story and tying in the range of emotions and events Lailah is experiencing.

I was pleasantly surprised at the book, and even more excited to see that it is available in the public library system.  Here is the link to the author’s blog I hope she plans to write more, as her style and message resonate with Muslim American kids, and their parents, alhumdulillah.

 

A Party in Ramadan By Asma Mobin-Uddin Illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

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This is a great book that works on a variety of levels.  Leena is fasting the whole day for the first time, but is also invited to a friends party.  Her mom gives her the choice to fast or not as it is not yet mandatory at her age, and she decides to fast AND go to the party.  The story takes you through the activities of the party and how some parts are easy and some harder for the fasting Leena.  The end has a wonderful surprise for both Leena and the reader as the author gives us all reason to hope that respect among friends exists, and that in fact one can stay true to their beliefs and have support from their friends.

This book is  great conversation starter for older kids who maybe have tried to fast and felt the temptations of day-to-day life in a non -Islamic environment.  With an AR level of 4.2 and 34 pages the story is strong enough to hold a fourth graders attention and get them to analyze what they would do in a similar situation.  Although the book is about Ramadan and some facets about how fasting is done, what it means, and why Muslims do it, are sprinkled in, the story isn’t overly religious in nature.  The characters are simply Muslim, they pray, they thank Allah, they wear hijab, they make duaas and they also go to friend’s parties. I think non-Muslims would benefit from this book and see the beauty of diversity as Leena and her friends support one another.  The pictures also do a wonderful job of depicting the story: the characters are warm and happy, some cover some do not, they eat chocolate pudding and Baklava and the reader sees how a Muslim family is just like any other family.

The added beauty of this book is that it also works for story time. The younger ones may or may not understand the potential stress of being the only Muslim at a party, let alone being the only one fasting, but they do understand that Leena wanted to eat and drink and she remembered that when her little sister wanted her dessert.  They also understand how sometimes it is hard to do what is right, but inshaAllah the reward is sweet indeed.