Tag Archives: Fun

Welcome Ramadan by Lila Assiff-Tarabain illustrated by Gurmeet

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As many of us are setting out our Ramadan decorations and pulling our Ramadan books from the shelves, or realistically browsing Amazon, the quality and presentation of Islamic picture books is impressive.  And with this new expectation, there is also an increase in price, this book however, is the opposite.  Ranging from .97 cents to $3 online this little 6.5 inch by 9.5 inch 24 page book is a lot of bang for your buck.welcome ramadan1

Starting with finding the moon, big sister Maysa tells her younger brother Bilal all about Ramadan, in (mostly) rhyming couplets none the less.  She tells him about walking up before dawn and explains that yes that means no lunch.  She also explains that because they are little they aren’t required to fast. They then explore breaking the fast, going to the mosque to pray, having good manners, and learning that a full moon means that Ramadan is half way over.  Reading the Quran is discussed as well as how we have to be generous with what Allah swt has given us. It concludes with Eid and a Parent/Teacher guide at the end to help Muslim and non Muslims alike learn about Ramadan.

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The pictures are cute and comical, albeit small given the overall size of the book.  It covers Ramadan on a level kids of all ages can understand, and because of its easy reading style even older kids can skim through it and find it enjoyable.  There isn’t really a story, it is just a fun way to share the “facts” but a welcome addition to any book shelf both at home and in a classroom setting.

The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman illustrated by Shelley Fowles

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The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman illustrated by Shelley Fowles

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Three very naughty boys harass visitors to Cordoba’s Great Mosque in Spain.  Rashid, a Muslim, Samuel, a Jew, and Miguel, a Christian, run through the fountains, destroy the flowerbeds and throw oranges at people leaving their prayers.  Most days the boys can out run the gardeners, but one day they pelt the Caliph himself with a rotten orange.  The punishment from the Caliph is three months of hard labor working with the gardeners everyday on the mosque grounds.  On their breaks the boys explore the mosque and marvel at its beauty.  By the end of their sentence, the boys have such a love for the mosque and one another that they are forever bound.  As the boys grow and make their way in the world, they don’t keep in touch much.  However, when Cordoba is defeated in battle by the Christian king Fernando, it will be up to these three boys to convince the new king, that the Mosque shouldn’t be torn down.  And that the it is the pride of all people in Cordoba, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian alike.

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The book is 32 pages and an AR 4.0.  It does a good job of showing the three faith communities coming together to save something they all value.  It also shows a kind, yet purposeful punishment from the Caliph to the three boys.  While younger kids in story time will enjoy the concept of people working together, the book really finds its strength with students learning or familiar with Spain, particularly prior to the Inquisition.  There isn’t a lot of detail regarding the structure of the mosque, or the doctrine of each faith, that knowledge would have to come from outside the book, in order for it to be appreciated. There are some plot holes in the story and the book itself doesn’t make it clear what parts of the story are historically accurate and which are fiction.

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The illustrations are charming in their own way.  The watercolors do a good job bringing to life the mosque and gardens, and battle, but for me fall a little flat in depicting the three boys.  I don’t know if the text or illustrations are at fault for me not connecting to the story or finding an emotional resonance to what should be a very inspiring story. Perhaps it is a combination of the two.  I feel it is desperately in need of an author’s note detailing the factual origins of the tale,  Something to uplift and give hope to people of different faiths coming together in a peaceful way, that can be put into real world actions.

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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.

Never Say A Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard

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I love when tales from the past provide timeless lessons in relevant ways.  Inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, a royal advisor in Muslim Grenada, Jules creates a story that works for children of all ages and backgrounds.

The Grand Vizier’s son, Samuel, bumps into the tax collector’s son, Hamza, and the boys don’t rub each other the right way.  Later that day, Samuel spills his drink on Hamza and can’t convince him both were accidents.  Hamza calls Samuel some mean names and storms off.  Samuel and his father think the name calling is uncalled for, but the vizier does not solve his son’s problem and instead assigns him to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.”  Samuel imagines ways to teach Hamza a lesson or punish him, but some ideas are too complicated and some just silly.  This is proving to be a hard task.  The next day Samuel shows up to Hamza’s house with a lemon.  He thinks forcing Hamza to eat it is a good punishment for a mean mouth, however Hamza thinks the lemon is to help with the stain that ruined his clothes, and tells him his mother already tried that.  Caught off guard by Hamza’s reaction, the two somehow end up playing catch with the lemon and enjoying the afternoon together.  The next day he shows up to Hamza’s house with ink and paper thinking he will make Hamza write him an apology.  Hamza however, thought Samuel showed up to draw, and once again the boys enjoy an afternoon together.  This carries on until the boys are so used to seeing each other and having fun together, they become friends.  Samuel fears that he disobeyed his father and did not handle Hamza only to realize that by befriending his “enemy” he did in fact make sure Hamza never said a mean word again.

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The book is 32 pages with an Author’s Note about the real life events that the story draws upon.  The book is not AR, but the large bold typeface and the warm simple pictures make this book work great for story time with young children.  It compliments themes about bullying and making friends as well as being silly.  It works well for third graders and older ones too, as they might understand people of different faiths struggling to get along or people of different socio-economic classes, or even just imaging how they would solve a problem without their parents doing it for them.  I was pleasantly surprised by the book and how it handled the Muslim/Jew staging of the characters.  Especially right now in today’s world, this story has a poignant lesson for us all. If we all spent time together having fun, we too could end up being friends, or at least getting along.  I think the story and its lessons have merit and relevance, and thus a place on the bookshelf.

 

 

Samira and the Skeletons by Camilla Kuhn

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Samira and the Skeletons by Camilla Kuhn

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Quite possibly there is nothing Islamic about this book, but the main character’s name, Samira, is traditionally an Islamic name and thus it caught my attention.  I also think one could argue that the mom in one of the pictures (see picture below) is possibly wearing a hijab.  So, probably I shouldn’t include it on the blog, but the book is so disturbingly creepy, in a fantastical way, that I thought, why not.

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Samira learns that everyone has a skeleton and bones one day at school, and it frightens her.  She starts seeing everyone’s skulls instead of their outward body parts and she refuses to accept that she has such morbid parts or that her friend Frida does too.  Knowing that she is chewing with teeth, skeleton parts poking through, at lunch is too much and she can’t even be near Frida.  When she gets home she tells her mom she wants to be free of her skeleton, and her mom agrees.  Yes, agrees! They resolve the tooth fairy will be delighted to get a whole skeleton, not just a few teeth.  So the mom, gets some tools and preps a table to perform the surgery required to remove her skeleton.  Luckily Samira runs for it and finds Frida, and alas the girls accept that they have skeletons and use humor to diffuse the fears they have of what lurks beneath their skin.  That is of course until the next day at school comes, and they learn that they have muscles, just like steak.

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The imagination of the girls is quite remarkable.  I love that it starts with a lesson and that information about skeletons and animals, such as jelly fish that don’t have them exist, is sprinkled through out.  I also like the approach, its weird, but in a delightfully fun way.  It also lends itself well to a discussion of how we are more alike than different.  Our outward appearance doesn’t define us when we are all made up of bones and muscles.  The story doesn’t address it, but some kids might infer it or connect the dots with a little prodding.    img_3064

The book is not AR, but I think most 5 year olds and up can read it or follow along giggling all the way through.  It probably isn’t for every child, but those with a darker sense of humor will enjoy all 34 pages.

A Tale from Turkey The Hungry Coat by Demi

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A Tale from Turkey The Hungry Coat by Demi

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It really bothered me that I didn’t love the version I read of  The Parrot and the Turkey about Nasreddin Hodja, especially after finding out how entwined he is in Turkish culture, and reading some of his tales online.  So, when I found that Demi had also rewritten and illustrated a tale from his collection I was anxious to check it out.

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The  Hungry Coat is a charming story and Demi does a great job of bringing it to life with her pictures and storytelling abilities.  The book is 36 pages and a 4.1 on AR.  The text isn’t overwhelming in volume, but to read it definitely requires a bit of an older child’s vocabulary.  Words like caravansary, hostel, banquet, frisky, and commotion are scattered through out.  However, to listen to the story and to understand the message Nasrettin Hoca (an alternate spelling) is conveying, is easily enjoyed by children four and up.  The story flows very smoothly and the catch line of “Eat, coat! Eat!” makes the story absolutely delightful.

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Nasrettin Hoca always keeps an apple in his pocket for any goats he might pass while he is out and about.  One day he helps round-up a goat that has gotten lost, and in all the commotion had become quite a mess and lost too much time to go home and change his clothes before heading to a friend’s house for dinner.  Deciding to go in his patchy, smelly clothes, Nasrettin soon finds that none at the dinner party will sit by him, or even sit facing him.  He slips out quietly from the gathering and has an idea.  He goes home and preens himself, and returns to the party where he is greeted with attention and kindness.  At dinner he begins placing the food in his coat, rather than eating it.  Each time he opens his coat he commands it to eat.  After he fills his coat he pats his belly to the bemusement of all around him as they ask him what he is doing.  He makes his point that when he came in his old coat he wasn’t fed, but when he came dressed so beautifully he was, and thus clearly the coat was invited to dinner, not him.  Everyone cheered and learned the lesson.

“A coat may be fine, but a coat does not make a man.”

The illustrations are rich and detailed, but I did find myself a little put off when Nasrettin seemed to go from looking like an old little man, to being very effeminate.  The inconsistency bothered me a bit, which surprised me for a Demi illustration.  Also, it is worth noting that there is mention of wine in the story, that many may find off for a children’s book, particularly one about Muslims (Nasrettin was an Imam and a Dervish, so he may have drunk, I’m just saying it surprised me).  The last two pages of the book are an afterword about Nasrettin Hoca in real life and the influence of his folk tales and lessons.