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Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Hatem Aly

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Yes! Yes! Yes! A strong and relatable 2nd grade, Pakistani-American Muslim girl, with stories written on a AR 2.4 -2.5 level, learns lessons and grows in everyday scenarios.  Seriously, this book is overdue and so well done, I can’t wait for the author, illustrator, and publisher, to team up to do more.  The book I have, Meet Yasmin! contains all four stories: Yasmin the Explorer, Yasmin the Painter, Yasmin the Builder, and Yasmin the Fashionista. You can buy each of the books separately in a larger format, and possibly a longer story.  The version I have is 5.5 x 7 and 96 pages long which includes a Think About It, Talk About It section at the back as well as a glossary of Urdu words, some facts about Pakistan and a recipe for Mango and instructions to make a bookmark craft .  The individual stories are 6 x 9 and 32 pages, and whether you buy the collection or the individual stories, they are under $6. Fabulous all the way around.

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SYNOPSIS:

Yasmin the Explorer:  The book starts out with Yasmin’s dad telling her about explorers and maps.  Inspired, Yasmin decides to make her own map of the neighborhood, which gets really exciting when her mom asks her if she wants to join her on a shopping trip to the farmer’s market.  While they stop at different stalls and Yasmin adds to her map, the temptation of a playground draws Yasmin away from her mom, but luckily her map can guide her back.

Yasmin the Painter:  Yasmin’s school is having an art competition and Yasmin is nervous because she doesn’t consider herself a very good artist.  Her parents show her videos and gift her supplies.  Unhappy with how her attempts are turning out, she decides to find her own style and with the support of her parents she enters her painting and waits nervously to see who wins and what the mystery prize is.

Yasmin the Builder:  I think this story is my favorite because she really had to rely on herself when the class is building a city and Yasmin can’t figure out what to build.  She perseveres and works hard, and ends up connecting the dots and making the city come to life by finding a way to make her favorite part of the city, going for walks, a part of the class project.

Yasmin the Fashionista:  Mama and Baba have gone out for the evening, so Yasmin is hanging out with her grandparents.  When Nani and Yasmin play dress-up and Mama’s shirt gets ripped, Yasmin and Nani have to solve the problem!  Not only that, they get inspired to transform Yasmin’s pajamas, and when Mama and Baba come home they are treated to a fashion show!

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WHY I LIKE IT: 

There is a lot to love about these stories.  Yasmin is not great at everything, and things don’t necessarily come easy for her.  But she is bright and surrounded by people that love her, and she is allowed and encouraged to shine in her own way.  I like that her painting wasn’t great, and that she stayed in from recess to figure out what to build.  I love that her dad is involved in her projects and ideas as much as her mom, if not more.  I love all the little nuances that accurately show a Pakistani-American family and a Muslim one; not an exaggerated version, or a dumbed down one either.  Yasmin has to wait for her mom to put on her hijab, it doesn’t explain that she isn’t wearing a hijab in the home, but it is shown.  It shows the characters in ethnic clothes and in western clothes.  It shows Yasmin’s classmate building a church, and one building a castle.  Yasmin is spunky, she makes mistakes, she works hard, and she is a breath of fresh air, that I think kids of any and all backgrounds will relate to her and enjoy the stories.

The pictures are bright and colorful and detailed. They are age appropriate and make the chapters within the stories really come to life and keep new readers engaged.  The font and binding and layout is well done.

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FLAGS:

None.  

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TIPS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I honestly think little kids could read this and discuss it and might actually enjoy having a discussion about Yasmin: what they like about her, what things they have in common, what she does that makes them laugh.  It might come across as a girl book, but really, it isn’t she is relatable for everyone. 

There is nothing Islamic mentioned, just depicted in her mother’s and grandmothers hijabs.

 

 

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Imagine by Shoohada Khanom illustrated by Faiza Benauvda and Vicky Amrullah

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A bright and colorful, well illustrated book for preschoolers to stretch their imaginations with and giggle at, while never straying too far from an Islamic concept or reference.  The book mentions something  Islamic on nearly every one of the 32 pages: dhikr, Quran, Ramadan, Prophet Yunus, salah, saying salam, Eid. 

I absolutely love the premise of the book, asking whales about Prophet Yunus, having an octopus help serve iftaar, it really is a lot of fun. The illustrations are great.  The 8.5 by 8.5 book size completely filled with colors and friendly faces, are well done and engaging.  The amount of text on the page is appropriate for the age group and the binding and weight is adequate, nothing to get excited about at a $13 price point.

The book is written in four line stanzas, but I really struggled to not get tongue-tied on nearly every page.  I think the loose rhyme is fine, it just seems really forced in some places, and non-existent in others.  And even when it isn’t forced, the rhythm is a tad off.  I read it to myself and struggled, so I scooped up my 3-year-old and tried twice to read it to him before making a final attempt to make it flow, and feeling somewhat successful.  I think part of it is me, I try to read it like I’m doing a story time, and not like a bedtime story.  But here: read this page and see if you agree.

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I think it is me, and now I’m projecting all my issues on you the reader, and this cute book, I apologize, but here’s one more.  I feel like I’m becoming a broken record when I complain about the price of books and lacking editors.  I promise I have atrocious grammar myself, and make a ton of mistakes typing these reviews, texting my friends and posting on Facebook.  I can’t even blame auto-correct half the time.  So, when I spot errors, and can’t get through a stanza in a children’s book, I get grumpy.  I paid money for this, the author spent a ton of time on it, and the illustrators too, and the publishers…maybe that is the problem.  I love the idea of small publishing companies and self publishing, but why am I once again sitting here with a beautiful children’s book in my hands shaking my head at a really silly mistake.

“I’d try climb on top of another,”

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Sigh.                                                                                                                                                               

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

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It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

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Islamaphobia is rampant in today’s America, but it isn’t the first time that a minority group has had to face extreme persecution.  Often us Muslims need to look around and be reminded: Blacks are still targeted, Japanese once were interned, Italians, Irish, Hispanics, really every minority group has, and continues to struggle to be accepted as part of American culture, unfortunately.  Today’s middle school students didn’t live through 9//11 and often they think they are the first to be ostracized for their faith or their parent’s countries of origin.  So I picked up this book to see how well the book would serve as a way to discuss prejudice and persecution with Muslim kids, in a way that they could relate to, but be removed enough from that hopefully they could offer their own insights and experiences.   This book takes place in the 1970s and the climax is the Iran hostage situation as the book is told from an 11-year-old Iranian girl’s perspective. 

Similarly, most Persian penned books that I’ve read fight against Islam and the way it was forced upon them by their government, so I also wanted to see how the author would paint the faith in her semi auto-biographical-middle-school tale.  Alhumdulillah, I was happily surprised how Islam was handled in this 378 page, AR 4.7, book, and I think, like the inscription reads, “To all the kids who don’t belong, for whatever reason.  This one’s for you.”

SYNOPSIS:

Zomorod has lived in America before.  She was born in Iran, moved to California, moved back to Iran, back to California, and now from Compton, California she is moving to the much wealthier Newport Beach and hoping to start middle school fitting in more with her new Brady Bunch inspired name, Cindy.  Establishing early that she is the translator for her mother, who doesn’t speak English and doesn’t want to learn, and that she is somewhat embarrassed by her parent’s thick accents, lack of American snacks, Iranian food, and conversation topics, the book will appeal to most middle schooler’s who can relate.  Her parents, however, are pretty chill about letting her go out with friends, and doing whatever she wants, so really its more about the age and being angsty and awkward, then it is about her parents and their lifestyle and culture.  The basic point of the book is a growing-up tale of making friends, finding real ones that care about you, finding the balance between family and the outside world, cultures that conflict, the past and the future, and ultimately finding acceptance and pride in who, and what you are.

The political climate in Iran and in America amplify what it is like when people hate your country, but can’t find it on the map, and manifest in the story with bullying at school, Zomorod’s father losing his job and not finding a new one, and some hateful acts occurring at the Yousefzadeh’s home. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book could be heavy and dark, but it’s not.  The voice of Zomorod really stays in the persona of an 11-year-old girl and is poignant, clever and light-hearted, I even laughed out loud a few times.   The 1970’s backdrop isn’t too alienating for today’s readers, as there aren’t a lot of cultural references that would turn them off.  The historical significance, is very likely one they will not have heard of before and the book, through Zomorod’s eyes, will shed light on Iran in the late 70s and early 80s without boring the target audience.  They might even learn something and remember it.  

The stereotypes about Iran are addressed, the concept of a single person having to represent every one of that minority group is felt first had through the main character, and many misconceptions about Iran are clarified.  Yet, the book doesn’t get preachy, it maintains its lightness, and while I read it in a few days, it was just as easy to put down as it was to pick up.  The characters felt real and developed for the most part, so even though it was a tale about life, it was compelling enough to stick around, and you are invested enough to care how the characters are doing. There are a lot of really great supporting characters in the book as well: neighbors, friends, teachers, friend’s families, and a few not so nice characters that surprisingly aren’t painted with a singular condemning evil stroke.  The author is very careful to reserve judgement of all her characters and the sub groups they represent.

Which brings me to how Islam is handled in this book.  Her family doesn’t practice, but her reference for Islam is shia, as evident by her mentioning 12 imams.  I took pictures of most of the pages where Islam is mentioned, less than 10 in all, but where it is mentioned it is handled very politically correct and powerfully.   She talks about how they don’t celebrate Christmas or most holidays as they aren’t Christian or really American, but when the pool key is lost she does pray to a Christian Saint after a suggestion that such an act will help it be found.  It isn’t really presented as a religious act, more of one done in desperation. Here are the most applicable and relevant passages regarding Islam.

  • Dr. Klein shakes his head in sympathy.  “Do your wife and Cindy have to wear those cover-ups if you go back?”  “Yes, and I cannot believe this.  When we lived in Iran, my wife, my sisters, all the women I knew wore western clothes.  No tennis clothes like you see here, but regular clothes.  Only religious women chose to wear hijab, it meant something.  Imagine if everybody in America had to wear a cross around their neck or a Star of David-what would those symbols mean? Nothing. If you have to wear it, it means nothing.  If you choose to wear it, it means something” (168).
  • “The Ayatollah is Muslim, right? So is, like Allah, his God?”  “Allah is the Arabic word for God,” I say.  “It’s the same God. (154).”
  • We don’t have Saints in Islam, just a Prophet with twelve imams, and they don’t preach to animals or help find lost items,  My family, like most Iranians, is Muslim, but we never do anything religious.  I’ve never even been in a mosque, which is like a church (40).
  • “Being Muslim means different things to different people,” I say.  “My family doesn’t do anything officially religious.  My dad says religion is kindness and that’s what everyone should practice” ((184-5).
  • “…even though we belong to three different religions. We are alike in so many more ways than we are different.” 

FLAGS:

The book is fine for middle school readers, there is mention of Cindy’s dad trying alcohol at one point in the past and not liking it.  Cindy’s friends tease her once or maybe twice about liking a boy and Halloween is celebrated.  There is a lot of lying in the book, but it is made clear why, even if she doesn’t always feel bad about it: she is embarrassed by her mom’s food and lies that she shared it, she withholds information a lot, she pranks the neighbor lady who left a dead rodent on their porch, etc.  Hopefully the demographic won’t be inspired by Zomorod’s antics and just find them as her way of dealing with life.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a fun book club book to discuss being new to a country, minorities, how to handle conflicting cultures, and how to be and have good friends.

Educators guide: http://firoozehdumas.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ItAintSoAwfulFalafelguide.pdf

https://www.floridamediaed.org/uploads/6/1/4/2/61420659/ms_-_it_ain%E2%80%99t_so_awful_falafel.pdf

https://www.bookmovement.com/bookDetailView/49051/It-Ain’t-So-Awful,-Falafel-By-Firoozeh-Dumas

Author’s page: http://firoozehdumas.com/books/it-aint-so-awful-falafel/

Ilyas and Duck: Ramadan Joy by Omar S. Khawaja illustrated by Leo Antolini

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Ilyas and Duck: Ramadan Joy by Omar S. Khawaja illustrated by Leo Antolini

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The fourth book in the popular Ilyas & Duck series is perfect for instilling joy about Ramadan, and excitement in overcoming Mr. Mean.  But first readers along with Ilyas and Duck, will have to understand what fasting means, realize that it is hard and not all fun, learn some Arabic words and concepts such as compassion, empathy, and gratitude, before they can save the neighborhood from a menacing villain wanting to destroy the blessings of Ramadan.

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As always, with Ilyas and Duck, the rhyming book asks questions that kids think about and is silly in a way that they can relate to.  The illustrations are bright and engaging and the hardback book is 38 pages of fun and information, perfect for ages 5 and up. 

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The book starts with the ayat from the Qur’an that says, “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” (chapter 2, verse 283).  The book concludes with a mock newspaper spread of the Current Times, full of tidbits about the crescent moon, benefits of fasting, Ilyas and Duck Ramadan cards, a crossword puzzle, and a classified add for Eid Goodie Bags posted by an anonymous, Mr. “M.”

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The book cleverly conveys how a day of Ramadan is practiced without getting preachy.  It shows Ilyas and Duck, praying and eating dates and decorating and getting excited.  the women wear hijab, but nothing about singling out that this is a part of Islam or Muslims is really mentioned.  The reader just is going along with Ilyas and his pal Duck.  It does remark that Allah is the provider and fasting helps build your relationship with Allah, but not to the point that it would seem preachy or alienating to non Muslim children.  Meaning I think you could read this book to your child’s public school class, or scout troop and not have any problems, while similarly giving a Muslim child an awesome story to identify with.

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A lot of the behavior details of what one should and shouldn’t do in Ramadan actually come from Mr. Mean, as he like all villains, lays out his evil plan.  He is hoping to spray a poison that will make kids play instead of pray, and he is leaving cookies around to tempt kids to break their fast.  He is also planning to spread rumors, and encourage gossip, and get kids to make promises they cannot keep.  Alhumdulillah, Sheriff Ilyas and Deputy Duck run him out of town because “there’s no room for meanness, only goodness in Ramadan.”

Mr. Ramadhan Moon by S.R.M. illustrated by Haleema Tahir Gul

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This little 26 page paperback book is not a lot to look at, and it really isn’t substantial in your hands either….but it comes with this little guy, who is Awesome!
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And once Mr. Ramadhan Moon smiling at you, and you open the book, the only real complaint you’ll have is how can we support this book so that the book can become hardback, the pages bigger, and the font spaced out more.  Yeah, it is fun, really fun.

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Told from Mr. Moon’s perspective the story covers the basics about Ramadan, fasting, charity, praying, and Eid, but also incorporates the searching of the moon in both the Ramadan month sense, and in the hiding of the toy and finding it around your house activity gimmick. Much like the Christmas game of “Elf on the Shelf,” Mr. Ramadhan Moon wants to be found each day of Ramadan, and can also be found on each page of the book.

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The book is written in rhyme, which often is forced, but its ambition is appreciated as a lot of information is conveyed.  There is even a glossary of terms in the back.

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The book is ordered through Etsy and I think will be a blast for kids toddler to 3rd grade.  I’m planning to hide him daily this Ramadan and I’ve already read the book to my children who can’t wait to start a new Ramadan tradition.

 

To Catch a Bug by Nabeel Akbar illustrated by Anam Ahmed

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To Catch a Bug by Nabeel Akbar illustrated by Anam Ahmed

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This adorable preschool age book written in verse features a little girl who is fascinated by the bugs and creatures outside.  Highlighting Allah’s creations and adding in some humor, the little girl’s mom doesn’t love bugs very much, makes the book a silly read-a-loud that doesn’t get boring.

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The 8×8 size, 16 pages, makes it perfect for bedtime as it is labeled as a “bedtime short. ” The text size and length is ideal for the age group and the pictures perfectly engage the listeners with their chunky simplicity and brightness.

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The mom wears hijab, and Islamic phrases such as Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, Inshallah, Bismillah are used, but not defined in the text, their is a glossary at the beginning.  Thus, it would work for non-Muslims, but the intended audience, i think, are little Muslim kids.

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The Muslims by Zanib Mian

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The Muslims by Zanib Mian

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After reading this book, I really, really want to meet (and be friends with) the author, she writes from the point of view of Omar, a nine year old boy, and his perspective and voice are so authentic and relevant that while the book targets 3rd through 5th grade, I am certain kids and adults, Muslims and non-muslims, boys and girls, and everyone else, will all thoroughly enjoy this laugh-out-loud 164 page book.  

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SYNOPSIS:

Omar is starting at a new school, we don’t know why, and while he is nervous, he has a good attitude about it.  His parents are supportive scientists and he has an older sister, Maryam who can be a bit mean in a big sister way, and a little brother Esa, who he secretly loves.  All are practicing muslims who remind me a lot of the people I know.  We say our duaas, we pray, we laugh at the funny stereotypes and just try and be good neighbors and people.  Omar’s neighbor is hilarious, Mrs. Rogers, doesn’t like Omar’s family, or “the Muslims” as she calls them, but they just keep being themselves and when she falls and gets hurt, she starts to realize they are good people who care about her.  She even starts showing up for iftar every night in Ramadan and counts down like a space ship launch until it is time to eat. 

Using his Islamic upbringing, and seeing how is family handles problems, gives Omar a lot of tools for starting at a new school.  But Omar is the protagonist, the hero, so he also has a super imagination that involves H2O, his dragon, that shows up to help him out when things get rough.  And unfortunately, a bully by the name of Daniel makes things rough for Omar.  He tells Omar that all Muslims and all Asians are going to be kicked out of the country, and this really sticks with Omar.  He verifies it with a cousin, and learns it could be a possibility.  So, the underlying anxiety is there, but most of the book that focuses on the bullying aspects involve the day-to-day comments, physical pushing, and efforts of Omar to avoid Daniel.  When they do meet up, however, the result is often comical, as Omar and H20 confidently navigate the situation at hand.  Between visiting a different mosque in London each week, learning to read the Quran, celebrating Ramadan, and just being a kid with new friends and a fun family, Omar eventually does win Daniel over after the two of them get lost in the London Underground.  And all of us that came along for the ride are better for it, alhumdulillah.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

There is so much to love about this book.  Seriously.  The accuracy of family life depicted is spot on and the Islamic elements are so interwoven that non Muslims would truly learn about Islam through learning about Omar, but not in a preachy way, and Muslims will see themselves on every. single. page.  I love that Omar doesn’t ever seem embarrassed to be who he is.  He is a cool kid for his confidence alone, and being able to laugh at a bully and not have it shake your core belief and self image is so powerful.  The characters are well developed, from little Esa to Omar’s teacher, by viewing them through his eyes, you see enough of their personality to remember them, and appreciate them.  The only exception to this was Maryam, I really didn’t feel like I got much on her, but I have a feeling there will be more books, and she will develop too.  The book reads like a diary, until a tinge of foreshadowing of the changing relationship between Omar and Daniel pops up to setup the climax.  The chapters are short, the fonts and doodles endearing and engaging, and the size of the book, really makes it fun for elementary aged children.  The only possible gripe for American children, is that it is a British book, and you might have to google or ask what a few things are, yeah we are selfish like that, but its good for us to learn what pains au chocolate are, or crumpets, or nappies.  

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FLAGS:

The book is clean. 

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Oh this should be required reading for every kid.  I know I will be trying to implement this every where I go.  This would be awesome for a elementary book club, and especially great in Islamic schools for struggling readers.  In much the same way that teachers use humor to engage students, this book has heart and humor and a surprising amount of information, that I can see it being connected to a lot character building supplements in various curriculums, at least I hope it is, we need voices like this, both within our community and to serve as a representative of us to the larger society.

Book Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIKtoxt3InM

Author’s website: http://www.muslimchildrensbooks.co.uk/