Tag Archives: Grandma

Silverworld by Diana Abu-Jaber

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Silverworld by Diana Abu-Jaber

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At 304 pages this middle grades fantasy OWN voice book attempts to weave together a granddaughters love for her Teta, with her adventures in a mythical world that only she can save.  In much the same way of Narnia, or Gregor the Overlander, or even Alice in Wonderland, the book takes a realistic character and pushes them, in this case Samara aka Sami, just beyond, into a world filled with mystery, adventure, and lessons.  The Lebanese flavor sprinkled in adds a little depth and uniqueness to the story, and aids a bit in the world building, but it isn’t a strong presence outside of ifrits and character’s names.  Teta is a Beduin that has a prayer rug and tarot cards and a painting of the Virgin Mary that she calls Fatima, and Sami’s deceased dad was American and the house has Christmas lights.  At one point the book remarks that Teta “likes to pick and choose her beliefs.”  The premise starts with Teta showing signs of dementia: speaking in a language no one but Sami can understand, and not eating and seeming present, the resolution as a result could give children the wrong idea about treatments for such real conditions, and adults might want to make sure their middle graders wont be triggered by the decline of a loved one.  The book is written well and holds reader’s interest, the world building is decent and the character’s relatable, I don’t know that it is overly memorable, but it is a fun light magical read with culture and family and friendship at its core that readers will enjoy.

SYNOPSIS:

Sami and her brother Tony, along with their attorney mom Alia and maternal grandmother, Serafina, have just moved to Florida from Ithaca, New York.  The children’s father was killed and the family has moved a few blocks away from his sister to start anew.  Sami is not settling in, and to make matters worse, Teta has stopped talking coherently, and Aunt Ivory and Alia are looking for a nursing home to place her in.  For some reason though, when it is just Sami and her grandma, she can communicate just fine, and Teta tells stories of her adventures with her flicker Ashrafieh in Silverworld.  Sami doesn’t necessarily believe the stories are true, but she gets the idea to use her Teta’s fairy stories to try and save her grandma, but when she finds her Teta’s spell book and peers into an old beloved mirror, Sami is taken to Silverworld and realizes that it is not just her grandmother’s future at risk.

In a world of flickers and shadows, Sami finds two balancers that taker her in and guide her: Dorsom and Natala.  The world is a reflection of the Actual world, but the Shadow Nixie is consuming the land and taking prisoners.  The balance is off, and Sami is convinced that this darkness is what is also harming Teta.  Between shadow spies and giant rotifers, magic and prophesied destinies, Sami must push her fear away and accept that she can be the one to set things right.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that Sami has to step in to her own and fight for what she wants, even when she is afraid.  I love the relationship she has with her Teta it is very warm and palpable.  I feel like the “saving Silverworld will save her Teta thread,” however, is lost in the middle of the book, it might be the catalyst and might have worked out that way in the end, but I don’t know that the middle makes the case that the two efforts are one and the same.  I appreciate that there are glimpses of Lebanon in the story with the athan in the background and spinning dervishes, but outside of Teta and a bit of the food, the cultural elements seemed a bit forced and deliberate instead of stemming from a natural flowing place.  A bit odd since it is an OWN voice novel, but maybe I was just wanting more. I would have liked more information about how Teta settled in America, learned English etc., or about her tattoos and Beduin upbringing. Another thing that seemed off to me was the close relationship of Dorsom and Sami at the end.  I hadn’t over nearly 300 pages realized that they were that much closer than Sami and Natala.  I even went back to see if I had missed something, but I couldn’t find that I had.  I wasn’t entirely sure why they were going to see Nixie either, I mean yes it was logical for they type of book it is, but I don’t know that Sami really had a plan for Silverworld or her Teta, she was just going to Nixie’s castle to get there.  There were also a few inconsistencies such as Sami wishing her and Tony could go fishing or surfing, when the book has made it clear that Sami is afraid of the water, particularly the ocean.

FLAGS:

There is magic, killing, death. There is talk of goddesses, there is a female character, a shadow, that has two flicker husbands and children with them both.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think this would appeal to middle school readers, it is a solid middle grade book.  I do think fourth and fifth grade shelves would benefit from having this book available to be picked up and enjoyed.

Sitti’s Olive Tree by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

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Sitti’s Olive Tree by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

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This lovely 27 page book is a story infused with love, culture, and olive oil.  The hardbound, large thick pages are richly illustrated as the text, perfect for ages preschool to second grade, tell of the olive harvesting season in Palestine.  The story is framed between a young girl learning about the past from her grandma’s memories and enjoying the olive oil sent by her uncles from their homeland.  The story is warm and informative and does not discuss politics or conflict. There is a key hanging on a map of Palestine in the illustrations, but nothing in the text.

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Young Reema watches her Sitti make hummus. When a drop of olive oil slips down the side of the bottle and Sitti wipes it up and rubs it in Reema’s hair.  Reema wants to know how olive oil, zeit zaytoun, can be used in such different ways. As Reema is reminded of how far the oil has traveled and recalls that her Sitti never buys olive oil at the store, the two settle in for Sitti to tell Reema some of her memories about the harvest on her ancestral land.

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Olive harvesting season comes at the end of the year and the families gather to pick the olives and fill the buckets before climbing ladders and catch the falling olives on blankets.  The elders sort them, and at the end of the day they eat and drink tea and coffee and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

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They tell stories to pass on to the next generation just like Sitti is doing to Reema, because the olives keep the families together.  Sitti hopes one day Reema will go to Palestine and play among her family’s trees.

I wish there was a bit more detail about the hummus, it seems to imply that the garbanzo beans are whole and not smooshed or blended, also when it lists the other things Sitti’s grandparents would do with the olives, the list is olive oil, olive soap and olives for eating.  I would imagine there are more things to do with the olives, even perhaps detailing the way the olives for eating are pickled, or preserved, or prepared would have been nice.

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There is a glossary of a few terms at the end.  There is nothing religious in the text, but many of the women wear hijab in the illustrations.

Overall this book is well done and serves an important point in showing a culture that is rich and full, aside from conflict and politics.  It is a sweet story between a grandmother and her granddaughter and shows how stories, traditions, and food help pass on culture and heritage.

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Zara’s New Eid Dress by Nafisah Abdul-Rahim

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Zara’s New Eid Dress by Nafisah Abdul-Rahim

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The search is on for an eid dress that reflects Zara’s African American Muslim culture.  This much needed representation highlights more of looking for a dress and the process of having one made, than providing information about Eid or the African American Muslim experience over its 30 pages.  Iftar is mentioned on one page in parentheses, so if you omit that word it could reflect either Eid preparation.  The book is cute if you are looking for a slice of life and coming together of a child, mother, and grandmother over the creation of a dress that has what Zara is wanting: pink, fluffy and containing flowers.  It falls short if you are looking for a book to learn about Eid, Ramadan, what a cultural African American Muslim dress would look like, or a peek into an under represented culture.  The illustrations are sufficient.  I felt the girl looked younger in some of the depictions, and I was surprised that the girl’s rain boots and clothes were worn over multiple days in her search for a dress, picking out fabric and inside her house when the dress is completed.  Similarly, on Eid day while her dress is stunning and fabulous, her friends are wearing the same eid clothes they wore at the start of the book from years past.

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Zara has worn a salwar kameez from Pakistan with her friend Sana, an abaya like her friend Noura one year too, but this Eid, she wants a dress that shows “her own style, her heritage, a reflection of her culture as an African American Muslim.  As her mom is preparing iftar she asks when they can start shopping for her Eid dress.  She knows it won’t be easy to find and convinces her mother to start looking this weekend.

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She pulls on her rainboots as they head out the door to find “something bright, pink, fluffy, and has flowers on it.” They go to several stores and kind find anything just right.  Her mom suggests asking Nana to make it.  Zara’s mom recalls the fabulous dresses her mom used to make her to wear on Eid.

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Nana and Zara head out to the fabric store the next morning. First they find the pattern, then they find the fabric.  After a few days of hard work for Nana, the dress is complete.

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On Eid day, Zara meets up with her friends in her dress that is uniquely her own.

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Eid Breakfast at Abuela’s by Mariam Saad illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

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Eid Breakfast at Abuela’s by Mariam Saad illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

breakfastThis book is the first in a series (hopefully) called Trilingual Sofia, where English is the predominant language, and Spanish and Arabic are interwoven to tell the story.  Focusing on Eid and spending the holiday in Mexico with her non Muslim grandmother, the story with bright illustrations is a celebration of diversity, acceptance, family, and Eid.

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Sofia has had a special Ramadan.  She tried fasting for the first time and now that the month is over, they are breaking their fast and then getting on a plane to Mexico to have Eid breakfast with her Abuela.

On the plane she keeps her pretzel bag to add to her scrapbook and then they get changed into their Eid clothes before they land.  Once in Mexico they go straight to the mosque to meet their friends and then to Abuela’s house.

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Abuela’s house is decorated for Eid and all the family is there.  They eat breakfast together and the kids play games and sing songs and take pictures.

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The 32 page 8.5 by 8.5 inch hardback book claims to be for toddles and preschoolers, but I think it is more for kids in early elementary with the small and ample text.  The Spanish words are highlighted in green and Sofia teaches some Arabic to her Mexican cousins.  There is a glossary of all three languages at the end.  

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The book is not meant only for Muslim children, but it doesn’t explain Ramadan or Eid, so while Muslim’s might be able to connect the dots of why she only fasted the last two hours of a day or why they went to the mosque before they went to Abuela’s, I wish the book explained it.

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I love that their are subtle connections between the three languages, like Angel Gabriel/Jibreel and the name Yusuf/Joseph.  The book is a great example of Islam outside of the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent and I truly hope there are more books in this series and more books like it to show the diversity of Islam and the commonalities we all share.

Secret Recipe Box by Helal Musleh illustrated by Nalan Alaca

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Secret Recipe Box by Helal Musleh illustrated by Nalan Alaca

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The publisher suggests this book for ages 4 and up, but I think it’s a bit long (30 pages) and detailed for that age group, and first grade and up will benefit more from this heartfelt story.

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Maha is excited her Teta is moving from Palestine to live with her, her brother Sami, and parents in Canada.  Maha dreams of being a chef on a famous cooking show, and her Tata and her secret recipes will be a great way to practice.

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Her little brother Sami is always in the way though.  Whether it is wanting to hold a sign Maha has made, or is wanting to cook with her, she is annoyed by him at every turn.

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As Maha listens to Teta’s stories and learns about her life in Palestine, she starts to change in her approach to Sami and realizes that family has to take care of each other.

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After a day of cooking together, Maha, Sami, and Teta have made too much food and decide to go and share it with those in need at the soup kitchen.

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The book addresses kindness, changing, compassion, immigration, taking care of one another, multi generational lessons and love, stories, life lessons, and some highlights of Palestinian culture, food, clothing, and tradition.

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The book is warm and well done, with the exception of a few of the pictures which seem a bit off to me.  Overall, it is a sweet story that presents with a lot of lessons, but doesn’t force them upon the reader.  The character growth is gentle and subtle and will resonate with readers.

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The characters mention Halal food, and the grandma wears hijab even in the house, where the mother is shown wearing it at the airport, but not in the home.  The book would work for Muslim and non Muslim readers.

What Am I? Book 2 ‘The What Race are we Series’ by Asiila Imani and Papatia Feauxzar illustrated by Juliana Paz

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What Am I? Book 2 ‘The What Race are we Series’ by Asiila Imani and Papatia Feauxzar illustrated by Juliana Paz

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This incredibly important 37 page picture book highlighting a little boys heritage will speak to children who see themselves in his quest to answer what he is, as well as (hopefully) inspire them to search out their own family ancestry and unique make up.

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The book is not a traditional story book, in fact there isn’t much of a storyline, but the concepts presented show how beautiful and amazing multi-cultural and multi-ethnic families can be.  A lot of cultural information is conveyed and celebrated about Samoan and Pacific Island traditions as well as Islamic ones.

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There is an aqiqa at the time of his birth as well as a Samoan party with a Hawaiian band.  Some members of his family cover, while other’s don’t.  He remarks how he has extra grandparents which equal extra blessings, and how he has a half brother because they have different dads.

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In addition to geography, there is also a STEM component as six-year-old Toa Idris learns he is a quarter this and half that through understanding fractions as visualized by slices of a pizza.  At one point Idris remarks that, “I can’t keep all those people and places straight,” and after reading the book half a dozen times, I honestly couldn’t either.  But, I think that is ok.  The point of the book is that being diverse is amazing, and having people love you is important, and culture and tradition and faith all make you richer.

IMG_4829 The text on each page is presented in a fun font, as are the pictures.  Really there is just one picture that makes Idris look angry and it is used in the story and the title page, which is unfortunate, I think it is supposed to have him look pensive, but it seems a bit off to me, where all the other pictures ooze with warmth and richness.

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I honestly don’t know what age group would benefit the most from the book.  Younger kids that may have been asked what their culture is will be empowered by having it reinforced that they are made just how Allah swt planned them to be, older readers will be able to create their own pizza slices, so to speak, and understand their own pieces, but I feel like both groups might need some coaching from an adult.  There are family trees at the beginning that almost become reference pages while reading the story and trying to keep everyone straight, that make the book almost interactive.  Muslim and non Muslim reader alike would learn about new cultures, and benefit from the “Extras” at the end.  Honestly, overall there is just a lot of information tossed around in the book, which isn’t a bad thing, it just might make it a bit more hit or miss if it will work for your child.

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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This 37 page culturally Pakistani Ramadan story is super sweet and fun.  There is so much I feel like my critical self should not like about the story, but by about page 15 each time I read it, I find my self full on smiling and thoroughly enjoying little Raza’s antics and his endearing grandma’s method for dealing with him.

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Raza is too young to fast, but with a house full of relatives gathered for Ramadan, Raza awakens to the sound of his uncle snoring before the siren to signal the start of fasting and the azan calling the worshippers to pray echo through Lahore.  Before he can go back to sleep, however, he hears the cook heading up the stairs to wake up grandma and then the smell of the food hits him and he wants a paratha more than anything.

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Raza embarks on a mission that involves him sneaking up to the roof, pretending to be a jinni and scaring Amina the cook through the chimney to convince her to send up food and a blanket.  

Scared out of her wits, Amina gets the grandma, culturally wards off evil, and delivers the goods to the jinni on the roof.  But the joke is on Raza who is out-witted by his grandma and gets the punishment of washing dishes for the rest of Ramadan, and learning that fasting a whole day will take a lot of will power, if he couldn’t even wait a few hours to get his beloved parathas.

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The book informs the reader that the following year Raza is able to successfully fast, that he is rewarded with gifts and that all is well and forgiven.  There is a glossary, information about Ramadan and a recipe at the end of the story as well.

I love that the plan just happens, it isn’t premeditated or considered, so it takes the reader along for the ride as it is unfolding.  It isn’t a deep story, but there is room for discussion as to whether Raza was naughty, or just caught up in the moment.

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The book is illustrated well and with big 8.5 x 11 pages, the book is engaging for first and second grade readers and listeners, as there is a lot of text on the pages.  The book takes a bit to find its stride as the author tries to use Urdu words, show their Arabic counterparts and then describe them in English. 

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There is a lot of cultural stage setting with everyone in grandmas house, the traditions of the family, of Ramadan, etc.  I think Desi familiar kids will get the most out of the book, but theoretically Muslim kids and non Muslims too could learn and enjoy it too.  I wish jinn and jinni were explained just a bit in the text, not just in the glossary, along with why an 8 year old wouldn’t be fasting or be required to do so. 

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My own kids, aged 8, 9, and 12, struggled on the first two pages, but when I told them to keep reading they zoomed through the rest smiling and ended saying it was good while giggling and shaking their heads.  We are Pakistani American and I think they enjoyed seeing familiar words and phrases in the book and sympathizing with Raza as well, and his sneaky plan that almost nearly worked.

 

Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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This is the second review of a Zaydo Potato book on the blog, and much like the first book this one caters to toddler and early elementary aged children who will enjoy the large colorful pages, the silliness of finding a potato on each page, and who can benefit from the repetition of events to understand a concept.  In this 32 page book the concept being conveyed is taking care of each other, as established by the hadith at the beginning of the book.

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Zaydo and Raya dress up as superheroes, but find their power in saving the day involves using their capes, and masks, and belts, and gloves, to help those around them who can benefit more. They use a bandana to sling a hurt arm, a towel cape to cover a spill, and silly gloves to make a baby stop crying.   They call themselves Muslim Superheroes and after showing the reader that it is good to help one another, praise Allah, and do what is right, they ask if you want to join their force.

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I read the book to my own children and then to a group of about 25 kids under the age of 6 and it went over pretty well.  The amount of text on a page is sufficient to convey the repetitive scenarios.  Honestly, I don’t really understand why the book takes place in Ramadan.  Other than the first page saying that they are the fasters of Ramadan days, and the last page repeating it, there is nothing Ramadan specific about the story.  In fact the Grandma is drinking tea on the first page, so yes maybe she is excused, but it is a bit confusing to have the Ramadan element in there when it is not a facet of the story at all. 

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The word ‘super’ is used a lot, and if reading it aloud can get your tongue a bit tied.  I also don’t understand why Raya has a last name or second part to her name, Raya Amaraya, maybe to go with the rhyming of Zaydo Potato? Either way by adding super, before their names, and the rhyming second name, I felt like a lot of the book was just saying names. The only other critique of an other wise solid book about teaching kids how to truly be super in a practical way, is that the Grandma is in a lot of the pictures in the background sewing so that when she surprises them with real costumes, the kids can enjoy going back and see she was working on them the whole time.  Except I thought, my kids thought, and the story time kids all thought she was knitting, and the costumes don’t look knitted, so it is a bit jarring.  On closer inspection there is just one needle, not two, but it is really large, almost crochet hook size, so a sewing machine illustration would have been a much better choice.

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The activities and lessons at the end and the founding premise of the book really make the book an important one to share with your little ones.  The binding and glossy pictures of smiling children having fun will entertain and educate them at the same time.  My critiques are small, but I feel like a few test readings by the authors, and the minor quirks could have been eliminated all together.  

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Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

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Sitti’s Secret was published in 1994 and given the events of the week, I’d say it is more relevant today than it was when written.  And if by some chance the events of the week haven’t affected your children, then the poetry and soul of the book still makes it an amazingly powerful story.

Mona travels from America to Palestine to visit her grandma, her Sitti.  Without the ease of speaking the same language, Sitti and Mona learn to communicate and build a tight bond cut too short by a vacation coming to an end.  When Mona returns she sees the news and writes a letter to the President, telling her Sitti’s secrets, telling him they would be great friends, and telling him they only want peace.

Truly Nye is a poet, even in Turtle of Oman her words transport you to a place where time slows down and the connection between a child and a grandparent make you nostalgically yearn for a simpler time.  Having spent my summer’s abroad visiting my grandma I could relate to so much of this book and truly had to still my heart.  The little things, like examining your grandma’s hand, or hanging out laundry, or brushing her hair. Even that dreaded final hug as you prepare to leave,  I could relate and it was enchanting.

No where in the book does it mention the Middle East or Islam, only at the beginning does she hint at it by dedicating the book to her 105 -year-old Sitti in Palestine, it mentions that she speaks Arabic and a few words are sprinkled in. And the Grandma does wear a scarf.  Other than that the book is by and large not political.  If you know that Nye has a Palestinian father and American mother and often writes semi auto biographical pieces, the book can take a bit of a different role to the reader.  Many reviews criticize the activism upon her return (the letter to the President), and found it disjointed to the rest of the story.  But in today’s climate I found it empowering and hopeful.  The world will only find peace when we put a face to those that are different to us, and even children can change our stereotypes.  I love that my children are seeing that they can make a change in the world today, and to see it reinforced in literature was gratifying.

The book is 32 pages and written on an AR 3.9 level.  The illustrations are beautiful.  They bring the words to life in a tender and heartfelt way.  The detail is subtle but deep and i have found myself thumbing back through the pages to get lost in the illustrations multiple times.  I think the book works on different levels for different age groups.  If you have a family that has to overcome great distances to be together, even younger readers will be able to identify with the story’s tenderness.  If you are in 3rd-6th grade and are aware of what is happening in the world you will be inspired.  If you just are looking for a sweet book, subhanAllah it manages to fulfill that category too.