Tag Archives: Graphic Novel

Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq

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Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq

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This 8.5 x 8.5 middle school graphic novel biography tells a powerful story of a young boy coming of age and striving to find his place in the chaos of the Nakba and its aftermath.  Over 128 pages the reader will learn and be outraged about the displacement and genocide of so many Palestinians as they see the events through Ahmad’s eyes and relate to his dreams and experiences despite the terror around him. The book has violence, destruction, death and mentions rape, yet the humanity shines through as it is also heartfelt and memorable.  I had my 14, 12, and 10 year olds read it and we have discussed it at length in context to what they already know about Palestine and the ethnic cleansing occurring.  It is a seamless mix of history and character driven narratives brought to life by the black and white illustrations of the author/illustrator’s family history.

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SYNOPSIS:

There are 10 children in the author’s father’s family, and her father, Ahmad, was born in a refugee camp in northern Lebanon, called Baddawi.  The story starts on October 29, 1948 when Safsaf was ethnically cleansed.  Ahmad’s father, the author’s grandfather had been in Akka at the time of the massacre, and her grandmother hid from the Israeli soldiers, the family, once reunited, would escape for a refugee camp, hoping that they would one day return.

We first get to know Ahmad as he starts first grade in Baddawi.  Things do not start well for the little guy as right away he gets teased by other students, his class is too large so he is selected to be joined with a girls class, and he doesn’t have soccer cleats so he isn’t allowed to play soccer, luckily he gets two good crayons, unlike his friend who gets a white one.  Ahmad is identifiable by his striped shirt that he wears throughout as a nod to Handala, the boy depicted with a striped shirt with his hands clasped behind his back and his face not shown.  The artist said his face would be revealed when Palestine was free, sadly the artist, Naji al-Ali passed away, and Palestine is still occupied.

Ahmad desperate to purchase soccer cleats devises a business plan that his mother takes as gambling and quickly puts an end to, in exchange she offers to pay him if he helps her collect and prepare za’atar.  It isn’t as fun, or as lucrative, but they family is busy packing up to return to Palestine.  Unfortunately the Naksa, the setback, the six day war occurs, and more Palestinians are ethnically cleansed and the families cannot return. Ahmad and all those in Baddawi carry on, playing, celebrating Eid, trying to claim normalcy.  The camp however, is not safe and soldiers raid the camp killing PLO leaders and innocent people in their way.  With no option but to keep on keeping on, these acts of violence are often taken in stride. It is so hard to believe, but what else can they do, the children still play, deal with bullies, and cope with universal struggles in addition to being shot by rubber bullets, and fearing cluster bombs and shellings.  At one point Ahmad and his siblings are left in Baddawi to finish school while his parents are in Beirut.

When the family is reunited in Beirut, Ahmad is in a better school, but violence follows as Mossad agents start raiding PLO homes in Lebanon.  Ahmad goes back and forth between Beirut and Baddawi, wherever he can go to school.  His favorite library is the one at the American University in Beirut and he hopes to attend school there, but without connections, he is at a loss to come up with funding.  His intellect finally lands him an opportunity to leave the Middle East to pursue higher education, he ends up in the United States, and when the story ends, readers are left hoping that everything works out even knowing it will be 10 years before he can return home to see his family.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the harsh horrific life is not shied away from in a war, but the little things are just as important in shaping and showing Palestinians to be resilient and culture rich.  I love how the concept of Handala is included and amplified.  The book is at times funny, and at other times devastating.  The connection to the characters is pretty remarkable, in such a relatively short book, and I am fairly confident it will be pulled off the shelf and thumbed through often.  I really wanted to know if the girl in the book that Ahmad left behind ended up being the author’s mother, or if he married someone else, but I couldn’t find it by Googling.  This book is truly powerful, and I highly recommend it.  There isn’t a lot of religion, the family is shown praying on Eid and celebrating.  It mentions the diversity in Beirut, but nothing too detailed.  Similarly, there isn’t a lot of political detail.  There is a glossary at the end, some actual photographs of Ahmad and his family.  At the beginning of the book there is a preface about Handala and how Ahmad represents more than just her father’s experience as well as information about the tatreez patterns on the pages and a map.

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FLAGS:

There is violence, torture, killing, death, bullying, and possibly gambling.  The book mentions that women were raped, but it isn’t detailed.  The war is ever present and depicted, but it isn’t sensationalized.  Ahmad and a girl study together and the family wants them to get married, but Ahmad opts instead to leave for school, nothing inappropriate.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book might not work as a book club selection, but I hope middle school children and their teachers or parents will encourage them to read this book and think about it.  Imagine if it was their homes that were taken, imagine what they would do, and how they would manage, and to be aware that it is still going on and that we cannot be silent.

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Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s most Infamous Prison by Sarah Mirk, introduction by Omar Al Akkad, illustrated by Gerardo Alba, Kasia Babis, Alex Beguez, Tracy Chahwan, Nomi Kane, Omar Khouri, Kane Lynch, Maki Naro, Hazel Newlewant, Jeremy Nguyen, Chelsea Saunders, and Abu Zubaydah

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This 208 page graphic novel, is indeed graphic.  The unbelievable horrors detailed in the stories shared are all sourced and referenced in the nonfiction anthology. The intent isn’t shock and awe like the war that created such abysmal breaches of justice to be done in our name (Americans’), but is definitely a painful reminder of how fear and mismanagement allows the US treatment of individuals to grow and continue outside of the rule of law, and all that the US claims to represent.  The careful use of words such as “detainees” instead of “prisoners,” “enemy combatants” instead of “terrorists” or “criminals,” have allowed Muslim men to be held since 2002 without charges, legal representation, habeas corpus, or basic human rights.  When the prison was being filled, you’d hear about it in the news, when the government released heavily redacted reports on torture, you’d catch a headline or two, but there are still people being held, and for the most part, we, the world, have perhaps forgotten.  This book is a reminder, it is insight, it is so important that high school and college aged children are aware of what we are capable of, that adults are not allowed to forget what we are doing.  As it says in the intro, “To indict the people who did this is to indict the country that allowed it to happen.” We are all guilty, and this book is not an easy to read as it will make you angry, and devastated, and exasperated.  Don’t let the graphic novel format and simple text fool you, this is a difficult read, emotionally, and you should force yourself to sit with it- sit with the outrage and frustration, and see if it can spur you to action.

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SYNOPSIS:

The book is broken up to provide an introduction, map, facts, and a timeline, it then starts with the author arriving for a media tour to Cuba.  Some background stories about key individuals in understanding the effects of torture and better and more accurate ways to interrogate, and then the fateful day September, 11, that changed everything.  From here the stories are individual accounts of prisoners, lawyers, politicians, etc., each depicted by a different illustrator, to show a very rounded view of the effects of the prison, and thoughts by different people in a  variety of associations. 

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Some of the prisoners were swept up by neighbors responding to leaflets promising wealth for turning people in.  Some were taken from their homes for no reason, a few were taken from the battle field, but every single one has never had charges against them, nor a day in court, the few that have been able to be represented have been released without being accused of anything, hence, found to be innocent.  The doubling down on the concept of Guantanamo being the worst of the worst, administration after administration has made it so prisoners have to be released to countries they have never been to, with unknown rights or a way forward.  Those that are still detained have been there for nearly 20 years. 

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WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE BOOK:

I like that the book is personal, it is harder to dismiss or forget, or be unaffected when you are looking at images and surrounding yourself with guards and lawyers that are saying over and over, that these prisoners are innocent.  I like that it challenges Americans to demand more of America, it isn’t just putting the USA down nor does it read like the narrative has it out for the USA, it is very much an personal calling out, that we have made errors and continue to make errors out of arrogance.    

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FLAGS:

The images and language are at times graphic and one should be aware of the potential triggers of torture, and abuse. There are curse words spoken, and violence detailed.  High school and up.

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Zenobia by Morten Durr illustrated by Lars Horneman

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Zenobia by Morten Durr illustrated by Lars Horneman

img_8794There is a reason that this 93 page graphic novel is labeled as “Teens.”  There may only be 300 or so words in the entire book, and the pictures at times are very basic, but oh subhanAllah is it devastating. Real, unfortunately, but I was not expecting my heart to be shredded and for me to be haunted by the framing and perspective of the story.  I read a fair amount of books both fiction and nonfiction regarding Syrian refugees and I try not to ever become numb to the plight of so many, but this book was such a reminder that things don’t always turn out well, that sometimes no matter how inspired your life is to follow in the footsteps of a warrior queen, there isn’t always hope.  That no matter how brave you are, horrible things will still happen, and that sometimes there is no one to hear your cries and pleas, and for so many in this cruel world, there is only silence.

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SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with Amina on a crowded makeshift book in the ocean, the boat capsizes and we are thrust back in to her memories of playing hide-and-seek with her mother.  The juxtaposition of her little body playing a game hoping not to be found with her limp body in the ocean begging to be found is stark.  The memories then take us back to her mom preparing dolmas with only rice and salt, since that is all that is left.  Her father jokes that they are too salty.  The ocean is salty as well, and the memories continue to flow.  Her parents go to the market and she is not able to go with them.  It doesn’t tell why, but her mother reminds her to be strong and brave like Zenobia. Her mother often reminds her of the Syrian warrior queen who was the most beautiful woman in the whole world, who ruled, fought, and rode like a man.

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Her parents don’t return.  She waits and waits.  There are attacks, an uncle comes to take her away.  They pass destruction and rubble and sleep in the road.  Her body starts to sink in the water.  Her uncle finds some fisherman, he gives them all his money, but it is only enough for one to go on the boat.  He sends her. A kind lady on the boat shares a bit of food, before the boat flips over.  Her body is lost in the ocean, hoping to be found, voiced only as a whisper inside her head.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I really don’t like it.  That isn’t to say it isn’t well done and powerful.  It is hard to finish though.  You really hope she will be plucked out of the water even though a part of you know she won’t.  I made me kids read it.  It rocked them.  In a good way I think, I hope.  We can never forget how privileged we are, although we do all the time.  Books like this remind us how quickly it can all change and how we at the bare minimum need to be acutely aware of what others go through.  If it is hard to read, imagine living it.

The book is Danish, I don’t know if it is translated or originally in English.  It says that it won the Danish National Illustration Award in 2017, so I’m not sure how much to critique phrasing, but I wasn’t a huge fan of how Zenobia was presented as riding, leading, and ruling like a man.  I’m pretty sure she did those things better than MOST men.  Having her stature be glorified as being that equal to a man weakened her and her accomplishments.  Yes, doing what she did at a time when many women were not allowed to do it is impressive, but she was great in her own right, not just in comparison to the male gender.

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FLAGS:

For teens nothing. For younger kids, under 10, it is subtle, but too devastating in my opinion.  Tweens should read it with some discussion, they should know it isn’t always happy and hopeful, but use your discretion if they can handle a drowning, loss of parents, and destruction.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is too short for a book club, but I think families should consider it and talk about it.  Syria and many other nations may not be headline news at the moment in America, but that doesn’t mean wars and their far reaching implications have stopped.  It just means we have grown weary and changed the channel.

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Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq

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Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq

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At 224 pages, this graphic novel tells an important OWN voice story in beautiful and powerful illustrations, but despite reading it multiple times, I ultimately found the pacing off, the narrative and plot holes quite large, and the conclusion too forced.  It claims to be for middle grades which would explain the happy ending, but the assault, trauma, mental health, Bengali history, language, and protagonists age (13), make it more suited for upper middle school readers.  I read a digital ARC in predominately black and white images, so I’m hopeful that part of the problem is on me, and that I simply missed or misunderstood parts that seemed to jump around and assume, or that because it was an uncorrected proof, some revisions are still to come.

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SYNOPSIS:

Nisrin is 13 and lives in Oregon with her mother, and maternal grandparents.  Her mom travels a lot and she seems to spend most of her time with her loving Nani, grandmother.  The story opens with Nisrin in 8th grade giving a presentation about her Bangladeshi heritage to her school.  On the way home with a friend, Firuzeh, she is still wearing the cultural clothing and they are playing around with the scarf, when they are violently attacked and the scarf is ripped off of Nisrin’s head.  Her hair is pulled out in the process and the two girls are taken to the hospital and when released maintain professional counseling to process and deal with the assault.  Nisrin fears leaving her house and is increasingly isolated within her home.

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Over the summer we see her and her Nani go over to some cousin’s house where Nasrin is gawked at with her short hair and everyone is unsure how to act around her.  She joins some cousins playing video games where she asks about a cousin in hijab who says that it is essentially her choice between her and Allah (swt), that it isn’t any one else’s business.  A younger cousin tells that she plans to start hijab soon and is surprised to learn that Nisrin’s mom is not Muslim.

As summer comes to an end, Nisrin will be starting high school and exits her room the night before wearing a hijab, or in Bengali, an orna.  Her family freaks out, her Nana, maternal grandfather, is furious claiming that she should have been raised better, and Nisrin is scooted off to her room by her Nani, so that her mom and grandfather can argue.

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On the first day of school, Nisrin tries to talk to Firuzeh, but once again things are awkward between the two girls.  A teacher refuses to try and say Nisrin’s name and becomes angry and aggressive, and at PE she is called a slut and asked if she will be beat for showing her legs.  Nisrin goes home to research Islam and hijab, but everything is so angry and opinion based that she is more confused than when she started.

The next day she meets a nice girl, Veronica, and the two work on an assignment in class and then have lunch together.  Veronica suggests that Nisrin learns about Islam like she would a school assignment and go research it at the library.  Later at home, Nisrin starts to understand what her grandparents and mother saw and endured in the war of 1971 when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan.  Her mom and Nana argue over what was seen and Nisrin starts to find her voice in her family.

Nani takes Nisrin shopping for long sleeved clothes and scarves, things are worked out with Firuzeh and Nisrin’s family accepts that Nisrin is not asking permission to wear her scarf, but is hoping they will accept it.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is such a flip on the over-used-stereotype that Muslim girls are forced to wear hijab, in truth many are encouraged not to.  At one point Nisrin says, “If I can’t be safe…then can’t I at least be proud.”  She was attacked for just playing with a scarf and putting it on her head, so she reasons, that there is not safety from racism and hate, she might as well be proud of who she is.  I also love the strength in the idea that she doesn’t need anyone’s permission, it is her faith, her head, her choice.

There is a lot of good in the book, but I struggled understanding quite a bit of it.  It mentions that she was at Texas and she loved it, but there was bullying? No idea what it was in reference to or what purpose it served.  At the beginning the two girls seem like they have been friends for a while, but yet Nisrin warns Firuzeh that her Nani will force her to eat.  Nisrin seems to really love her sleep overs, and I don’t know if it is just to show at the end the healing by coming full circle, but it seems a bit juvenile to be that excited about it to me.

The family dynamic and history, left me very confused.  Nisrin doesn’t know her cousin wears hijab, and is confused that her aunt doesn’t.  Nor do her cousins know that Nisrin’s mom isn’t Muslim?  These cousins call Nisrin’s Nani, Dadi, and since there is no father in the picture it is obvious to even none desi folk that these cousins are related through the mom’s family and the cousins father, so why when Nisrin decides to wear hijab is the maternal side so upset? Why does Nasrin’s mom ask if her cousins have put her up to it? Ok if the mom isn’t religious, but does she actively practice another faith? Why in one of the portraits on the wall does the woman seem to have a bindhi? The Bangladesh independence admittedly is something I should know more about, but I don’t, and this book, didn’t really fill me in.  How is the grandfather both siding? He doesn’t like invader nationalism, but I still don’t completely understand why he left, and what that solved.

The pacing and tone at times are off too me too.   I didn’t feel the strain on Nisrin and Firuzeh’s relationship, the text suggests that they are and were best friends, but when Veronica asks if Nisrin’s stress is in part to the cute girl she was staring down, I was curious too if there was more to their relationship.  A lot seems to happen between the attack and Nisrin starting to wear hijab and I wish we were allowed inside Nisrin’s head to know how she feels about her mom, her nana, starting high school, her attack, her desire to wear hijab, it seems a bit rushed.  Which is odd since, the story spends a few pages detailing when Nisrin feels like everyone hates her after Nani picks her up on the first day of school and Nani points out that not everyone hates her, the squirrels don’t, and the dogs don’t, etc..  It seems really childish for the incredible ordeal she has been through.

I like the informative section at the end about Bangledesh. I wish the book would have shared some of what Nisrin learned about Islam in her own research, she goes to the mosque, but doesn’t detail if she plans to pray regularly, fast, etc..

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FLAGS:
Language, violence, war imagery, rape mentioned, physical assault. Use of the word slut.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that this would work for a middle school book club at an Islamic School, graphic novels are often to quick of reads, but I have a few friends from Bangladesh and I really want them, and their daughters, to read it and clue me in to what I am missing, their view of independence and their impression of the book.

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

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Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

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This graphic novel jammed pack with sleuthing, friendship, and diversity is perfect for ages 8 and up.  The inclusive cast shows motive and growth keeping anyone from being entirely good or completely villainous and strikes a wonderful balance of insight, community building, and relatable fun.  From the main character’s mom wearing hijab, and random hijabis in the background panels, to characters of color, and characters with social obstacles, there are also bullies, cancer survivors, a character with two moms, working parents, and a missing gecko all coming together over 221 pages to leave the reader waiting for the next book in the series.

SYNOPSIS:

Jamila has just moved to the neighborhood and with older brothers as role models, she just wants to spend her summer shooting hoops and taking it easy.  Her mom, on the other hand, wants to send her off to science camp.  Shirley, is incredibly perceptive and wants to spend her summer solving neighborhood crimes, the ones adults won’t or can’t help with, but her mother has signed her up for dance camp.  When the girls cross paths at a yard sale, Shirley uses her wits to convince her mom and Jamila’s mom to let them spend the summer together at the basketball courts, thus both girls get what they want.  The two girls aren’t exactly friends, but the arrangement benefits them both, and the days go smoothly, until a gecko goes missing and Shirley and Jamila have to decide to break their parents’ rules to leave the courts and venture to the swimming pool to investigate.  Jamila and Shirley hit a snag in their understanding of one another and realize they want to be friends, something neither of them currently have.  As they work Oliver and Vee’s case to find Enoch the gecko, the reader meets lots of neighborhood characters, from life guards to daycare informants.  And as the clues come together so do a group of kids, all needing friendship, kindness, and a little understanding.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the Nancy Drew, Great Brain, Encyclopedia Brown, vibe of the story.  It is funny and plausible and about so much more than just the case.  It is quick and well drawn, and really just a joy overall.  I love the diversity and teamwork and innocence of a summer and some good old fashion kids using their brains to save the day.

Other than the mom wearing a scarf when out of the home and a few hijabis in the background there is no textual mention of religion.  The mom at one point says something in Urdu and the family has Muslim names.

FLAGS:

One of the side characters mentions that she has two moms.  It is mentioned once, it isn’t dwelled on, and in many ways I think a great way to explain to your kids, if they mention it, that they might have friends and classmates with different family structures.  I love that fiction allows for this conversations to occur in the abstract so to speak, you can guide your children how to handle these differences while talking about fictional characters, and imparting your families view of such matters in an open and hopefully non judgmental or hateful way.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

As always with graphic novels, they just aren’t the best format for book clubs as they are usually quick reads.  The target audience for this is middle grades as well and while middle schoolers might enjoy it, they would read it in less than a half an hour and there really wouldn’t be much to discuss once the case is solved.  I would highly recommend checking your local public library for the book, that is where I found my copy, and happy reading!

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty

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Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty

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Based on the true story of Alia Muhammed Baker, the Basra librarian who saved 30,000 books in 2003 from the destruction during the Iraq War, this 32 page graphic novel, is an AR 3.9 and while it isn’t a chapter book and isn’t just a picture book, it works well for 2nd through 4th grade readers that will enjoy a bit of history, a lot of excitement, and detailed panels that make the story come to life.  The story, as it is based on fact, is very similar to The Librarian of Basra, but with it’s different presentation style, might appeal to a larger audience to appreciate and celebrate what she did to save such precious books, naturally, I’m a huge fan!

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SYNOPSIS:

Alia is the Chief Librarian of Basra Central Library and has always loved books and learning.  As war draws closer, she tells her husband she is worried that the library could be bombed or set ablaze.  She goes to the government to voice her concerns and ask that the books are relocated, but her request is denied.  So she takes matters in to her own hands, and starts smuggling books under her shawl and in to her car, and stacks them in her home.  Every day she does this for a week, soon closets are over flowing and she starts stacking the books in her guest room.  Worried that she isn’t making fast enough progress, she gets the restaurant owner next door to help her when looters start taking the pencil sharpeners and furniture from the library.  She has a plan to have everyone possible come together to move the books, and many people come to help.

Eventually the library is set on fire, the news gives Alia a stroke.  When she recovers she learns she saved 30,000 books, and up next for this real life super hero? Building a new library, inshaAllah.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it shows the value of libraries and books, the determination of one person, and the support of a community.  People are awful during a war, yet, sometimes they are pretty amazing too.  The illustrations are detailed and varied, with inviting text and clear concise language.  It really is well done.

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FLAGS:

Destruction of property, sneaking, looting.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think it would be great to have kids read this story and the librarian of Basra and discuss

 

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

starsThis graphic novel swept me off my feet and left me in tears, not because of the hard life and sadness that life in a refugee camp entails, I had braced myself for that, but because of the hope and humanity and beauty that is so powerfully expressed and conveyed in this 264 page book.  Meant for 3rd graders and up, I think kids through middle school should be encouraged to read it.  The illustrations and colors are incredibly well done and the story is based on a true story that needs to be told and shared.  It is definitely in the top 10 books I’ve read this year and I keep catching my 11 year old re-reading this book repeatedly (like 5 or 6 times).

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SYNOPSIS:

Omar Mohamed lives in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.  His father was killed in the Somali war and his mother has not been seen after she sent Omar and his younger brother Hassan to run with the neighbors to escape the violence.  Hasan suffers from seizures and doesn’t speak, save one word, Hooyo, mother in Somali.  The two boys have an adopted mom Fatuma, who looks after the boys in the camp as if they were her own.  Unable to go to school, Omar spends his days looking after his brother, playing soccer with plastic bags, and waiting in lines for water, food, and news of a better opportunity.

When Omar gets the chance to go to school (5th grade) he has to make the difficult decision of pursuing his own opportunities, with the hope of helping Hassan later, or living day to day and taking care of his younger brother.  He is finally convinced that education will help them both, and that if the girls can find a way to do their chores and attend class, he can too.

Each transition from primary, to middle to secondary school requires testing, and only the top get to continue.  Determined to stay in school, Omar studies while dealing with life’s many challenges and the daily additional challenges of living with little food and resources.

When Omar and Hassan’s names finally appear on a UN interview lists for resettlement, hope seeps in, but the wait and the uncertainty prove to be yet another test.  Along the way there are side characters from the United Nations that show compassion, other families that show how generous and loving humans can be, female classmates show him how to take advantage of his privilege and friendships that move friends to family.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is gripping and has heart.  I don’t know what I expected, but I truly could not put it down.  The character’s stresses are felt and emotions are conveyed so powerfully, that I don’t know that you can read the book and forget it.  The most emotional part for me was his honesty in dealing with his brother, the strength of his friends, particularly female, and the bond to Fatuma.  Truly their living arrangements and loss of family is gut wrenching, but it was the little things that touched me the most.  The honesty of Omar having to decide if he was tempted to not go to school because he was scared. Was he using his brother as an excuse to stay with something he knew.  The emotional tipping point of no return for me was when he realized Fatuma would not be able to go to the second interview with the UN and would not be a part of what came after.  Of course I knew that, but by that point I was so connected to the character, that when Omar realized it, I broke for him.  To feel that connection in a graphic novel was new for me, perhaps a first, and alhumdulillah I am better for it.

The characters are Muslim and behave traditionally with praying and Ramadan and Eid.

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FLAGS:

There is talk of khat, something the men chew on the side of the road to forget things.  There is some violence, bullying, a young girl getting married before 6th grade and having a baby.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Yes! I am hoping if and when we resume school I am starting with this book inshaAllah, for my middle school book club.  There is so much to talk about and understand and empathize with.

Running Overload by Jake Maddox illustrated by Tina Francisco

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Running Overload by Jake Maddox illustrated by Tina Francisco

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This 72  page graphic novel features a female Muslim protagonist trying to balance her desire to be a great cross country runner and the rest of her life.  Meant for 3rd graders, the lessons are applicable and relevant for readers in middle school as well.

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SYNOPSIS:

Nimo Mohamed has made the varsity track team, and is determined to keep up with the older girls.  She is training too hard which her coaches and parents warn her against, but she doesn’t listen.  As a result she is lying to her family about what she is doing, her grades are suffering, and her body is exhausted to say the least.  After coming dead last in a meet, getting a D on an English test, and injuring her knee, the truth comes out and her dad has her quit the team.  Can she convince him to give her one more chance? Can she learn to pace herself?

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WHY I LIKE IT:

There is nothing Islamic in the book except for the main character’s family.  The women wear hijab when out, not at home and they have Islamic sounding names.  I like that she is modestly dressed when she runs and that no one seems to care that she is Muslim.  This story is not about her faith, it is a universal story of balance, and the character highlighting the moral is Muslim.  Her parents are divorced, but are on the same page regarding her running and school balancing act, and they come together to support her.  I also like that the book is a sports book and has a female girl of color as the lead.  There is a lot of very intentional diversity in the book and it is refreshing to see.

There are questions at the end, and running vocabulary and tips for running as well.

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FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book wouldn’t lend itself well to a book club, but would definitely provide one-on-one discussion opportunities.  The short linear story is all about imparting teachable moments on the reader, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think the real strength is that the book is one of a larger series that should really be in every classroom and library to show how balance and integrity and strength and diversity are values that we need to hear over and over, not just in one running book, but from a lot of different sources.

 

Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

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Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

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I know this AR 2.1, 156 page graphic novel probably doesn’t deserve a review, but for as important as OWN voice books are, books with Muslim characters thrown in the mix are important for representation too.  Yes sometimes we are the star and we definitely need to tell our own stories, but we are also friends, and side-kicks and supporters too.  In this case we are a purple duck with a headscarf named Aziza, that thinks she is smarter than the other 4th graders in Mr. Wolf’s class, but fits right in with the quirkiness of the anthrmorphized cast too.  There is nothing mentioned about the scarf or about Aziza’s faith, there is also a boy named Abdi in the class that is a cat and could also be Muslim, but really, in this silly book which is the start of a series, I was just so giddy to see a Muslim included and grateful for the representation.

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SYNOPSIS:

It is the first day of 4th grade and Mr. Wolf is nervous.  Margot is new too, but the other kids seem to know each other already.  Aziza, Abdi, Randy, Sampson, Henry, Penny, Bobby, Lola, Oliver, Stewart, Miguel, Noah, Molly, Lizzy, Oscar, and Johnny are all different animals and all unique.  The book is really just a handful of the characters trying to survive the first day of school.  Whether it be confronting another teacher about stealing your stapler, making a friend on the bus, having rats steal your lunch, falling asleep in a box because your new baby brother kept you up on all night, or trying to figure out why you have to show your work when on a math assessment.  The book will resonate with kids 2-4th grade and make them giggle at the silliness of it all.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the teacher is more nervous than the kids about the first day of school and that they all seem to be doing the best they can.  Aziza is earily irritated by her classmates who don’t seem to want to do their work, but she is no more annoying than the other students and all seem to have diverse backgrounds and issues at hand.  The author was an educator and the book reads true to any one who has littles or has been in a school environment, making it all the more charming.  There are four books thus far in the series and my kids say Aziza features prominantly in the second book too.  I have had this book in my house for a while now, and for some reason just now paid attention to the cover today when begrudgingly scolding my kids about leaving books out everywhere.  I asked if the duck had on a hijab and two of my boys without budging to put away said book, replied, “yeah it is Aziza.” As if seeing a muhajaba duck is the norm, who knows maybe it is.  So, I sat down to read the book with enthusiasm and 20 minutes later, thought how great it is to be included. Representation does shape perception, and non Muslim kids may not think anything of it, or my own kids who are flooded with Islamic fiction books, but I can only imagine how ecstatic I would have been as a kid to be included as the norm without fanfare or explanation given.

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FLAGS:

They talk about if farts are better or ice cream in the creation of a venn diagram.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Wouldn’t do it for a book club, but would definitely have it in a class library and school library.  Fun book, seemingly fun series, and easy reading for all levels.

https://www.mrwolfsclass.com/interviews-and-press

Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution by Sherine Hamdy & Coleman Nye illustrated by Sara Bao & Caroline Brewer

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Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution by Sherine Hamdy & Coleman Nye illustrated by Sara Bao & Caroline Brewer

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When I first started teaching I wasn’t a big fan of graphic novels, slowly I saw their benefit for struggling readers, and eventually I came to appreciate them as an enhanced tweak in story telling for everyone.  This book however takes the concept to the next level, for me anyway.   As the inside flap claims, it is a book “that brings anthropological research to life in comic form, combining scholarly insights and accessible, visually-rich storytelling to foster greater understanding of global politics, inequalities, and solidarity.” As a coming of age story of two friends at its core, yet taking on breast cancer, kidney failure, parental loss, different cultures, different religions and with a back drop of the Egyptian revolution, I’d say the book is meant for high school and up.  Not so much for content as for understanding and appreciation of all that went it to creating this ethnographic book.

SYNOPSIS:

Unlikely friends Anna and Layla cross economic, religious, and cultural differences to build a life long friendship.  The book is divided into three parts: Cairo, Five Years Later, and Revolution.  In the first part we see Layla’s family serving as the caretakers of a building and the two young girls bonding over pranks, arrogant tenants, and just being silly.  Anna’s family is American and the father works for the oil companies, thus they are financially very well off, however, the father is rather distant and the mother is dying of cancer.  The section concludes with the passing of Anna’s mom and the family going to Boston for the funeral.

Five years later finds the girls in college.  Layla in medical school and Anna at a university in Boston.  Layla’s father is suffering from renal failure and is unwilling to consider a transplant.  While Anna is trying to see if she carries the same genes as her mother and if insurance will cover it.  She also has to decide if she would want to have a complete double mastectomy, if she would want her breasts reconstructed, if she should do it now or later.  She gets a lot of opinions, but ultimately decides to find a way to pay for it and have it done.  Her father doesn’t understand, and Layla dismisses it forcing Anna to have to handle it alone.  But when news come that Layla’s father isn’t going to make it, she rushes back to Egypt to offer her support.

In the final section, the revolution has spread and Dr. Layla is helping those injured in Tahrir Square during the protests, and Anna is helping to identify bodies despite being attacked for being a foreigner and part of the problem.  Anna has kept the secret of her mastectomy from Layla and Layla assumes she has cancer.  At odds with their roles in the revolution, and with keeping secrets from each other and their differences in financial opportunities coming to a head, Anna returns to Boston.  When Layla’s brother is shot and loses an eye, however, Anna returns to Egypt and the two friends work to keep their relationship.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is grounded in so much conflict and turmoil, but fights hard to keep a character based narrative.  With two illustrators and two authors trying to convey medical approaches, two cultures, two religion, two friends, and a revolution, the last 70 pages of the 302 page book are details about how the book came about, interviews with the various contributors, a timeline of the revolution, discussion questions, key references and a teaching guide.  The book at times was confusing to me, and I’m not sure why, it quickly resolved itself or a flip back a few pages would clarify it, but I think some of the illustrations were just off enough that it complicated things.  Anna by and large is depicted oddly on a few pages along with her family as well.

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Layla’s family is definitely religious and at times has to challenge their thoughts to understand Anna and their own circumstances too.  I think it is handled really well and allows the reader to consider things without answers being clear cut, is it Allah’s will to not have a transplant and accept death as being written for you or to have the transplant and ask Allah to make it successful?  By and large the book poses questions through the juxtaposition of the two characters and the experiences they endure, and while it shows the choices they made, it draws the reader in to wonder what they would do in their shoes without judgement.  The book provides a lot of facts and leaves them there making it more thought provoking than a simple story.

The characters are often composites of real characters the academic author’s learned about, yet some are directly based on activists and leaders of the revolution.  The graffiti artwork is attributed and powerful.  There is a lot of information in the notes after the comics end.

FLAGS:

There is death and revolution, Layla’s brother is taking Tramadol, and their are sketches of breasts as Anna learns about her disease and prognosis.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club as I don’t know how much middle schoolers would get out of it and the book is pretty pricey.  I would recommend people read it though as it gives a different perspective on numerous things many of us take for granted.

http://lissagraphicnovel.com