Tag Archives: hero

Float Like A Butterfly by Ntozake Shange illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

Standard

img_8250

This 40 page biography beautifully presents major events of the famous boxer’s life without going in to much explanation. While it is an AR 4.7, it is still a picture book, and might work better for younger kids with some conversation and context, than for middle grade readers looking for anything in-depth about the beloved hero. While following his life, the reader sees him as a child growing up before he becomes famous, and sees that even after he retires, he is so much more than just a boxer, he is a compassionate leader, icon, and humanitarian.

img_8251

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in the Pre-Civil Rights South as Cassius Clay, he struggled to understand why there was only a white superman, and questioned if heaven was divided up by color and income like Smoketown.

img_8252

Cassius loved the power of words and would help his father make rhymes as a sign painter. When his bike gets stolen he is motivated to learn to fight so that nothing else is ever taken from him and his. He may not be the colored superman, but he is determined to be lightening fast and have fists that fly.

img_8253

In 1960 at age 18 he won Olympic Gold. In 1964 he converted/reverted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali days after becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World. His titles were stripped from him, however, when he refused to fight in Vietnam.

img_8254

Years later in 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his convictions for not fighting and in 1974 he reclaimed his title by beating George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle.” In 1981 after winning, keeping and losing the title, Muhammad Ali retired from boxing for good.

img_8255

Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson’s disease but still donated his time, his money and himself. He believed in perseverance, and equality, and fought for what he believed in. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 74.

img_8256

This is an updated edition from the 2002 originally published book, it now includes his death. I wish it was more than a fleshed out timeline and showed him as a person, or what it was like to lose everything when standing up for something you believe in, or explained what some of his catch phrases meant, or really just as a more high energy celebration of his life.

img_8257

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

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

alia

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!

5532A37C-C4DF-46FA-8334-5F4AA3A06AB5

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.

A3A17616-7940-4E80-8CA1-9798A8BA4FC8

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.

B0FB5A2A-7376-4F20-BCD1-6D64956B77C6

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

 

Freeze-Land: A New Begininng

Standard

IMG_1828

Let me start off by saying that the fact alone that this book (and series) was written by a 9 year old is amazing.  As a former 4th grade teacher, if I saw this type of writing come across my desk, I would have probably pushed her to keep writing and publish one day too.  But, for all the support and love I wanted to give the book and the author, I really didn’t like the story.  So much so, that even with the second book, Good or Evil, in my hands, I couldn’t justify spending less than an hour to read the 124 pages, which is heartbreaking to say, but honest, none-the-less. 

The series is published by Archway Publishing which is a self publishing company through Simon and Schuster, so I have no idea if they have editors, or what the publishing process was for this book.  But, while you might forgive a few plot holes, and story gaps because of the author’s age, there are sentences that simply don’t make sense, words that are missing, and passages, that seem to be arbitrarily made-up on the spot.  So often the book reads like a child telling a bed time story and realizing they hadn’t explained something earlier and have to wiggle out of a tight spot, “and then, and then” become mechanisms to move the story along, when no other logical connection can suffice.

img_1823.jpg

At 93 pages the books is written for 2nd – 4th graders, and while they might inspire others to write, I don’t know that they will get enough out of the story to read the four book series.  The covers depict a girl that looks like Disney’s Belle and the title might excite fans of Disney’s Frozen.  I would like to think the writing improves as the author develops and grows, and I’m fairly confident that I’ll check out one of her future books, however, I think I’ll sit the rest of this series out.

SYNOPSIS:

Fourth grader Samantha Ringle loves snow, and can’t wait for the next storm to arrive on Christmas day.  After opening presents and celebrating the holiday, she meets Rebecca, a snow flake fairy from Freeze-land.  Six children have gone missing in Samantha’s area, six children that were chosen by Santa and infused with his saliva.  The children have gone to a distant planet to try and save it from the evil Lord Ninstagger, and return it to the snowy wonderland the Freezians once knew.  

Lord Ninstragger has a wand and a creates rhyming spells to make it work, he also has some other weapon an any-weapon-a-tor that I never really understood, and he can only be defeated if a word is said, but the word will also kill all the inhabitants of the planet.  To save the planet and free the other six children that have gone missing, she must defeat Ninstragger and his ninsting minions or Earth too will be destroyed.

Needless to say, she succeeds by having the good little cloud fairies cover their ears so she can say the word that will destroy the evil.  She then has to get all six of her friends and her annoying brother who got caught in the wind that brought her to Freeze-land, home.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that this author can articulate a creative imaginative story in her head and that her family supported her endeavors and got the book published.  I love that the author is Muslim and feels confident writing and sharing her words with the world.  Outside of that, I’m not sure the story would have the same appeal if it was written by a 19 year old, or anyone older than a teenager. 

There are huge plot holes.  The book says that all the children are taken to the dungeon, but when Ninstragger is defeated it says that only Jake is in the dungeon, the rest are in jail.  When freed all six show up instantly but the walk to the exact same place to free Jake is long and arduous and the climbing over the mountain is unbearable.  Samantha seems to be surprised that Jake is there, but early had overheard a ninsting talking about Jake by name, to Ninstragger.  Samantha doesn’t recognize the freed children or them her, even though some were her friends and they have been gone a year or less.  Some things also don’t seem to make sense, such as how are their rain cloud fairies in a frozen wonderland? Why does the word kill the inhabitants, what does it mean, how did they learn it? Why are their ghosts that come out of the letters and give the wrong advice? How did Rebecca get all six to Freeze-land, but claim she hadn’t thought how to get Samantha there?  Really the story is all over the place, and I could go on for many many paragraphs, but I think you get the point.  

There is nothing Islamic about the book, and I understand that there doesn’t need to be, but I don’t understand why all the Christmas and Santa stuff is needed.  I understand that the author may have used winter to set the stage for the story, but it seemed awkward to me that Santa randomly died going down a chimney into a lit fire, but yet sensed his time was coming and made a ton of arrangements for a future he would not have known would occur.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would not use this book as a book club selection, but if a child read it, I’d like to know there thoughts.  To see if the wholes and inconsistencies are noticed by the target reader.  My 11-year-old daughter struggled to make sense of the book, and while I tried so hard to force her to read the second one, after I read the first one I realized her hesitance and apologized.

Authors website: https://www.ayazsisters.com/

FLAGS:

The girl lies a lot and acknowledges that she lied to save Freeze-land, but then says that the book is completely true and not a lie.  Obviously there is Christmas and Santa mentioned and celebrated as well.

The word “stupid” is used a lot, and when Samantha and Jake are interacting they are pretty rude to one another.  While at the end, Samantha gains confidence and stands up a bit to a class bully, there is no reconciliation of her and her brother’s relationship.  She shows no concern other than consenting to take him back to Earth, and doesn’t seem to have been worried or relieved to see him in any of the situations presented.

IMG_1827

Jannah Jewels by Umm Nura illustrated by Nayzak Al-Hilali

Standard

Strong muslim girls  (check)

Historical fiction (check)

Elementary level chapter book (check)

Beautifully illustrated (check)

Action, adventure, fun (check, check, check)

Really what more can you want from a book, or better yet a series of books?

The premise of Jannah Jewels is four Muslim girls each with specific skills that travel back in time to various places in the world to retrieve artifacts to save the world before the “villians” do.  Along the way they share knowledge of hadith, Quran, and Muslim achievements and advancements while meeting with influential Muslims.  I mean really, what is there not to like.  This is historical Islamic Fiction for 2nd through 5th grade at its finest, yay!

So far there are nine books in the series, and based on the premise that they must find 12 artifacts to put in a golden clock, I would assume there will be 12 books.  I decided to review only the first two as I think they set the stage and give the reader a good feel for the series’ standards, the tone, and direction the consequent books will follow.  The series is to be read in order and they range in length from 69 pages to 165.  Each book has a description of the main characters, a visual of the supporting characters and is followed after the story by a sneak peek at the next book, a glossary, and some manga anime of the heroines.  Some of the books are co authored (Ustadha S. Karim & Tayyaba Syed), but based on the website http://www.jannahjewels.com Umm Nura is the main author and creator of the series.

SYNOPSIS:

Hidayah sees a woman with a bow and arrow and watches her for many days until finally she musters the courage to meet her.  This meeting is the start of Hadiyah’s training in present day with the Master Archer.  The story however, starts with a prologue of the past and how different approaches to archery have lead to a rift between those entrusted to keeping evil at bay.   The collision of those actions and today occur as Hidayah and her friends Jaide, Sarah, and Iman are chosen to retrieve artifacts scattered around the world and throughout time.  They must bring these artifacts and place them in the golden clock before Jaffar and his son Khan do, to obtain a secret locked away inside.  Each girl has incredible skills and strength as well as fears and doubts.  The stories are action pact as well as enlightening and empowering.  The girls are smart, strong, and supportive of one another and they use team work to make for a smart inspiring read.

In the first book the foundation is laid and the details of time travel and the task are put forth, it is a tiny bit cumbersome, but is quickly believable and accepted as the action picks up.  The Jannah Jewels travel to Timbuktu and meet with Mansa Musa to rescue a lost manuscript.  In the second book they journey to China aboard the ships of Chinese Muslim Admiral Zheng He to recover a medicinal plant.  The recap of the first book and the premise of what has to be done is seamless and quick.  Thus allowing the story to move further below the surface to provide more insight into who the four girls are, and understanding into what occurred in the past that made the Jannah Jewel adventures necessary.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love historical fiction, so Islamic historical fiction is like a gift, when done right.  To give young muslims a glimpse at some of the remarkable accomplishments and contributions Muslims have made throughout time, in a manner they don’t even know they are learning it, is so needed.  Our kids should know about Mansa Musa, Al-Kindi, Fatima Al-Fihri, Sultan Muhammad II, and more, and sadly many are not tempted to pick up a non fiction book to learn about them.

The Jannah Jewels are also admirable and have the ability to inspire our girls to be better Muslimah’s through their examples of intelligence, strength, and deen. Each book reveals more about their hobbies, passions, and past, and does a good job of giving them each their own personalities. That being said, these books are engaging for both boys and girls.  My own children have read the first four multiple times as have I.  Initially I didn’t think my son would be interested as it seems like a very “girl power” type read, but the story is strong enough and the characters have depth that they work well for all kids and their parents.

In addition to the stories, visually the books are absolutely gorgeous and appealing.  The manga anime style of art is bright and colorful on the covers, and detailed and complimentary throughout the text.

 

FLAGS:

None, alhumdulillah

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The website is engaging for those wanting to know about the characters and writing team.  The FAQ section is good background as well.  www.jannahjewels.com

The books aren’t complicated as they are for elementary aged children, that anything more than the story is not needed.  If your readers are like mine, however, you will need some reference books or google on hand for those that would like to learn more.  I think these books would be great in a classroom setting to get students reading.  I also think they would work well in 1st grade for read a loud story time.  I don’t know that they would be ideal for book club, but definitely could be used to compliment lessons in Language Arts and Social Studies.