Tag Archives: History

Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed

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Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed

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Make sure you are sitting in a comfy spot when you crack open this middle grades fantasy adventure, because it hits the ground running from the very beginning and doesn’t let up over 368 pages.  The like-able and relatable brother sister duo snarkily banter and bicker about everything from cultural Indian (Desi) folklore, religious stories, Marvel, Lord of the Rings, He-Man, Arabic Sesame Street, Star Wars, hygiene, fears, potential science fair projects, and food, all while battling jinn, devs, peris, and reality as they work to save the worlds.  The book is chalked full of STEM concepts, cultural touchstone, Islamic footholds, pop culture, and fun, as one character remarks, it is the ultimate fan fiction. I regularly Googled people, references, and concepts, and ended up learning quite a bit.  And don’t fret if you ever get lost or confused, or something doesn’t make sense, you don’t have to worry that you missed something or that the author left a gap in the narrative, the book moves quick and Amira’s constant dialogue and commentary points out all the ridiculousness of what they are experiencing and the questions that she wishes she had time to ask, explore, and discover.  The author never loses control of the narrative, and keeps the world building on level without skimping on details and understanding.  I have not loved any of the author’s previous books in their entirety, I think this one, however, is her best one yet, and the switch to middle grades is a good fit.  

SYNOPSIS:

Twelve-year-old Amira and her 10-year-old brother Hamza are heading to the Shriner’s Madinah Temple in their hometown of Chicago to explore the exhibit of Ancient Astronomy artifacts, or as Hamza calls it “tools that belonged to dead Muslim Astrologers.”  Hosted by the Islamic Society of Ancient Astronomy corresponds with the eclipse viewing party of the incredibly rare super blood blue moon.  In typical Hamza fashion however, a Nerf gun is brought and things are touched.  When Amira is tasked with bringing her brother up to the roof to learn how to use the telescopes, the two scuffle over a small box with a tiny moon inside, a series of snatching and tussling between the siblings cause the Box of the Moon to break, or rather start working.  As day turns to night, the moon seems to be breaking a part, and everyone in the world is suspended in sleep except for Amira and Hamza, and an entire jinn army is heading their way.

When jinn leaders Abdul Rahman and Maqbool reach the children they must convince them that they are not there to harm them, but rather to recruit them as the chosen ones to save the worlds: Qaf and Earth and the barrier, the moon, that keeps the realms separate from destruction at the hands of Ifrit.  The confusion over there being two of them creeps up, but is squashed as Suleiman the Wise left tests to prove that the chosen one is properly equipped to battle Iftrit as it has been prophesized.  The children must work together to prove themselves they must then actually seek out and defeat Ifrit.  As tests and challenges arise, it becomes clear (pun intended) that the two are not the chosen ones, but with no option of turning back they must forge ahead none-the-less.

“What? We’re Indian, dude, we were basically born half doctor.”

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love Amira and Hamza’s banter.  The references are at times laugh out loud funny.  Similarly, I was impressed by all the historical and STEM concepts intertwined in the story, there is even a tiny bit about mental health.  I learned about parts of the moon, historical figures, folklore, and more.  The characters are Muslim, Amira wears Ayatul Kursi around her neck and they talk of Sunday school.  The book isn’t religious though, in they aren’t saying Bismillah before they embark on things, or supplicating when in danger, but they greet different beings with peace, and the framing is clearly from an Islamic paradigm.  I think the high speed pacing works for most of the book, and somehow you still get to know and connect with the characters, but at times a slight pause to clarify a point would have been nice.  I would have liked to have the kids proving they were the chosen ones a bit more articulate and dramatic before hand rather than in retrospect.  I feel like the jinn transportation of cauldrons could have used a bit of backstory as well.  And a little fleshing out of the scroll, the government structure and communication methods of Qaf, would have helped some of the transitions between the action.  I read a digital ARC and it had a page reserved for a map, and I think when the physical book comes out that will be really helpful, as I didn’t quite fully understand the 18 realms and their locations  in comparison to the locations the children encounter.  

FLAGS:

There is magic and magical beings.  It mentions Amira and Hamza celebrating Halloween. Death and fighting.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this would be a great audio book to listen to with the family or a read aloud in a middle grades classroom.  It is too young for middle school readers to not find it slightly predictable, but if you had it on a classroom or home shelf I am sure it would be picked up, read, enjoyed by middle grades and middle schoolers alike.  It reads much like the Rick Riordan Presents series and I hope that there are more books featuring Amira and Hamza in the future.

 

Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan by Maxine Rose Schur illustrated by Patricia Grush, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi

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This 44 page fictionalized retelling of Queen Goharshad, a 15th century monarch of the Timurid dynasty in Afghanistan should really be a larger book than 8 x 8 to appreciate the artwork that is detailed and stunning.  The story of Goharshad, wife of Emperor Shah Rukh, and her influence on art, music, culture, higher education, and architecture, is one that we should be more familiar with, but the actual text and manner in which the story is conveyed isn’t consistent for me and I wanted more details about the society she stepped in to to rule,  I know it is fiction, and meant for 2nd to 4th graders, but I would like to think that readers will want to know what obstacles she had and what support she enjoyed and from where.  That they will question if it was a rich kingdom that she could pay musicians to play everywhere, and wonder if families sent their daughters to the University she built, ask why it wasn’t for women to design a  Masjid, and what was the name of the smaller mosque that bore an older woman’s name? The book at times overly summarizes and at other times is haltingly detailed.  It is a good read to reflect a strong woman and her influence on her land, but unless assigned, I don’t know that seven to ten year olds will pick up the book and be inspired by it enough to change their perception of the Afghanistan that they may see on the news.

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Seven centuries ago Goharshad loved beautiful things such as painting and the texts of Rumi.  Her brothers played at being like Genghis Khan and teased her for not being brave.  She vowed to be brave with beauty even though she didn’t know what that even meant.  At age 14 she was given in marriage to the king, Shah Rukh, in Herat.  She ruled with her husband and had resources and time to spread her beauty by speaking up and being brave.

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Her first act of beauty was by filling the kingdom with music.  She wanted music every day in the court and beyond. Music that was playful and pious, music that painted pictures in the listeners minds and brought joy like the laughter of God.  She next sketched and designed a beautiful and enchanting garden to be built.  It doesn’t say where it was, but that people came from all around to enjoy it.

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Feeling braver she turned her sights on building a mosque in the western city of Mashhad.  She designed it and called the court architect, Qavam al-Din Shirazi to discuss.  He doubted if it was right for a woman to design such spaces, but she assured him that she had the talent for it, so construction began.  An elderly woman refused to sell her cottage for the new project unless a mosque with her name was built.  The advisors wanted the old woman put to death or imprisoned, Goharshad disagreed appreciating the woman’s strength and instead agreed.  The big mosque was built with Goharshad’s name and a smaller one on the property with the old lady’s.

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With such an accomplishment complete, the Queen again summoned the architect and expressed her desire to build a great center for learning.  A college for girls, a grand mosque for prayer, and a vast library.  She wanted the structure decorated with paint from precious stones and sold her crown to finance the project.

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After her husband died Goharshad reigned, but sadly after she died, much of her accomplishments died as well.  Over time, harsh weather and war, nearly all her buildings disappeared and those that remain, do so in ruin.  The book ends with hope that memories of her will endure, A guide to some of the words in the story,  an Author’s note, and a Guide for Parents and Educators.

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There is not a lot of Islam in the story, just the building of masajid .  Some may take issue with her stress and celebration of music, and likening it to God laughing, but if you look at it as her story, it should be able to be appreciated even if you disagree.

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Amazing Women of the Middle East: 25 Stories from Ancient Times to Present Day by Wafa’ Tarnowska

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Amazing Women of the Middle East: 25 Stories from Ancient Times to Present Day by Wafa’ Tarnowska

img_7464A nonfiction picture book for teens that features amazing women from ancient times to the present day.  Many of the women featured are Muslim and each entry receives a teasing summation page with a full page portrait from one of five international artists before a two page, more in-depth biography is presented.  The 112 pages feature an introduction, and a map to start the book off, and acknowledgements and a glossary at the end.  There are large time gaps that I wish would have been commented on, the geographical pool includes India which surprised me, and in one of the entries the way hijab is discussed seemed judgmental to me, but other than that the stories are absolutely remarkable.  There are amazing women in every culture and throughout all time periods, but to see one that highlights a region that is stereotypically oppressive to women is a sight for sore eyes.  I learned so much and marveled at the intellect, bravery and determination shown from being rulers of empires to intellectuals to scientists and artists everything in between.

The book starts with Nefertiti born in 1370 BCE and concludes with Zahra Lari, a hijab wearing ice skater from the United Arab Emirates born in 1995.  There are “celebrities” such as Amal Clooney, Fairuz, Cleopatra, Sheherazade and many that might not be as well known.

I particularly enjoyed learning about Zenobia the 3rd century warrior queen who conquered a third of the Roman empire in just five years.  Sufi mystic and poet Rabi’a al Adawiyya and her devotion to Allah swt.  Eqyptian Shajarat al-Durr who was nicknamed Queen of the Muslims in the 13th century.  And Hurrem Sultan from the Ottoman Empire.

Not every one featured was a ruler or married to one, and not are so far in the past, which in many ways gives the collection it’s charm.  Somayya Jabarti was the first female editor-in-chief in Saudi Arabia in 2014 and  Maha al Balushi is the first Omani woman to fly professionally for her country’s airline in 2010, examples of two women presented that cracked the glass ceiling by following their own dreams.

It is great to learn about the strength of the women from the past and see how to add to the legacy.  The book is a great reference, as well as a source of inspiration for people of all backgrounds to enjoy and appreciate.  I found the book at my local public library in the YA/Teen nonfiction women section.

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil

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Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil

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This 165 page AR 3.9 book about the 42 days in 1991 that Iraq was at war with the United States is told from an 11 year old half Kurdish Christian boy’s perspective, but he mentions that he has friends that are Muslim and culturally and historically the book is relevant, important, and engaging as well.  I had my 9, 11, and 13 year old read it to gain perspective of the Gulf War, the difference between politics and people, and to see diverse religions co-existing despite stereotypes, especially in the middle east.

SYNOPSIS:

Ali gets the highest score on his Atari console the day that the bombs start falling.  Ali and his brothers Shirzad and Ahmed, and sister Shireen along with their parents retreat to the safest room in the upper middle class home to hopefully stay safe.  With experience of surviving the Iran-Iraq war which ended just three years earlier, the kids camp out at night in the room farthest from the nearby school and spend their days playing soccer in the abandoned streets.  The safe room was determined by knowing that Saddam uses his own people as human shields and places military installments in public service locations so that he can use propaganda to try and convince people that the enemy is bombing schools and hospitals intentionally to harm the innocent.

When the electricity goes out and the water cuts off, the family is forced to accept government rations.  Their dad is a dentist, but as he is essentially property of the state, he is forced to work as a medic and is often absent from home.  The family lives in Basra, which is in southern Iraq and near to the invaded Kuwait, thus all the troops pass through the city and the children spend their days keeping up their house, playing soccer with their friend Mustafa and trying to avoid the bullies Omar and Umar who’s father is in Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.

Ali speaks English because of his love of American TV and feels that if he can meet some US soldiers he will convince them that he should be in America not in Saddam’s Iraq.  He loves Superman, video games, soccer, his family, and his country, but the people, not the leader, he loathes Saddam, even though he knows he can’t ever speak ill of him.

A trip to get rations results in Ali seeing public executions and a colleague of his math professor mother’s getting hauled away.  A visit from their cousin gives them news that their father is missing. Life is not easy for the family, and yet they know they have it better than a lot of other people.  After the war, once again the family will have to put back together their lives and carry on.

The book concludes with a 14 year jump and Ali translating at the trial of Saddam Hussein where the leader who has been hiding is found guilty and sentenced to be killed by hanging.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Ali is so relatable, he could really be a kid anywhere which makes what he sees and hears and experiences all the more intense.  The way that the book shows how the soldiers are forced to be soldiers, the citizenry at the mercy of the government, and the inability to speak freely so very real and frightening, is strong, but not traumatizing to the reading audience.  Even Ali being forced to observe the killing of  people in the street is handled with the target audience in mind.  They are Kurdish and had to deal with that within Iraqi society, which is a nice added layer to understanding that Iraqis are not a single monolith.  I love how the family had to go to the governor’s house and how nice his son was, even though, they are all Ba’ath Party members and part of the larger oppressive system.  It shows that things aren’t always black and white, and to convey all this to eight and nine year olds so clearly is quite remarkable.

I also like that the book holds up over time.  My kids had no idea what Atari is or was, but they could understand that it is a video game, and that it was an escape during the night for Ali to imagine he was playing a game trying to catch the falling bombs as a way to be brave and endure.

FLAGS:

Execution, death.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this for a middle school book club, it is a bit short and definitely more middle grades, but it would allow kids to identify and imagine and discuss war through the fictional characters and voice their understandings of an authoritarian government structure, which would be interesting.

Author’s Reading Guide: http://www.jenniferroy.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Playing-Atari-Teacher-Guide.pdf

 

 

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

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Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

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I was not expecting to be so absorbed by this 362 page AR 5.4 book.  I knew it was about a Syrian refugee in Brussels and his friendship with an American kid living in Europe for a year, so I knew that Islamaphobia and immigration would all be factors.  I also knew that as a middle grade book it would be optimistic, and a bit of a stretch at times,  but when I had to pause in the first chapter to wipe the tears off my cheek, I knew that while it could be billed as, another refugee story, it really was going to be a poignant story about humanity and friendship and family and making a difference, so I settled in and was swept off to Belgium and the adventure of two determined kids.

SYNOPSIS:

The book opens with 14-year-old Ahmed on a boat with his father hoping to reach Greece from Turkey, when the boat stalls, his father and two other men, the only other people on the dinghy that know how to swim, jump into the sea to drag the boat.  When a storm swell hits them, his father is lost and Ahmed, who left Syria when an explosion killed his mom and sisters, is all alone.

Max is 13 and his parents and sister have just arrived in Belgium for a year.  Not a great student, Max learns that he will be going to a local school where French is spoken, and will be repeating 6th grade.  Less than thrilled with the news, he is additionally hurt that his parents didn’t tell him first.

The two stories start off separate with Max trying to find his footing in school and scouts where he understands very little, and has no desire to learn, and is also getting picked on by a kid named Oscar.  He learns about the history of his street and house during World War II from his after school tutor and a police officer that used to live in the house they are renting and makes regular checks on how it is being maintained.  

 Ahmed has been staying with Ibrahim and his family, another man that tried to drag the boat in the sea, but with news that they are probably going to be forced to return to Iraq, suggests that Ahmed register in as an unaccompanied minor so that he could find a place to stay.  Ahmed knows that if he registers in Beligium he will never make it to England, he hires a smuggler for 300 Euros to get him there.  When the smuggler steals his money and his phone, Ahmed worries his organs could be next, and jumps out of the moving car,  

Ahmed runs through a neighborhood looking for shelter and safety and some warmth from the frigid air.  Ahmed finds the basement of a house unlocked, he then finds a wine cellar room that is empty and decides to stay for the night as he figures out his next step. One day turns in to two and before he knows it, he has a routine of finding food upstairs during the night, which he records so that he can repay the family one day, caring for the family’s discarded orchids, and working on his English.  Then one day Max goes downstairs and discovers Ahmed living there.

Deciding he isn’t a terrorist, Max decides not to turn Ahmed in nor tell his parents, and the two become friends.  The two enlist Farah, a nice Muslim girl at school to help, and they get Oscar too, to forge papers to get Ahmed in to school.  While the biggest problem should be keeping a kid hidden in the basement, and keeping him fed and entertained, the situation is compounded as terrorist attacks by Muslim extremist plague the city and Europe, making everyone on high alert.  The police keep checking in and anti immigrant sentiment rises.  When Ahmed gets accused of being a bomb maker his secret is out, but can his knowledge of how a jewish boy was hidden in the neighborhood during the war keep him free? Nope, I’m not going to spoil it, you have to read it, trust me, you’ll thank me for it!

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love, love, love, the history parallel, and the truth in the story of Albert Jonnart and Ralph Mayer that is woven into this modern fictional story.  I love that Max so plainly says that the stories are the same and that laws that aren’t right shouldn’t be followed, yes! The book reads a lot like Refugee by Alan Gratz crossed with The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf with the kids being so heroic and determined and awesome, throw in a dash of The Diary of Anne Frank, switching out a boy for a girl, a Muslim for a Jew, the basement for the attic, and a diary for a fictional story, and you have this book.

I love that the adventure and excitement shows how resourceful kids can be even when they don’t share common language.  Max speaks English and is learning French, he is helping Ahmed learn better English and some French, when they talk to Farah who speaks Moroccan Arabic /Berber, they often have to go through Oscar who speaks French and English.  Yay, for American television and kids who’s hearts are bigger than the obstacles they are taking on.  Additionally, when the kids hit a dead end, they reach out to Jews in America for help, knowing that the two religions have more in common than politicians and the media would like to think.  Seriously, kids should rule the world.

Ahmed is a religious boy that prays, refuses meat even when hungry to ensure it is halal, and makes sure that Max knows in Islam kindness and charity are the norm and commands, not the violence that people are doing in the name of his religion.  A lot of the moms of the kids at school where hijab, and the author gets the Islam right and believable.  It doesn’t get preachy, but a fair amount of information about Islam is shared.

FLAGS:

A lot of lying. Some violence, death, hate speech. There is mention of smoking and the adults I think drink wine at one point.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m hoping to do this as a middle school book club selection, because it really is so good.

Author’s website: https://katherinemarsh.com/books/nowhere-boy/

Teaching: https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=60364

 

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

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Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

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I really should give up reading Samira Ahmed books.  This is the third one I’ve read, and while she is definitely getting better, I still don’t know why her editors don’t fix her flat notes.  Like in Internment, the premise in this book is amazing, but other parts are just cringe-y and painful and really, really unnecessary.  My guess is, she would identify herself as a romance YA author, and yet consistently in her works, that is the most lacking part: the character building and forced romances.  The art history mystery, the inspiration and “real” life of the characters from the past, the setting of Paris in the summer, the fight for woman to be heard are all so well done and compelling and interesting that this romp that blurs fact and fiction might deserve a read, but you have to overlook the forced love triangle, excessive kissing, be willing to suspend reality regarding Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Lord Byron, artifacts and sleuthing, but if you can do all that, this 337 page book for 9th grade and up, is definitely fun and hard to put down.

SYNOPSIS:
The protagonist is 17-year-old French-Indian-Muslim-American Khayyam, who is spending her summer in Paris with her professor parents like they do every year.  But this year is different as she is being ghosted by her boyfriend Zaid back in Chicago and has just been humiliated by her poor research attempts to link a missing painting from artist Delacroix to author Dumas in an entrance essay competition to her dream school.  Khayyam’s story is really just beginning though as she steps in dog crap and bumps into a descendent of Alexandre Dumas as she wipes it off.  A cute descendant, who shares the name with his distant grandfather, and viola’ the two of them are off on a whirlwind adventure of clues and attraction and mystery solving.

Khayyam’s story is interwoven and told between small glimpses of Leila’s story.  Leila is a Haseki, a chosen concubine of the Pasha in Ottoman Turkey, but the lover of Giaour and friend of the jin.  As we learn her story from 200 years earlier and her struggle to break free of her gilded cage in the harem, only to be defined by the artist and poets and author men around her, her story and Khayyams collide.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I know precious little of art history, I can name drop a few artists and paintings, but that is being generous, so the fact that I have no clue what is real and what is fake and what is possible, made this story all the more fun and engaging.  Yes, I researched, aka Googled, stuff as I read and am perfectly content to accept the fictional what ifs that the book offers.  I love how the art world and literary world are one in the book and that they inspired each other. The way the sleuthing, the finding of artifacts, and unraveling of it all is presented is indeed a romp.  Realistic? Not a chance, but fun.  I also love how both Khayyam and Leila had to define themselves and ultimately not do it in the reflection of a male.

The rest of the book, is a bit of a stretch.  Leila’s story naturally has holes in it as it is told in broken pieces, but Khayyam’s story does too.  I just didn’t care about her past boyfriend/ex-boyfriend/friend, whatever Zaid is or was, and clearly after moping about him for 300 pages and then not even giving him a proper goodbye, means that the author and character didn’t really care either, which made the already forced, cringe-y annoyingness all the more grating.  As for the relationship, the other piece in the triangle, with Alexandre, was fine in that there was angst, but they put it aside to solve the mystery, so it didn’t bother me too much.  Of course the fact that Khayyam is a practicing Muslim who seems to have no problems with boyfriends, and making out and that her parents don’t mind either, makes the faith aspect all the more befuddling.  I guess practicing might be a stretch, her mom and her go to Jummah prayer on Friday, thats about the extent, and she mentions she doesn’t drink.  Zaid, sets up a tutoring program at the masjid, but his instagram has him hanging all over girls too, so not sure why the characters are even Muslim.  I suppose it is good to have that diverse representation, but it doesn’t seem to make much necessary sense to the overall story.

FLAGS:

Implied concubine activities, with the Pasha and the lover.   Lots and lots and lots of kissing, nothing graphic, but annoying amounts of it being mentioned.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I want someone to discuss it with me and point out where the facts end and the speculation starts and when the full on fiction takes over.  I don’t think I could use this book as a book club book because of the center stage of the haram romances in both Khayyam’s time and Leila’s.  But if you have read it, talk to me about it, I’m curious!

NPR’s Review: https://www.npr.org/2020/04/11/831873365/in-mad-bad-dangerous-romantic-sleuths-uncover-a-byronic-secret

 

The Story of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him): Ramadan Classics: 30 Stories for 30 Nights by Humera Malik

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The Story of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him): Ramadan Classics: 30 Stories for 30 Nights by Humera Malik

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I debated posting about this book for so long that Ramadan is more than half over.  But as a reference for years to come, I thought I should go ahead and throw my late support toward this Ramadan tradition and a book deserving of space on your shelf for children 4th grade and up.  I’ve seen people praising it for a few years, and finally I ordered it this year, however, I wanted to not only read it, but also test it out first: reading a story a day, discussing and asking the correlating questions with my own children, before reporting back.  I cannot and thus won’t comment on the accuracy of authenticity of the book, nothing stood out as erroneous to me and there is a bibliography at the back, but there is a reason I try and steer clear of non fiction, I’m just not qualified to comment.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with the birth of Prophet Muhammad (saw) and ends with the selection of Abu Bakr (ra) as the first Khalifah.  Each chapter is between one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half pages and the 30 chapters plus one Eid day chapter (so a total of 31), covers 103 pages in all.  There are a few pictures of where the Battle of Badr took place, the Cave of Hira, not many.  There are three questions at the back of the book for each of the chapters, but no answers.  The book is pretty linear, just the second chapter bounces back to Prophet Abraham (as) and Hagar and the story of Zamzam and then the rebuilding of the Ka’bah.  It is a glorified timeline, which in this case is a good thing.  It doesn’t go off on tangents or provide a ton of outside references, it is concise and general, but hits the key parts: marriage to Khadijah, first revelation, migration to Abyssinia, Taif, Hijrah, treatment of slaves, year of sorrow, Battle of Badr, Battle of Uhud, Treaty of Hudaibiyah, it talks of tensions with various tribes, coming to an agreement about the Khalifah, and more.

I think younger children might possibly be able to have the short chapters read to them and then explained, but really, it would be a lot to process.  The words are simplified and the gist of situations are conveyed, but topics aren’t necessarily shied away from.  It discusses that Prophet Muhammad (saw) had more than one wife, and that there were slaves, and there were tensions with the Jews, and Bilal was tortured, all things that picture books might skip over.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that even my young teen could read and involve herself without feeling like the exercise was childish.  Many of the answers are open ended in nature and require more than just a one word answer.  It allows for children to add other facts that they know about RasulAllah to the dialogue and make connections to our history with our current life very easily.  Even children that know the story of Prophet Muhammad (saw) will find the book engaging and smooth enough to read through again (and hopefully again each Ramadan) and learn new tidbits, understand concepts more clearly and be reminded about the beauty of our Prophet.

FLAGS:

Nothing

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

If I was a teacher, I would definitely start each morning reading a chapter and doing the Q and A, whether it was Ramadan or not.  I think we need to be more connected to our Prophet and grow our love and appreciation for him, so books like this are such a great tool in accomplishing that goal.

 

Yusuf’s Ramadan Lantern by Jasmin Zine illustrated by Brad Cornelius

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Yusuf’s Ramadan Lantern by Jasmin Zine illustrated by Brad Cornelius

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The soft illustrations on 32 pages, surrounded by ample, large, well -paced text for second graders and up give life to a sweet story about a young boy, his grandfather, and the passing on of a Ramadan heirloom.  While not a chapter book, and a little too long for little ones to enjoy as a simple picture book, the book may not beg children to pick it up and read it, but if they do, they will enjoy a sweet story that parents won’t mind reading more than once.

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Synopsis:

Yusuf’s grandparents have just returned from their trip to Egypt and Yusuf is excited to see them, and receive the electronic fanooz he asked them to bring back. But when Grandpa takes Yusuf outside to give him the gift, it isn’t the modern light up lantern he asked for, it is an old rusty, cracked metal fanooz.  Grandpa explains that the old fanooz used to be his when he was a young boy and begins his story of himself going out with his father to wake their neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan.  The subtle details of how he would be woken up, how his dad would beat the drum and the song they would sing as they would walk around, keeps the story slow and engulfing.  He then tells about returning and eating dates soaked in milk, and bread and fava beans before the white thread of light appeared.

Slowly the little boy, seeing how happy his grandfather is in his reminiscing, realizes that the fanooz he has been entrusted with is far better than the electronic one he asked for.  As he walks his grandfather out the door, he is surprised with the gift he originally wanted, the fancy new fanooz.  Not excited, his grandfather asks Yusuf what is wrong, and Yusuf, realizes that he likes the history filled one better.

The old fanooz finds a permanent place in Yusuf’s room, and he and his father fix the broken glass and polish up the metal to be regularly lit on Ramadan mornings and remind them all of grandfather as a little boy walking and waking people up before dawn.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the subtlety and detail.  There are now so many books about the tradition of waking the neighbors up for suhoor, but this one focuses on the bonding of the grandfather and his father as well as the bond between the grandfather and Yusuf.  The story speaks of the tradition with the drum, yet somehow it is the lantern that ties it all together.

There is sufficient referencing about Ramadan and fasting to appeal to Muslim kids and inform non Muslims a bit.  The book is not preachy, it is cultural and religious in a narrative story sort of way.

My only main complaint is that I don’t know who the target audience is with the long pages of text, and full page pictures.  It is a hard book to place.  The illustrations are sweet and compliment the story, but in the pictures, Yusuf just seems too young.  His ability to appreciate his grandfather’s old lantern verses the electronic fanooz he asked for implies a bit older child.  In the pictures he looks like he is three or four years old, a disconnect that often distracted me from the story.  I also wish they would have used an Arabic word or title for the grandfather.

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FLAGS:

clean

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

It is obviously too short and not the correct format for a book club, but I am hoping to share it at story time.  It will be a bit of a challenge for little children to sit through, but I’m thinking it is worth the effort, inshaAllah, bismillah…

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Ibn Yunus: The Father of Astronomy by Ahmed Imam

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Ibn Yunus: The Father of Astronomy by Ahmed Imam

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This book is part of a new Muslim Scientist Series featuring 24 glossy colorful 8×8 pages highlighting a great Muslim from the Golden Age of Islam.  Meant for Muslim children ages 4-7, the book sets out to teach and inspire little Muslims, and does a pretty decent job of presenting it in a memorable easy to understand way.  Adults might have to explain and help out a bit, but the book accounts for that too.

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The book starts off with some “Notes to Parents and Teachers” about supplemental activities and conversation starters to make the book relevant, and show how beneficial their contributions to science were and still are today.

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The book is a simplified biography of Ibn Yunus, and I would imagine the other books: Ibn Majid, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Al-Batar, follow the same pattern.  It tells about where he was born and when, and what he is famous for, before telling a bit about his family, an ayat from the Quran that inspired him is then given in English and Arabic and translated, before it shows how he worked toward his goal, and the accomplishments he made in his lifetime that still are used today.

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The fun illustrations make Ibn Yunus’s field of study easier to understand and will keep the littler listeners interested.  Adults will hopefully also learn something in the reading, and feel the same pride and inspiration of Muslim’s contributions to science.

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It is critical to teach our children about the accomplishments and discoveries of Muslims, and this non fiction series is a great introduction to Muslim scientists, scholars, and adventurers, that they might not otherwise learn about.

The Chronicles of Bani Israil: The King, Queen, and the Hoopoe Bird by Dr. Osman Umarji illustrated by Sama Wareh

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The Chronicles of Bani Israil: The King, Queen, and the Hoopoe Bird by Dr. Osman Umarji illustrated by Sama Wareh

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At 134 pages the fictionalized retelling of Prophet Sulaiman’s (AS) kingdom and interaction with Queen Bilqis comes to life from the point of view of a Hoopoe bird.  The book is marketed as a “Quranic fantasy adventure,” which I found a bit misleading.  The book is rooted in Quran and Hadith facts according to the author, and colored in to try and tie a story together, but even for 3rd and 4th graders I don’t know that there is much adventure or suspense.  As a prophet story it is pretty solid, but as an adventure book it seemed a bit scattered in its attempts to give history, draw in unrelated anecdotes and make it seem intense, when the dialogue suggested otherwise.

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SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with the narrator setting the stage to tell his story of being in Prophet Sulaiman’s army nearly 3,000 years ago in the land of Sham.  Told in first person and  limited to what he saw, the Hoopoe bird (Hud-hud) addresses the reader and begins his tale.  He first gives some information about Hoopoe birds and Prophet Dawud (Prophet Sulaiman’s father), before lovingly describing Jerusalem and how the Bani Israil came to the land of Sham.

The first real glimpse of what kind of ruler Prophet Sulaiman is, is given with the detail allotted to how he repaired Masjid Al-Aqsa.  The bird then tells of Prophet Sulaiman’s many powers and gifts from Allah (swt), the ability to control the wind, control liquid metal, speak with animals, and of course the Jinn.  Slowly, the reader begins to understand how impressive Prophet Sulaiman’s kingdom is, not just by being told, but being shown, so to speak, and reminded pointedly by the Hoopoe that despite so much power how humble towards Allah swt, Prophet Sulaiman remained.

There is a tangent about his love of horses, before the Hud-hud takes center stage again as a spy in the powerful army of men, jinn, and animals. The story of the ants is shared and about half way through the book it is on one of the bird’s scouting missions that he sees a Queen and her people worshipping the sun.

The back and forth between Prophet Sulaiman and Queen Bilqis as Prophet Sulaiman urges the Queen to allow her people to worship Allah or risk invasion is a familiar tale and one the author asserts he tried to use only Islamic sources to include.

The book ends after the Queen has visited, embraced Islam, more anecdotes about Prophet Sulaiman’s wisdom are shared and how even in his death he attempted to show the doubting people the power and oneness of Allah swt.  The revelation of the termite breaking his walking stick and the retirement of the bird who had lived a most wondrous life, conclude the story before an Author’s Note at the end of the book.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love Prophet stories and especially ones that are easy to read, memorable, and factual.  I think the book does a decent job in a fictionalized retelling of getting a lot of the important information in, albeit sometimes a bit forced, but keeping it on level for upper elementary and being clear and concise.  I didn’t stumble on grammatical mistakes or find parts confusing, it was well told and presented.  More than once in the book, I felt like it would have made a better oral story than written one.  The bird had to articulate how he knew stuff if he wasn’t there, and he kept asking the reader questions or telling them to pay attention.

The book is meant for Muslim kids and I wish there would have been footnotes or sources.

The illustrations were nice, they are full color but I am admittedly bias as I grew up writing letters to the illustrator who was my penpal for a few years.

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FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Doesn’t fit my book club criteria, but definitely think kids would benefit from reading the story and discussing how the author shared the information, what they think the Hud-hud’s life was like and then maybe trying to retell a story of their own from a different perspective.