Tag Archives: honesty

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman

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Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman

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This 345 page contemporary book is brand new from Scholastic and isn’t yet in the AR database, it is billed as appropriate for ages 12 and up and is probably pretty accurate.  The cover, in my opinion, is rather a disservice for the audience.  The book would appeal to girls and boys, and isn’t really about school drama, which is the vibe I got from the cover.  The story is actually pretty deep and thought provoking, on a wide range of issues facing many young adults today.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from Stella Walker’s perspective, the book opens with her and her friends, Ken and Farida, reviewing old movies.  Farida, an Iraqi immigrant, is constantly pointing out the stereotypes, tropes, and bias they engage in regularly and see depicted around them.  She is constantly nagging her friends to recognize their privilege and check it.  Stella tries to get it, but it’s not that easy. Nor are the obstacles that the book explores. 

Stella’s parents are vets, and her brother, Rob, has just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan and is suffering from PTSD.  Additionally, Rob’s best friend commits suicide and yet, Stella’s family doesn’t involve her in the conversations and concerns, and as a result she doesn’t talk to her best friend Farida.  This tension is amplified when Farida wants to run for class president, but her parents advise her against it, as Islamaphobia is on the rise with the mayor, up for re-election, spouting hate speech, and his son, already in the race to lead the school. 

Stella, as a result, is convinced to run with the help and support of her friends.  All should be going well, but in a desperate attempt to get Rob out of the house, a trip to the mall to watch a movie results in Rob sticking up for a Sikh kid being bullied, and breaking the instigators nose.  The police are called in, and the real drama of the book takes center stage, as social media, a bigoted mayor, and a family’s member friendship with a Muslim paint Rob as a radicalized terrorist.  The Walker’s house is vandalized and Farida’s family’s restaurant is suffering and the mayoral election and class office election will all require some tough decisions and insights into honesty, framing, perseverance and friendship.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I don’t think I was expecting the book to explore so many topics and to do it, in a rather real and raw way.  The arc of concepts covered provides a lot of juice and relevance and the quick pace, makes it a quick read.  Some pages are letters written by Rob, a number of pages are the various police reports taken after the mall assault and the various points of view are great.  It explores how media editing and framing can change a narrative to one side or another. 

I love Farida, bless her, she is annoying and one-dimensional, but yet so relatable.  She is the token minority that ties it all together and is the billboard representation of “other.”  I can so relate to her, being the minority and the one that constantly had to be the gadfly on the masses.  

The school election is a little cheesy and overly elevated in importance, but it is the catalyst, so while I wasn’t really invested in who won, I liked the concepts it brought to the forefront of the characters lives.  The family struggles and retaking the truth and owning it, was the real strength of the book, and introducing kids to the horrors of war, returning from war, mental illness, the blind eye of politicians, the struggles of the VA, the power of the media, friendship, and concepts of patriotism, privilege, pride, suicide, and moving forward.

My biggest complaint is the awkward and forced romance.  It isn’t even romance really.  After the mall incident, Stella confides in a classmate, Adam,  who comes over to see if she is okay and they hold hands and kiss.  It is so out of left field and so awkward I would imagine for most readers, not just me the conservative muslim mama looking for books for my kids and their school book club.  In all they kiss five times I think, and mentions them holding hands twice.  It isn’t lamented or dwelled on, it just kind of boom, jumps in to the story and then yes, they kind of snuggle after the election results, which is a little more fitting (but still irritating).  Rob meets a girl, and again later on when she comes to celebrate the plea deal its nice that she is there, but they talk like once and he completely falls for her, kind of intense and random.  The discussions about letting someone in to your life and all is good, and more natural and they don’t kiss, but they do have “feelings” for each other.  

There isn’t much about Islam other than that Farida is Muslim and that her mom wears hijab.  Even the Islamaphobia is mentioned more for political and prejudicial purposes than as a segway in to understanding Islam.

FLAGS:

Kissing (see above), suicide, war, violence.  Beer is mentioned at the end when a college veteran gets one out of the fridge.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I really want to do this as a Middle School Book Club choice, yes I’m hosting those again.  I need to talk to the school counselor about the kissing stuff.  I think they can handle it, but I don’t know the kids well enough just yet, to verify this.   Being it isn’t the Muslim characters, I can’t imagine it is any different from what they see on TV or in Disney Movies, but still, I can’t confidently say it will happen.  Twelve and up is the non Muslim age point, I’ll have to think it over and update this once I investigate. 

Author’s website: https://sarahdarerlittman.com/books_2/young-adult/anything-but-okay-coming.html

Reading Guide: https://sarahdarerlittman.com/books_2/young-adult/abo-teaching-reading-guide.pdf

 

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Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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The premise is simple, Omar ate something that didn’t belong to him, and the guilt is weighing on him heavily.  The beauty of the book is how, with his mom’s help and his own determination, he makes things right.  

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Set in Egypt, Omar eats the doorman’s baqlawa, and while he knows he shouldn’t have, he doesn’t know what to do about it.  The doorman, Amo Mohamed, blames the cat and Omar tries to move past the theft.  But the guilt builds up and he even dreams about baqlawa, eventually telling his mom so he can start to fix things.  

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After isha prayer, the two of them make some new baqlawa.  I love that the mom doesn’t get mad, but she is firm that while, “we made the baqlawa together,”  she tells him, “you have to talk to Amo Mohamed on your own.”  

Omar confesses his crime to the door man and apologizes, Amo Mohamed in turn apologizes to the cat, and all enjoy a piece of baqlawa together with smiles.

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The last page in the 38 page book is a glossary and is headed by a hadith by Prophet Muhammad, “Be conscious of God wherever you are.  Follow the bad deed with a good one to erase it, and engage others with beautiful character.”

The illustrations aren’t amazing, but they are sufficient and help walk the reader through the story.  I like that the mom covers when out and about, but not in the home.  The story is great for ages 4 and up, but the amount of text on the page and book length might make independent reading more geared to second and third graders. 

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The book would work for muslim and non-muslim children a like and does a good job of showing a universal situation in a culturally rich environment.

 

 

 

Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

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In the first Zak book, Zak had good intentions that just never went his way and we, as the readers, really felt bad for him.  In this new book, it takes a few pages to feel sympathy for Zak as his little lies get him in trouble, but sure enough when he finally changes his ways, it is cause for relief, celebration, and a great lesson to teach kids something that they do without much thought.

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The book claims to be for 3 to 7 year olds, but I think it works best for 3rd graders who seem to be testing honesty out.  Yes, it is great to introduce it to younger kids, and you really should, but like the first Zak book, the pages are a bit text heavy and the concept really should be understood without too much hand holding.  For me, the power of the book is the way that Zak’s little lies snowball in to a habit, and the climax really is something that you want the child to feel from within, not as just an adult once again telling them to be honest and not lie and to listen.

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Zak starts the book with one more chore to do until he can go to the skate park with his Baba to play.  But, he gets caught in a lie about his bearded dragon, Dwayne, and the stage is set for him to get through the day honestly.  The next test doesn’t involve lying to his parents, but rather some kids from school that tease him, he doesn’t tell the truth and consequences ensue.  Next up he lies to his sister, again a great addition in showing that honesty is not just important when dealing with parents or adults, but that it needs to be the standard in all our dealings.  At the end, it is his sister getting in trouble for something that he has done that forces his to come clean about his whole day and to learn that truly, “Nothing in the earth and in the heavens is hidden from Allah” (Surah Al-Imran 3:5).

The hardback book is 29 pages with the last two pages being Discussion Questions and more information about the Quran Ayats and Hadiths mentioned.  The illustrations are not too busy, but the characters facial expressions are spot on, and often where the emotional cues for the text are found.

The Friendship Matchmaker Goes Undercover

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I’m posting yet another Randa Abdel-Fattah book that my mom stumbled upon and sent me 10 copies to do for our Book Club. I didn’t love the book, but it is clean and brings up the issue of bullying, friendship and honesty.  So, I’ve decided to do a 3rd- 5th grade Jr. Book Club and use it as a starting point to discuss this critical social realms that they are facing.  The book is a 4.4 Accelerated Reader level and has no Muslim characters or themes.

SYNOPSIS:

This book is the second in the series, and, thankfully, having not read the first book, The Friendship Matchmaker, didn’t hinder my understanding.  Told from the perspective of Lara Zany, a former friendship matchmaker of Potts Middle School, the reader gets to know the major characters at the school and their problems.  Lara now has a best friend and has retired from the matchmaking business, but old habits are hard to kick, and as a new student from Somali out plays the school bully in soccer, Lara is forced to go undercover to help her classmates.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book doesn’t stand out in the genre, but it is fun because I think 3rd through 5th graders deal with everything in the book, every day.  The book shows restraint where a lot of books over do it.  The characters show growth, they aren’t disrespectful and they aren’t all painted with a simplistic brush stroke.  The bully has redeeming qualities and no one is perfect or hopeless.

FLAGS:

The book is clean in regards to violence, relationships, and language.  The only concern I have is there are two major instances where the characters lie, and there are no consequences.  The smaller breaches of honesty the characters in some way or another must own up to, but there are two scenarios: a forged field trip signature, and an untruthful excuse given for being late to class, that rubbed me the wrong way.  Before allowing students to check it out for the purposes of Book Club, I sent a note to the parents with these two concerns and left it to them to encourage or discourage their student’s from checking it out.  My goal is to discuss why the author included these in the book, and realistic alternatives that would promote honesty, but still allow for a happy ending.