At 254 pages this boarding school story beautifully blends Islamic information, mystery, and compelling characters embarking on a new stage of their lives. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and engaging this book for upper elementary aged children reads and would strongly recommend it for grades 3-5.
Eleven year old Yusif is about to begin his first year at the prestigious Dar Al Ilm Academy a few hours away from his family, friends, and home. Nervous to be on his own, he is excited to be giving his dream of memorizing the Quran the chance to become a reality. When he arrives at the old mansion turned beautiful campus, he is paired up with Reda, a student to help him get situated and before you know it the two are fast friends. When they get put in the same house, Ibn Kathir, with Warsoma and Daud, the four friends embark on a year of adventure and bonding as well as growth and learning. Along the way they learn some Islamic history, they understand important hadith and Quranic Ayats and are challenged to live according to the sunnah even when tempers and frustrations abound. When items start to go missing the boys and their house will have to keep their cool, not accuse anyone, but figure out what is going on all at the same time. When the culprits are uncovered, they will be further tested to hold a grudge, offer forgiveness, or even extend an invitation to friendship.
WHY I LIKE IT:
This idyllic story and predictable mystery will appeal to impressionable readers that can’t see what is coming and can still be inspired by the beauty of such a protected environment. The window might be small for such readers, but well worth the attempt as the book is well written and the characters well developed. The boys are diverse and kind and helpful and all the things we want our children to be, especially when they are away from us. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses and the friends accept them and celebrate one another rather than try and force them to change. The four houses and the characters vying for year captain and having fun along the way reminds me of a Harry Potter spinoff, but alas I think that is just my ignorance of the British school system. I love that the four houses and their namesakes are detailed at the end as well as there being a glossary of terms. There are illustrations every chapter or so that are appealing and offer a nice visual of the boys’ world. The text, line spacing, chapter breaks and all are perfect for the demographic and while the fictional story is solid, I am happy to report I learned a number of things as well.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I can’t find much on the author or even on any future books, which is unfortunate because I think it would be great for an elementary book club selection, and I may read it to my 4th and 5th grade Lunch Bunch group after we finish The Great Race to Sycamore Street. I think it should be in Islamic School Libraries and classrooms as its cover will hold its own and compel kids to pick it up off the shelf.
Book trailer: http://www.ibnkathir.co.uk/trailerfullhd.html