Tag Archives: illness

City of the Plague Gods (Rick Riordan Presents) by Sarwat Chadda

Standard
City of the Plague Gods (Rick Riordan Presents) by Sarwat Chadda

I was excited to hear that another Rick Riordan/ Rick Riordan Presents books featured a Muslim character and was anxious to see how the multi god genre would account for Islamic tenants.  But I was completely giddy (that’s putting it mildly), when I found out that Sarwat Chadda is aka Joshua Khan, author of the Shadow Magic Series and that this book has practicing Muslim Characters front and center.  In his own words, “it has taken be twelve years and eleven books to get around to writing a Muslim tale.” That isn’t to say that it is Islamic fiction, there is gay romance that is there if you want to see it and has been confirmed by the author outside of the book, there are  numerous fake gods in Mesopotamian mythologies, there is death and violence, but it is fun, oh so fun.  It has salat, and going to the mosque, and an imam, and saying surahs and discussing jihad an nafs, and sadaqa and it says the shahada in Arabic and English, it presents Muslims authentically in their words and actions, and it isn’t just the characters’ backstories it is who they are and how they see the world.  The book is an AR 4.5 with 383 pages and like all Rick Riordan books, full of humor, sentiment, family, growth, and ancient mythology.

SYNOPSIS:

Sikander “Sik” Aziz is 13 and when not at school is at his family’s NYC deli working away.  The son of Iraqi immigrants, he is dedicated to helping his family especially since his older brother Muhammed, Mo, has passed away.  Mo’s lifelong friend Daoud has moved in to Mo’s old room and helps out in the deli, but is really an aspiring actor who does anything to get out of work.  When the book opens, Sik and Mo are closing up when the deli is attacked by rat faced men demanding to know where it is.  Sik has no idea what they are talking about and the two demons tear apart the family restaurant until a mysterious girl appears and sends them and their stream of insects, disease and destruction from the deli.

The next day at school Sik’s injuries are healing remarkably quick and he and the new girl, Belet, find themselves getting sent to the principal’s office together.  When he learns that Belet’s mom is Ishtar, goddess of love and war, or rather passion, and was the girl at the deli, he can no longer deny that the tales Mo used to tell him about Gilgamesh, Enkido, Nergal, Kasusu, and Mesopotamian mythology are very real.  

As Sik, Belet, Ishtar, Daoud, and an army of cats, Lamassu, learn that the plague god Nergal is behind what is going on and that he plans to destroy Manhattan, it is up to them to stop the destruction, save Sik’s parents who are in the hospital, and ultimately the world.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book was written before Covid 19 and the idea of a plague or pandemic was not yet on everyone’s mind, but when it was published in 2021 it sure become that much more relatable and close to home.  I love that some of the reactions of the characters and community to being around infected people and the backlash was so accurate to what we have all seen since 2020.  

The way that the oneness of Allah swt and the multi fake gods is reconciled is that the Mesopotamian cast are old and powerful, but not ALL-powerful, as Ishtar tells Sik, someone had to create us.  She also says that today people might call them something else.  It seems to leave open the idea that they have abilities and because of their abilities people worshipped them and the name stuck, not that they are creators or even claim to be. The concept of being between alive and dead is explored when Sik visits Kurnugi, he asks where Muhammad Ali is and Mo tells him he isn’t there, he went straight to Jannah.  It might not be a clear explanation, but it at least hints that Muslims in real life have a different view than the mythological one being explored.

I love the snark, and the humor, it flows so well and incorporates pop culture with ancient references very smoothly. I love that they say InshaAllah and AllahuAkbar and when Sik is presumed dead at one point and awakens he can’t go to the mosque because they are having his janaza and it would be awkward.  I love that there is a glossary that denotes if words are Arabic, Islamic, or Mesopotamian.  Muslim kids reading this will feel so seen and proud to be openly Muslim and inspired that they too can be heroes.

FLAGS:

Mythology, fighting, death, the use of the term badass.  Daoud and Mo’s relationship.  Daoud and Mo became friends in 5th grade and when Sik sees some photos of his brother that Daoud had taken, he says that he sees love.  When Sik and Mo are reunited in Kurnugi, Mo hints that there is more to the friendship, it is subtle.  In online interviews Chadda says they were in a romantic relationship.  It is not explored or heavily detailed.  The only other romance mentioned is that Gilgamesh in his prime refused Ishtar.

I think fans of Rick Riordan already know that there is going to mythological characters, creatures, battles and violence and a character or two that are LGBTQ+, some possible romantic angst between main characters, death, and unfaithful flirty gods.  This book is much “cleaner” than most, so 4th graders and up that are fans, will be fine reading this.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if I could do this as a book club selection.  The romance is minor, but once you sense it and know it is there, it is a factor.  I don’t know if it would have to be discussed and how an Islamic school would want me to handle it, because both Mo and Daoud are practicing Muslims.  I think the book does a sufficient job of not committing shirk and shirk like messages with the mythology, but as always with these types of books it is a judgement call if the children (and their parents) can understand where the lines of fiction are and where they stand.

Fandom: https://riordan.fandom.com/wiki/City_of_the_Plague_God

Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza

Standard
Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza

img_7992

There is such a shortage of male Muslim protagonist middle grades books that I have been waiting quite impatiently to get my hands on this one, and alhumdulillah, it didn’t disappoint.  I’m not sure if it qualifies as OWN voice, being it has a female author, but the authenticity in the little religious and cultural details would suggest that it should.  The 320 page book is meant for ages 8-12, but the weight of Aziz’s father’s illness, the plot pivoting around three classic books (Holes, Bridge to Terabithia, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), and the clever reflections of Ahmed along with his quick wit and thoughtful choices, might make the book’s sweet spot be 5th to 7th grade readers (as well as us moms who are suckers for elementary literary references, teachers who are heroes, and kids realizing their potential).  The book has a bully, but is clean and wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

SYNOPSIS:

Twelve-year-old Ahmed is leaving the only home he has known in Hawaii to move to Minnesota.  His dad has Cirrhosis, a result from a rare genotype of hepatitis C, and Minnesota is one of the top options for treatment.  The family is nervous to move in general, but more so to move to Minnesota.  It is where Ahmed’s dad Bilal grew up, and where his dad’s younger brother passed away at age 12. Ahmed’s younger sister, Sara, is perhaps the only one excited for the new adventure.

The family arrives and is greeted by Bilal’s old friends, and when school starts he realizes one of his dad’s best friends, is his English teacher, and somewhat of a legend at the school in getting kids to try and beat her at an end of the year quiz show like competition.  The school is also where Bilal and his brother Muhammed went to school and a picture of Muhammed hangs right above Ahmed’s locker.  The biggest stress at school is Jack. Jack who lives a few houses over, Jack who rides the same bus, Jack who is in Ahmed’s English group, and Jack who has a lot of followers at school.  Jack is a bully.  One who makes Ahmed’s life miserable at every turn, not just socially, but even the police.

Ahmed is a laid back kid that doesn’t like to read, but loves words, who wants to blend in yet is the only brown kid in a sea of white, who enjoys attending  Jummah salat, but ultimately hates going because of the shoe chaos afterwards.  Ahmed has no intention to read the books assigned in class, but some how the three classic books assigned do get read, and  Holes, Bridge to Terabithia, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler tie together and weave in and out of Ahmed’s epic year.

I don’t want to spoil much, but Ahmed’s dad is in the hospital a lot, there is a lot of plotting to survive being bullied, as well as getting revenge on the bully in Ahmed’s own way without involving parents.  Ahmed slowly grows to love Minnesota, his small circle of friends, and his school while learning about his uncle and the kind of person he wants to be as he grows up.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Ahmed is Muslim and while his mom prays five times a day and his dad is an occasional prayer it doesn’t specify how often Ahmed prays or how he feels about religion, other than going for Jummah.  At first Ahmed thinks he is being bullied by Jack because he is brown, his mom is an immigrant from India, his father the son of immigrants from India, but learns that Jack picks on anyone new.  I like that for as much as Ahmed hates stereotypes and assumptions, he acknowledges that he makes them too.  I like that Ahmed doesn’t like to read, but is smart, and eventually comes around to reading.  He is tech smart and very mature in how he views the world and himself in it, cares for his sister and parents, handles things on his own, and builds others up.  Ahmed is a good kid, not in that he doesn’t make errors or is a teacher’s pet, but in that he has a really good heart and a good head, and I think would make anyone better for knowing him.  I love that the book is smart too.  If you have read the three books mentioned you will love the discussions and questions about the books, if you haven’t read them, you will be tempted to after you finish this book.  I wish there was a tad more religion, there is a sprinkling of culture, primarily the mom’s tragic cooking, but a bit more religion in a book that has illness and death would seem natural to me.  The storytelling is superb, I was so curious where the father’s parents were, but alas it did answer that, I would have liked it sooner, but I was glad it made it in none-the-less.  I would have liked a bit more from the parents about why they wanted Ahmed at his dad’s old school, or how they were comfortable constantly leaving the two kids home alone at night, but Ahmed like I said is pretty mature.  I particularly love the brother sister relationship.  Ahmed is a good older brother and it reminded me in some ways of my older brother, which made my heart warm, good siblings are a blessing.

There are multiple climaxes, but while I expected the dad’s health to be a big one and Jack getting what was due to be a close second along with the outcome of the literary contest, I was not prepared for the level of Jack’s torture to climb to, and was pleasantly surprised by the unresolved thread of Jack and Ahmed’s future relationship.  Things in life don’t magically resolve and I love when middle grade novels keep that in mind.

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would absolutely do this in a heartbeat for a middle school book club selection.  Even if the book is more middle grades, I think the students will enjoy it and be surprised by the emotional investment the dad character extracts.  I think they will also benefit from the literary references, relatable characters, and the overall great storytelling.

Our Granddad by Maryam Ahmed illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

Standard
Our Granddad by Maryam Ahmed illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

grandad.gif

This 29 page (four chapter) middle elementary book about understanding sickness, old age, and a bit of death, makes some good points about sabr and dua and Allah testing us with illness.  The story, however, is really dry and never becomes more than just a vehicle for conveying the author’s message of how Islam views elders and the challenges often brought upon as they age.

SYNOPSIS:

Hafsah, age 8, and her 11 year old brother Hasan are meeting after school so that they can join their parent’s in the long drive to Devon to check on their sick grandfather.  The drive is apparently really long, but being that we don’t know where the kids live or how long the drive is, we just know it is a long, painful, miserable drive.  The family is silent with worry about the grandfather on the trip, but no indicators as to what his diagnosis or symptoms are is given, just that he is ill and as the night and drive progress, the children worry he is dying.  Hasan, in the darkness of the car, sheds some tears about losing his fun granddad, but no details about the adventures they go on, or why he is fun are shared.  Their mom encourages them to continue to make dua and tells them that maybe the illness is a blessing, but the children don’t understand what she means by that.

When they arrive, the children are told it is too late bother their granddad and to wait til morning to see him.  The next day the doctor tells them he had an asthma attack and is on new medicines that are helping.  Seems like there should be more to the illness, as asthma once the attack is over can be controlled, and no other mention of heart problems or pneumonia or other diseases are indicated.  Hafsah and Hasan finally get to see him and are surprised he is awake and talking and they learn that sometimes Allah tests us by giving us hardships and that their duas and prayers were helping.  He shares the hadith, “No Muslim is afflicted with an ordeal, be it an illness or something else, without Allah thereby causing his sins to drop away just as a tree sheds its leaves.” Unfortunately, the hadith is not footnoted or attributed, but the characters and readers understand the lesson and find peace in knowing that every hardship is an opportunity not a punishment.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the concept of the book, just not the execution of the principles it instructionally conveys.  Kids need books that explain some of the big concepts that they can’t necessarily understand or even ask about, such is why do we get sick, what is going to happen to our grandparents etc.  The book really just needed more showing and less telling.  It details how the kids chase each other home from school, but doesn’t tell of the adventures that granddad and Hasan go on, it just tells us that they miss having these adventures.  There is no character development, and there is definitely space for the reader to feel for the grandpa and the concern of the kids, but it is glossed over in words not in anecdotal sharing.

The book is British, and some of the words and phrases might be confusing to American kids, such as the description of the grandfather being poorly used repetitively.

The book is presented well with clear font and spacing on glossy pages bound in a hard illustrated cover.  There are small detailed life-like pictures throughout the story that show the kids and family.  The females are in hijab and the family is clearly Muslim.

 

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This is probably a decent book to have in an Islamic School library, it would function as a reference book more than a novel or book kids would naturally pick up.  If doing a theme on aging or sickness, or tests from Allah, this book would fit in nicely in adding to a discussion, but outside of that, I can’t see that kids will even remember the book or what it is about.

 

 

Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan

Standard
Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan

sayang.jpeg

A Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase book which beautifully illustrates the bond of a mother and daughter.  Set in Malaysia, this diverse book shows a rich culture that readers will learn about, as well as relate to in 48 large 9 x 11 pages.

IMG_4975

The simple text shows Little Aleeya watching her dear mother, Mommy sayang, pray five times a day, them doing chores together, cooking side by side, eating with friends and family, and smiling through it all.  Little Aleeya even dreams of her and her mother at night among the hibiscus flowers.

IMG_4976

Mommy Sayang, however, gets ill and Aleeya waits and waits for her to get better.  Day after day Aleeya grows sadder and sadder until one day she gets an idea of how she can help her mother.

IMG_4977

The change of perspective from Aleeya needing her mom, to her mom needing Aleeya is sweet and empowering.  The book doesn’t detail what makes her mom sick or why up until Aleeya’s idea takes form is she not able to hang out in her mother’s room with her.

IMG_4978

Listeners as little as 4 or 5 will enjoy the story and the tone provided by the minimal text and illustration style, older independent readers up to 2nd grade or so will learn new vocabulary and get a peek at a possibly new culture.

IMG_4979

I like that the mom wears hijab when they are out and about doing chores or people are over, but that when she is home in her bed she is not covered.  The illustrations are fabulous and gentle, as is the message.

IMG_4980

There is a small glossary of four words on the dedication and copyright page and there is a bit about the author, her inspiration, and what movies she has worked on at Pixar at the end.