Tag Archives: Islam

Leila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi

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Leila and the Sands of Time by Shirin Shamsi

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This 127 page book has a lot of potential, but ultimately didn’t win me over.  It is one of those that needs a good editor to encourage the author to flesh out the characters, take advantage of a potentially cathartic resolution, and fill the gaping holes in the story.  Meant for ages 8-12 the tiny font, and tight spacing, make the book really dense and intimidating to look at and read.  The book, as written, should be well over 200 pages, if spaced appropriately for the target audience.  Once you accept the presentation and get in to the story, it isn’t an awful read, it just could have and should have been so much more.  I hope the author revisits it and polishes it up- the time travel, the science DNA component, and the death of the protagonist’s parents, offer a lot for Muslim and non Muslim readers to sink their teeth in and be swept away by, but ultimately, I don’t know that most readers will be motivated to finish the book, and those that do, won’t remember anything about it.

SYNOPSIS:

Laila’s dad has recently died, and with her mother having died years earlier, Laila is now 13 and an orphan living with her stepmom and baby sister.  Feeling resentful that her dad remarried and had a child that took time away from her in his final span of life, doesn’t make Laila a very kind person at home.  Her best friend Beth, even points out how cold she is to her family.  With school vacations approaching, Laila is headed for Umrah with her dad’s brother, her uncle, and his wife.  While making tawaf, Laila loses her aunt and uncle in the crowd and finds herself transported to 7th century Arabia.  She hears a baby crying and learns that the baby’s life is in danger.  To save her, she must get the baby, the baby’s mom and baby’s sister from Makkah to Yathrib.  The only way to do that is to join a caravan, and they can only join a caravan if they have a male escort.  So Laila chops off her hair, acts like a boy, and gets them in the caravan.  They meet bandits along the way, but nothing too scary, they arrive in Medina and right before they meet RasulAllah, Laila finds herself back in the present.  She is in a hospital, but the doctors do not know what is wrong with her so they release her.  She returns to the US, relays the story to Beth, and decides that at an upcoming field trip to study DNA, she is going to submit the baby’s hair that she still has for dating.  The results show it is from 1400 years ago and a family heirloom of her step moms reveals that the baby is a great great great great… grandmother of her’s.  Resolved to open her heart to her family, Laila is a changed person, alhumdulillah.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the premise, it is like Sophia’s Journal and When Wings Expand  thrown together and scrambled.  Laila is struggling with her faith and is trying to find it, while also finding a way to move forward after losing her father.  There are just a lot of things that aren’t answered, are contradictory, or don’t make sense.  It says she learned Arabic because her mother spoke it, her dad is desi, but really no hiccups speaking in 7th century Arabia other than forgetting the word for scissors?  She at one point said she was a cousin from the north, but while on the caravan mentioned that she had never travelled through the desert.  There really should have been more action with the thieves and the regrouping when the men came back.  Similarly, her gender reveal should have been a bigger deal than it was.  I was hoping there would be a mention of if her hair was long or short when she awoke in the hospital, I don’t think I missed it, but maybe, or maybe it wasn’t there.  Once back home, there really needed to be a reunion scene with Laila and her stepmom and half sister, I mean the whole point of the time travel was to save a baby. Really? Nothing? I was disappointed that it was glossed over and mentioned as a retelling to Beth and pushed aside.  The second climax is when the DNA testing is being questioned, but I didn’t get the need for the babysitter and everything to be rearranged for a two second conversation with the principal accusing Laila of theft, a phone call should have sufficed, plus when Laila and Beth mention it to the scientist, it seems everyone was questioned, but Beth wasn’t, something wasn’t consistent there either.  Overall, the book needed more action for a book that involves time travel and more emotional attachment and character connection for a book that involves a newly orphaned young teen girl.

I like the conveying of Islamic facts and information and history in a fairly smooth way.  At the beginning, Umrah being explained was a little text bookish, but it smoothed out as the book progressed.  I love the little flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter, I wish there would have been some information about the remarriage of her father and her emotions on the matter at that time.  It is one thing to be grieving, but really she is a brat to her step mom, and if the uncle and aunt live right there, not sure where they live, someone should really be working on getting them all some family therapy, not a quality situation for anyone.

FLAGS:

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use the book as a book club selection, nor would I think it would get read if on a classroom shelf.  I might use the premise of going back in time to meet Prophet Muhammad, as a writing prompt though.  Would be a good assignment with factual and Islamic references to get kids stretching their imagination to make it all come together and work.

 

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

 

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

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more than just a pretty face

This book is a Muslim YA romcom OWN voice written by a Muslim male.  Woah, right? And the actual story, sigh (blush) I enjoyed it, and part of me is disappointed in myself for how much I enjoyed it.  Most of the characters are Muslim and all over the spectrum in their religiosity so to speak, there are a lot of jokes at the expense of tenants in Islam and trivializing of certain concepts which really isn’t something to celebrate, but it reads real and there is a lot of Islam that is front and center and deep and though provoking. For most non Muslim readers, I’m sure 15 or 16 and up would be fine with the content and 353 page length, but as a former Islamic School Librarian, I’d have to reserve recommendations to college age.  The protagonist is 19, there is talk of sex, but not crass, the main female character has a past that includes a sex tape, and there is a lot of language, but its also really funny and really relatable and really sweet and takes place in high school.

SYNOPSIS:

Danyal is a pretty face, but he isn’t very bright.  He goes to an elite private school though somehow, and while he is admittedly dingy, he is also very kind, innocent and generous.  He was held back at some point in school and is 19 as a senior in high school.  He works in a French restaurant and dreams of being a chef.  He has no desire to go to college and as the only son of Pakistani immigrants, they are not thrilled with their son’t future plans.  Danyal is pretty chill about it though and his mom wants to arrange his marriage, and he is willing, although he is crazy in love with his friend’s twin sister.  He is religious and hasn’t really broken any of the Islamic relationship rules, he prays fajr, and just kinda floats through life doing the best he can and forgiving himself and others when they mess up.

When his mom arranges a meeting with Bisma he is willing to get to know if they are a match.  She however, fully discloses her past to him when they head out for coffee, which involves her rebelling, once a few years earlier, against her father and going to a party, further rebelling and getting drunk and then making the poor and regrettable choice to sleep with someone.  To make matters worse, the event was video taped and spread around the community forcing the family to move.  Bisma is pretty religious and really studious and really sorry, but her father and most community people don’t let it go.  Danyal thinks that is stupid, one mistake shouldn’t haunt her forever, unfortunately he doesn’t think chivalry and pity are enough of a reason to marry her as he doesn’t think they are meant for each other.  Basically, he is still really crushing on Kaval.  So he and Bisma decide to be friends.

When Danyal’s history teacher in a fit of spite nominates Danyal for a prestigious Renaissance Man competition, Danyal calls on Bisma for help.  The topic is Winston Churchill, the beloved British leader, but Danyal quickly learns he is not beloved by most Indian subcontinent people.  Kaval offers to help so that Danyal can win the competition, impress her parents and then maybe give them a chance.  But, suddenly Danyal doesn’t know if that is what he wants.  He wants to be himself, he wants to be accepted, he wants Bisma.

WHY I LIKE IT:

You know how it is going to end, you don’t know entirely how it is going to get there, but you know where it is headed, yet the book is still compelling and fun.  Between the banter of the religious friend, and the no longer religious friend, the advice the French Chef bestows on Danyal and Danyal’s complete and utter cluelessness to everything, the book is really warm and the characters really like-able.  I dislike the stereotype of the “religious” character, but the other side characters are better developed.

On occasion I think Danyal’s stupidity is over done, he isn’t an idiot, he just isn’t book smart. So when he doesn’t know what “break a leg” implies for example, it seems a tiny bit off.  I know his friends say he isn’t funny, but I think he is hilarious, especially with his commentary on the Desi community.  “It is the curse of brown boys everywhere.  We either die young or we live long enough to see ourselves become uncles.”

The role of Islam is incredibly prominent, and the characters understand what it means to be Muslim differently.  Sometime I agreed with them, sometimes I didn’t, sometimes the characters didn’t agree with each other, sometimes they did.  There is a lot to think about: destiny, Allah’s mercy, Qalb-e-saleem (a pure heart), caring for the less fortunate.  Even politically there is a strong thread of colonialism, which the characters wrestle with and with being immigrant’s children.   There is a lot packed in, but it flows so smooth and the writing rich with authenticity, that quite often I would laugh out loud and read various lines to my young children.

FLAGS:

Talk of sex and losing virginity, but not detailed, just stated.  The chef is a lesbian.  There is lots of language including the F word, not thrown in effortlessly, usually for a reason, and often reprimanded.  There are a few kisses on the cheek and lips between Danyal and Bisma, but in a Disney princess movie sort of way.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Not for middle or even high school book club. I don’t think that it is a completely “halal” romance story, but I think I wouldn’t be concerned if juniors and seniors were reading it, I think they would love it, and I might just have a few that I want to suggest it to…

 

My First Muslim Potty Book by Yousfa Janjua illustrated by Golnar Servatian

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My First Muslim Potty Book by Yousfa Janjua illustrated by Golnar Servatian

07041C66-B149-48A8-9CC7-B2752984EE68I’m not sure why this book is just coming out now and why I never realized how important it is.  It sounds silly, but we as Muslims are very precise about our bathroom habits and cleanliness and the fact that this is the first book to address it for children is actually, kind of surprising.  But Alhumdulillah, you only need one if it is done well, and over 16 pages of cute illustrated rhyme filled pages, istinja is explained and normalized.  The book is a great tool to use, not only, when potty training toddlers, but also for reviewing with your preschooler when they might be leaving home for the first time and/or seeing other people’s bathroom habits.

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The book starts out with a thorough “Note to Parents” explaining istinja, tahara as well as giving parents some tips to handle potty training in general.  The book starts by noting how you started out as a baby and are now growing and part of the growth has you ready for big kid underwear.

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It talks about what it feels like when you need to go, and how when that feeling happens, you need to hurry to the bathroom.  If you hurry and still have an accident, we (the parents) will clean it up and not to worry.

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The book teaches that you enter with your left foot, and ask for help if you need it.  That you sit down to do your business because poop and pee are najis, impure. You then have to do istinja, which is like a germ fighting ninja!

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It teaches the toddler to call for mom or dad to wash them with the lota or bidet or pot using their right hand to pour and their left to wash.  You then use toilet paper to dry.  After you flush, you wash your hands for 20 seconds, leave with your right foot and be done.

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The book then has a glossary, some ayats of Quran and some Hadith as well as Duas relating to the bathroom.  The 8×8 hardback book is done really well and conveys the key points on a kid’s level, which is great.

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I love that the book uses Islamic Arabic words and shows a diverse family being patient and encouraging.  I am fine with the child illustrated as reading a book while on the toilet, but I think some parents might frown on that.  The book is meant for Muslim kids, and does a good job of showing the practicing family in the illustrations and in the text.

Thank you to Crescentmoonstore.com for their great price and service!

 

Mikaeel and Malaika: The Power of Dua by Kazima Wajahat illustrated by Gustavo Gutierrez

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Mikaeel and Malaika: The Power of Dua by Kazima Wajahat illustrated by Gustavo Gutierrez

power of duaMikaeel and Malaika are back in this 32 page hardback book that explores why duas sometime seem not to come true.  Done in a hilarious manner that brings in riddles and problem solving elements, it is perfect for 6-8 year olds.  Younger children will enjoy the beautiful illustrations and silliness, and older children (and parents) will thoroughly enjoy Big Boss’s play on words and the illustrations showing his parenting style.  I’ve read the book multiple times to myself, my toddler, and even my older kids; each time surpressing a smile and enjoying the message lovingly and entertainingly conveyed: “rewards are best when the time is right.”

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The book starts out with a problem to be solved, a mystery: who took the shoes from the masjid.  I know such a real world problem in a picture book, but fear not, super hero siblings Mikaeel and Malaika are on it.  There is just one problem, their super powers are gone.

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They head to Big Boss, aka their father, to find out what happened to their powers, only to learn they were part of a “14 day free trial” and their superjet? It was sold on Spamazon. At a loss of what to do, Big Boss reminds them that they have one super power left, the power of dua.

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The kids run to pray and then they wait.  When they can wait no longer, they go to see if the shoes have been returned, but…they haven’t. Big Boss gives them some sage rhyming explanaition that they don’t understand, but try to unravel in an apple orchard.  When that doesn’t work, he gives them more advice and they follow it up in a butterfly garden. With no answer insight, Mikaeel gets frusterated and wants to know why his dua won’t come true.

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Finally understanding that Allah (swt) does things at the perfect time and only at the perfect time, the children change their dua and the shoes are found, and the lesson learned and shared.

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I love Big Boss, and this book makes it much more clear than in Mikaeel and Malaika: The Quest for Love, that his advice and riddles are in rhyme, but that the rest of the text is not.  I love that he is a hands on parent changing diapers, cooking, and guiding his kids. His steralizing of an infintile waste unit, and skimming a superhero manual are awesome and silly.

The book is about Muslim children, for Muslim children, but I think any child would enjoy the story to learn what Muslims believe, and any religious child who believes that there is one creator would be able to relate to the story as well.

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The book ends with an ayat from the Qur’an in English promising that Allah swt answers the prayers of the supplicants.  InshaAllah there will be more Mikaeel and Malaika adventures, and more of Big Boss and Super Agent M.O.M., too.

 

 

Khadijah and Cat: Ramadan is Here by Shamsa Ahmed illustrated by Afsaneh Bagherloo

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Khadijah and Cat: Ramadan is Here by Shamsa Ahmed illustrated by Afsaneh Bagherloo

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New this year in the Ramadan category is this gorgeous 40 page hardback book that mixes information about the blessed month with personable characters very well.  It stays on track without getting silly, even with a talking cat and a reoccurring super hero dinosaur, but I don’t understand the attempted rhyme scheme.  I’ve read the book over a dozen times trying to map it, and sometimes it is so natural that it makes reading it aloud smooth and lyrical, and sadly a few times it seems so forced that it makes the sentence nonsensical or awkward.  There is so much information, so beautifully paced and illustrated for children 4 and up, that I’m willing to overlook the few sentences that irked me to recommend this book for you and your children to enjoy this Ramadan.  Without a glossary though, it is probably best for Muslim children, or those with someone who can explain words such as: suhoor, iftar, adhan, SubhanAllah, dua, Allah, etc..

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Khadijah and Cat are looking for the moon to know if it is the start of Ramadan, and once they find it, they rush to spread the news.  Immediately everyone starts decorating and celebrating and sharing delicious food.

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They then head home to sleep so they can wake up early for suhoor.  They make a point to eat something healthy to sustain them for the whole day, then they pray and go back to sleep.

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Cat wakes up ready to eat and is surprised that they have to wait until sunset before they can eat or drink anything.  Khadijah explains that Ramadan is a holy month and one of the five pillars of Islam.  The illustrations show the other pillars, but the explanation of Ramadan is a bit advanced with words such as regression, unpriviledged, compassion, and purifying.

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The next page continues listing off what Khadijah and Cat are learning about Ramadan, as they spend time praying and reading the Holy Quran.  At the sound of the fourth Adhan they break their fast.  The names of the salat or that they pray five times a day is not mentioned, but lends itself to a great teaching point.

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They then pray and eat and take the neighbors some gifts.  Cat is convinced that the day was good and is ready for the next 30.  The last ten nights are identified as important and Laylat al Qadr is mentioned as being special, but it does not tell why they are unique.

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Khadijah and Cat then invite you to fast and see why Ramadan is so special.  The end of the book has some questions, a Ramadan count down and a coloring page.  I was surprised that there was not a glossary as the Arabic words in the text are enlarged, and often not defined.

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I love the font and binding and horizontal 10 x 11.5 layout.  The illustrations are gorgeous and the details in the decor and Khadijah wearing hijab while out, but not at home are very well executed.  I’m not sure why the Meer-Rex is in the book, he is never identified or given attention, maybe in future books he will have more of a role, inshaAllah.

I ordered mine from Crescent Moon Store and received it within days of placing the order, thank you!

Neither This Nor That by Aliya Husain

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Neither This Nor That by Aliya Husain

neither this nor that

This 251 page novel reads like a biography that has no climax or real conflict in its linear retelling of the protagonist from 3rd grade to a junior in college.  If you are part or all Desi, raised in America in the ’80s and ’90s and have fond memories of NBC’s Must See TV, rolling your pants up, your family packing Corning Ware sets to take to the homeland, and the joys of TJ Maxx, you might enjoy the nostalgic similarities you too experienced, but even at that, with no plot or character arcs, the book is easily forgettable and you might forget to finish it.  For all my critiques of Muslim stories that don’t read authentic, this one definitely does, she doesn’t rebel, she doesn’t ever go against Islam, but because she is similarly not ever tempted to, I think most readers won’t relate to this fictional girl, who’s biggest worry is smelling like her mother’s cooking.  The book seems to just want to tell her life story, and getting through it is the point of the book, not making emotional connections, giving the reader something to think about or even inspiring others, which is ultimately a missed opportunity that this book could and should have capitalized on.

SYNOPSIS:

It is the first day of school for Fatima Husein the eldest of many daughters in her Indian American suburban home.  With a mother who doesn’t speak much English and parents that don’t seem to understand Fatima’s desire to fit in, the stage is set that will carry through the entire book of Fatima loving to study and separating herself as the girl at school pretending to be more American than she really is, and the girl at home pretending to be more Indian than she feels.  As the book follows the character through college, along the way Fatima and her family have extended maternal family move to America from India and then move back, they take a trip to India which is not enjoyed at all, her dad’s family then moves from India and settles near them, they move to be closer to the masjid, and they go for Hajj.  Characters bounce in and out: school friends, community friends, cousins, etc.. The only real constant is Fatima’s love of school and her paternal grandmother grumbling about her getting married. There are the ups and downs of life that are shared, most very specific to a ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) living in the ’90s.  Fatima is religious and Islam is important to her and she never waivers in her black and white view of things.  It does take her a little while to wear hijab, but there is no real self reflection and catharsis, it is just states she wants to fit in and isn’t ready.  The conclusion is she finally accepts a proposal from the son of an old family friend who lives in Chicago.  Not so much because she likes him, but more because she has no reason not to say yes and her parents are in favor it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

If this were a biography and it was someone famous, the minutia of day to day living might be compelling, but as it is fiction and you have no idea where the story is going, it just seems to tell a story about a typical girl doing typical things.  It has value in that it shows how normal and boring even, a normal Muslim family is, but it gets really preachy at times and really dry.  None of the side characters are memorable.  I have no idea how many sisters Fatima has, when her grandfather passed away I felt nothing, when two who families died in a car accident Eid morning on their way to prayers, I had to flip back to see if the characters had ever been mentioned before.  It seems like the whole point is to get to the end, and more heart and less tedium would have made this book an amazing example of American Muslims in America.  The first page mentions friends and there is no follow up to where they are or what happened to them, and this happens all through out the book, there are no emotional connections, nor attachments among the characters to include the reader into their plight as well.  The protagonist one must assume gains her voice from the author’s experiences herself, but it just lacks internal dialogue and conviction.

Fatima lives through the Gulf War and makes big changes and has to find her place, yet the book just tells us all this, it doesn’t show us how she internalizes and processes and emerges from the experiences shared, it just gives an example and then comments on it.  The font and layout visually looks like a text book, and at times, the internal structure reads like an essay, sharing an anecdote, backing it up, and moving on to the next event on the time line.

I feel like I know the character, it definitely comes from a place of shared experience and credibility, but you have no idea where it is going, and just like I doubt anyone would want to read my life story, the book needs a little direction and editing.  In the author interview posted below in the “Tools to Lead the Discussion” she mentions that mainstream publishers wanted more rebelling and she wouldn’t compromise.  I agree with her, we need books that don’t follow that assumed track, I think that the presentation of the story, however, as it is, is lacking.  The integrity is there, but the character is really flat, and there are plenty of literary tools that could enhance the story without compromising Fatima’s character to drugs and alcohol and boys.  The book was self published in 2010 and I really hope at some point the author will re-edit it, to make it relevant to preteens and teens today and more personable.  Ultimately making it so that the successes Fatima has are cheered on by the reader, who are also inspired by her accomplishments while staying true to her beliefs.

FLAGS:

Considering how many pages are dedicated to how she and her sister are to behave in India as to not seem naughty or as arrogant Americans, the curse words flow pretty regularly in the book, and the way she speaks to her elders and in front of her elders is not always kind.  There are side comments about hooking up, STDs, and drinking, nothing any of the characters engage in, but judgments regarding these topics for those that do is present. She also talks about her mom’s failure to discuss menstruation before hand, to exemplify how things are only discussed once they need to be dealt with.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that as a book club selection today’s youth would voluntarily pick up and read this book.  There might be some ability for a teacher to assign it and then turn around and make the students write something similar about their experiences in a fictionalized form.  I think students would struggle to relate to Fatima with the outdated references and the lack of conflicts and climaxes in the narrative.

 

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh

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Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh

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The book may seem to be a lighthearted diverse read about a little girl comparing a beach in America to those of Iran, BUT there is also some pretty charged portrayals about gender divided beaches, religious police, and hijab.  I’m not saying this own voice book is exaggerating or saying anything that isn’t true, but it is an oddly belittling perspective to slip into a brightly illustrated children’s book with the words “ice cream” in the title.  The 40 page book for ages 4-8 is not one I would recommend for its negative undertones and dismissal of understanding another culture.

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Rashin’s first trip to a beach in America has her and her family getting ready to go to Coney Island.   She remembers past trips to the Caspian Sea in Iran.  Trips where they would wake up early, her mom would prepare halim and they would drive through the countryside stopping for a picnic lunch.  Often her best friend Azadeh would come along and they would listen to Persian music and share kebabs.  On this trip they are going on the subway and there is diversity and music and excitement too.

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The next few pages detail and depict the curtain that would divide the women’s side of the beach from the men’s.  While the words say how fun the women’s side is and that even the ice cream vendor is a woman and the beach goers can remove their covers and get a tan, the inclusion of the Islamic guards with their aggressive faces and full black abayas and hijabs, is a stark contrast to the happy faces throughout the other pages.

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Rashin then recalls one trip where little boys poked holes on the men’s side to look at the female’s side. While it might be taken as silly to children, there is a lot to unpack with such “peeping,” the concept of respect and of covering.  It then seems to make the whole situation seem ridiculous by having the women covering themselves with umbrellas, newspapers and whatever they can find.

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When Rashin finally gets to Coney Island, the ice cream stall doesn’t have saffron ice cream and another little girl suggests she try chocolate crunch, she concedes and discovers it is pretty good, and the beginning of a new friendship is implied.  She then asks the girl about the rules of the beach and the accompanying illustration has the Islamic police seeming to try and stop the fun.

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It is natural to compare new things to those that we know, but this book has a very strong negative, judgmental tone to what could have simply been presented as different without the criticism.  The author is the illustrator as well, so there wasn’t a divide in continuity.  I appreciate that there is a visibly Muslim family at Coney Island, but it seems too little, in a book very aggressively passing opinion on a religion and how it is “enforced.”

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I find it rather disappointing that Scholastic chose to publish such an angry book masked in smiling characters and a trip to the beach.  It may be how life is in Iran, but I don’t know that a children’s book is the platform to air grievances without explanation.  This book does nothing to open dialogue and acceptance, it definitely would cause more harm than good.

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.

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

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All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

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The power of own voice books is that while you may not agree with everything presented, you appreciate that it is being presented.  This 417 page high school young adult book is authentic and relatable and regardless of if you agree with the characters’ approaches, decisions, and understanding, you see and learn something about fictional characters that feels so real that you hopefully will find yourself in “real” life being a bit more understanding, kind, and accepting.

SYNOPSIS:

Allie is 16 and with her red hair and fair skin, she can pass for an all-American teen.  The only child of a college history professor and child development psychologist her family moves around a lot, but her dad’s extended family congregates in Dallas, and that is the anchor of family and love that warms the book.  Allie’s father Muhammad aka Mo is Circassian and his family speaks Arabic, including Allie’s grandma, Teta, who doesn’t speak any English.  Allie’s mom is a convert, but neither practice religion, and while Allie’s mom appreciates it, it is an incredibly hands off topic for Mo.  And Allie, well, she doesn’t speak Circassian or Arabic and knows nothing of Islam, and reinvents herself in each new school and city she finds her self in.

With Islamaphobia on the rise and Allie using her white privilege to neutralize a situation on an airplane, the reader sees as soon as they start the book, that Allie has a lot of skills to read people and understand how to handle complex situations, but that she hasn’t yet found her self.  As someone who can blend in and transform, the book is her journey to understand her heritage, her beliefs, what she wants in life and move toward finding her voice.  Much like Randa Abdel Fattah’s books which often turn the narrative from a Muslim girl rebelling against her faith and parents, this book has a young protagonist rebelling and turning to her faith.  The book seems to stem from a auto biographical place and the journey of learning about yourself, accepting yourself, and growing is universal.

Desperate to learn about Islam, Allie starts reading the Quran and hanging out with Muslims. While she knows Islam is not a monolith as she has family who cover, some that don’t, some that pray, some that don’t, some that fast, parents who drink, she still feels on the outside when she begins meeting with some Muslim girls at their weekly Quran study group.  As she gets to know the girls, she realizes how truly different Islam is for all of them, and how their experiences shape their views as well.  There is a convert, a black Muslim, a lesbian, some girls that cover, some that can’t read Arabic, some that find praying behind men misogynistic, some that feel unmosqued, they listen to music and read horoscopes, and Allie has a boyfriend.

Allie’s boyfriend, Wells, isn’t just incredibly cute and sweet, and accepting as he learns about Allie’s faith and her journey to understand it, but he is also the son of a cable shock jock toting that refugees should be stopped, and Muslims banned, yeah it is complicated.  As Allie learns more about who she is, she finds her self lying to everyone, and as she finds the courage to speak her truth, she must accept the consequences it has on those around her that she cares about.  Interwoven is a beautiful story line about her and her Teta’s relationship that is heartfelt and genuine and emotionally taxing when tragedy strikes.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that this book exists, and that it is written for Muslims and non Muslims alike. I think non Muslims will see that there are all types of Muslims, and we should be reminded that everyone has their own tests and is on their own path.  Paradoxically I love that it isn’t preachy, but desperately wish there was more emotional connection to Allah swt and RasulAllah, because honestly its a gaping void that makes some of the story fall flat for me.  I get that Islam is different for everyone, but while the book pushes so much that Allie wants to know about it to connect and fit in with her family, I feel like there isn’t much “spirituality” to her approach which kind of makes someone accepting religion seem lacking.  Her approach to prayer and fasting is almost robotic, and yes she says she likes it, but there isn’t any emotional resonance in her perhaps having an internal dialogue with God, or crying out to Him when her grandmother is in the hospital, instead it is read this passage from the Quran, or say this prescribed supplication, which makes her conundrum about her boyfriend, seem arbitrary.  Allie’s non believing, non practicing parents seem to have a softer spot for God, as Allie’s mom says something to the effect of it is hard to stop believing once you start, and Allie’s mom asserting multiple times that while she doesn’t practice she converted for herself, no one else.

I also kind of struggle with the attempt of getting every type of Muslim in the book to show that there isn’t a good Muslim bad Muslim dichotomy to the larger audience, but as a result seems to make the point that Islam can be changed to fit today’s world and that line makes me a bit nervous.  It is fiction, it is quite possibly the author’s own experience,  but I felt like the part of continued growth and working to follow the tenants of Islam got left out.  We all have our tests, and we all sin, but to just say ok, this is me and this is my Islam and stop there, halts the journey and character’s arc rather abruptly.

I love that the book really does a good job of laying out that there are problems, misogyny, racism, stereotypes, everywhere, not just Islam or religion, but in societal structures too, it is really shown across platforms and very seamlessly.  I like that a fair amount of side characters are fleshed out, and compassion extended even when opinions differ.  There is a lot of acceptance consistently shown from the characters and those that don’t show it are called out on it as well.

I wanted more on Allie’s dad though, to know what exactly his religious complexity entailed, I felt like I missed something, maybe I did, but just to say his relationship with religion is complicated or complex, left me wondering and wanting for details.

As it seems with so many of these YA books with female Muslim protagonists, the non Muslim boyfriends are absolutely amazing with their understanding, and patience (think A Very Large Expanse of Sea, The Lines We Cross, The Acquaintance), truly fictionalized high school boys, high five.

FLAGS:

There is Islamaphobia, kissing, drinking, death, racism, sexism, LGBTQ characters and discussions.  There is lying and talk of sex.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is a bit advanced for middle school, the concepts and the acceptance of those concepts might not be conducive to Islamic School book clubs of high school level either.  That isn’t too say that kids can’t handle it or shouldn’t read it, but I think when presented from a school, it is assumed that you are endorsing an interpretation or practice of Islam, and this book might push that for some.

There aren’t a lot of author interviews or teaching guides, online, but if you do choice to read and discuss, you will be fine, there are a lot of layers, a lot to celebrate, and a lot to relate to in Allie’s story.