Tag Archives: islamic fiction

The Salams: Cranky Kareem Says Alhumdulillah by Kazima Wajahat illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

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The Salams: Cranky Kareem Says Alhumdulillah by Kazima Wajahat illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

 

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Part of me is tempted to channel my own Cranky Kareem and say how awful this book is, just because I know that the author reads my reviews of her books with bated breath, but alas I cannot lie even in jest as the book is truly adorable.  This 40 page book in a new series highlights and starts to fill the gap in children’s Islamic fiction that is so needed.  There are a number of books and series for toddlers teaching them to say Bismillah, Assalamualaikum, and MashaAllah and all the praise-filled Islamic expressions, but they are very basic, this book, and hopefully the rest of the series, goes a bit deeper.  It shows how to truly mean what you say, how to glorify Allah not just in your words, but in the way you think about things, handle stresses, and carry on.  The concepts and amount of text probably will most appeal to mature kindergarteners to early second graders at bedtime or in small groups.  I do wish that Cranky Kareem apologized to Happy Hamdi after he relentlessly attacked him at the masjid, but in much the way Oscar the Grouch gets away with being so negative, the characters in the book and the readers alike will have to settle for Kareem finally learning the lesson, in this case, of being grateful to Allah (swt) for everything.

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The book starts out with Happy Hamdi waking up in Salamville and praising Allah in appreciation of the fresh air, birds, flowers, and allergy medicine that works.  Across town Cranky Kareem is having the opposite kind of morning.  The sun is blinding, the birds annoying, coffee bitter, and he’s out of milk for his cereal.

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When Kareem finally finds some peace and quiet on a bench at the park he is disturbed by Happy Hamdi and all his happiness.  As Hamdi and bounces off to talk to Greedy Gamal and Healthy Hassan, Cranky Kareem gets an idea.

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When Happy Hamdi heads to the masjid, Cranky Kareem sticks out his foot to trip him.  Hamdi falls and gets a bruise on his nose, but still says Alhumdulillah. He then knocks sticky baklava on him and again he responds with Alhumdulillah, he then dumps a bucket of ice water on Hamdi, and Happy Hamdi says Alhumdulillah once more.  When he leaves the masjid, Hamdi’s car is not working and he has to walk home.

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Kareem can’t take it anymore and confronts Hamdi.  Happy Hamdi explains that he was hungry and didn’t mind the syrup, then the water washed the syrup off and now that he is walking home, his fur is drying.  Flabbergasted by Happy Hamdi, Cranky Kareem stomps off.

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Convinced that Hamdi’s happiness is an act, Kareem pauses to ponder how his plan failed.  Healthy Hassan jogs by and bumps in to him, knocking him off the train track and causing Kareem to twist his ankle, just before a train goes swooshing by.

Realizing that the bump saved his life, Cranky Kareem expresses his appreciation to Allah swt by saying Alhumdulillah.

I love the illustrations and the horizontal layout of the book.  The book is cute and I can’t wait to share the rest of the series with my kids.  Thank you to Crescent Moon Store for having this, and so many wonderful books available.

 

 

 

Let it Go: Learning the Lesson of Forgiveness by Na’ima B. Robert and Mufti Menk illustrated by Samantha Chaffey

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Let it Go: Learning the Lesson of Forgiveness by Na’ima B. Robert and Mufti Menk illustrated by Samantha Chaffey

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This 32 page rhyming book follows a little boy around as he is weighed down by a lot of things not going his way.  He doesn’t want to forgive until he is the one that hurts someone else and realizes we all make mistakes, forgiveness is not a weakness, and we all feel angry at times.  The book breaks from the story to ask the reader to think about their emotions in various situations, and encourages the reader to talk about their feelings.  The framework is Islamic and the repenting to Allah swt is part of the message. I found it awkward to read independently, but I read it to a small group of my own kids and their cousins, seven in all, ages four to thirteen, and it worked very well to discuss what the boy was feeling and how they would react.  I think this book would be great in a classroom or as a book an adult reads to a child at bedtime to encourage conversation.  I had to point out to the little ones, that the knapsack was getting bigger with the little boys anger, and explain what it was, but as a tool to foster dialogue it was incredibly powerful.

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The book starts out with a poem/du’a by Mufti Menk that sets the tone for the book.  It makes clear that we are all human and feel things and that this book is a tool to understand and emotionally grow from.  No one is going to get in trouble or be reprimanded.

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The story stats with the little boy waking up happy and ready to have a wonderful day.  But then when he comes down for breakfast, his sister has eaten the last piece of toast.  The book asks the reader, “how do you feel when things don’t go your way?” and asks the little boy to let sorry make it better so that he can let it go.  But the little boy doesn’t want to let it go, he wants to hold on, and as a result it makes his heart feel heavy.

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This pattern is followed throughout the book giving examples when the boy doesn’t get included in a game at school with his friends, when his friend kicks his football (soccer ball) in to the road and it gets popped by a passing car, and at dinner when his older brother laughs at him.

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He then picks on his sister at bedtime, and doesn’t even know why he is doing it, and realizes that he too has made a mistake.  He learns that “it takes a strong person to let it go,” and that “forgiving is like taking off a heavy bag that I’ve been carrying all day long.”

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The book ends with some verses and hadith about forgiveness.  Has some facial expressions with emotions to discuss, and space to write down things that make you feel angry, hurt, or sad as well as a place to share what makes you happy, grateful, and safe.  There is also a glossary of Islamic Arabic terms on the inside back cover.

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The Broken Kingdom by H.G. Hussein

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The Broken Kingdom by H.G. Hussein

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An engaging chapter book that blends adventure, friendship, battles, mystery, and faith over 292 pages of easy reading and rich storytelling.  The book appeals to readers 10 and up with it being completely clean and age appropriate for anyone younger who can handle the storyline.  The characters are not just active and practicing Muslims, but the story too, is Islamic in nature.   The story is unabashedly pro-Islam and slightly dogmatic, but not overly preachy and faith is woven in seamlessly throughout the story.

SYNOPSIS:

The Sultan of the Islamic Empire is having a recurring dream that involves a floating city falling when a flying object hits it, when he asks his guiding Imam what it means he learns that the city will be destroyed unless the Sultan assists.  Not knowing where the city is, what the object is, and trusting the Sheikh explicitly, a retired soldier is brought back in to service to find the city and save it.  Adam, before he leaves the capital is joined by two others to help him on his journey, Ali and Umar.  Ali is a quiet man whose voice when reciting is absolutely beautiful and whose eyesight and archery skills are unparalleled.  Umar is the Muezzin and the Grand Mosque and a seemingly close figure to the Sultan with familial ties to the area.  The trio sets off to Benghazi to talk with some Bedouins who were ambushed by some man-beasts and are too afraid to speak of the encounter.  It is believed that their experience and the dream are linked.

To reach Benghazi they must travel first by boat for about a week, while at sea they come across an abandoned vessel that has but one survivor and a lion aboard.  After the lion is killed and the injured man brought with them, they are able to continue to try and get information from the Bedouins.  Finally, the Bedouins and the trio are off to the place of the attack and the journey moves on.  When a rockslide and attack from these same mysterious beasts separates the group, Adam, Ali, and Umar are on their own to make there way through the mountains and figure out the threat on their own without the Bedouins.  They journey through a river within a mountain for days on end before meeting soldiers that take them back to their unnamed city.  The city is the one from the dream.  And as they must search to understand what plagues the inhabitants, how to defeat it, and how to survive, they suffer loses, confusion and only a few answers.   They do save the city from the immediate threat, but not from a larger looming one.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book reads really smooth, a lot of self published chapter books are all over the place, and this one, sticks to the story pretty well.  There are a few tangents, such as the lion on the ship, that really have very little baring on the story, except to show maybe how good of an archer Ali is, however, most are mildly amusing and thus not terribly frustrating.  There are a few smaller incidents that make the book a little less cohesive, for example a passage about a man named Tarek, who brings the Sultan a message and is rewarded with gold, or such detail about Umar not being allowed to go on the assignment and then the Sultan allowing him to go, perhaps it is to show the Sultan’s generosity and willingness to take other people’s opinions in to consideration, but they aren’t particularly smooth anecdotes to the book and read a bit unpolished.  Often these little dives into side issues with fair amounts of detail made me think they would play a role later in the book, but by-and-large, they don’t. One that particularly stood out was Adam meeting the Chief’s daughter in the forbidden woods. I still really want to know why she and her children were there.  I also wanted more information about the man-beast figures and the man and woman that were so quickly killed, and the markings on the trees and in the caves (trying not to spoil too much), in the climax.

I love that the book is Islamic fiction from top to bottom, there are lots of morals exposed and teachings mentioned in real tangible situations.  The character’s pray and carry themselves at all times as Muslims and it is refreshing to read.  Characters in the book take shahada based on the manners of the Muslim characters and the readers see and understand repeatedly the power actions and values have in defining a person.  One of my favorite exchanges in the book is when Adam tells Ali, “The main reason for failure is manners.  To be specific, lack of manners.”  The details continue, and hopefully reinforce and articulate what parents everywhere are trying to teach their children.

The font and binding and all are adequate, I don’t love the cover though.  It seems this is the second cover, and I wish it was more eye catching, it is really bland, and unfortunately won’t compel readers to pick it up.  I also really wish their was a map.

FLAGS:

There is violence, nothing sensationalized or celebrated and it even mentions how heavy hearted characters should be about going in to battle and taking a life.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to do this as a middle school book club book. I’d love to hear how the students take the Sultan being referred to as Allah’s representative on Earth.  I get Leader of the Believers, and even Caliph, but I felt this description to be a bit grandiose.  I actually thought it was perhaps a Shia perspective, nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t something I’d ever heard before and yes I assumed, but the author said, “Of course not.“  He then said, “The Caliph must ensure that the laws of Allah, Most High, are present on Earth.  Every Caliph represented the Creator ensuring Shariah was present, the same as every Prophet and Messenger.” Still not completely clear, I asked a trusted source (not Google) who said it comes from the Ummayads under Muawiyah. So, I’m not sure if anyone else would be hung-up on this, but it is something that stood out to me, although definitely not making the book something to avoid.

I think kids will have strong opinions on the mystery at hand being the book ends on a cliff hanger.  With a lot of questions still up in the air and no real right or wrong answer, I think discussing the book would be a lot of fun.

The book’s website: https://www.thebrokenkingdom.com/

 

Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood

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Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood

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I don’t know what is more frustrating: quality books that are poorly packaged (binding, illustrations, font, spacing, etc.) or beautiful books that miss the mark in storytelling and basic writing skills.  Both are equally annoying, and while yes, a good story should be the basis, this book is really well written that the presentation of it just makes me sad.  At 116 pages, the book is perfect for 3rd graders.  My daughter and son read it a few years ago when I first picked it up.  I made them read it.  And last week when I pulled it out to read myself, both remarked that it was a good story.  The fact that they remembered it and remembered liking it are huge pluses, and made the fact that I had to make them read it all the more disheartening.  I’m certain if you can get your kids to read eight maybe 10 pages they will zoom through the rest of the book.  It is the getting them to pick it up and start, that is the tricky part.  The book is paperback, thick and glossy, but the cover looks homemade almost.  If you thumb through it the font is too small, spaced too tight and the illustrations mean well, but don’t deliver.  Unfortunate, because like my children, I too think the story is fun and I’m disappointed that the book was published in 2013 as #1 in the Lulubug’s Week in the Life Series, and no further books have come out.

SYNOPSIS:

Laila (Lulu), and her family are American Muslims living in Southern Virginia.  Lulu’s mom is a lawyer and a convert, her dad is from Egypt and owns an Italian restaurant, and her older twin brothers are 12 and keep an eye on her.  Being incredibly bright Lulu has skipped third grade and is having trouble with some bullies in her new fourth grade class: Veronica B. and Veronica C.  aka the Veries.  Using help from her brothers, her neighbor and friend Toni, and some friends in class, a trap is set to get the bullies to confess to their evil mischief, but that unfortunately isn’t the only thing Lulu is going through this week.  Throw in her parent’s sudden decision to move closer to the masjid in another city, a litter of kittens abandoned on the side of the road, and some weird noises coming from the woods behind their house, and Lulu has a lot to deal with.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it shows the day-to-day of a typical Muslim family in a normal presentation.  They pray together, they watch what they eat, they know their neighbors and worry about each other.  It doesn’t idolize the family, making them better than anyone or preachy, but makes them very relatable and likable in a realistic way.  When bees are discovered or the kittens need carrying for, sunnahs and ayats are identified, but very seamlessly, that non Muslim kids will learn a bit about Islam and Muslim kids will be excited to see themselves.  My favorite scene regarding this is when the mom finds out there will be a middle-school dance, and even though the boys are not planning to go, know that it isn’t for them, and don’t even seem tempted by it, they still have a family meeting about it, to discuss.  I also like that at one point Lulu meets another Muslim girl and they don’t hit it off right away, the girls work through it, but it is nice to see some diversity in even the way Muslims are presented and possibly misunderstood even amongst one another.

There is a lot going on in the book in terms of action items, but there still is a lot of character development and dimensions to Lulu.  Lulu has to navigate relationships with her family and friends that ring true and aren’t over simplified.  Her friend and neighbor, Toni, expects Lulu to act different at school now that they are in the same class, but returns to her silly self once they are home.  Lulu clashes a lot with her mom, but can smile and get her way super easy with her dad and manipulates that a lot.  She has to balance her sassiness with her teacher and principal, pick her battles with the Veries, and abide by other adults’ rules and expectations.  The book reads in a similar vein as Junie B. Jones, or Clementine, just maybe a more mature and less obnoxious reincarnation.

I wish the adventure involving the backyard noises, was a bit more dramatic, and maybe even the unveiling of the trap involving the dye was more resolved.  At times the book seemed rushed to wrap up all the stories introduced and I think they deserved a little more time to be explored and enjoyed.  If the font and spacing and pictures could be tweaked I think the book would really speak to kids in a fun way.  Third and fourth graders can easily handle a 150-160 page book that has good pacing and is packaged in a tempting, non intimidating way.  I’m holding out hope that maybe the author will write some more, tweak this one, and give it the chance at reaching an audience that would benefit from the smart, fun, grounded life of Lulu.

FLAGS:

Clean, it does mention that Toni likes a boy, but Lulu thinks that boys are trouble.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

If I still did an elementary book club, I think this book would work.  I think kids need a nudge to give it a try, but once the book gets going, girls and boys alike will enjoy it.  I may read it for a Lunch Bunch choice (I read once a week to 4th and 5th graders while they eat their lunch).  Kids will love seeing themselves, their stresses, their families, and their faith presented well.

No Ordinary Day by George Green

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No Ordinary Day by George Green

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I was really, really excited to get this book in my hands.  An early chapter book, about Islam and sports, with diverse characters, that seemed to be the start of a series featuring the “Childhood Champions,” seemed to have the potential to fill a gaping void in Islamic fiction.  And while the book shows promise and has a lot going for it, it falls short of what it could be, and perhaps with the ever growing book options, what it should be. 

To be clear the Islamic lessons and values are on point as are the pictures, it is the holes in the story, the random text layout inside and the lack of depth that keep this book from reaching its full potential.

SYNOPSIS:

Ibrahim normally needs help to get up for school on Mondays, but not on this day. On this day they were promised a surprise at school and Ibrahim can’t wait to see what it is.  When the 8-year-old gets to school he and his friends are delighted to meet Hakeem Muhammad a soccer star on the California Spartan’s Team in town to play against the local Harlem Knights.  To win one of the five tickets that he is giving away the students have to recite some ayats from Juz Amma and tell why it is important that they study the Quran.  Ibrahim goes first, and we don’t know what he recites, but he says that studying Quran makes him feel happy and inspired.  Which to me didn’t really meet the criteria of the competition.  The next student is also a member of the “Childhood Champions,” but we know nothing about Jannah, other than the one page bio at the beginning of the book.  Jannah recites some mystery ayats and says that knowing the meaning helps her with reciting, a bit more of an appropriate answer, but still kind of not fulfilling the question in my opinion.

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All five kids in the crew win tickets for them and their families for the game that night.  A limo picks them up and they get to meet Hakeem in the locker room.  When they arrive  he is praying, so they wait, say salam, chat, and then are shown to the VIP box.  The game is close, Hakeem scores the winning goal for the Spartans and the kids go home happy. No real problem or solution, the climax is just the game.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the font was chosen to help kids with dyslexia and the full color internal pictures are a nice plus.  I don’t understand how it was determined how much text is on a page, as it is so varied and inconsistent, that it seems like a draft rather than a final copy.

I love that this book is about Muslims and for Muslims, the star athlete prays, and connects with Allah swt, and is proud of it.  His praying before the game is not weird to his teammates, which is awesome for kids to see.  The conversation after his salat with the kids is also pretty powerful, but the setup is incredibly awkward. Yasin won a ticket for reciting Quran, so why the answer about why he is praying before the game started with explaining that he prays five times a day, seems jarring to the flow of the book and story.  I liked the insight about praying and being grateful whether they win or lose, but the catalyst for the exchange was really forced.   Loved that Hakeem made sajood when he scored and that Ibrahim was asking Allah for help.

I wish the ayats the kids recited would have been shared.  I think the book is for muslim kids, so it would have helped if they really inspired something tangible that the readers could relate to.  The book is very bland and it could be much more memorable.  I’ve read the book three times, and couldn’t tell you any of the students names.  I had to look back to write this review.

 

I’m not a soccer expert, but I think the winning goal would have been called back for offsides, I’m hoping I’m mistaken.  The breaking a world record for loudest fans seemed a stretch, but kids 6-8 probably would be bothered by it or find it out of place.  The book says it is for ages 6-12, but I can’t see kids 12 years old getting much out of this 40 page book.  

FLAGS:

None the book is completely clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book wouldn’t work for a book club selection, but I would probably have it in a school library for kids transitioning to chapter books, and in a classroom for excitement and novelty.  There isn’t anything “wrong” with the book, it just needs a good editor and a little more.  It really is almost there.

https://www.launchgood.com/project/childhood_champions__no_ordinary_day_a_book_for_muslim_children#!/

 

A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

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The correlation between baseball and cricket provides the foundation for detailing the relationship of  Bilal’s first year in America after having to leave Pakistan in a hurry: the same, but different.  This 248 page book written on an AR 4.6 pivots around sports, but has a lot of heart as themes of family, friendship, and longing, take center stage.  Throw in a whole new culture, the English language, Ramadan and prom and you have a whole lot to cover in this well crafted story.

SYNOPSIS:

Bilal has a good life in Karachi, Pakistan.  He is the oldest of three kids and at 10 years old, his world pretty much involves Cricket, friends, and his dad.  When his father disappears things get frantic, and when his father returns, the family decides to move to America.  Unfortunately Bilal’s dad can’t come.  As Bilal, his mom, his younger sister Hira and younger brother Humza, board a plan to Virginia, everything Bilal knows is left behind.

Virginia is home to Bilal’s maternal Uncle, his wife, and their teenage son, Jalaal.  Jalaal plays baseball and arranges to have Bilal join him at baseball camp for the summer.  Learning the new sport, and a new language, and the nuances of life in a new land are frustrating and often comical as Bilal points out how confusing navigating American life can be.  He also keeps an ongoing list of new things in America to share with his dad over Skype, as they swap memories of an old life in preparation for a new one.  The supporting characters on the field are generally kind and accepting of Bilal, because they have a bigger problem then a foreign boy, there is a girl on the team, Jordan.  Jordan is new too, and the coaches niece at that, naturally they become friends, but its not easy, Bilal has to learn what being a friend really means.

The majority of the book stems from the tension of waiting to hear from Bilal’s father, and to see if he can come to America.  The passing of time with baseball games and school are anecdotal to the larger arc that sets the pace of the book.  Will Baba be able to come, and if so, when?

WHY I LIKE IT:

Interestingly religion has a pretty big role in Bilal’s life and the author does explain some tenants in Islam.  He wakes up for fajr (although he does miss it occasionally), he only eats halal zabiha, the family fasts in Ramadan, and they celebrate Eid.  Bilal wants to fast, but him mom tells him he is too young when they are coming to America, and the following year he doesn’t because of baseball, which is unfortunate, because a lot of kids fast and play sports all over the world.  They go to the mosque on Eid only, and it mentions that the women in his family do not wear hijab like some of the women at the mosque.  His older cousin Jalaal wants to take the neighbor girl, Olivia, to prom, which the family explains awkwardly as something that Muslims don’t really do until they are older, or at least that is how Bilal understands it.  In the end, they let Jalaal go with Olivia and a group of friends, and the whole family Skype’s the family in Pakistan and sees them off.  Even more funny is that they don’t join their friends for dinner before the dance, because Jalaal is fasting and can’t eat until later.  I don’t know if this will confuse 4th and 5th grade readers, but as an adult I found it hysterical, because these cultural contradictions are more common than not.  I did like that nothing was done behind the parent’s backs.  Things were discussed and worked out instead of lied about.

Another thing that I found interesting, but since finishing the book, I have come to appreciate, is that there is no Islamaphobia in the story, or even xenophobia.  The kids are accepting of Bilal’s faith and culture.  He is far more self conscious about being different or not understanding than those around him are.  Its idealistic perhaps, but at the same time, I think it would distract from the core of the story.

While the book focuses on sports, I think even non sports fans will be able to enjoy the story.  The author doesn’t get too technical and it moves steadily with mini climaxes and triumphs through out.  Girls and boys will enjoy the book, Muslims and non Muslims too, the readers might even learn something about baseball or cricket or Pakistan, or even about themselves along the way.

FLAGS:

The book is remarkably clean and what you would expect for a good quality, solid 4th grade and up story.  There is the “prom” issue, but there is no hugging, kissing, longing etc.  They “like” each other, but it isn’t more explicit than that.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if I would use this for a Book Club.  One could, but I think it would require a lot of coaxing to get kids to give a book about baseball/cricket a try.  I have no doubt if they started it, they would finish it, but it might be a tough sell.  The confusion in American life would make for an awesome discussion after being read, because everyone can relate to some of the oddities of the English language, and challenges of learning a new language and culture.  I think how Islam is handled would also make for some good discussion in addressing how each family handles things differently as they arise.  Although written on a 4.6 level if I were to do it in a school setting, I would probably do it for middle school kids who could articulate their own life parallels to the story.

An interview with the author:

http://wordspelunking.blogspot.com/2016/09/a-long-pitch-home-blog-tour-interview.html

Overall a solid decent book about an immigrant Muslim boy making his way in America, while not losing or giving up on who he is, alhumdulillah.

 

Nusaiba and the 5th Grade Bullies by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Zul Lee

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As someone who deals a lot with reading and comprehension, I really misread the description of this book and assumed erroneously that it was a chapter book targeting 5th graders.  Oops, alhumdulillah, my confusion and slight disappointment didn’t last long as I got swept up in Nusaiba’s spunky imagination and endearing personality.  The message of the book is powerful.  Not only does Nusaiba have to deal with bullies, but she has to wrangle with accepting herself, even if that means being different.

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Nusaiba is almost to school when she overhears some 5th grade boys making fun of her mom and what she is wearing.  Nusaiba’s mom is wearing a hijab, and the story is set up to imply that that is what they find “weird.”  This morning encounter bothers Nusaiba all day, and while she doesn’t talk to her teacher about it when asked, she does spill the beans to her best friend Emily.  The next day Nusaiba distances herself from her mom and asks to walk to the school gate alone.  The bullies don’t say anything, but Nusaiba feels guilty about leaving her mom like that. Later that day when Mom picks Nusaiba and Emily up from soccer they swing by a local hijab shop for some clothes shopping.  I don’t know why, but I found the premise for taking the girls clothes shopping a little forced.  It seemed too words of a setup, and I couldn’t help but wonder why Emily would be dragged along.  As mom tries on skirts for work, the girls in their boredom get swept up in using the scarves as costumes and transforming themselves from queens, to underwater divers, to fisherwomen, to mountain climbers, to fantastic cleaners ready to clean up all the scarves on the display.  Her mom lets her pick one to buy, and she decides to wear it to school the next day.  It is noteworthy that Emily doesn’t try on any of the scarves.  She is an amazingly supportive friend, and even in make-believe is right there with Nusaiba, but she doesn’t put one on, and I kind of want to know the author’s reasoning or purpose as to why.  So the next day at school, Nusaiba asks her mom to again walk with her, and when the 5th grade boys call her mom an “odd-ball.” Nusaiba finds her courage to confront them.  Nusaiba and the reader discover the boys are making fun of Nusaiba’s mom, but it isn’t for her hijab.  Nusaiba and her mom set the boys straight and giggle in the process, as Nusaiba realizes she can be anything she dreams.

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The book is 44 pages and probably about a second grade mid year reading level.  The pictures are big and bold and beautiful making it a great option for story time to ages 4 and up.  The pictures do an amazing job complementing the story and going back through to look at them after the “twist” at the end was even more delightful.  The illustrator draws you into Nusaiba’s world and you really do cheer her on when she stands up for herself. The book easily lends itself to discussion, and there is also a question guide at the end, incase you get stumped. It reads more like a school assignment, but it could obviously be re-worded to engage a child at bedtime or in a read-a-loud environment.  The font is a nice size, however, I found it distracting. On some pages it is white on others black, on some it has a shadow and on others it does not.  I’m certain most people would not notice, but for some reason it was jarring to me.  Alhumdulillah, alhumdulillah, if that is the only negative in a book, I think everyone who reads it will be glad to have a copy of their own to read again and again and again and again and….

 

Broken Moon by Kim Antieau

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I didn’t initially think the premise of the book was terribly original: a poor scarred girl in Pakistan working as a servant, cuts her hair to look like a boy and be free to move about and rescue her brother.  But the weaving in of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights stories into the larger story, and the plot of kidnapping children to be camel jockeys in the Middle East, made the story good.  Really good, but not the book.  I really struggled with the format of the book.  It is written as letters by the main character Nadira to her young brother Umar.  The information seems too forced in this style, she is telling him how old he is, or retelling him things he said a few days ago.  Once they are together she has to clarify that now she is writing it to their mother, and then again alter it to be writing to those following her story.  It presents too many characters, that are awkwardly introduced because presumably he knows who they are, the reader does not, and bridging that gap makes the book halt the reader from diving head first into a really compelling story.  I feel like the book’s editors let the characters down, it would have been an easy fix to tell the story as Nadira told it to the Sheikha, and then when the story caught up with the present to continue it from there as written, without the guise of it being shared in letters or a diary format.  But, alas no one asked me.  Luckily the book is only 183 pages and written on a AR 4.2 level so it is a speedy read.  Do not let the fourth grade level, however, trick you into thinking it is content appropriate for a 10 year old. There is a lot of abuse, in every sub category of the word.

SYNOPSIS:

When Nadira was 12 years old she was attacked by a group of men seeking to avenge an alleged crime Nadira’s older brother committed against their daughter.  By this girl’s reputation allegedly being ruined by Nadira’s brother, the village decides that a female in his family should in exchange be ruined.  Nadira manages to fight and ends up with some external scarring, including a moon shaped scar on her face, a lot of internal scarring, but the book points out quite often that she got away from being sexually abused.  In her culture she is assumed to be ruined, and will never be married.  She begins to work as a servant to help the family financially as her older brothers have more or less disappeared and no longer are of any help to her family.  When her father dies, her mother and younger brother, Umar, rely on Uncle Rubel who is a horrible man who covertly sells Umar to the smugglers to become a camel jockey.  The family that Nadira works for seem kind, they stick to the norms and don’t include her in their fun and frivolity, but they don’t abuse or belittle her either.  They offer her, her mother, and Umar a place to live on the property, and assist her in finding someone to locate her brother.  Nadira, however, is strong and determined and takes matters into her own hands by cutting her hair to look like a boy, finding the smugglers, and convincing them to take her.  Once in the camp she wins over all the boys, by becoming Sherazad and telling a story to delay her being beat.  Her wit, tenacity, and perseverance is infectious and you find yourself cheering her on.  As she prepares for the races and to broaden her access to camps to find her brother at, she meets a western vet, a Sheikha who essentially owns her, and discovers that all the boys she lives with know she is a girl and love and respect her.  The climax involves her racing in the Sheikha’s Race where the winner is granted a wish by the Sheikha.  Can Nadira win? Can she find her brother? Can she save all the boys at the camp that she has taken in as her brothers? I won’t spoil it this time.  You’ll have to read it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that the author did not cast judgement on a group of people.  Not all Pakistanis are bad, not all women are helpless, not all men are oppressive, not all employers are abusive, etc..  similarly, there is a western character, but she doesn’t swoop in and save the day, in fact I read her to be complacent in what she knew were obvious human rights violations.  I loved the relationship that Nadira had with her father.  The love of learning and love of his daughter is so sincere and beautiful that I think readers can see that the stereotype of daughters not being prized jewels in a family as being false.  I wish the mother would have been further developed.  She seems defiant, but not fleshed out, which is unfortunate. I also like the subplot of the gardener boy, Saliq.  A boy who completed some of his education in England, only to be made crippled by a horse, and sent back to be a servant.  He’s role and respect of Nadira furthers the notion that her scar does not define her, as he proposes marriage and pledges to support her in her efforts to continue rehabilitating kidnapped children and stopping the cycle.  I also like that the author doesn’t share her response, as if to emphasize that she is liberated and with or without a husband she is a complete person.

The characters are Muslim by culture, but there is no real mention of Islam or Islamic practices.  Before Nadira cuts her hair she wears a scarf, but that is neither her nor there.

FLAGS:

The premise of the book is an accusation of a sexual crime.  One of the stories she tells at the  camel camp to delay the beatings,  is the story of the lady who traps a merchant, a king, a carpenter, and a Kazi to free her lover.  She offers her body to the men and traps them in a cabinet naked after obtaining their signatures.  There is some kissing and some innuendos and references to sexual acts.  There are also references to the sexual abuse at the camps as well as descriptions of the physical ones that take place.  Not for the faint of heart or young and innocent. The boys at camp also discover that Nadira bleeds like their sisters, as a clue to them figuring out she is a girl, but compared to the sexual crimes, menstruation seems hardly like a flag, and I only mention it because the AR level is so low, not because there is any reason for shame or shyness in discussing an act all women endure.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think high school students could handle the book, and would allow a plethora of discussion options from child labor, civic responsibility, abuse, justice and the power of literature as a coping mechanism.  I wish the author would have included some information on camel racing and how they are regulated and jockeys are obtained, and maybe thrown in a recipe for masala chai as well.

There are no online websites or guides that I could find to accompany the book.

King For A Day by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Christiane Krome

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Its time for Basant, the Lahore, Pakistan kite flying festival, and Malik and his siblings are ready.  Ready to launch Falcon into the sky, ready to set other kites free, and ready to put the bully next door in his place.  While some kids have huge kites, and some have many, Malik has just Falcon, a speedy little kite that Malik prays can get the job done.

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Once again Rukhsana Khan does a remarkable job of taking a universal theme, adding some culture, and finding artists to empower minorities without making it an issue, all in a 32 page children’s book.  Written on an AR level of third grade ninth month, readers see characters handling a bully by beating him “on the court” so to speak, a character having confidence in his abilities, yet still asking Allah swt for help, and a boy in a wheel chair celebrating a fun spring time festival with his family.

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The illustrations are rich with texture and angles, which contrasts the font and text presentation.  Little kids probably won’t be tempted to pick this book up, but as a read-a-loud first and second graders will enjoy the story and the kite flying action.  Third and fourth graders will enjoy reading the book independently, and find themselves cheering for Malik, appreciating his kindness, and wanting to pick up a kite and head out themselves.  The author includes a note at the back which provides more information about Basant and how it is celebrated.  Although it takes place in Pakistan and is a festival not celebrated in America, there isn’t a “foreign” feeling to the book, as kids can relate to bullies, wanting to be the best and the satisfaction of succeeding and feeling like a “king for a day.”

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Silly Chicken by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Yunmee Kyong

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Silly Chicken is a story about sibling rivalry, except there isn’t a sibling, there is a chicken.  Rani feels that her mom, Ami, loves a chicken, Bibi, more than she loves her.  Rani is jealous of the attention Bibi receives and finds the chicken in general, silly.  One day when Rani and Ami leave their home by tonga to visit her father’s grave, a dog gets in and when they return, Bibi is no more.  Ami is devastated and Rani is sure she closed the gate.  It isn’t until Bibi’s egg hatches by surprise, that the story comes full circle and Rani responds to Ami’s chiding that she loves the baby chick more than her mother, that the reader and Rani realize how silly that would be.

I really liked this 32-page, brightly and playfully illustrated book.  It is written on a AR 2.3 level and is fun out loud or at bed time.  The story takes place in Pakistan and a lot of reviews online remark that it is a good book about Pakistan or for showing Pakistani culture, critiques that I both agree and disagree with.  Every kid, everywhere, through out time, can probably relate to being jealous of something or someone occupying their mother’s attention.  The concept of a pet and loving it and being sad and feeling guilty, are all universal themes.  That being said, both the author and illustrator do a remarkable job of breaking stereotypes without drawing attention to them.  Ami and Rani are relatable and are clearly Pakistani, subtly removing an us and them stance.   Rani’s dad has passed away, but Ami and Rani seem to be doing well.  Ami seems very self-sufficient in daily activities and brave when they think a burglar may be present.  The two chat with neighbors and travel independently breaking down the erroneous stereotype that women cannot go out or be recognized without a male.  The mother wears hijab and traditional Pakistani clothes while Rani being young obviously does not cover.  Their clothes are bright and colorful and their expressions relatable and inviting.  The way that Bibi’s death is handled is age appropriate and a child could possibly think she simply was run off rather than killed, either interpretation would allow the reader empathy for Ami and be a great topic to explore with a child.  Enjoy!