Tag Archives: Islamic values

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

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Now that there is legitimately a genre of YA Islamic Romance out there told in Own Voice, the expectations are high that a book is compelling, realistic, and unique somehow.  While the author’s first book, Saints and Misfits was pretty ground breaking, this 342 page was a great read, but not nearly as remarkable or memorable.  Granted it is not fair to compare the two books, and each day I do age out of the target demographic, but while the story reads authentic and true, albeit a bit serendipitous, it doesn’t have the teeth or grit I was kind of hoping for, and with a mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis my emotions were pretty invested.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from both Adam and Zayneb’s perspectives by way of their individual “Oddities and Marvels” journals, our two characters are presented by a narrator who keeps their story on track and interjects when their versions of an event differ. 

Zayneb is a high schooler and activist who has recently been expelled for threatening a teacher who consistently lets his Islamaphobic beliefs take over the days lessons.  In an environment filled with micro aggressions against Muslims, Zeynab’s parents are at a loss at how to keep their daughter from making waves, and thus allow her to leave her Indiana home a week before spring break to visit her aunt in Doha, Qatar.

Adam is at University in London where he has recently been diagnosed with MS and as a result has stopped going to classes, and is literally “making” the most of the time he has by making things.  As the term ends and he officially withdraws from school, he heads home to Doha to tell his dad and sister that he has the same disease that took his mother’s life years early.

The two characters meet at the airport briefly and then again on the plane and then at Adam’s house and the needless to say  their accidental meetings allow for friendship to grow, attraction to be built upon and a relationship to develop. Both characters have their own lives and own obstacles and own maturity that needs to occur in order for a happy ending to take place, and thus the book keeps you interested, invested and cheering them on.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the dynamic of how the book and characters are set up.  Both are practicing Muslims, both characters don’t cross a line, both characters have diverse mixed cultural backgrounds, and one is a convert and the other the daughter of a convert.  She is fiery and impulsive and emotional, he is pragmatic and calm and quiet.  While they have some background in common, their life experiences are rather different and it is very much a story about opposites attracting.  

I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, and so I knew my expectations would be too high.  That being said the book warns it is a love story and in some ways, that was what I kind of felt was lacking.  There was the physical attraction that was mentioned fairly often, but the deep connection of ideas or growing seemed a bit lacking.  

I really liked Adam, and his internal stresses and struggles and coming to grips with his disease seemed pretty developed.  Somehow though, and I’m probably in the minority, I didn’t love Zayneb.  She is impulsive and definitely learned and grew from the start of the book to the end, but I didn’t love her nuances with dealing with the Emmas and her friends back home and unraveling her teacher, it felt kind of forced and I can’t articulate why.  I’m glad she matured and she got answers about her grandmother, but maybe I should have felt so much in common with her and when I didn’t, I felt a little irritated.  Clearly I get too invested in fictional characters, I’ll admit that.

I like that Islam is presented in a non defensive way.  The parents aren’t evil, there is no rebelling, even the awful teacher spawns backlash and allies to Zayneb and her cause. There is no apologizing or overly explaining if the characters are pushing boundaries established by Islam or if they are establishing their own boundaries based on their understanding of Islam.  I like this, because it shows that Muslims are not a monolith, we are not one way good or bad.  Zayneb covers and prays and has friends that are boys and her family is kept in the loop of what she does, which alone breaks so many of the predominate stereotypes about Muslims.  Adam himself converted at age nine and plays the guitar and has friends that are girls, and is close to his sister, and likes dogs.  A side character is noted to be incredibly religious, but doesn’t cover.  The story takes place in an Islamic majority country, but attitudes at the swimming pool don’t allow Zayneb to dress modestly while she swims.  

Overall, the book is a delightful read that manages to keep the religious integrity in the characters and show their personalities as they come of age.  It may not be memorable years after reading, but what you do remember will be positive, and while you are reading it, you will have a hard time putting it down.

FLAGS:

There is angsty romance, and talk of sex.  The two main characters keep it pretty clean, but the side characters joke about hooking up, being horny, and sneaking off to hotel rooms.  The non Muslim aunt has a secret alcohol and cigarette stash that she gets called out on, but nothing more is mentioned about it. I think 9th or 10th grade and up will be perfectly ok to read.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There is a lot to unpack in this book and I think if one just listens, teens will naturally add their own opinions and perspectives on EVERYTHING the characters experience, feel, question, and cope with.  The book just came out, but I would imagine that over time discussion questions will appear.

Author’s website: https://skalibooks.com/books/

Interview with the author: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/an-interview-with-s-k-ali-author-of-love-from-a-to-z/

 

Forgiveness by Isa Beaumont

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Forgiveness by Isa Beaumont

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This dual language book, is structured and feels like a leveled reader, but is more geared for fluent reading five to seven year olds.  It definitely has more complex diction and vocabulary than an emerging reader would be able to handle in English, I have no idea about the Arabic.  

SYNOPSIS:

The concept in 26 pages is how to forgive others and react calmly when we are upset.  The book is brightly illustrated on glossy sturdy softbound pages, and the characters are found in all of the company’s stories and plush figures at https://www.littlemaysoor.com/

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Little Zakariyyah has been behaving well, and as a result his mom gets him a new red toy car, he loves it and plays with it in the garden everyday. His sister Ruqayyah wants to play with it, he agrees and when he hands it to her, she accidentally drops it and it breaks.  In anger Zakariyyah begins screaming for her to “Go away from me!” Mom comes out to see what is going on and calm everyone down, she takes Zakariyyah inside and pours him some milk.  When she hands it to him, his hand slips and he drops the glass breaking it and making a mess. Mom forgives him and obviously highlights the similarities to what just happened with his sister and the toy car.  Mom then gently guides him to acknowledge his poor behavior and asks him what he things he should do.  Zakaraiyyah knows he needs to ask Allah swt for forgiveness and then apologize (apologise) to Ruqayyah.  Once he does this, his sister shares some sweets with him and reminds him of a hadith, “The strong one isn’t he who can overpower others.  Instead, the strong one is he who can control himself when he becomes angry.”

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WHY I LIKE IT:

Before the story begins there are six points you can implement before reading the story, and after the story, there are beginner and advanced concept questions and a place to write the answers provided.  The book has an agenda and it achieves its mark in showing a moral concept in an Islamic framework.

The book is written in British English which could make the spelling a bit confusing for new American readers, but manageable.  I honestly don’t know if the book was written in English then translated to Arabic or the other way around.  Some of the wording seems awkward so it could be attributed to it being translated from Arabic or it might just be the American/British difference.  For example Zakariyyah loves playing in “a small sand pit for children,” why not just say, sandbox? Again not terrible, but rationale for why I think children sounding out words might be a bit young for the target audience.  

I liked the story and how it lets the reader see the similarities to the events that unfold, just like I loved that the mom asked Zakariyyah what he should do, rather than dictate or scold him.  I was surprised when I read it, how smooth the ending was, because it really could have had Ruqayyah come across as a know-it-all and it didn’t.

The beginning of the book stumbled a bit with the set up trying to tell about Zakariyyah, why he got the toy and then staging the plot of the book.  If he had been playing with the car everyday, is it still a new car? Also the illustration before he drops the milk has him sitting at the table with a glass a milk in front of him.  Sure, maybe it was the second glass that he dropped, but it’s noticeable.

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FLAGS:

Clean

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book is obviously too short for a book club per se, but I think if you had a small group of readers, or are home schooling, you really could ask a child to read the book and then reflect back what they understood and what they learned and how they hope to put it in to practice.

Even with not reading the Arabic, the book is pretty solid in its approach and I plan to check out the other books in the series as I do a lot of story times with basic morals as themes.

 

How to Scare a Monster by Zanib Mian

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I like a lot of books, but this one, well it might be my favorite.  The size, the length, the colors, the fonts, the illustrations, the message, truly it is fabulous for 3-5 year olds.

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The premise is simple and straightforward.  The book doesn’t try and do too much or put too much on its 32 pages.  It identifies ways to deal with monsters, and then offers what some people try and do to scare them away, concluding the best and only solution, is to ask Allah for help by saying, Audhoobillah.  

Kids will laugh at the silly illustrations and attempts to be monster free, and remember the clear strong message of calling on Allah swt when afraid.  

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The only critique for me is the page about the kid with a stink-bomb in their nappy. While funny, the sentence structure doesn’t flow, the narrator’s voice seems abrupt and off to me.  Possibly that it goes from active voice to passive for that line only (its been a while since I’ve articulated grammar structure, so maybe not :)).

Most people try to rrooaaarr!

or hide under the bed.

Sometimes they call their mum, mmummm!

or even better.  A kid with a stink-bomb in their nappy.

Some turn the lights on,

or hold on to their favourite teddy.

Other than that, the book is fun and works well for muslim kids at story time or bedtime alike, alhumdulillah.

 

The Great Race to Sycamore Street by J. Samia Mair

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A fun book for elementary aged children looking for a fast paced, energetic read, with Islamic morals and lessons.  Overall a great book about character, being a good neighbor, and never giving up, The Great Race to Sycamore Street is not in the AR database, but I estimate it at about a 4.3 level and think even for higher readers there is plenty to learn about archery and peach trees, and plenty to enjoy as Amani and Hude take on bullies, grumpy neighbors, dogs, and making the most of a summer with their grandma in the country.  There are 180 pages followed by acknowledgements, references, and glossaries explaining archery terms, Islamic terms, and where the hadith and Quranic ayats come from, theoretically making the book accessible to Muslim and non Muslims alike.  I however, think the book would be a bit preachy to non Muslims or to those unfamiliar with Islam.

SUMMARY:

Siblings Amani and Hude arrive in Fairfax County, Maryland to spend the summer with their Grandma Hana in the quiet town of Cherry Hill, for what they think will be a slow laid back summer of reading, swimming in the lake, and preparing for the County Fair.  Grandma Hana has the undisputed best peach tree in the county and makes the best pies to enter in the pie competition at the fair, and this year Amani gets to help.  Hude is a budding archer and with his recently deceased grandfather’s journal and old archery regalia he is determined to compete and win the archery competition.  But their simple plans quickly meet twist after twist: from bullies on the train, to swarms of cicadas greeting them on arrival, to a new neighbor who discovers the beloved peach tree is actually on his property and he wants it gone, to the bullies on the train ruling over the lake and proving to be great archers themselves.  Can the  peach tree be saved? Can they be victorious at the fair? With lots of stories about Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) woven in, and ayats from the Quran used to emphasize points, not only is the book a quick action packed story, but it is also poignant, educational, and memorable as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is clean and requires the brother and sister duo to work together to do something that is bigger than themselves.  I also love the way that Islam is given practical uses for the children, it isn’t taught in the abstract they must pull on their understanding of their deen to decide what to do, how to act and what the next step should be.  I also like how the fast paced story is set in contrast to the slow thematic ideas of a peach tree, baking, archery, and a stereotypical summer with grandma.  Most readers I would assume don’t know that much about fruit trees and county fairs and archery, and I think the author does a good job of introducing the audience to these concepts and weaving Islam into it while keeping the story exciting and moving along.

FLAGS:

Clean, alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The plot is pretty linear, and a quick discussion of what every one liked and perhaps what surprised them would be a sufficient review of the story. From there I would probably go through the reference of hadith and ayats from the Quran to guide the discussion, you can get the online reference of that here:

http://www.kubepublishing.com/the-great-race-to-sycamore-street-free-reference-sheet/

scroll to the bottom and click on the link to download the text.