Tag Archives: J. Samia Mair

Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

zak and lies

In the first Zak book, Zak had good intentions that just never went his way and we, as the readers, really felt bad for him.  In this new book, it takes a few pages to feel sympathy for Zak as his little lies get him in trouble, but sure enough when he finally changes his ways, it is cause for relief, celebration, and a great lesson to teach kids something that they do without much thought.

ZakLies2

The book claims to be for 3 to 7 year olds, but I think it works best for 3rd graders who seem to be testing honesty out.  Yes, it is great to introduce it to younger kids, and you really should, but like the first Zak book, the pages are a bit text heavy and the concept really should be understood without too much hand holding.  For me, the power of the book is the way that Zak’s little lies snowball in to a habit, and the climax really is something that you want the child to feel from within, not as just an adult once again telling them to be honest and not lie and to listen.

zak lies 1

Zak starts the book with one more chore to do until he can go to the skate park with his Baba to play.  But, he gets caught in a lie about his bearded dragon, Dwayne, and the stage is set for him to get through the day honestly.  The next test doesn’t involve lying to his parents, but rather some kids from school that tease him, he doesn’t tell the truth and consequences ensue.  Next up he lies to his sister, again a great addition in showing that honesty is not just important when dealing with parents or adults, but that it needs to be the standard in all our dealings.  At the end, it is his sister getting in trouble for something that he has done that forces his to come clean about his whole day and to learn that truly, “Nothing in the earth and in the heavens is hidden from Allah” (Surah Al-Imran 3:5).

The hardback book is 29 pages with the last two pages being Discussion Questions and more information about the Quran Ayats and Hadiths mentioned.  The illustrations are not too busy, but the characters facial expressions are spot on, and often where the emotional cues for the text are found.

Amira’s Totally Chocolate World by J. Samia Mair

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Amira' totally chocolate wold

Amira’s Totally Chocolate World is a sweet story based on the idea of a young girl’s wish for the world to turn into chocolate.  As she imagines all the wonderful things that would be made better by being chocolate: flowers, grass, rain, the ocean, etc., she asks Allah swt to make a totally chocolate world.  The night before Eid ul-Fitr her mom promises to make Amira a chocolate cake with chocolate icing in celebration of Amira fasting for a part of each day in Ramadan.  When Amira wakes up the whole world is chocolate, and Amira runs out to enjoy all the chocolate around her.  Soon enough she misses the colors of the world, and the different smells, and misses the texture of grass too.  Amira remembers an Ayat of the Quran about the many colors of creation and asks Allah to turn the world back to the way he created it.  Naturally her alarm clock then wakes her up and she is now wiser, more appreciative and happy to eat her chocolate cake on the kitchen table.

Overall, the story touches on ideas of Ramadan, Eid, asking Allah swt for everything and anything, being appreciative and being thankful.  However, when read aloud I have found that the students have to be made aware of these topics to grasp them.  The text is a bit wordy and the author’s message seems to get lost in the chocolate-ness of everything.  I feel like there is just too much going on in the 23 pages of the story for a child younger than 1st grade to get much out of independently.  On the surface however, it is a fun story with adequate illustrations that kids, especially those that love chocolate, will enjoy.

(NOTE: the book is written in British English, and American children are quick to notice the difference in spelling the word color/colour.)

The Great Race to Sycamore Street by J. Samia Mair

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the great race to sycamore street

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.