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The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

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The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

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Set in Lebanon, this 32 page book for kindergarten to second graders uses the ever important olive tree as a point of contention between two neighbors. Muna’s family moved away during the conflict because they were not like the others in the village, and while they were gone, Sameer’s family cared for the olive tree on their neighbor’s property, and collected the olives that fell on their side of the wall. But now that the neighbors have returned, Sameer is not only disappointed that they don’t have a boy his age to play with, but also clashes with Muna when she says that he shouldn’t take their olives. By the end of the book, olive branches of peace will be referenced and hope hinted at in this brightly illustrated book with a lesson.

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I like that why Muna’s family left is not abundantly clear, saying that “For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. . . that the family who lived there had gone away during the troubles because they were different from most of the people int he village.”  Lebanon is a diverse place and the illustrations seem to show both Mom’s wearing head scarves, the text does not detail if they are unlike each other because of religion, or culture, or some other reason, and I kind of like that it is left vague so that children learn in the end perhaps, it doesn’t matter.  

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When the family moves back home, Sameer watches them and recalls the ways his mom prepares the best olives in Lebanon.  The neighbors are polite, but not friendly.  They don’t ever say much and they don’t return visits.  One day when the ripe olives have fallen on the ground, Sameer heads out with his basket to collect them.   Muna, who has never looked over at Sameer, watches him and tells him that they are her olives, and that the tree has been in her family for a hundred years.

The two bicker about who has rights to the olives on Sameer’s side of the wall and in anger, Sameer dumps his basket of olives on Muna’s side and walks off.  After that, no one on Sameer’s side collects the olives on the ground.  One night there is a storm and the olive tree and part of the stone wall are destroyed.  The adults gather to survey the damage, but walk off without saying anything.  The two children are left to decide what to do next about their beloved tree, and their relationship with one another.

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I like that the resolution is subtle, but thought provoking and that the adults don’t seem to interfere too much.  I can’t imagine that they don’t have opinions about their neighbors and the olives, but the book stays on the children and the assumptions, stubbornness, and unsaid words that have created such a divide, and must ultimately be resolved as a result.

 

This is Why We Pray: A Story About Islam, Salah, and Dua by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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This is Why We Pray: A Story About Islam, Salah, and Dua by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

this is why we pray

This 8×8 softbound 55 page book for ages 5 to 7 is a great resource for learning the basics about the five pillars, wudu, salah and dua.  It claims that it is a story, but I feel like that is a bit of a stretch.  It has fictionalized framing that is done well, but to call it a story I think is misleading.  It is set up like a children’s Islamic text book, think Islamic School or Sunday School curriculum, where there is a story that highlights Islamic concepts with vocabulary, there are breaks to focus on some specific idea from an outside source, in this case the Quran, there are things to think about, questions to answer, and then the same characters re-emerge in the next chapter to repeat the process. The book has an amazing illustrator, but there are only maybe three full page illustrations, four half page illustrations, and the rest are just small glimpses to compliment the heavily text filled pages.  I can see myself reading the entire book to my five year old, and then it sitting back on the shelf to be pulled out and revised when we need to go over salat, wudu, or need to learn some duas, and understand the five pillars.  I don’t think it will be requested for the “story,” or the pictures, it just isn’t that type of book.  It borders fiction and nonfiction, but I think it is closer to nonfiction, and works well as a tool to engage your children with easy to understand text, quality illustrations to see the steps of salat and wudu, and to see Islam practiced in scenarios that young children will recognize, such as playing games, going to the beach, and losing a favorite toy.

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The book is divided in to three chapters: The Five Pillars, Offering Salah, and Making Dua.  Before the chapters there is a letter from the author to grown-ups and then one to kids.  After the final chapter there are reference pages with extra duas and prayers and a glossary.

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The first chapter opens with the Abdur-Rahman family playing an Islamic question game.  Older sister Aliya knows the five pillars, younger brother Amar needs a little more explaining.  The next morning the kids are heading to the beach, but first they have to get up to pray salah and send some food to the neighbor. As the kids drive they talk about Ramadan and their Uncle Sharif having just gone for Hajj.  There is then a page dedicated to a Quran Story Time that focuses on Allah swt wanting us to ask him for each and everything no matter how big or small. There is an ayat from the Quran as well as a hadith. The next page is a section called, “What We Can Do Together,” to further learn about the five pillars, and then some questions asking the reader, “What Do You Think?”.

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Chapter two has the family at the beach pausing their fun to pray.  But first they have to make wudu, and the steps are illustrated and detailed with tips and directions.  They then pray, again the steps and words are detailed and illustrated with tips about how to stay focused and the like.  The translation of the Arabic is included and the transliteration is as well.  The Quran Story Time focuses on Fajr and then the questions and ways to further engage with the information concludes the chapter.

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The third chapter is on Dua and has the kids barely making it to Sunday School on time.  Papa says he made dua that they wouldn’t be late, and even in class the lesson is on dua. After class Amar can’t find his toy even after making dua and is encouraged to be grateful for what he does have.  The Quran Story tells the story of Prophet Muhammad (saw) helping the old woman who is talking bad about the Prophet and how after he helps her and he tells her his name, she converts.  I don’t know that, that is in the Quran, I thought it was a hadith?

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The kids learn that Allah swt may not answer duas, but will inshaAllah give them something better.  There are four additional duas to learn in the moving on section and the bolded words throughout are defined in the glossary.

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I’m not sure about the title of the book, it is about more than just prayer, so don’t think that it is limited to just that.  It also doesn’t detail the number of rakats or what breaks wudu, it is specific in somethings, but is more a broad overview than an all encompassing handbook on salat.

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I think the book is well done and will be useful for most, if not all, Muslim families with young children learning the basics, but it isn’t a picture story book in my opinion, it is more of a fun engaging twist on information that might otherwise be presented in a boring manner.

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Elisha the Eid Fairy by Daisy Meadows (Rainbow Magic)

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Elisha the Eid Fairy by Daisy Meadows (Rainbow Magic)

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If you are familiar with the Rainbow Magic fairy books, you know they are never ending, there are currently 228 titles in the collection that cover beginning readers, early chapter books, and longer solo chapter books.  They cover seasons, colors, flowers, jewels, musical instruments, pets, friends, holidays, etc., and now festivals.  They may not be the most intellectually stimulating, but they serve a purpose in getting young readers confident and engaged.  My daughter loved them in first and second grade and when this book was delivered a few days ago, she was so excited to see a Muslim fairy.  She is 14.  Representation will always matter, even when the story is a bit hokey and random, to see yourself in a beloved series, has power.  Yes, the story is predictable in the 80 drawing filled pages, but for first and second graders it is fun.  Elisha wears western clothes with her hijab, has a magical Pelita lamp that brings Eid joy to the human world, and hosts feasts with international foods.  Yes, the fairy is Muslim and Eid joy after Ramadan comes from an oil lamp apparently, it is a stretch, and if you are not comfortable with this imaginative representation of Eid joy coming from a magical creature’s enchanted item, then please don’t waste your time.  If your kids already read books about fairies, this book might be of great delight to them, and be a great conversation starter for you to have about what really makes Eid a joyous time.

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SYNOPSIS:

Jack Frost is still determined in this the third book in the four part festival series, to cancel Eid, Diwali, Hanukkah and Buddha Day to create his own Frost Day.  With the sighting of the new moon, in this book Eid is under attack.  Humans Rachel and Kirsty are summoned to help find Elisha the Eid Fairy’s magical Pelita lamp.  But, Elisha goes missing and the girls arrive on Festival Island to find goblins destroying the Eid decorations.  The fairyies divide up and Rachel and Kirsty in their fairy form are off to find Elisha, while the other fairies handle the goblins.  They find her in a tower surrounded by a hail storm, the can’t get her out unless they find her wand.  Once they find her wand they have to find her magical item.  The goblins have it and are trying to teach it to make Frost Day treats instead of the kleichas and baklava and turkish delight that it keeps creating.  With quick thinking, and an impromptu dance lesson, the lamp is recovered, Eid joy is saved, and the girls return to the human world, knowing that one more festival will need saving in the near future.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

First of all, I didn’t know what a pelita lamp or kleichas were, so I did learn something once I Googled it, but I’m not entirely convinced that a pelita lamp (sometimes it is capitalized and sometimes it isn’t) is critical to the celebration of Eid.  Aside from the religious uncomfortableness of attributing Eid joy to a magical creature and her enchanted item, the concept of the lamp seems a bit weak.  I like that information about Ramadan is included and Eid Mubarak is mentioned a few times, but a little bit more about a lamp or lantern perhaps as a cultural relic, would have really made more sense even in this fragile framework.  

I like that multiple cultures are represented in the concept of Eid and Elisha, she isn’t boxed in to one culture, she is universal.  The themes of team work and friendship are always present in these books which is a great way to show respect for multiple religions and festivals.  Jack Frost at times seems to be a good villain, but more in theory than in reality.  His spell that the fairies are trying to break:  “Ignore Eid and Buddha Day, Make Diwali go away.  Scrap Hanukkah and make them see- They should be celebrating me!  I’ll steal ideas and spoil their fun. My Frost Day plans have just begun.  Bring gifts and sweets to celebrate The many reasons I’m so great!” spells out his plans and make him the right amount of scary for early readers.

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FLAGS:

The premise of where Eid joy comes from.  The goblins say “shut up” at one point.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

It is a little young for a book club selection, but if you have Rainbow Magic books on your shelf, you should definitely have this one too.