Tag Archives: Learning

Digging Deep by Jake Maddox text by Wendy L. Brandes illustrated by Katie Wood

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Digging Deep by Jake Maddox text by Wendy L. Brandes illustrated by Katie Wood

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It is great to see a beautiful hijabi on the front of a sports book, written by a non Muslim, published by a major publisher, and having the story have nothing to do with the cloth on her head, but rather the skills on the court.  Teaching lessons about teamwork and self-worth, there is a whole series of these books about different sports with different main characters, and this one focuses on volleyball and a girl named Asiyah Najjar.  I’d maybe recommend this 63 page book to kids starting to feel confident with early chapter books, but more on that later.

SYNOPSIS:

Asiyah plays rec volleyball and enjoys it, but when her friend Lucy convinces her to try out for the traveling team, she has to not just be good enough to make the team, but focused enough to not let her teammates down.  With daily practices, comedian Asiyah feels like everyone is taking the new team way too serious and she questions if she wants to continue.  She loves playing the piano and with school work, her time is being consumed by volleyball.  When she overhears her friends doubting her commitment to the team, she, with the support of her brother, decides to dig deep and give it one last, serious, try.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Asiyah mentions in the first chapter that she is nervous about the traveling team, because of her hijab and that people in town know “what it is, and why I wear it,” she says.  She never mentions that she is Muslim or why she wears it, just states that the people around her know. Religion and faith are never brought up again.

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There are some slightly off things in this book for me.  According to the publisher, the book is meant to appeal to 8-11 year olds,  but to me, the style of the book is aimed for 6-8 year olds.  Those who need pictures and a large font and big spaces between lines and short chapters.  The illustrations, however, in the book make the main character and her friends seem like high school students, with their heavily makeup looking faces, or at least middle school with the main character wearing hijab.  After reading the book, twice, I still don’t know how old the main characters are.  They seem pretty independent, but then when Asiyah’s parents have to run some errands, her brother Rad walks her and Lucy to volleyball practice, like an escort.  

That’s another thing, of all the ethnic or religious names that could have been chosen, Rad seems like an odd choice in that it will come across as funny to readers and kind of mitigate the amazingness of having a socially accepted female Muslim athlete on the cover, again, just my opinion.

Another slightly confusing thing for me is that the book is a “Jake Maddox book,” but he isn’t really the author.  After looking in to it, I think it is more like a series or type of sports book that other’s write for and include his standards, “each of his stories is stamped with teamwork, fair play, and a strong sense of self-worth and discipline (http://www.capstonepub.com/consumer/products/digging-deep/).” The book is ok for 2nd graders, the lessons learned will resonate in the moment and teach a point, but the characters will be quickly forgotten.  The book has questions at the end and a glossary of volleyball terms which would be great for kids interested in volleyball.  

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FLAGS:

Clean, the characters listen to music and Asiyah plays the piano.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this for a book club book, but with the standards of sportsmanship and the integrity I’d probably have it in my classroom.  The book is a super short read, so reading it would help boost struggling reader’s confidence, and with so many books in the series, if the child likes sports, they will have lots of options with positive messages to engage with.

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Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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The premise is simple, Omar ate something that didn’t belong to him, and the guilt is weighing on him heavily.  The beauty of the book is how, with his mom’s help and his own determination, he makes things right.  

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Set in Egypt, Omar eats the doorman’s baqlawa, and while he knows he shouldn’t have, he doesn’t know what to do about it.  The doorman, Amo Mohamed, blames the cat and Omar tries to move past the theft.  But the guilt builds up and he even dreams about baqlawa, eventually telling his mom so he can start to fix things.  

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After isha prayer, the two of them make some new baqlawa.  I love that the mom doesn’t get mad, but she is firm that while, “we made the baqlawa together,”  she tells him, “you have to talk to Amo Mohamed on your own.”  

Omar confesses his crime to the door man and apologizes, Amo Mohamed in turn apologizes to the cat, and all enjoy a piece of baqlawa together with smiles.

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The last page in the 38 page book is a glossary and is headed by a hadith by Prophet Muhammad, “Be conscious of God wherever you are.  Follow the bad deed with a good one to erase it, and engage others with beautiful character.”

The illustrations aren’t amazing, but they are sufficient and help walk the reader through the story.  I like that the mom covers when out and about, but not in the home.  The story is great for ages 4 and up, but the amount of text on the page and book length might make independent reading more geared to second and third graders. 

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The book would work for muslim and non-muslim children a like and does a good job of showing a universal situation in a culturally rich environment.

 

 

 

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#!/

 

Muhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Daria Horb

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Muhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Daria Horb

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This picture book for ages 7 and up, reads incredibly smooth for the amount of text on each page, and the pictures are warm and expressive in this large (8.5 x 11) 32 page book.  Clearly the author is talented in writing and passionate about empowering her character to hold on to her culture and faith, however it seems overly forced at times.  

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The premise is that it is Muhiima’s birthday, but that she doesn’t celebrate birthdays, her family only celebrates both Eids.  So when her mom hands her a surprise on the morning of her birthday and Muhiima asks if it is a birthday gift and her mom says, “kinda” it seems a bit like she is walking back from the premise. The tie-ins throughout the book as she journeys from location to location on her quest as a result seem forced.

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The map first leads her to her father’s book store to get wisdom and love and a gift that she can’t open until the end.  She also journeys to her Grandparent’s house, her Uncle’s basketball game, her Aunt’s beauty salon, and oddly her Masjid Quran Class, which apparently she is skipping, but stops to get the wisdom and gift from her teacher at, none-the-less.  Oddly enough, but at least noted, she reaches home to find everyone on her quest already there.

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On her way home, she sees her non-muslim friend Rosie celebrating her birthday and wishes she could have a birthday gathering with gifts and family too.  When she opens the door to her own home, she gets just that.  The passages detailing why it is hard to be different are incredibly relatable and poignant, but to then have Muhiima get the same thing with a different name, again seems like the author is walking back on her premise.

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The wisdom and advice the family gives to Muhiima is wonderful and powerful. I love that the character is a strong girl of color, and that her family is supportive and consistent.  They say Salaam, they pray, they go to the mosque.  Some of the little details were jarring, like why it didn’t specify what prayer, why it was her class that she visited at the mosque, how all the people got to her house before her, etc.  This minor glitches with the forced premise of relating the quest to her birthday, make the book overall a bit awkward.  This is so unfortunate because the advice and the quest are so endearing, while not being judgementat or preachy.  I don’t know how to fix it, I just hope, like really really really hope, that the author keeps writing and that her next book is a little more revised and editted.

 

Mikaeel and Malaika: The Quest for Love

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Mikaeel and Malaika: The Quest for Love

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The beautiful hardback book is pricey, but fun.  I didn’t have any expectations when I read it, but now that I’ve read it three times and had my children read it, and my mom a reading specialist/teacher of 45 years read it, I feel pretty confident in saying, its a well-done book.  I think it can get a bit cumbersome when reading aloud, because some lines rhyme and some don’t, but on the third read through I read it to six kids ages two to nine and all throughly enjoyed it.

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The sibling superhero duo are on a quest to find out how to have a pure heart.  They try praying aloud, praying quietly, then they go and talk to the Big Boss, their dad, who speaks in rhyming clues.  The play on words might make the book utterly confusing to children younger than five, or kids of all ages if full attention isn’t being given when read aloud.  For independent readers, they will delight in the words that sound the same yet have completely independent meanings.

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Eventually their quest also takes them to Agent M.O.M who loves them more than anyone else they can imagine, but the big reveal is that Allah (swt) loves us even more.  I don’t know that it is crystal clear that getting a pure heart involves loving the one who loves us most. But, I think by the end, the readers are just entertained that they figured out Allah loves them more than anyone else in the world and is the creator of us all.  The last page has an ayat from Surah Rehman, ” So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?” Which again adds one more thing to the story about being grateful for all that Allah has given us, keeping it from being a completely streamlined story, but adding to the overall love and appreciation for Allah.

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The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and engaging, the amount of text and the font is perfect for ages 6-8 and the messages is fun and educational.  I hope that there are more in the series, alhumdulillah.

 

Captain Lilly and the New Girl by Brenda Bellingham illustrated by Clarke MacDonald

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This book is part of First Novels, a collection of books in Canada that focuses on easy to read early chapter books that encourage kids to transition from leveled readers, while getting to know a single character in a realistic contemporary world.  There are a lot of Lilly books, but this one caught my attention because of the hijab wearing girl on the front, presumably the “new girl.”  At an AR 2.8 this 64 page book is great on so many levels, and really does meet the First Novel goal of presenting a simple theme and showing the main character grow.

SYNOPSIS:

Lilly is changing soccer teams, and only finds solace when many of her school friends will also be joining.  While each of the girls has different opinions and levels of enthusiasm about the team, they all are committed to one another as the “Wolves” stick together in a pack.  This loyalty is tested when a new girl is brought in to fill in for an injured wolf.  The foreigner, from America, wears a scarf, and just like with soccer, there are a lot of differing thoughts on the matter.  The reader see what Lilly feels as it is told from her perspective, which makes the issue not so much about the hijab itself, but about how a 9 or 10-year-old thinks and processes new concepts.  Ultimately, the Wolves as individuals and a team, have to decide what to do when an opposing team says that Sara has to take off her hijab if she wants to play.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book is real, with strong independent girls.  The side characters aren’t cookie cutters of each other, they all have personalities and quirks, and I love that they don’t all agree, yet they all can make it work.  The book’s catalyst is the hijab, but it isn’t preachy and it is presented and understood through a non-muslim elementary-age character.   I don’t think Islam or Muslim is even mentioned, nor any culture, she is American, and the book takes place in Canada.  It addresses safety regarding the hijab, comfort in wearing sweats and not shorts, and being hot in a long sleeve shirt, issues that any reader can understand and ponder about.  The book isn’t gripping, but for the age group and the intent, it is spot on.  The font, spacing, size of the book, and simple illustrations, urge kids to read a “chapter book” and think about something they may not have ever thought about before.

FLAGS:

Clean, it does say words like “suck,” but it isn’t disrespectful.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use this as a Book Club book, because the kids can read it fairly quick, but I would probably read it aloud to kids and have them discuss, or have them somehow read it in groups and discuss.  There are a few websites that can help facilitate the discussion, but kids would definitely have opinions on how the situation was handed, how they might handle it, and what they think of the team’s sponsor.  

https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?a=1&tid=40533

https://www.teachingbooks.net/media/pdf/Lorimer/FirstNovels_Series_ActivityGuide.pdf

http://www.formac.ca/firstnovels

 

Raihanna’s First Time Fasting by Qamaer Hassan illustrated by Yasushi Matsuoka

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Raihanna’s First Time Fasting by Qamaer Hassan illustrated by Yasushi Matsuoka

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By this time in Ramadan I’ve read a lot of very similar books that all seem to have slightly different takes on presenting the basics with various degrees of turning them into a fictionalized story.  Each have their own flavor and approach and this story in many ways is for mature little kids and works to bring a slightly deeper understanding to Ramadan and helping the less fortunate.  At 36 pages long, most of the pages are heavy on text, but not overly preachy or dense.  Dialogue and emotion fill the paragraphs, and the book works to establish Raihanna as an actual character, not just a foil to move from one Ramadan fact to another. This is also apparent, as a new Riahanna book has just come out, Raihanna’a Jennah, in making her the lead in a series.

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Raihanna is excited to be fasting this year, after establishing that the crescent must be sighted and that suhoor is the meal to start the fast, Raihanna puts on her hijab to pray.  She asks for forgiveness for being deceitful to get another cookie and asks Allah to make her and her friend able to go ice skating.  At bedtime it also mentions that she says her three kuls before going to sleep.  

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All her excitement starts to falter at school, however, when the teacher hands out chocolate chip cookies for snack and Raihanna has to explain she is fasting.  By the time she gets home from school she is not sure she even knows why she is fasting as her stomach rumbles and her mood is pretty sour.  Mom jumps in to action and takes her to a soup kitchen where the two of them, along with others, serve food to the homeless. 

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At iftaar time Raihanna understands how blessed she is to be surrounded by family and food, and makes a more heartfelt dua.  The book ends with letting the reader know that Raihanna spends the next 29 days loving Ramadan and being appreciative.

I love that it really picks one specific aspect of Ramadan and focuses on it in a tangible way, the poor and hungry.  Yes, she prays and recites Quran and all, but establishes that she probably does that every day out side of Ramadan as well.  I like that the author also shows that it is ok that Ramadan is hard.  There is a bit more insight and understanding in this book than just the typical list of facts.  I think ages kindergarten through 2nd grade, kids that are starting to fast will get the most of it, and relate the most to Raihanna.  It could work for non Muslims, with a bit of context of belief or just read a different Ramadan book first, but the target audience is Muslim kids.

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The beautiful cartoonish pictures are bright and engaging.  I have no idea why it bothered me that the characters wore the same clothes everyday, or at least the two days that the story covers, but it kind of did. I like that the dad sets the table and helps in the food prep and parenting.  The list of family members and all the dishes seems unnecessary, but with the glossary at the back it does offer a bit of culture to be conveyed.  There is also a little reader response at the end.