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.
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.
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.