Tag Archives: Mehndi

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Daniela Sosa

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Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Daniela Sosa

img_7104This engaging and fun early middle grades detective story set in England, features a female protagonist of Pakistani origin who stumbles on a crime at her cousins mehndi party.  Over 231 pages with illustrations and flourishes, Agent Zaiba along with her younger half brother Ali and best friend Poppy will have to solve a case, avoid a nosy cousin, try not to ruin their clothes and so much more while stuffing their pockets with samosas and pakoras, and making sure they make it back for all the traditional events as well.  There is nothing Islamic in this culture rich book, but with names like Fouzia, Samirah, Tanvir, Mariam, Maysoon, and Hassan, Muslim children or readers with sub continent familiarity, will feel an immediate reflection of themselves in the story.  I have no idea what religion the author identifies as either, but from what I can Google, it seems to be an OWN story book and the richness and integrity of the minor details would suggest first hand knowledge.  Anyone looking to see a strong minority female lead with good friends, an open mind, and impressive sleuthing skills, should hold on tight as the agents assemble to get to the bottom of a theft and save the day for a beloved cousin.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zaiba idolizes her Aunt Fouzia who is a real detective and owner of the Snow Leopard Detective Agency in Karachi, Pakistan.  Aunt Fozia’s daughter Samirah is getting married and with the Eden Lockett mystery books Zaiba inherited from her mom when she passed away, this party at The Royal Star Hotel is the perfect venue to test out her observation skills and other lessons she has learned from devouring the famous books.

When Zaiba, Ali, and Poppy learn that there is a VIP guest staying in the same hotel, the team gets a chance to explore the hotel and find out who the guest is.  What starts out innocently enough quickly elevates when a secret staircase is discovered, the VIP’s dog is set off his leash, and a jewel encrusted dog tag goes missing.   The three kids work together and set off to find the dog that has terrified Sam and ruined her mehndi, once that is done, the stakes get higher as Maysoon explains that the good luck charm is not just expensive, but a lucky token she needs to move her career from singing and hosting, to acting.  As the children work to find the diamonds and work their way through the list of suspects at the hotel, they have to make sure not get in too much trouble for missing key events of their cousins big day and getting in trouble with the tattling cousin Mariam.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is really for younger readers, second through early fourth grade, and shows the fun bits of a culture to a larger audience without being daunting.  I love the idea of a mehndi as a back drop for a whodunit, seriously, it has the perfect energy and vibe.  The family is amazingly supportive, Zaiba has a step mom, Jessica, that she adores, and a half brother that she loves.  Aunt Fouzia and Sam encourage Zaiba to go solve the crime and give her respect when she does her big reveal to the police.  It really is empowering to see the grown ups support.  I love that Zaiba grows even in such a limited time as she learns about her mom and we even see  Zaiba’s heart soften for Mariam.

Maysoon is a celebrity that is really flat and weak and whiney, at the end she shines a bit, but I really felt she was lame and under developed.  I’m not sure what a champagne reception is, but the fact that Maysoon is  having one would suggest she isn’t Muslim, not sure, I guess I’ll have to keep searching for clues.

The end of the book has a whole section to test the reader if they have what it takes to join the Snow Leopard Detective Agency:  an excerpt from Eden Lockett’s book, her detective tips, things to practice, code writing, and info about the Agency, including Aunt Fozia’s record amounts of chai consumed.

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FLAGS:

There is lying and stealing, it is a mystery after all, and the presence of champagne, both as part of the mystery solving and at the celebrity’s celebration.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think I’d do it as a book club book, because there wouldn’t be a lot to discuss.  I do, however, plan to suggest and gift the two book series to some young mixed ethnic Pakistani girls I know that would love to see a strong desi girl in the lead.

Nadia’s Hands by Karen English illustrated by Jonathon Weiner

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nadia's hands.jpegNadia’s aunt is getting married and she gets to be the flower girl in the Pakistani-American wedding.  She also will get mehndi put on her hands for the big event.  Her cousins warn her that she might mess up and even in the midst of her excitement she begins to worry what the kids at school will say when they see her hands on Monday.  As her aunt prepares the mehndi and the application process begins, various uncles peek in on her and her aunt gifts her a beautiful ring.  The mehndi has to sit on the skin for a while to set and as Nadia practices sabr, patience, I couldn’t help but think something seemed off in the story.  I’ve been at, in, and around a lot of Pakistani and Pakistani-American weddings, and this story didn’t seem to reflect the tone of such occasions.  The book doesn’t reflect the hustle and bustle and near chaos, it doesn’t sound like the tinkle of jewelry and laughter as the women sit around chatting and getting mehndi put on together, the pots on the stove are referenced but not described so that the reader can smell the sauces thickening and hear the pans crashing and taste the deep rich flavors.  It is lonely.  Nadia is lonely and filled with anxiety about Monday.  Durring the wedding she is walking down the aisle and suddenly freezes when she looks down and doesn’t recognize her hands.  Her cousins seem to show unsupportive “I-told-you-so” expressions as she searches for some comforting encouragement to continue on.  When she finishes her flower girl duties, her grandma asks if she understands why looking at her hands makes her feel like she is “looking at my past and future at the same time.” Nadia doesn’t understand and the author doesn’t explain.  At the end she is ready to embrace that her hands are in fact hers and that she will show her friends on Monday.  But the reader has no idea how it goes, or what exactly the significance of her painted hands are.  The book fails to give any insight or excitement for a culture bursting with tradition at a time of marriage.

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There is a glossary at the beginning for the few Urdu words sprinkled in the book.  There is no further explanation however, of  mehndi, or weddings, of the brides clothes etc.  The illustrations are adequate, but because the text doesn’t offer much warmth or vibrance, they seem a little drab, and raise more questions about what some of the traditional items depicted are.  The book is a standard 32 page picture book and is written on an AR 3.8 level, which I think is a little high.  Granted my children are familiar with mehndi, but my first grader read it to me with little assistance.  There isn’t any mention of Islam and could probably be argued that the story reflects any wedding from the subcontinent background performed in the west.  The bride has a duputta on her head in the picture, but that is neither here nor there, and no one in the audience appears religiously covered.  I would assume they are Muslim because of the minor characters’ names: Omar, Saleha, Amina, Abdul Raheem.  Also, the word Sabr, an Arabic word, suggests that they are Muslim.  Plus they eat kabobs which the glossary defines as mincemeat, so probably not Hindu.  Overall the book is not, “bad” or “wrong,” I just wish there were more to it.