Tag Archives: Muslim Author

Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Board books from the UK! The glory of a well bound chunky book for toddlers to tote around, chew on and hopefully learn something from, with all the joy of international shipping.  I delayed buying these books for so long, because of it, and finally I gave in and just in the nick of time as I have started a weekly preschool story time, and this series is perfect for three and four year olds with limited attention spans and in need of repetition.

Zara and Hakeem, a brother and sister duo wake up to find their mother not feeling well, and instructions that they will have to help Daddy, Grandad and Grandma with the daily chores.  Then Mummy sneezes and says, Alhumdulillah.

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It seems the books  all have a pattern, something happens that sets the stage, then Hakeem and Zara pause and think hard about what to say, there is then an English translation/explanation about the meaning and then a universal, Muslims from all around the world say or do this, before the story resumes.

I don’t mind the break in the story, but the phrasing is a bit cumbersome and slightly off in this book.  Why are the kids thinking hard about what to say, when Mummy had just said it? If they were thinking hard about what she had said or where confused why she said it, I feel like it would make more sense. 

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I really like that the book shows that all Muslims say something the same, it is a good time to start to show this age bracket that they are connected to something bigger, without overwhelming them.  

The story continues with Hakeem helping daddy vacuum and Hakeem sneezing when some dust flies up.  Then Daddy and Zara mow the lawn when the grass makes Zara sneeze, everyone, Grandad, Grandma, all take a turn sneezing in different scenarios and everyone practicing to say Alhumdulillah.  

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By dinner, Mummy is feeling better, but Daddy has a sneeze attack and takes to laying down as he is not feeling well, and tomorrow the kids will have to help Mummy with the chores.  A humorous full circle, that even toddlers will laugh at.

The kids I read the book to, loved the loud Atchoos and the cute illustrations, a few of the older four year olds, wanted to know why Yar Hamukumallah was not also said.  They also wanted to know why when the dad sneezed four times they only said Alhumdulillah three times.  I read a variety of books about being sick and we talked about using tissues and sneezing into our elbows, washing our hands, and not coming to school when we are sick.  The book was great to explore how mom was sick and dad must have caught her cold.  But that sneezing from pepper and cat hair, didn’t mean you were sick.  The kids also saw that everyone in the house has to help out, sick or not, old or young, male or female, which is always a great lesson to reinforce, Alhumdulillah.

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The book is 18 pages of text.  The illustrations show the mom and grandma in hijab, they are bright and colorful and engaging.  Children will enjoy getting carried away with the sneezes and the Alhumdulillahs when read aloud and will enjoy looking back at the pictures and details independently afterward.  This is a great story to put on repeat and then watch your own toddler retell the story on their own.

Overall, well worth the shipping! I hope US bookstores will stock the series as our little ones need books that are funny, clever, and well done.

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Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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I don’t often do two books in the same series, let alone three, but for as much as I enjoyed Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan and Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid, I was a little disappointed in this story.  For starters, the title seems like it should read, Go to “the” Masjid, no? 

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The story starts off with the notion that this is Aneesa’a first time to the masjid, which seems bit off.  Presumably mom and Hassan have been before, but mom’s excitement, and Hassan’s questions through the book, and knowledge about masjid etiquette make you wonder if it is their first time too.  A little odd, if you’ve read their other books, but ok, I’ll accept it and move on.

The family starts by marveling at the exterior architecture.  They enter and separate, Hassan going with his dad and Aneesa going with her mom, as it points out that men and women pray in separate areas.  It is a good tidbit of information, but again, it just seems a bit off in the way it is phrased that Aneesa wouldn’t know this.  

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The tone of the book is almost negative, again, a striking contrast to the other stories.  Aneesa splashes and wastes water when making wudu, doesn’t she make wudu at home? And the mom gets her clothes ruined in the process making her upset.  The illustration shows her to look really mad!

I would think a little context about not wasting water or even sharing the hadith about not wasting even if making wudu in a river, would have been a great lesson to convey, but instead the pictures show a lot of water by others also being wasted, and only mom looking really frustrated.

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The two of them, put their shoes up and marvel at the dome and the soft carpet.  Aneesa then sees that the ladies prayer area over looks the mens and she begins screaming for Hassan.  Her mom corrects her and points out that “you should speak quietly in a masjid.  You might disturb someone if you shout.”

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Hassan turns and waves, and then rushes off to see a school friend.  But, first he is reproached for nearly walking in front of someone praying.  Again a good tidbit, but the phrasing of how the information is shared is rather negative, and these repetitive reprimands don’t make the book joyful.

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Hassan then learns about he mihrab and the mimbar before the athan is called and they all pray.  After salat they put some sadaqa in a box and the family heads home.

The illustrations are as sweet as ever, and the price very reasonable, but this book, compared to others in the series, is really wordy and there is a lot of text on EVERY one of the 20 pages.

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The framing of the book is awkward, thus making some of the behavior issues come off as negative, it is a minor thing that keeps the book from being great.  If the premise would have been maybe the kids talking about their favorite things about the masjid and reminding themselves to talk quiet and not waste water, the tone overall would have been lighter while still being really informative.

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If this is your first Hassan and Aneesa book, you might not be bothered, but if you find it a little off putting, try the other two.  The books says for ages 2 and up, but I think it would be better for 4 and up.  The younger kids you could tell them the story while showing them the pictures: what to expect at the mosque and how to behave, but there are too many words, and they will probably have a hard time staying focused.  Older four and five year olds, will enjoy seeing things they recognize and maybe learning some of the vocabulary for the architecture and being reminded on proper behavior at the masjid.

 

 

Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake by Farheen Khan

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Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake by Farheen Khan

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It has been over four years since I reviewed the first Ibrahim Khan book, and while I didn’t love The Mystery of the Roaring Lion, it was just ok, this book was more fun and adventurous and stayed relevant even for a book published in 2010.  At 68 pages the book works ideally for 2nd to 4th graders looking for a quick read, or advanced younger kids that will enjoy the short chapters, detailed illustrations and easy to hold book.

SYNOPSIS:

Third grade cousins, Ibrahim and Zayn, are off on a camping trip with their class. Thinking how nice it will be to take a vacation from solving crime, the boys enjoy hearing the story of the haunted lake around the camp fire and not thinking its more than just a story.  But the next morning when they wake up for fajr and hear some weird groaning from the woods, they realize they have a case after all.

The mysterious noise presents itself at different times and at different locations, as the boys and their friends work to unravel the clues.  The climax gets tense as the whole class is on a moonlight hike when the noise sends them all running and screaming “ghost.”  Ibrahim and Zayn, the smart sleuths that they are, find themselves at the culprits tent with the culprits near by.  Saved by a classmate, the boys now must now figure out how to prove that the “ghosts” are not just having fun scaring the campers, but are up to some serious crimes that will require police action and being patient.

WHY I LIKE IT:  

I love that the boys are Muslim and they wake up and pray and eat vegetarian to ensure they keep halal, and I love that they are also just friends and classmates and kids.  There are Muslim and non Muslim kids in the class, at least one girl  wears hijab, but it is a diverse group.  I like that the characters have their own personalities and they do annoy each other and have to apologize.  There does seem to be a lot of characters, and a few times in the short book I had a hard time keeping them all straight, but knowing the real story is the mystery I just keep reading, and figured all the details aside from the clues wouldn’t hold up the story too much.  

I don’t know why the author has only written two books in the Ibrahim Khan series, but I hope eventually more will pop up.  The books are fun little mysteries that show Muslim characters in action.  They learn good manners, cooperation, compromises, prioritizing, and problem solving without the book being in your face about learning all those things.  The kids embody them, by being good Muslims and having to rely on one another to save the day.

The book is written in British English and is set in Canada.  I bring this up because I didn’t know artifact is spelled artefact and I thought it was an error.  

FLAGS:

The book is clean alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The length is too short for a book club book, but I think it would be nice to have in a school or classroom library as the bright well-done cover will entice children to pick it up off the shelf and the short quick paced story will motivate kids that start the book to finish it.  

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The Blessede Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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The Blessede Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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 A fable with lessons of kindness centered around the Salawat, definitely is a great premise and for the most part I really enjoyed the book. 

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The 8.5 by 8.5 hardcover, 50 page book feels great in your hands and the illustrations are sweet and expressive.  The book is long, and is text heavy so I’d say the target audience is maybe 6 to 10 years old.   The font is incredibly small and irritating.   It should have been larger and more inviting to children in my opinion.  It doesn’t match the size, binding, and illustrations, and actually becomes a distraction if trying to read it in a group setting.  

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The story itself is smooth and intentional.  Rico, a blessed, yet ungrateful monkey, lives atop an ever abundant banana tree.  However, he attributes his blessings to his own hands and does not thank Allah swt.  He is mean and greedy toward people and animals alike.  Yet, something is missing in his life and he doesn’t know what. 

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When a little mouse, Chico, comes to him to ask for a banana and gets scolded at instead.  Chico makes dua for Rico asking Allah to guide the monkey to goodness.

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Tucana, a toucan, then stops in Rico’s banana tree after a long flight to be rebuffed by a foul tempered monkey who wants to be left alone.  When Tucana  leaves she forgives Rico for his rudeness and asks Allah to be merciful to him as well.

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Rico then makes signs to keep people and animals away.  Which works for a while, but along comes Simon, an elephant, one afternoon to ask the monkey to climb his tree and help direct him back to his herd.  Rico of course refuses, and Simon reminds him that they are brothers in Islam and to please help. He begins shouting at the elephant to leave, and as Simon is pacing back and forth, he slips on the banana peels, grabs the tree to support himself and shakes the tree back and forth in the process.

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Rico begins hollering for help and sure enough the animals he had turned away previously, return to help him.  They had forgiven him as they hope Allah will forgive us all.  To calm the monkey, chico shouts, “Salawaat’alan Nabi!” in Simon’s ear and when he recites “Allahuma sali’ala Sayyidina Muhammad,” peace and calmness is restored.

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With all the bananas on the floor, many mushy and trampled, Rico has to decide if he learned a lesson, and how he will put his new knowledge into action, or if he will resume his life of ungratefulness.

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The book ends with each animals favorite banana recipe, information about the author and illustrator and benefits of reciting Salawat and an ayat from the Quran.

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The story and how it weaves Islam into the lessons is beautifully done, my only hiccup is the constant refrain of Rico counting his bananas.  I realize it is a fable, and maybe with talking animals interacting with humans, reality is notably suspended.  But, it seems misplaced to me.  How do you constantly count a perishable item? Does Rico only eat a certain amount a day? How many new ones grow a day? What is the number that he is adamant to have at all times? So, many questions, that I didn’t get why he was counting them, why he was irritated when he lost count, and why this detail was in the story and a big part of the story none-the-less.  Like the font, its a minor detail, but a distracting one for me unfortunately.  Clearly, however, I’m in the minority as the book has won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Islamic Writer’s Alliance Creative Story, so give it a read, and let me know your thoughts, jazakhAllah kher.

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Little Brother for Sale by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Fuuji Takashi

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Little Brother for Sale by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Fuuji Takashi

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Oh how I love to read sweet books and repeatedly thumb through warm engaging illustrations.  This book is beautiful, fun, and (possibly) very relatable.

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A big sister, Asma, is ready to get rid of her little brother, Hamza, so that she can enjoy all her parent’s attention.  But when the mailman won’t let her ship him to grandma, and neither the lady walking down the street nor the neighbor next door want to buy him, she is determined to find someone to take him off her hands.  Alas though, it is Hamza’s nap time and while mom makes salat Asma finally gets some time to herself.

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Except she misses having someone sharpen her crayons, or eat the blueberries she doesn’t like, and there is no one to dance with her around the living room.  She decides that maybe she does like her little brother, and lays down next to him with promises of loving and protecting him forever.  Ahhh…..

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Yeah, the book is pretty predictable, but the details make it charming.  I love the diverse characters and the love and warmth they all exude.  I love that when she drags her brother out in the wagon and holds up the for sale sign, mom is peeking out from the kitchen.  I reassured myself that she was there, so it was ok for Asma to be talking to the mail man, a potential stranger, and the lady walking down the street, muslimah or not. 

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The only slight hiccup to me was what one-year-old, he was seemingly taking his first steps in the first picture, can sharpen crayons? Maybe I just failed to prepare my children, but other than that, the book is smooth, and well done.

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The binding quality, the font, the amount of text on the 26 pages, is definitely preschool to first or second grade, and the illustrations will mesmerize even toddlers who won’t understand why the book is so silly. 

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The book has been floating around my house and I’ve seen my 11 year old pick it up and read it on her own, and then read it to the three year old mutltiple times.  She possibly was getting ideas, but maybe it also reminds us that siblings really can be both annoying and lovely as well.

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She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

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She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

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After having fairly good luck with the Muslim YA Romance Novel Genre in An Acquaintance and Saints and Misfits, I was willing to give She Wore Red Trainers a try.  Na’ima B. Robert has written a lot of books and this 261 page book was an easy and entertaining read.  There are no plot twists, deep thoughts, or intense drama, its a light read that infuses religion and environment into a story that will be great for 14-16 year olds that have slim pickings of relevant, Islamic, “halal” fiction options.

SYNOPSIS:

The story is told from two 18-year-olds’ perspectives, Ali and Amirah. It goes back and forth and while the perspective is obvious, the bottom of the page identifies the character so there is no chance for confusion.

Ali has begrudgingly moved to London with his brothers and father.  Not very religious before his mother’s death, he and his father and younger brother have made a new start and commitment to Islam since losing her to cancer.  The middle brother, resists this, but isn’t too critical in the story, other than to add a voice to the concept that people have to come to Islam on their own, that the relationship between a person and Allah is not cookie cutter or often simple. 

Amira too has a past and a lot on her plate as she strives to balance her chaotic family life and moving past decisions of her rebellious self.  The two meet and in the brief second before gazes are lowered, they fall in love.  Ok, so it isn’t that cliche’ but it is close.

The two, as the dedication of the book states, “are striving to keep it halal.”  They have a few encounters and the sparks are there, but they both have their own stories and supporting cast of friends as well. It isn’t until the very end, SPOILER, they get married.

Yup. impromptu wedding of 18 year olds.  It isn’t out of left field though, there are passages that contemplate the Islamic merits of a young marriage, and perhaps that is the depth of the book, as far as giving the reader something to think about. That and choosing Islam and actively living it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The stuff that makes the book interesting, isn’t really even the two love birds, it is the context.  The struggle of Amirah’s complex family situation with a mom that has had multiple husbands, and is suffering from depression.  Amirah also has a creepy stepdad (makes her uncomfortable and seems to make sexual advances toward her) and a sketchy past that isn’t really articulated but is hinted at enough to know that she did rebel briefly by running away and experimented with drugs and alcohol before realizing it wasn’t the life she wanted.  She takes tremendous care of her younger siblings, one who is deaf, and respects her older brother tremendously.  Her friends are not overly developed but provide enough diversity that the reader will see themselves in someone even if just fleetingly.

Similarly Ali is fleshed out by the company he keeps.  He has very religiously devout friends, a few rebellious ones and countless opportunities to define who he is.  His home life is a little chaotic, but they’ve gone through the destruction and are in the rebuilding phase. 

I like that the characters are fallible and represent a wide spectrum of religiosity.  The book isn’t political, nor does it discuss culture really, but it is meant for Muslim readers.  The characters throw in Arabic terms and while there is a glossary at the back, the religious rules, the contemplation of hadith and ayats, understanding Islamic divorce and the stress to be well established before marriage make it a book for those that can relate.  I love that part of keeping it halal is that they don’t talk and text.  I know that makes it a bit unbelievable, but I like that the line is drawn and established.

I wish that the past of many of the characters was clearer.  Not overly sensationalized, but a tiny bit more.  I wanted more information on what Ali’s dad’s new job was, and how far away they would be moving.  I wanted to know how Amira’s family would manage without her and the creepy stepdad, would the mom be able to step up and care for her kids.  I wanted more details about Amira’s family in general and why her older brother had to leave his studies permanently in Saudi Arabia, and wasn’t able to just delay graduation.  

I can’t criticize the writing too much because I did read the book in one sitting and it kept my interest.  I didn’t expect it to be deep or thought provoking, so for a light summer read, it was good enough.  I felt like the ending was a bit rushed, and yes there are some far fetched ideas, but I think it’s a romance novel, halal or not, so yeah, there are going to be some places that forgiveness is needed.

FLAGS:

There is mention of hooking up, drug and alcohol use, virginity, and a creepy sexual predator in the stepdad. It isn’t appropriate for middle school, but not so vulgar that one would need to be 18 to read.  I think high schoolers won’t find it too cheesy, and not be shocked by the content either.  Granted it depends on the reader. but I think it is better to be safe than sorry.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider the book for a high school book club. Might have to get parental permission, but I think it works well to consider how to have it all so to speak.  How to live within Islam and be smart about your choices.  The book doesn’t offer a lot to think about and mull over, but if you were a teenager, I would imagine that the book presents a lot of what you are feeling.  There is a lot to relate to in the friends, the deen, the emotions, and the temptations.  It also shows that just because families are Muslim, doesn’t mean that they are not complicated and troubled, a scenario that many would find reassuring at least superficially in the book.

Interview with the Author: http://www.kubepublishing.com/an-interview-with-naima-b-robert-about-her-forthcoming-book-she-wore-red-trainers/

How to Scare a Monster by Zanib Mian

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I like a lot of books, but this one, well it might be my favorite.  The size, the length, the colors, the fonts, the illustrations, the message, truly it is fabulous for 3-5 year olds.

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The premise is simple and straightforward.  The book doesn’t try and do too much or put too much on its 32 pages.  It identifies ways to deal with monsters, and then offers what some people try and do to scare them away, concluding the best and only solution, is to ask Allah for help by saying, Audhoobillah.  

Kids will laugh at the silly illustrations and attempts to be monster free, and remember the clear strong message of calling on Allah swt when afraid.  

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The only critique for me is the page about the kid with a stink-bomb in their nappy. While funny, the sentence structure doesn’t flow, the narrator’s voice seems abrupt and off to me.  Possibly that it goes from active voice to passive for that line only (its been a while since I’ve articulated grammar structure, so maybe not :)).

Most people try to rrooaaarr!

or hide under the bed.

Sometimes they call their mum, mmummm!

or even better.  A kid with a stink-bomb in their nappy.

Some turn the lights on,

or hold on to their favourite teddy.

Other than that, the book is fun and works well for muslim kids at story time or bedtime alike, alhumdulillah.