This set of books claim to be for children ages 8 to 12, but I think they work better for 7 to 10 year olds. They look like leveled readers, and resemble them in their simple linear story lines. They are broken up in to chapters, that really are not necessary, but because of the volume of text on each page, allows for a young reader to take a break. All four books in the series are connected chronologically and contain the same characters. They more or less present a problem, bring over their friends, have one of the friends offer some advice tied to a hadith or ayat from the Quran, and the advice is tested, and then shared once more. They are about 20 pages and have activities at the end that range from solving clues to writing paragraphs. The sentences and vocabulary are about a second grade level, with translations of Arabic and Turkish words, along with references to the Quran and Hadith appearing in the footnotes on the page they are mentioned on.
The best part of the books is that they are written by an 8th Grader, mashaAllah. I think they teach a lesson in a simple way, and while not terribly suspenseful or comical, they do succeed in showing Islamic lessons in relatable situations for kids. Some of the details seem excesses or meandering, but again, the fact that it is written by a kid, will inspire readers to listen differently to lessons about patience, accepting Allah’s will, recognizing one’s own limitations, and putting Allah (swt) above all else.
The pictures are colorful and simple. They appear every few pages in the book and provide a nice break from the text. They are sweet and not detailed, but sufficient for the story and level.
It is hard to believe I haven’t reviewed any of the seven Hamza books in the series. They are perfect for 2-6 year olds (older kids will enjoy them too), and all are both informative and silly. This book is 20 pages and is seven and half inch square in shape.
In Hamza Learns About Charity. Hamza learns what the word charity means as his mom is packing up his old toys to donate to the less fortunate. He also learns you can give money and how donating and taking care of the poor is required in Islam. Hamza’s mom tells how Prophet Muhammad (saw) lived a simple life and was very generous with whatever he had. Hamza also learns the word for charity in Arabic. When his mom leaves to take the stuff, Hamza decides to show that he understands and is ready to give everything away and live a simple life. Alhumdulillah, mom returns in time to shoo the neighbors away and convince them that the house, and car, and household items are not for sale. Thus, Hamza also learns that we aren’t required to give everything away, and when making big decisions we should get our parents’ permission first.
The illustrations are cute and colorful. They are not overly detailed, but Hamza’s facial expressions are engaging and expressive. The book works well for story time and bedtime and seems to be geared for Muslim children.
Somehow between child number one and child number four I had forgotten the utter impracticality of toddler board books with flaps to lift. It is great and all to find a book that is solidly constructed to withstand tantrums, hunger, teething, and jumping on, but then to add thin delicate flaps to engage the child renders the book readable for about three days. Ok, the time it takes for any given toddler to systematically tear off every flap is unique for each child, but my 18 month old handles his siblings chapter books with more care than he can muster for the overpowering temptation of a slightly raised flap of paper begging to be tugged on. Needless to say, all 16 pages of the book are no longer in pristine condition, alhumdulillah.
Also, Alhumdulillah that is a decent book of introducing islamic phrases to small children and hence the repetition of the book means that even with the missing flaps and torn off words, the book can still be figured out and read. A boy and his mom journey up a snow covered mountain as the little boy tries to learn what to say to go to Jannah (heaven). As he says islamic phrases like AstagfirAllah, SubhanAllah, and JazakAllah Khayr, his mother tells him when those phrases are used and what they mean, until the boy figures out he must say and believe the Shahada (there is only one God, and the last Prophet is Prophet Muhammad (as)). The sayings are written in Arabic script, and English script under the flap, and the back of the book has a glossary of the Islamic words. The language is simple and encouraging for small children and a good way to reinforce the words we say to remember Allah throughout our day. The characters have no faces and with a snow filled landscape the pictures aren’t overly engaging, but what is there, is done well, and allows the text to take center stage in the story. Those flaps though….
I know, I know another book by Rukhsana Khan, but really how great is she. She writes books with religious references sometimes, cultural ties sometimes, and sometimes just fun books. I love that kids of all backgrounds associate her with good stories, and that she hasn’t limited herself to just one demographic.
Bedtime Ba-a-a-lk has no religious or cultural connections and is just about a girl dealing with rogue sheep in her mind that don’t want to be counted. The AR level is 2.6 but I don’t know that 2nd graders and below would really “get” the story. The vocabulary is great, with a little assistance: balk, conjuring, deliberate, snub, mutiny, haunches, eider-down, furrowed, etc.. And the concept of a girl creating her imaginary dream world and conversing with the characters in it, is grand, but I look forward to testing out which age groups grasp it, and which ones just think it is a funny story with an obstinate ram.
The book is 30 pages and beautifully, playfully illustrated. The pictures are just “fuzzy” enough to give a sleepy feel, and bold enough to stretch the imagination. The lines do not rhyme, but flow easily. The font is large and inviting, and well placed on the page. The book is clean, and the girl in her pleading with the sheep uses “please” and good manners in her firm demands. It does use the word, stupidly and darn, once each, but overall a silly fun read.
I ordered this book with the hopes that it would be the first book of a wonderful series teaching values in an Islamic context. It says that it is book #1 in the Jewels Series and it focuses on cheating. However, the book was published in 2009 and I can’t find any other books in the series. Sadly, I can possibly see why. The book is not great. The illustrations make it so tempting even if all the girls are gorgeous and the illustrations simple, they would seemingly work well with a book aimed at 4 to 8 year olds, and just 24 pages long.
Unfortunately the text is lacking and doesn’t create a story worth reading more than once. The sentences are repetitive. And the same words are used over and over. The first page alone says the word “play” four times in three sentences. It is about 4th grade girls that play, watch cartoons and essentially hold lessons/ book clubs for each other once a week. A lot going on for a book that on the second page says the word “flies” three times in three sentences. Needless to say the repetition makes it hard for a story time selection, and the run on sentences hard for young readers. The first page features a font that is probably about a size 20 and the next page it drops down to one that is about 11, the third page is about a 14 and the trend of the ever-changing font size continues throughout the book.
Example of repetitiveness from Laila and Pesto the Fly
The story idea is a good one at its core. A girl teaches her friends about flies. Then the fly talks about Laila and how she is kind and honest. Then the next sections returns to Laila not being ready for a math test and she is tempted to cheat when Pesto, the fly, distracts her and writes a message for her in glitter. I’m not sure how the glitter stays on the page, but, the message is received by Laila and emphasized by the author sharing a hadith, “He that deceives us is not one of us.” The last page of the book is a bulleted list emphasizing the harms of cheating, and how to overcome the temptation as the girls urge you to join their Cheat Deceit Foundation.
Overall, the book is awkward and doesn’t work for me. There are a lot of better books out there. That being said, if the author wrote another book, I may give her another chance, it isn’t hopeless. It just needs some tweaks. The fly is a silly likeable character, but the group of friends are a monolith and have no individual roles. The message is clear and important, and we need books like this, but alhumdulillah the standards have gone up, way up, and the writing quality isn’t where it needs to be to attract Muslim children or their parents.
As someone who deals a lot with reading and comprehension, I really misread the description of this book and assumed erroneously that it was a chapter book targeting 5th graders. Oops, alhumdulillah, my confusion and slight disappointment didn’t last long as I got swept up in Nusaiba’s spunky imagination and endearing personality. The message of the book is powerful. Not only does Nusaiba have to deal with bullies, but she has to wrangle with accepting herself, even if that means being different.
Nusaiba is almost to school when she overhears some 5th grade boys making fun of her mom and what she is wearing. Nusaiba’s mom is wearing a hijab, and the story is set up to imply that that is what they find “weird.” This morning encounter bothers Nusaiba all day, and while she doesn’t talk to her teacher about it when asked, she does spill the beans to her best friend Emily. The next day Nusaiba distances herself from her mom and asks to walk to the school gate alone. The bullies don’t say anything, but Nusaiba feels guilty about leaving her mom like that. Later that day when Mom picks Nusaiba and Emily up from soccer they swing by a local hijab shop for some clothes shopping. I don’t know why, but I found the premise for taking the girls clothes shopping a little forced. It seemed too words of a setup, and I couldn’t help but wonder why Emily would be dragged along. As mom tries on skirts for work, the girls in their boredom get swept up in using the scarves as costumes and transforming themselves from queens, to underwater divers, to fisherwomen, to mountain climbers, to fantastic cleaners ready to clean up all the scarves on the display. Her mom lets her pick one to buy, and she decides to wear it to school the next day. It is noteworthy that Emily doesn’t try on any of the scarves. She is an amazingly supportive friend, and even in make-believe is right there with Nusaiba, but she doesn’t put one on, and I kind of want to know the author’s reasoning or purpose as to why. So the next day at school, Nusaiba asks her mom to again walk with her, and when the 5th grade boys call her mom an “odd-ball.” Nusaiba finds her courage to confront them. Nusaiba and the reader discover the boys are making fun of Nusaiba’s mom, but it isn’t for her hijab. Nusaiba and her mom set the boys straight and giggle in the process, as Nusaiba realizes she can be anything she dreams.
The book is 44 pages and probably about a second grade mid year reading level. The pictures are big and bold and beautiful making it a great option for story time to ages 4 and up. The pictures do an amazing job complementing the story and going back through to look at them after the “twist” at the end was even more delightful. The illustrator draws you into Nusaiba’s world and you really do cheer her on when she stands up for herself. The book easily lends itself to discussion, and there is also a question guide at the end, incase you get stumped. It reads more like a school assignment, but it could obviously be re-worded to engage a child at bedtime or in a read-a-loud environment. The font is a nice size, however, I found it distracting. On some pages it is white on others black, on some it has a shadow and on others it does not. I’m certain most people would not notice, but for some reason it was jarring to me. Alhumdulillah, alhumdulillah, if that is the only negative in a book, I think everyone who reads it will be glad to have a copy of their own to read again and again and again and again and….
Its time for Basant, the Lahore, Pakistan kite flying festival, and Malik and his siblings are ready. Ready to launch Falcon into the sky, ready to set other kites free, and ready to put the bully next door in his place. While some kids have huge kites, and some have many, Malik has just Falcon, a speedy little kite that Malik prays can get the job done.
Once again Rukhsana Khan does a remarkable job of taking a universal theme, adding some culture, and finding artists to empower minorities without making it an issue, all in a 32 page children’s book. Written on an AR level of third grade ninth month, readers see characters handling a bully by beating him “on the court” so to speak, a character having confidence in his abilities, yet still asking Allah swt for help, and a boy in a wheel chair celebrating a fun spring time festival with his family.
The illustrations are rich with texture and angles, which contrasts the font and text presentation. Little kids probably won’t be tempted to pick this book up, but as a read-a-loud first and second graders will enjoy the story and the kite flying action. Third and fourth graders will enjoy reading the book independently, and find themselves cheering for Malik, appreciating his kindness, and wanting to pick up a kite and head out themselves. The author includes a note at the back which provides more information about Basant and how it is celebrated. Although it takes place in Pakistan and is a festival not celebrated in America, there isn’t a “foreign” feeling to the book, as kids can relate to bullies, wanting to be the best and the satisfaction of succeeding and feeling like a “king for a day.”