Tag Archives: Muslim Authors

Internment by Samira Ahmed

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Internment by Samira Ahmed

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The premise of this book is amazing, the writing and execution of it, unfortunately, falls flat.  The failure to set the stage, develop characters the reader cares about, and create a world in the near future that is both riveting and horrifying doesn’t come through in the book’s 387 pages written on an AR 4.7, but meant for high school aged readers grade nine and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Indian-American Layla Amin is 17 and since the census that her family honestly filled out and identified themselves as Muslim, their life under the new president has been shattered to say the least.  Her poet father lost his job as a professor, her chiropractic mother has lost numerous patients, Layla has left high school and they all live in fear.  With curfews and people they’ve known their whole lives turning on them openly, the book opens with Layla chooses to sneak off to see her Yemeni Jewish boyfriend, David after curfew.  The next day suits arrive to take the family to an internment camp in the desert, near the old Manzanar detention camp used to house Japanese Americans during WWII.

The new camp, Mobius, is the first one to house Muslims and the first of many slated to be built.  The detainees are divided by ethnic background, Layla’s FEMA trailer is in a block of other Desi families, Arabs a few blocks away, LatinX, converts, etc., all given minders to control them from within their own community.  As Layla whines about her cell phone being taken away and how much she misses David, a guard, Jake, takes pity on her and regularly risks his own position and Layla’s, as he sneaks her access to phones, gets her burner cell phones and even sneaks David in so the two can make out.  Somewhere along the way it seems Jake and Layla develop feelings for each other, but it really isn’t explored.  Layla makes friends and somehow becomes a revolution leader with her writing notes about life on the inside and having Jake and David get them to the media.

Those that speak out against their situation or complain, disappear and never return.  The Director of Mobius, ensures it.  In their refusal to eat dinner one night, and their protest at the front gate in front of protestors and the media, eventually Layla gets taken, but with her friendly guards, she finds she isn’t completely alone and that she just needs to be brave a little longer, stand up at the right time and get incredibly lucky to be successful in the revolt.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The President in the book is undoubtedly Trump, and I love the passages that reflect how the fictitious America didn’t become racist overnight, but that the leadership allowing it, ignited the ugliness that already existed.  It mentions making America great again and really sets the foundation of a simple “what if” that really could happen very easily.

The parts that struggle are the story elements, I really didn’t find myself cheering or even liking Layla, I didn’t find her charismatic or interesting, she was really whiney and flat to me.  I didn’t care one bit about her and David’s relationship, it seemed forced and completely not necessary.  A friend or concerned neighbor might have been more hope inspiring than a high school boyfriend she is brooding over to save her.  Her sneaking out and sneaking him in, all seemed selfish and juvenile for a character who in other arenas seemed pretty mature and level headed.  The disconnect is pretty prominent and I really cringed at all of the passages involving the two of them.

There are flash backs to life before the new President, but it isn’t engaging and doesn’t really highlight how horrific life is now, because the lack of character development and world building, everything seems like it has to be said, not shown.  Random characters at the camp would show up and then disappear, and we knew nothing about them, so there was no emotional connection or attachment to what happens to them, it really had so much potential to have heart and fear and insanity and it just doesn’t.

Layla identifies as Muslim, and lovingly recalls ayats and duas of her grandmother, but the family firmly believes that “there is no compulsion in religion” and thus doesn’t hide who they are, but don’t visibly display it in their clothing, or actions much either.  They don’t have a problem with their daughter having a boyfriend and they support it.  Layla and her mom don’t cover, but Layla does show massive respect for the Muslims that do.  Layla’s parents seem to pray, Layla doesn’t, but she doesn’t seem against it.

FLAGS:

Lots of kissing between Layla and David, a gay couple that disappears in the camp, flirting between various other characters, violence, oppression, language, death, beatings.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I actually feel like this could work as a book club book because the discussion would be so great.  Yes, there are flags, but the relationship stuff is so annoying and awkward, I don’t think any kids will find it titilating or compelling at all. The writing is subpar, but the issues brought forth are important, and the students would have infinitely better plot lines for the characters that I think could make the books premise reach closer to its potential.

A letter from the Author: https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/articles/a-letter-from-samira-ahmed-author-of-internment/

Book Club Guide:https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/InternmentNovlBookClubGuide.pdf

Review podcast: https://teachnouvelle.com/internment-by-samira-ahmed/

There is a ton online, just google it and Happy Reading

 

The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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This 22 page beautifully illustrated picture book clarifies that it is not a science book, but rather an invitation to think deeply.  For ages 4 and up the rhyming pages will appeal to children’s sense of wonder and Allah’s perfection and precision.  Older kids will appreciate the journey through the cosmos and how limitless Allah swt is in all things.

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The book starts with Earth and how the spinning of our planet on its axis allows for the alternation of night and day, it then moves to how going around the sun at Allah’s command gives us our seasons.  But because it rhymes and is not a science book, the text is more imagery and tangible in nature, rather than a list of facts.

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It touches on the moon reflecting borrowed light and the power and strength of the sun before moving on to the planets and gravity.

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It then extends out to the Milky Way and has a page on black holes before coming back to Earth for us to recognize how we only are a small part of something so much bigger.

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There are two pages at the end with talking points, an ayat from the Quran, and emphasis that science and Islam are not at odds as Allah is the creator and governor of all things.

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The book is 6×9 and with the beautiful illustrations I truly wish the book was larger.  Not only to dive in to the glossy pages easier, but also so that the book could be used at story time to small groups.  The tone is contemplative and marveling as it challenges the readers to find mistakes or flaws in the perfection of outer space. I love that science-y Islamic kid books are now available that appeal to children’s sense of wonder and understanding.  Really the only other suggestion I would have liked to see, would have been a page defining the word “cosmos” as it is used on every page, and while I think kids will figure it out as the continue through the book, I think it is a bit of a block for the younger readers.

I Will Not Clean My Room by Saharish Arshad illustrated by Elsa Estrada

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I Will Not Clean My Room by Saharish Arshad illustrated by Elsa Estrada

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What a great premise for a children’s book, a little boy, Musa,  does not want to clean his room, and imagines all the better things he will get to do in Jannah (heaven) instead. Luckily for his room, his sister comes to help him tidy it up, as well as his mom and dad.  FullSizeRender (25)

The rhyme scheme and the kids’ imaginations at how wonderful Jannah will be, go hand in hand and make the book silly and fun.  The cartoonish illustrations also help sneak in messages of listening to your parents, cleaning your room, being kind to your siblings, helping each other, and ultimately doing things even if they are hard or boring to please Allah swt.  

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The book is a 28 page, 8×8, paperback.  The price is a little steep, $12, for its structure, in my opinion and is meant for Muslim readers.  The only real issue I had is when the mom threatens to flounce Musa. “Stop jumping and bouncing, or you’ll get a flouncing,”  seems excessive to me, and not consistent with how loving the family is throughout the rest of the book. It was probably included to maintain the rhyme scheme, but I took it to be a threat of violence, which I’m not ok with.

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The pictures show the mom in hijab, the word Jannah instead of heaven is used, the characters’ names are Islamic and Allah is mentioned throughout.  Musa’s thoughts on the last page are particularly sweet (see picture below).  I plan to read this to a group of kids at story time and will just omit the flouncing line, as it does well in appealing to ages 4 and up.  Three year olds may not understand it, but because of the rhyming, I think they will be equally entertained.

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My Special Angels: The Two Noble Scribes by Razana Noor illustrated by Omar Burgess

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My Special Angels: The Two Noble Scribes by Razana Noor illustrated by Omar Burgess

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The book starts with a brief introduction to Kiraman Katibin, the two recording angels, and reminds parents that before the age of maturity only the good deeds are recorded. That being established the book then works to develop the conscientiousness of having all of our actions recorded, so that we train ourselves from a young age to be mindful of what we do and say.

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Following a precious little boy with fantastic hair, and a bit of a mischievous smile, the reader learns how we each have an angel on our right and left side.  We learn how sharing makes the angel on the right happy, as does stopping ourselves from getting mad.  We learn that its the little things and the big things, the stuff we do in public and the stuff that we think no one sees that get written down.  The angel on the left notes down all the mistakes too, and these make the angel sad.  But alhumdulillah apologies and forgiveness can rub away good deeds, guiding us on the path to jannah, inshaAllah.

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The beautiful full color pictures are beyond adorable, and the rhyming couplets work perfect for preschoolers.  The font, the playfulness of the text on each of the 24 pages, the hardbound book and the 10 x 10 size make this book absolutely perfect for books shelves and for story time.  There is a glossary at the back that defines not just the Arabic words, but also some of the english vocabulary words that might need some explaining:  glee, deeds, angels.  My only complaint is that there isn’t a whole series of books by this author and illustrator coaching and guiding our little muslims in manners and basic belief.

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Jameela’s Great Idea by Surriah Igram

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Jameela’s Great Idea by Surriah Igram is a good read-a-loud story for small groups.   A simple story of a girl seeing her father give sadaqa, charity, on a nightly trip to the masjid, wants to also give charity.  But, to do so, she must first find a way to acquire some money.  Her ideas are lavish, over the top and  silly, but her ever patient mom let’s her pick one idea to bring to fruition, which luckily, alhumdulillah, is the only reasonable one presented.  I feel like discussion is needed with this story to provide commentary on why the ideas are not practical even though her intention is so noble.  The story is very simple, linear, and age appropriate.  It works well for preschool and kindergarten age groups with big colorful pictures, large font, and its oversized presentation.  The message is beautiful as are the pictures.  Little Jameela has a supportive involved family, they enjoy going to the mosque, they behave in the mosque, yet have fun outside in the yard, and images of covered and uncovered characters are present.  Arabic and English signage decorate the landscape and the book isn’t too long at 30 pages.  After reading it, I think children will enjoy going back to look at the pictures, however, I don’t see it being a high demand repeat read request.  Once through is pretty sufficient in getting the message, chuckling, having a little talk about it, and then moving on.  The book is a great introduction to the importance of charity in Islam, but would need to be supplemented to fully convey to even the little ones, the value of giving to others.

Four Feet Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed Illustrated by Doug Chayka

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A beautiful hardback picture book I picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse sale, at 32 pages long and an AR level 3.2, Four Feet, Two Sandals, works well as both a story time selection to younger students and as independent reading for up to 5th grade.  The story is about two refugee girls that come to know each other when relief workers throw donated clothes for the people and Lina and Feroza each end up with one sandal each of a beautiful pair.  Rather than fighting or being ungrateful, the girls work out a plan so that they can both enjoy the sandals and in the process, become friends.  The girls share their stories with one another, and thus the reader, about how their families have been affected by war and how they came to be at this refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan.  The girls dream of school and their futures and show the readers a bit of their daily struggles getting water and doing chores.  When Lina’s name shows up on a list to go to America, and Feroza’s does not, the friends must part and decide who gets the sandals.

While it probably bothers some that America is seen as the saving grace to sweep Lina to a better life and pander to an American audience. I think it makes sense seeing as the book was co-authored by the executive director of the Pittsburgh Refugee Center and was inspired by a refugee girl who asked “why there were no books about children like her.”  Clearly refugees do get a chance at a new life when other countries open their borders and stories like this that give our children insight into the world they have left behind, with the hopes of fostering compassion, is something that I definitely want to share with my own children and students.

The author’s website and reading guide: http://www.karenlynnwilliams.com/files/sandals_guide.pdf

A Party in Ramadan By Asma Mobin-Uddin Illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

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This is a great book that works on a variety of levels.  Leena is fasting the whole day for the first time, but is also invited to a friends party.  Her mom gives her the choice to fast or not as it is not yet mandatory at her age, and she decides to fast AND go to the party.  The story takes you through the activities of the party and how some parts are easy and some harder for the fasting Leena.  The end has a wonderful surprise for both Leena and the reader as the author gives us all reason to hope that respect among friends exists, and that in fact one can stay true to their beliefs and have support from their friends.

This book is  great conversation starter for older kids who maybe have tried to fast and felt the temptations of day-to-day life in a non -Islamic environment.  With an AR level of 4.2 and 34 pages the story is strong enough to hold a fourth graders attention and get them to analyze what they would do in a similar situation.  Although the book is about Ramadan and some facets about how fasting is done, what it means, and why Muslims do it, are sprinkled in, the story isn’t overly religious in nature.  The characters are simply Muslim, they pray, they thank Allah, they wear hijab, they make duaas and they also go to friend’s parties. I think non-Muslims would benefit from this book and see the beauty of diversity as Leena and her friends support one another.  The pictures also do a wonderful job of depicting the story: the characters are warm and happy, some cover some do not, they eat chocolate pudding and Baklava and the reader sees how a Muslim family is just like any other family.

The added beauty of this book is that it also works for story time. The younger ones may or may not understand the potential stress of being the only Muslim at a party, let alone being the only one fasting, but they do understand that Leena wanted to eat and drink and she remembered that when her little sister wanted her dessert.  They also understand how sometimes it is hard to do what is right, but inshaAllah the reward is sweet indeed.