Tag Archives: Muslim Character

Miss Never Pleased by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir

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Miss Never Pleased by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir

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I’ve been accused of being brutal in my reviews.  And while I don’t enjoy being mean, I do take some pride in the attribute, as I am paying for these books myself (unless I get them at the library) and it takes time out of my day to write these reviews.  I don’t get paid, I do it because I love books, I like supporting Muslim authors and those including Muslim characters in their stories.  I take recommending books to others serious, and can’t remember things if I don’t write them down, so here I am.  With this review I don’t want to be rude, or overly critical nor do I want to sound pompous and arrogant and privileged, but at the same time, I ordered the book off of Amazon for $7.99 so a fair review shouldn’t hold punches to spare what the author is trying to do and appreciating that she is writing for a cultural audience. 

Please believe me it isn’t personal, I am reviewing it based on my same criteria I review all the books through, my own personal bias.  That being said, if the reader is living in Pakistan, or has recently lived in Pakistan and English is a second or fifth language the 70 page story with games and activities at the end is decent.  Meant for ages 7-12 in that situation, that are intrigued by the moral lesson presented, I think the plot holes can be forgiven.  For those without ties to Pakistan, or with loose ties like me (I’m half Pakistani and grew up spending my summers visiting family) the book will be choppy, culturally specific, confusing and lacking.

SYNOPSIS:

The book opens with Habiba being distraught over her world crashing down on her and the pain she has caused her relatives consuming her.  She then opens her diary that she has kept for six years, starting back when she was seven recounting how she as Miss Perfect justified her self in incident after incident.  Thirty-one incidents to be exact, detailing how she would rat out her cousins, or critique elders food, or her tell her friends how to dress and what to study because it was the honest thing to do.   How she would decide who should be friends with who, if her family should go on picnics and how she didn’t want gifts but didn’t want to not get gifts either.  All-in-all Habiba is a self righteous awful, awful girl, I don’t think it is her trying to be perfect, I think she is just awful.  At the beginning she attributes it to praise she received as a child from her mom and grandma, but for this behavior to have gone on for so many years, I don’t think it was their praise, it was their lack of discipline that leads up to her catastrophic moment.  She fails her exams and then learns what her family really thinks about her in a poem, with a way too forced rhyme scheme, left lying around.  The story then returns to her undoing and a faqeer coming to cure her and her parents taking the blame for her poor upbringing.  She crosses out the title on her journal from Miss Perfect to Miss Never Pleased, to presumably denote how nothing could satisfy her.  The story then skips forward to her returning after University as the best international psychologist.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the concept of the book, that a girl thinking she was so perfect could realize in fact she is not.  The idea is great.  I think it is a bit sad that her parents and involved extended family took so little interest in correcting her behavior, but at the same time I didn’t think it believable that she was absolved of all responsibility either. 

I feel like this book was a great first draft.  It needs some fleshing out, and some continuity corrections.  Incident #3 makes no sense, it starts with a party, then her ruining the mood of everyone at the party, and then her crushing her cousin’s dream of being in a play for her own twisted reasons.  But the jump from one idea to another seems like something got edited out and the rest of the four-and-a-half-page story didn’t get altered to reflect the missing details.  I have no idea what the party was for, what a wish gift is, and why anyone in their right mind would take a child’s opinion regarding someone else’s life so strongly. 

There are also contradictions, for example on page 14 she makes a big huff about her cousin wanting to study to be a teacher saying she wouldn’t be good at it, then on page 49 saying she would be marvelous, and this is before her climactic change of heart.  There are some awkward passages as well, that I had to read a few times, which could have been do to a different style of English, but sometimes I think it was confusing on its own.  Page 24 was all over the place with her not wanting to thank people for giving her a gift because she deserved the gift, but then telling them she appreciated it, along with her saying the gift, a dress, appealed to her, but that they should not have gotten it because it was an inferior quality.  Inferior to what we don’t know. So she didn’t say thank you, but said she appreciated it, isn’t that the same thing?  She didn’t like the dress, but it had appealed to her? Very confusing and just one example.

I say it is for Pakistani’s because I don’t know that anyone outside the subcontinent would know what a faqeer is, yes there is a glossary at the back, but it seems assumed in the story as a religious practice, which I find some issue with.  When Habiba was trying to dress everyone she says that a fishtail would look nice on her cousins and she gets a blue one.  I have no idea what a fishtail is.  It is not really explained, an illustration would have been helpful, but is not provided. She also once refers to her cousin as “dark” in a negative connotation, and that seemed very out of place and inappropriate to me.  And ultimately, if you don’t know the Pakistani school system I’m not sure you would understand how important the exam she failed is, nor why the scores are in the newspaper,  or that they have to pick their fields of study so early.  That being said, how did she get to University and do so well? If at 13 they had to choose their college and she didn’t pass wouldn’t she not be allowed to continue? I am so confused. And then she comes back after University, but is already being written about in the papers as if she has had a long and successful career.

The book doesn’t tell how she makes things right with all those she wronged either, after so many incidents, I think a little self reflection and humbling should have occurred to those that felt her wrath for so many years.  There isn’t really even a solution, her dad comes and talks to her, she reads what people think about her and then boom, happily ever after.

The illustrations are sporadic, but not consistent in the book.  The style seems to be different in each sketch.

 

FLAGS:

The girl lies and is incredibly mean but there isn’t anything inappropriate in terms of language or violence.  Islam is mentioned at the end when she thanks Allah swt for His help.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club because it is so short, and I don’t know that kids would be compelled to read past the first few pages if it was in a classroom library.  

Book Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWoCiEnvg5U

If this book would have been written 20 years ago or so, I think readers everywhere would have given it a try as there was so little to choose from in Islamic Fiction, but there are options now, and much better ones.  I feel awful that I didn’t love the book, but I can’t suggest it either.  I plan to read one more book of the author’s to see if this one just didn’t work for me, and I’ll let you know what I think.

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A Race to Prayer: Sulaiman’s Rewarding Day by Aliya Vaughan

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A Race to Prayer: Sulaiman’s Rewarding Day by Aliya Vaughan

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This 56 page (only 38 pages of story) early chapter book is a simple book with a lesson.  For kindergarten to 2nd grade readers the book could be a short story, but the added minuscule details (how he got in the car, slid over, and buckled up) and the illustrations, flesh the book out in to seven chapters with a note for parents/educators at the beginning, and sections of: evidence from the Quran and Sunnah, comprehension questions, inspiration behind the story, glossary and information on the author at the end.  The book isn’t bad, just kind of dry and bare bones.  Satisfactory for young readers that enjoy quad races, and ideal for those that whine whenever it is salat time.

SYNOPSIS:

Sulaiman loves watching quad races and playing football (soccer, the book is British), but feels like, “Every time I want to do something exciting, it either rains or it is time to pray.” one afternoon when he is feeling particularly grumpy, his dad offers to take him to watch the quad races at a nearby stadium.  Grandpa joins them and grandma sends them off with lunches and duas.  First the car won’t start, then they take a bus and wait in line.  Once they are inside the day looks up, the races are fun and then it is Thuhr time.  Sulaiman wants to wait until a break, but it is winter and the days are short meaning Asr will be approaching fast.  They go find a place to pray and when they return their seating section is closed.  Part of the roof fell in due to the rain.  Feeling fortunate that they had left to pray, Sulaiman sees the value of praying on time in this duniya.  They later are given better seats and Sulaiman feels blessed that they had gone to pray.

The story was inspired by a real event, according to the “Inspiration Behind the Story” at the end, where the author says that her husband was at a football match in Algeria when an earthquake struck.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the character is relate-able to most of our young Muslim children.  He is a good kid, but has a hard time stopping what he is doing to pray.  He has to be reminded to make wudu and brush his teeth.  I like that grandpa gets to come along, but I wish he would get to tell some of his stories, rather than just have Sulaiman shush him and be annoyed.  Similarly, I like that the dad is a “fixer” but some character development would have been really great.  I understand the reading age isn’t tempted by back story, but a little investment in the characters would make the climax that much more intense.  I was surprised by the roof falling in, but it snuck up so quick and was resolved equally fast, that I didn’t really feel it.

Also, I am not entirely sure what quad racing is. I mean I get that they are 4 wheelers racing on a stadium track.  But, I didn’t realize it was such a thing to be watching it on tv and then heading to watch it live nearby.  I’m glad I learned that kids dig it in Britain, but I’m thinking that it might be a little foreign .  A soccer match or another race, might have made the story a bit more appealing.

The book is for Muslims by a Muslim despite the glossary at the back. The pictures aren’t great, but they make the page breaks appeal to the younger kids.  The font, binding, and presentation makes for a nice looking and feeling book.

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FLAGS:

None, alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be really great in small groups.  I can see it being used in Sunday schools or in Islamic schools, where Language Arts teachers and Islamic Studies teachers crossover to drive the importance of salat home.  I think this would easily inspire this age group to then write their own copy-cat stories of why salat is important.  The questions at the end could even make it like an extra credit novel study or a read aloud story with the questions used to verify comprehension.

Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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Snatched Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Svaitoslav Diachyk

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The premise is simple, Omar ate something that didn’t belong to him, and the guilt is weighing on him heavily.  The beauty of the book is how, with his mom’s help and his own determination, he makes things right.  

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Set in Egypt, Omar eats the doorman’s baqlawa, and while he knows he shouldn’t have, he doesn’t know what to do about it.  The doorman, Amo Mohamed, blames the cat and Omar tries to move past the theft.  But the guilt builds up and he even dreams about baqlawa, eventually telling his mom so he can start to fix things.  

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After isha prayer, the two of them make some new baqlawa.  I love that the mom doesn’t get mad, but she is firm that while, “we made the baqlawa together,”  she tells him, “you have to talk to Amo Mohamed on your own.”  

Omar confesses his crime to the door man and apologizes, Amo Mohamed in turn apologizes to the cat, and all enjoy a piece of baqlawa together with smiles.

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The last page in the 38 page book is a glossary and is headed by a hadith by Prophet Muhammad, “Be conscious of God wherever you are.  Follow the bad deed with a good one to erase it, and engage others with beautiful character.”

The illustrations aren’t amazing, but they are sufficient and help walk the reader through the story.  I like that the mom covers when out and about, but not in the home.  The story is great for ages 4 and up, but the amount of text on the page and book length might make independent reading more geared to second and third graders. 

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The book would work for muslim and non-muslim children a like and does a good job of showing a universal situation in a culturally rich environment.

 

 

 

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

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Having been pleasantly surprised with a few recent reads in the romance/islamic fiction genre I thought to give this slightly more cultural take a try.  Unfortunately, this book didn’t surprise me pleasantly, but rather left me disappointed and slightly annoyed.  At 231 pages and an AR 5.2, the book would have worked much better framed as a memoir or semi autobiographical dairy, as it stands as a novel there is no point to the story, no real character connection, no real lasting impression.  There are a few comical concepts, but only because I am Pakistani-Muslim and female did I get them, and sadly those few instances, aren’t enough to carry the book and make it worth recommending.

SYNOPSIS:

Nina Khan is in high school in a small New York town and her strict parents don’t let her do the typical high school stuff like date or talk to boys.  Her parents are not religious, unless her mom’s family is visiting and they put on an act.  Her parents aren’t awful, however, they are educated, kind, and quirky, but culturally strict none-the-less.  Nina has two amazing school friends, that she has grown up with that accept her and her social limitations for the most part.  When Nina falls for the new boy in school, Asher, though, they work overtime to figure out how to get them together.  In addition to the boy dilemma the other stress is Nina feeling like she is in her older sister’s shadow.  An older sister who is a genius and is away at Harvard. There’s a girl at school that annoys Nina, but really their interactions are petty and annoy the reader more than anyone else.

As Nina’s friends hook up with boys and Nina has various interactions with Asher, one involving him seeing down the back of her sweater and thus her stripe of back hair, we are also introduced to some of her Desi friends.  In my opinion the passages about her conversations with the ethnic kids trying to find their way in life and in love and still maintain their culture and religious values, is way more entertaining than the bantering back and forth with Helena and Bridget.  If the author were to rewrite the book as a diary or biography, and focus more on the Desi friends, the book would probably be more interesting, compelling, and relevant.

The climax, if there is one, is when Nina’s parents go out of town and she is able to sneak off to a party and try alcohol, getting blackout drunk, and then going on a ski weekend with Asher, making-out with him and then deciding that that’s not for her.  At least I think that is what she decided.  She decided she can’t be with him, and she heads off to Pakistan with her sister to meet her parents, but thats it.  There isn’t really a climax, there isn’t an ending. Literary structure might allow you to do one, but not having either a point or a conclusion, makes the book fall flat.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I read the whole book, so it wasn’t so atrocious that I couldn’t get through it, it just seemed to focus on the wrong things in the narrative and not make the main character relatable.  I wanted to grow with her, but her reflection at the end didn’t really make a strong point for her, so it didn’t make one for the reader either.  I think part of this is that the author, frustratingly to me, interchanges religion and culture a lot.  And while she might get them kind of right, I think non Muslims and non Pakistanis might find the two muddled.  She asks Allah to help her make a good impression with and Asher, yet constantly uses the Pakistani culture as the reason why she can’t date and drink in the first place.  My thinking is that the religion should trump the culture, but because being brown and Paki and Muslim are all viewed as being the same, the logic is kind of lost.  And granted in some households it really is that way with religion and culture, but the nuances aren’t explored, explained, or even acknowledged, unfortunately.

It is clear that the author knows Islam and Pakistan, her love of them (assumption) just doesn’t come through.  Her off hand remarks about a lota, and ayatul kursi, and her Pakistani ranking system are funny, and momentarily relatable.  Unfortunately, so often it seems the story is positioned so that the religion and culture are stifling and the western world is being denied to her.  Honestly after reading the book, I’m not really sure why she doesn’t rebel and do what she wants, the story doesn’t really show what she gets out of doing what her parents want her to do, and why it would matter to her in the long run to do what she wants as a “rebellious” teen.  

FLAGS:

There is alcohol mentioned and consumed.  There are a lot of relationship topics  explored throughout the book including the minor characters deciding to have sex and the  main character kissing.  For mature readers, high school and up.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t present this book to a book club, nor can I see myself suggesting anyone to read it.

 

 

Muhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Daria Horb

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Muhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Daria Horb

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This picture book for ages 7 and up, reads incredibly smooth for the amount of text on each page, and the pictures are warm and expressive in this large (8.5 x 11) 32 page book.  Clearly the author is talented in writing and passionate about empowering her character to hold on to her culture and faith, however it seems overly forced at times.  

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The premise is that it is Muhiima’s birthday, but that she doesn’t celebrate birthdays, her family only celebrates both Eids.  So when her mom hands her a surprise on the morning of her birthday and Muhiima asks if it is a birthday gift and her mom says, “kinda” it seems a bit like she is walking back from the premise. The tie-ins throughout the book as she journeys from location to location on her quest as a result seem forced.

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The map first leads her to her father’s book store to get wisdom and love and a gift that she can’t open until the end.  She also journeys to her Grandparent’s house, her Uncle’s basketball game, her Aunt’s beauty salon, and oddly her Masjid Quran Class, which apparently she is skipping, but stops to get the wisdom and gift from her teacher at, none-the-less.  Oddly enough, but at least noted, she reaches home to find everyone on her quest already there.

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On her way home, she sees her non-muslim friend Rosie celebrating her birthday and wishes she could have a birthday gathering with gifts and family too.  When she opens the door to her own home, she gets just that.  The passages detailing why it is hard to be different are incredibly relatable and poignant, but to then have Muhiima get the same thing with a different name, again seems like the author is walking back on her premise.

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The wisdom and advice the family gives to Muhiima is wonderful and powerful. I love that the character is a strong girl of color, and that her family is supportive and consistent.  They say Salaam, they pray, they go to the mosque.  Some of the little details were jarring, like why it didn’t specify what prayer, why it was her class that she visited at the mosque, how all the people got to her house before her, etc.  This minor glitches with the forced premise of relating the quest to her birthday, make the book overall a bit awkward.  This is so unfortunate because the advice and the quest are so endearing, while not being judgementat or preachy.  I don’t know how to fix it, I just hope, like really really really hope, that the author keeps writing and that her next book is a little more revised and editted.

 

The Swirling Hijaab by Na’ima bint Robert illustrated by Nilesh Mistry

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Written in 2002 I’m not sure why this book isn’t in libraries or easy to find, it is wonderful.  We all got so excited when Mommy’s Khimar came out, and for good reason, it is great, but I feel like this book is very similar and somehow not appreciated.  The book is written in verse, with just one line on each page, there are 20 languages that this book appears dual language in, and the author is incredibly well known (Ramadan Moon, From Somalia With Love, Boy Vs. Girl, Going to Mecca, She Wore Red Trainers).

The large pictures show a small girl using her mom’s hijaab to play pretend with as a fort, a boat’s sails, a cloth for her tea party, a comfort when mom isn’t there, and most of all as a covering as a part of one’s faith.  The book shows the little girl as a desi bride, an African warrior queen, a beduin, and a relatable little girl having fun.

The book works well for little ones, with its simple text and large pictures, and is perfect for story time and bedtime alike.  The pictures aren’t bold and vibrant, but are colorful in their muted state and engaging as the swirling hijaab transforms into so much more than a piece of cloth.

It doesn’t mention Islam or Muslims, but just that the hijaab is worn as a sign of faith.  It depicts the girl praying, but doesn’t offer and text regarding it.

 

Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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Zaydo Potato: A Muslim Superhero by Randa Taftaf and Maz Galini illustrated by Lovyaa Garg

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This is the second review of a Zaydo Potato book on the blog, and much like the first book this one caters to toddler and early elementary aged children who will enjoy the large colorful pages, the silliness of finding a potato on each page, and who can benefit from the repetition of events to understand a concept.  In this 32 page book the concept being conveyed is taking care of each other, as established by the hadith at the beginning of the book.

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Zaydo and Raya dress up as superheroes, but find their power in saving the day involves using their capes, and masks, and belts, and gloves, to help those around them who can benefit more. They use a bandana to sling a hurt arm, a towel cape to cover a spill, and silly gloves to make a baby stop crying.   They call themselves Muslim Superheroes and after showing the reader that it is good to help one another, praise Allah, and do what is right, they ask if you want to join their force.

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I read the book to my own children and then to a group of about 25 kids under the age of 6 and it went over pretty well.  The amount of text on a page is sufficient to convey the repetitive scenarios.  Honestly, I don’t really understand why the book takes place in Ramadan.  Other than the first page saying that they are the fasters of Ramadan days, and the last page repeating it, there is nothing Ramadan specific about the story.  In fact the Grandma is drinking tea on the first page, so yes maybe she is excused, but it is a bit confusing to have the Ramadan element in there when it is not a facet of the story at all. 

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The word ‘super’ is used a lot, and if reading it aloud can get your tongue a bit tied.  I also don’t understand why Raya has a last name or second part to her name, Raya Amaraya, maybe to go with the rhyming of Zaydo Potato? Either way by adding super, before their names, and the rhyming second name, I felt like a lot of the book was just saying names. The only other critique of an other wise solid book about teaching kids how to truly be super in a practical way, is that the Grandma is in a lot of the pictures in the background sewing so that when she surprises them with real costumes, the kids can enjoy going back and see she was working on them the whole time.  Except I thought, my kids thought, and the story time kids all thought she was knitting, and the costumes don’t look knitted, so it is a bit jarring.  On closer inspection there is just one needle, not two, but it is really large, almost crochet hook size, so a sewing machine illustration would have been a much better choice.

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The activities and lessons at the end and the founding premise of the book really make the book an important one to share with your little ones.  The binding and glossy pictures of smiling children having fun will entertain and educate them at the same time.  My critiques are small, but I feel like a few test readings by the authors, and the minor quirks could have been eliminated all together.  

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