Tag Archives: Muslim Character

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.

 

 

 

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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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Raihanna’s First Time Fasting by Qamaer Hassan illustrated by Yasushi Matsuoka

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Raihanna’s First Time Fasting by Qamaer Hassan illustrated by Yasushi Matsuoka

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By this time in Ramadan I’ve read a lot of very similar books that all seem to have slightly different takes on presenting the basics with various degrees of turning them into a fictionalized story.  Each have their own flavor and approach and this story in many ways is for mature little kids and works to bring a slightly deeper understanding to Ramadan and helping the less fortunate.  At 36 pages long, most of the pages are heavy on text, but not overly preachy or dense.  Dialogue and emotion fill the paragraphs, and the book works to establish Raihanna as an actual character, not just a foil to move from one Ramadan fact to another. This is also apparent, as a new Riahanna book has just come out, Raihanna’a Jennah, in making her the lead in a series.

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Raihanna is excited to be fasting this year, after establishing that the crescent must be sighted and that suhoor is the meal to start the fast, Raihanna puts on her hijab to pray.  She asks for forgiveness for being deceitful to get another cookie and asks Allah to make her and her friend able to go ice skating.  At bedtime it also mentions that she says her three kuls before going to sleep.  

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All her excitement starts to falter at school, however, when the teacher hands out chocolate chip cookies for snack and Raihanna has to explain she is fasting.  By the time she gets home from school she is not sure she even knows why she is fasting as her stomach rumbles and her mood is pretty sour.  Mom jumps in to action and takes her to a soup kitchen where the two of them, along with others, serve food to the homeless. 

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At iftaar time Raihanna understands how blessed she is to be surrounded by family and food, and makes a more heartfelt dua.  The book ends with letting the reader know that Raihanna spends the next 29 days loving Ramadan and being appreciative.

I love that it really picks one specific aspect of Ramadan and focuses on it in a tangible way, the poor and hungry.  Yes, she prays and recites Quran and all, but establishes that she probably does that every day out side of Ramadan as well.  I like that the author also shows that it is ok that Ramadan is hard.  There is a bit more insight and understanding in this book than just the typical list of facts.  I think ages kindergarten through 2nd grade, kids that are starting to fast will get the most of it, and relate the most to Raihanna.  It could work for non Muslims, with a bit of context of belief or just read a different Ramadan book first, but the target audience is Muslim kids.

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The beautiful cartoonish pictures are bright and engaging.  I have no idea why it bothered me that the characters wore the same clothes everyday, or at least the two days that the story covers, but it kind of did. I like that the dad sets the table and helps in the food prep and parenting.  The list of family members and all the dishes seems unnecessary, but with the glossary at the back it does offer a bit of culture to be conveyed.  There is also a little reader response at the end.   

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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Its probably a good thing I didn’t know that this book was coming out or I would have been waiting very restlessly for its release date.  I love Hena Khan’s Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns and buy it frequently through Scholastic to give as gifts, and this book will definitely follow in its footsteps.

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The pictures are beautiful and vibrant and full of diversity as familiar shapes introduce possibly unfamiliar things.  Aimed at both muslim and non muslim preschoolers, this book does a great job of telling and showing what a mihrab, a mimbar, and a mosque are, and introducing concepts of wudu and imam and jannah, that can be understood with the help of the glossary at the end.

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The book flows and really transports the reader to a peaceful and enchanting place where these shapes and concepts are powerful and wonderful.  A great message for everyone of every age.

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The book is 32 pages and really is worth every penny.  I would imagine that it will eventually make it to paperback, so if you need to wait, check your library and then stock up when you can.