Tag Archives: Muslim Character

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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Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Presenting the stories of refugees to young children often involves a balancing act of fact, emotion, and restraint, all while finding the common ground to create empathy in the reader.  Increasingly on bookshelves are successful picture books that use illustrations to build bridges of understanding and bright colors to convey hope.  For older children there are books that can devote time to explain issues or offer first hand accounts along with political back stories and historical events.  For elementary age children 2nd and 3rd grade particularly, chapter books on refugees are not very common.  Children this age seem to relish in silly outlandish characters with a few font happy sentence and pictures on each page or stick to series that are easily predictable as they present tidbits of history or simple mysteries.  All reasons to encourage your child to read Blackout! and break the monotony and gain some empathy.  As delicate as the subject matter is, the book manages to resonate with most children how good they have it and how fortunate they are, without getting preachy or pretentious.

SYNOPSIS:

Yusuf, a 12-year-old Canadian boy is anxiously waiting the arrival of his cousin Ahmed from Syria.  Ahmed recently lost his father when their makeshift boat capsized, and while coming to Canada is a blessing, he is still haunted in his dreams and memories by all that he has seen and endured.  This idea that being safe now, doesn’t erase all the pain and fears experienced, is a concept most adults understand, but I was surprised that my children had to talk it out a bit.  They understood that he would be sad, but hadn’t really thought how hearing loud noises would immediately remind him of the explosions he heard in Syria and of his home and buildings crumbling down.

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The story’s focus is the present however, and follows Yusuf.   The backstory of Syria and Ahmed’s escape is juxtaposed with an ice storm turning Toronto powerless and cold.  As Yusuf deals with the annoyance of a few days without electricity he learns a bit of compassion for others in the world, who endure a similar situation indefinitely.  In a beautiful way, Ahmed’s enduring optimism changes Yusuf as they find reasons to smile at the raccoon rummaging through their food put outside to stay cold, or playing in the snow to pass the time.  The characters have a lot of heart, for a short book, and you really feel like you get to know them and feel for them.  Yes, Yusuf whines, but he is a kid who’s winter vacation plans have gone awry and is frustrated and bored.  Ahmed, while a survivor, still struggles, but maintains a personality much more than just victim.  The other family members are background, but they aren’t flat, they have warmth and humor and pain in equal parts, implying if the book was longer, we’d get to know more about them too, and probably like them as well.

Despite the refugee story line, and the blackout, the crux of the story is actually helping one another and being neighborly.  Ahmed at one point is telling a story of how he began helping someone in a refugee camp and that it gave him purpose.  This reminds Yusuf that they have an elderly neighbor and the radio alerts had encouraged people to check on one another.  The boys rush over to find Mr. Caldwell, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning brought on by his kerosene heater. Luckily an ambulance is able to get there just in the nick or time. On the third day of the blackout, the Imam speaks about helping one another and making this obstacle into something positive.   Ahmed tells Yusuf how the neighbors in Syria would gather in the winter to share what food they had.  This brilliant idea gets the support of Yusuf’s dad, the Imam and the whole congregation as they rush home to invite the neighbors to a neighborhood BBQ.  The perishable food needs to be consumed, so what better way to enjoy it, than to share it.

When the power comes back on, Yusuf is not the same kid, he has grown in compassion, and patience, and inshaAllah the reader will be similarly affected for the better.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book addresses a hard topic on a kid level.  It does not overwhelm the reader or frighten them.  MashaAllah, it balances what they can understand, with something bigger.  The illustrations keep it light in their doodle like appearance and the font, spacing, chapter length and presentation are perfect for the target audience.

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The women wear hijab, they pray, they go to the mosque, yet they don’t quote hadith or Quran or say a lot of mashaAllah and Alhumdulillah, making the book work easier for non Muslims.  The coming together of community is nice.  No one asks or worries what religion, race, or ethnicity anyone in the neighborhood is, they just come together to share a meal and welcome Ahmed and his mom to Canada.  The Imam is relatable and the dad is involved and generous, the mom is competent and respected, all normal behaviors that reinforce community and normalize diversity and acceptance.

FLAGS:

The violence of war may affect young children differently.  Nothing is sensationalized or graphic, but Ahmed does get stuck in the rubble when his house is destroyed, and his father’s drowning is discussed.  Nothing is talked about in depth, but the ideas are presented.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be perfect for a young book club.  I’m looking forward to reading it with my six-year-old son and my eight-year-old niece so that I can see how what they get from the book.  There is a brief explanation on refugees at the back of the book, and I think current events would naturally make a book club discussion easy to facilitate.  I think gathering items and meeting refugees after, would also be a wonderful way to turn the fictional story into real action.  It is also worth noting 100% of profits from this book will be going to the Syrian Canadian Foundation‘s mental health and wellness initiative for Syrian newcomers.

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Stairs Series: Trouble with Babysitting, Allergy Attack, Yusuf’s Robot & Time Travel by Nur Kose illustrated by Shaista Asad and Ayesha Khatib

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Stairs Series: Trouble with Babysitting, Allergy Attack, Yusuf’s Robot & Time Travel by Nur Kose illustrated by Shaista Asad and Ayesha Khatib

stairs series

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Way to Jannah by Yasmin Mussa

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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.

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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….

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The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman illustrated by Shelley Fowles

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The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman illustrated by Shelley Fowles

Most-Magnificent-Mosque

Three very naughty boys harass visitors to Cordoba’s Great Mosque in Spain.  Rashid, a Muslim, Samuel, a Jew, and Miguel, a Christian, run through the fountains, destroy the flowerbeds and throw oranges at people leaving their prayers.  Most days the boys can out run the gardeners, but one day they pelt the Caliph himself with a rotten orange.  The punishment from the Caliph is three months of hard labor working with the gardeners everyday on the mosque grounds.  On their breaks the boys explore the mosque and marvel at its beauty.  By the end of their sentence, the boys have such a love for the mosque and one another that they are forever bound.  As the boys grow and make their way in the world, they don’t keep in touch much.  However, when Cordoba is defeated in battle by the Christian king Fernando, it will be up to these three boys to convince the new king, that the Mosque shouldn’t be torn down.  And that the it is the pride of all people in Cordoba, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian alike.

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The book is 32 pages and an AR 4.0.  It does a good job of showing the three faith communities coming together to save something they all value.  It also shows a kind, yet purposeful punishment from the Caliph to the three boys.  While younger kids in story time will enjoy the concept of people working together, the book really finds its strength with students learning or familiar with Spain, particularly prior to the Inquisition.  There isn’t a lot of detail regarding the structure of the mosque, or the doctrine of each faith, that knowledge would have to come from outside the book, in order for it to be appreciated. There are some plot holes in the story and the book itself doesn’t make it clear what parts of the story are historically accurate and which are fiction.

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The illustrations are charming in their own way.  The watercolors do a good job bringing to life the mosque and gardens, and battle, but for me fall a little flat in depicting the three boys.  I don’t know if the text or illustrations are at fault for me not connecting to the story or finding an emotional resonance to what should be a very inspiring story. Perhaps it is a combination of the two.  I feel it is desperately in need of an author’s note detailing the factual origins of the tale,  Something to uplift and give hope to people of different faiths coming together in a peaceful way, that can be put into real world actions.

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Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Chiara Fedele

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Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Chiara Fedele

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Oh how full my heart is after reading this book, and wiping a tear from my eye.  When the daily news angers and frustrates, a story as sweet as two friends helping and worrying about each other gives hope to the future of the world. I know that is probably over reaching the impact of a children’s book, but sometimes it really is just one person helping another person, just finding similarities instead of differences, and above all having a big heart.

Yaffa and Fatima are neighbors and both grow dates.  The two women, one Jewish and one Muslim, share a lot of similarities they both fast, pray, celebrate, and help others. They often sell their dates next to each other in the market and then share their food and customs with each other.  During one growing season, rain is scarce, and each woman begins to worry about if the other has enough- not just to sell, but to eat as well.  Secretly they both help each other and prove the power of friendship and kindness is universal and powerful.

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The illustrations are smartly done.  This isn’t the book for bright and colorful or overly cartoonish depictions.  The simplicity of the words introduce the reader to Islamic traditions and Jewish traditions, but the purpose is to show their similarities and the illustrations mimic that sentiment beautifully.  The contrast of red and blue show the differences with the larger muted tones being the same. The warmth in the characters faces mirror the warmth of their actions and the detail is balanced with intriguing the reader without distracting from the text.  The illustrator does a good job of also showing the women covering their hair in public, albeit differently, but not within their homes. And of also showing the different ways the women worship without the words having to do so.

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The author has a note at the beginning acknowledging the roots of the story as a tale about two brothers in both Jewish and Arab traditions.  And at 24 pages it works for children of all faiths and all ages, two years old and up.  The book was recommended by a woman, who I hope to meet next week, when she and her Jewish community join us at the mosque for our monthly story time.  With a theme of friendship, this book will be the focus of what bridges and connections we can all make in our personal lives to make the wold a little better.  I can’t wait to share it with our children of both faiths!

 

 

 

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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This book really marked a shift in Islamic fiction for me and the genre.  First of all I was waiting for the book to come out.  I didn’t stumble upon it or hear about it from someone else.  I knew when it was going to be released, and I knew I wanted to read it. Additionally it was the first books published by Salaam Reads, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Which according to their website was “founded in 2016, Salaam Reads is an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”  This is big, huge in fact.  The bar has been raised, and a platform has been given, no more excuses.

Alhumdulillah, Amina’s Voice is a beautiful 197 page book for children ages 8-12.  The book is not AR, but probably will be in a few weeks.  I think it is spot on for 3rd through 5th grade in terms of content, message, and appeal.  The book caters to females and Muslims, but naturally is not limited to those two demographics exclusively.  There are characters of a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds in the novel that play significant roles in saving the day and keeping the book powerfully optimistic and inspiring.

SYNOPSIS:

Amina is starting middle school and everything is changing for Amina. Her friends are acting different, her older brother is skirting with trouble and her religious uncle is coming to visit from Pakistan.  Internally, she doesn’t like the spotlight but desperately wants to get out from behind the piano to sing.  All of this combines in a climax that pivots around the destruction of the mosque she attends and her having to find her voice, and use it to take center stage in her own life.

WHY I LIKE IT:

There is a lot going on in the book, but it doesn’t get over whelming with Amina’s voice keeping the reader focused on her and her view of the events around her.  The author does a good job of getting inside a 12 year-old girls head without being condescending or heartless.  The reader feels her stress that she is losing her best friend, Soojin to Emily, a girl who used to torment the two “ethnic” girls, without belittling her concerns.  You also feel her love of Islam and struggle to understand if music and singing is permissible within Islamic rules.  The book is realistic fiction with school, friendships, and family guiding the story.  Everything from the ups and downs of group projects, inside jokes between siblings, and trying to pronounce the big HAA in Arabic.  The macro of middle elementary years combined with the micro facets of culture, religion, and current events, and you speak to a section of readers that will connect with Amina and what she goes through in a very authentic, relatable story.

The only points that gave me pause is the premise and music in the book.  It is a point of disagreement amongst nearly every group of Muslims, so to have the Imam sitting and listening to her play the piano, is a bit hard for me to accept as the norm, no matter how cool Imam Malik is.  Additionally, I wish that Amina’s mom had some depth, and the relationship between Amina and her uncle, Thaya Jaan, was fleshed out just a tad more.  In both cases I felt something was lacking, and I wanted more.

FLAGS:

Nothing major, but a few minor issues, that a parent may want to be aware of for younger readers.  Mustafa, Amina’s brother, is seeing skipping Sunday school class and reeking of cigarette smoke.  He denies it, and the issue is definitely not glorified.  There is also crushes discussed amongst Amina’s friends and when Amina spills a secret, she has to own up to it and work it out to maintain her friendships.  The destruction of the mosque could also be upsetting to younger readers.  It isn’t graphic, but her emotional response and the intensity of it, is the climax, and a very real part of our world sadly. For parents, this fictional vandalization could possibly be a great place to start a discussion from if your children are somehow unaware of the current status of Islam in the west.  It also shows that people are good, as the whole larger community, comes together to show unity, love, and respect are values to us all, alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be perfect for a 3rd through 5th book club.  If I was starting a new book club I would start with this book.  It has it all. It has real issues, religious issues, universal issues, and heart.  All while staying on age level and all in a realistic fiction safe space to have an opinion about objectively.  The discussions after the book is read will flow naturally, but just in case:

Reading Group Guide:  http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Aminas-Voice/Hena-Khan/9781481492065/reading_group_guide

Author’s Page: https://www.henakhan.com/