Tag Archives: Muslim Characters

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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A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

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A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

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A friend loaned me this book with a bit of hesitation as to its quality, and although I needed one more Hajj book for an upcoming story time, it seemed that it was yet another book about the steps for Hajj, so I wasn’t stressing about acquiring it. Luckily we were both wrong, at least from my perspective.  The book is so sweet, and not so much about the steps and details of Hajj, but more about the longing to go.  To seal the sweetness deal, it is about the friendship between a man, and a tree, and perfect for 3 year olds and up.

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The little tree dreams of traveling, but more than anything he dreams of going to see the Ka’aba.  Noting the logistical struggles of travel with roots, his mother encourages him to make duaa for his heart’s desires.  After a lot of patience and a lot of duaas, (alhumdulillah, it shows duaas take time and are not a magical instant granting of a wish) a young man walks by on his way to the coast to catch a boat for Mecca.  Startled by a talking tree, the clever boy just happens to have a basket and he uproots the tree and they head out together.

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The book shows the two doing all the steps in a large two page illustration, keeping the text to a minimum.   On the next page though, it highlight the two praying and trimming their hair and leaves. When the tree is returned to his mother, she is watered with Zam Zam water and “they agree it is the sweetest water ever tasted.”

The friendship continues, as they journey on countless adventures, and in the end, when the man is old and the tree is too big, the old man returns to rest on the tree’s roots and tell stories to the nearby saplings.

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Written in both English and Arabic, the story is a fast read that holds even the little one’s attention as they look at the expressive illustrations.  There is additional information on the Hajj rituals page, but it can be used according to need, like the glossary in the back.  The story is for Muslim children and families as it does not explain the requirements of Hajj, importance of the Ka’aba, or history of the rituals.

 

Zaahir & Jamel The Camel: At the Mosque by Amatullah AlMarwani illustrated by Sudha Choudhary

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Zaahir & Jamel The Camel: At the Mosque by Amatullah AlMarwani illustrated by Sudha Choudhary

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Another book in the Zaahir and Jamel the Camel series, this book explains to children how to behave at the mosque.  The pictures are colorful and busy, engaging children 2 and a half and up.  Younger children can enjoy the bolder aspects, and older children will enjoy the details.  Some of the text seems to hide behind the geometric shapes, but I would imagine the story is usually read aloud and not independently, so it isn’t too much of a problem.

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Just like when Zaahir and Jamel went for Hajj, the short rhyming sentences go step by step on what to expect as the story follows Zaahir and Jamel through the process: they take off their shoes, they make wudu, they stand for salat, they make du’aa, they stay quiet and respectful.

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The book is 23 pages, but the story is really only 17 pages.  The story is followed by Games and Activities including a quiz and a crossword puzzle, and then a Glossary.  The quiz is great when reading aloud to a group or even just at bed time to make sure the children understood the key points.

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The book is small and rectangular, which makes it work better in smaller groups (6.6 x 9.5), but for a book that cost less than a dollar online, it really should be in every child’s library.  Its a great review for little ones before Jumaah or just as a gentle reminder that praying in the mosque is something that all Muslims have in common.  It also works well for parents of non muslim kids that might be coming to the mosque and want to know what to expect, and how to act.

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A Bedtime Prayer for Peace by Akila Dada & Sukaina Dada illustrated by Michael Wagstaffe

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A Bedtime Prayer for Peace by Akila Dada & Sukaina Dada illustrated by Michael Wagstaffe

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This is a slow, deliberate, thoughtful book, that does a good job or setting a prayerful tone with short rhyming sentences.  Intended for preschool age children, early elementary children also will enjoy this book in rotation at bedtime or nap time.  

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The book thanks the creator and asks for protection for all things small and large, seen and unseen, in a gentle dreamlike manner that really could go on for so much longer than the 32 pages present.  Some items mentioned like the plants and trees a preschooler will know, but some of the concepts introduce little ones to something bigger, “Give shelter to families who need a home, Help all the people who feel alone,” “Guide us with your grace and might, keep us safe from every plight.”  

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The prayer is voiced by a mom to her young boy, Esa, and the illustrations show traditional subcontinent dress as well as western clothes being worn.  The author’s are Muslim but the book is not overtly Islamic.  Sometimes the mom is in hijab, but when in the home she is not.  More distinctly, the word Allah is not used, only God is, and thus the book and prayer, really would work for any monotheistic child as the book does say, “Dear God, protect my beautiful son, You are the Truth. You are the One.”

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The true treasure of this book is that the main character is in a wheelchair.  Showing different abled characters is always such a blessing as it normalizes it and inshaAllah makes us more accepting when out and about.  The illustrations don’t wow me, but their quiet simplicity keeps the pace of the book, and don’t scream for attention.  Some of the smaller details are endearing and help sleepy eyes linger on page without feeling rushed.

With a hard 8×8 cover, the book is a good size for little hands to read over and over again, alhumdulillah. 

 

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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Yippee! Ramadan is over, It’s Eid by Farjana Khan

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Yippee! Ramadan is over, It’s Eid by Farjana Khan

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A friend loaned me this book from the local public library, so I was not only excited that a book about Eid was readily available, but also hopeful that it was good quality.  Then I saw the title.  I mean I get that the “Yippee!” is a title part of a series of books on the different holidays Muslim’s celebrate, but for as excited as Muslims are for Eid, they are usually very sad that Ramadan is over.

Nevertheless, I opened it up and hoped to be swept away.  The list of Eid activities and rituals however, were very dry and anticlimactic.  The characters are not named, the pages are meant for pre-schoolers I would imagine, but the lack of excitement in the language is disappointing.

yippi hugThere are 19 pages of text, and the first few pages start off pretty well with a little boy seeing the Eid moon.  Then the family goes to the mosque and learn that Eid marks the end of fasting and the month of the Quran.  The boys father then gives money to the mosque, it doesn’t say that it is charity, but if one is familiar with Eid, one could assume. However, the book seems to be for those unfamiliar with Eid, so for me, this is where the book started to be lacking.  The next page also is where the list seems to start, and some of the items on the list are a bit of a stretch.  “We hug family and friends,”  followed a few pages later by a whole page dedicated to “My mother sets the table.”

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The book is also obviously desi as they eat parathas and firni.  At one point the kids play a game, not sure what game, it only says what sister’s favorite game is, and then a page is dedicated to the fact that “sister’s team wins.”

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Perhaps I am too harsh, as the book is colorful and shows family and friends happily interacting.  There are women covered, not covered and with niqab, and there isn’t anything erroneous in what is written.  I just would hope for more.  The book is small in size, 8.5 x 8.5, and could have been fleshed out a lot more.  It reads like a child’s rough draft, each page or so, being a topic sentence, without the details.

I really don’t know what one would learn or get out of this book, that they wouldn’t get out of a fictionalized account or even a character driven story at Eid time.  Online prices don’t convince me the book is a stand out either.  There are much more fun, engaging, and memorable Eid books out there, not sure why the library chose to invest in this one, but alhumdulillah, I suppose it is better than nothing.

Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

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Zachariah’s Perfect Day by Farrah Qazi illustrated by Durre Waseem

IMG_4757I was really excited to learn about this book from the author, as it seemed to be a book that would stand out in a very crowded genre and work for both Muslim and non Muslim kids.  When I tore off the package however, the face on the cover seemed a bit off for my taste, the glossary is on the back cover and while the pages are full size and full color, the book starts on the first page and somehow seemed more “home done” than “professional.”  Which isn’t a bad thing, and I’m happy to support local writers, but alas I do often judge books by their covers and format, and my first impression had to be stuffed away so I could give the book a fair chance.

The book is 20 pages with the 20th page being recipes.   I would guess children 5 and up would be considered the target audience.  It basically is a book telling about Ramadan with the author trying to blend in a story, that for me, sometimes worked and sometimes really didn’t.

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It starts with Zachariah, a 12 year-old-boy waiting for his mom to wake him up to fast, a day he has been waiting his whole life for.  Why he had to wait to fast at age 12 is not clear to me or made clear in the story.  His 10 year-old-sister only does half days, but in the illustrations she seems to only look about 3 years old, so I’m not sure where the arbitrary age requirements for fasting come from.  There is also a third sibling in the pictures that is never mentioned, not sure why, my kids and I speculated a lot more on that than we probably should have.  It isn’t told from Zachariah’s point of view but he is the focus as his day gets started.

The characters are undoubtedly desi as the book is very steeped in subcontinent cultural over tones.  Sehri, the pre dawn meal, is described in abundance of detail, “His mom made omelets, fried potatoes, with curry and tomatoes and his favorite parathas: thin leavened dough that is friend in olive oil or butter”  It’s a bit detailed of how the items are prepared for a kid’s book, and that is just page one of two pages dedicated to detailing the food on the table for breakfast.  Iftar the meal to break the fast is also two pages of description and cooking methods, but about double the amount of text.

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Culture is often food, and Ramadan has its own food traditions, but there is a lot of space dedicated to food in this book,  and it kind of takes away from the message of fasting, and moderation, and not going in excess.  Later in the book the mom does pack up some of the food to take to the less fortunate which is great, but she does it while the rest of the family is breaking their fast.  Not sure why she couldn’t have done it before or after and joined them.

After sehri is presented the family talks about Ramadan and what it means and what they like best about it.  There is a bit of dialogue that is actually sweet and funny, and gives some warmth to the story.  It is clear the author is just trying to flesh out the facts about Ramadan, but for a kid’s book, I think getting the facts in and presenting them in a fictionalized setting is a useful tool.

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The story seems a bit lopsided when it shrinks Zachariah’s day at school to one five line paragraph saying it was wonderful and then moves on saying “Later, he helps his mom.”  After spending 10 pages on the predawn meal, I would have liked to know a bit more how school went for him, it is his perfect day after all.  Also, the lapse in time by the narrator seemed a bit off to me in the sequential flow of the story, as it was following him in real time so to speak, and then fast forwards the bulk of the day only touching on lunch time, and

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Alhumdulillah, the family is sweet and excited for Ramadan. They pray together and are seen with smiling faces.  There isn’t much diversity in the pictures, the family has darker skin, the friends at lunch are more fair.  The mom wears hijab and is in the kitchen, dad doesn’t seem to be, but Zachariah helps his mom.

The book is colorful, and busy.  I’m not sure if the pictures are meant to be a stylized reality or look computer generated, but they seem a little blurry in places.  The font and backgrounds are nice.  There is a verse from the Quran in English and Arabic, as well as the athan and some Islamic calligraphy.

Overall, there is nothing “wrong” with the book, it just isn’t memorable.  There are some really good Ramadan books out there, and this one does it’s job of explaining Ramadan, but lacks the characters to leave an impression.  I definitely don’t regret buying it, but I don’t know that my kids or I will read it again this Ramadan, it doesn’t create that reaction.  It will probably stay on the shelf until next year, when we can’t recall many of the details and give it another go.

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