Tag Archives: Muslim Characters

This is Why We Pray: A Story About Islam, Salah, and Dua by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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This is Why We Pray: A Story About Islam, Salah, and Dua by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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This 8×8 softbound 55 page book for ages 5 to 7 is a great resource for learning the basics about the five pillars, wudu, salah and dua.  It claims that it is a story, but I feel like that is a bit of a stretch.  It has fictionalized framing that is done well, but to call it a story I think is misleading.  It is set up like a children’s Islamic text book, think Islamic School or Sunday School curriculum, where there is a story that highlights Islamic concepts with vocabulary, there are breaks to focus on some specific idea from an outside source, in this case the Quran, there are things to think about, questions to answer, and then the same characters re-emerge in the next chapter to repeat the process. The book has an amazing illustrator, but there are only maybe three full page illustrations, four half page illustrations, and the rest are just small glimpses to compliment the heavily text filled pages.  I can see myself reading the entire book to my five year old, and then it sitting back on the shelf to be pulled out and revised when we need to go over salat, wudu, or need to learn some duas, and understand the five pillars.  I don’t think it will be requested for the “story,” or the pictures, it just isn’t that type of book.  It borders fiction and nonfiction, but I think it is closer to nonfiction, and works well as a tool to engage your children with easy to understand text, quality illustrations to see the steps of salat and wudu, and to see Islam practiced in scenarios that young children will recognize, such as playing games, going to the beach, and losing a favorite toy.

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The book is divided in to three chapters: The Five Pillars, Offering Salah, and Making Dua.  Before the chapters there is a letter from the author to grown-ups and then one to kids.  After the final chapter there are reference pages with extra duas and prayers and a glossary.

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The first chapter opens with the Abdur-Rahman family playing an Islamic question game.  Older sister Aliya knows the five pillars, younger brother Amar needs a little more explaining.  The next morning the kids are heading to the beach, but first they have to get up to pray salah and send some food to the neighbor. As the kids drive they talk about Ramadan and their Uncle Sharif having just gone for Hajj.  There is then a page dedicated to a Quran Story Time that focuses on Allah swt wanting us to ask him for each and everything no matter how big or small. There is an ayat from the Quran as well as a hadith. The next page is a section called, “What We Can Do Together,” to further learn about the five pillars, and then some questions asking the reader, “What Do You Think?”.

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Chapter two has the family at the beach pausing their fun to pray.  But first they have to make wudu, and the steps are illustrated and detailed with tips and directions.  They then pray, again the steps and words are detailed and illustrated with tips about how to stay focused and the like.  The translation of the Arabic is included and the transliteration is as well.  The Quran Story Time focuses on Fajr and then the questions and ways to further engage with the information concludes the chapter.

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The third chapter is on Dua and has the kids barely making it to Sunday School on time.  Papa says he made dua that they wouldn’t be late, and even in class the lesson is on dua. After class Amar can’t find his toy even after making dua and is encouraged to be grateful for what he does have.  The Quran Story tells the story of Prophet Muhammad (saw) helping the old woman who is talking bad about the Prophet and how after he helps her and he tells her his name, she converts.  I don’t know that, that is in the Quran, I thought it was a hadith?

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The kids learn that Allah swt may not answer duas, but will inshaAllah give them something better.  There are four additional duas to learn in the moving on section and the bolded words throughout are defined in the glossary.

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I’m not sure about the title of the book, it is about more than just prayer, so don’t think that it is limited to just that.  It also doesn’t detail the number of rakats or what breaks wudu, it is specific in somethings, but is more a broad overview than an all encompassing handbook on salat.

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I think the book is well done and will be useful for most, if not all, Muslim families with young children learning the basics, but it isn’t a picture story book in my opinion, it is more of a fun engaging twist on information that might otherwise be presented in a boring manner.

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Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz illustrated by Parwinder Singh

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Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz illustrated by Parwinder Singh

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I’m not sure what I expected this book to be, I just knew I wanted to get my hands on it, but I’m fairly certain, that even if I would have had some expectations, they would have been no where near how well done this 40 page book for four to eight year olds is overall.  It is unapologetically American-Palestinian Muslim in an inclusive funny delightful way, that only an OWN voice book can be. There have been some great picture books lately that are authentic, yet mainstream, and this book pushes that standard just a little bit higher as it normalizes jummah, halal food, dabke, hijab, with familiar threads of street food, spunky little sisters, untied shoelaces, tradition, and excitement.  The story has a twist and some intentionally misleading foreshadowing, that give the book depth and added fun.  Readers of all backgrounds will relate to this book and find something that they can relate to, as they laugh and marvel at Musa’s infectious enthusiasm for hot dogs. img_0610

Musa Ahmed Abdul Aziz Moustafa Abdel Salam, aka Musa, loves Fridays.  His family heads to the masjid for Jummah prayer and then home for a special Jummah treat.  Lately, they’ve had molokhia, that stayed in their teeth for a week, kufte kabobs that were better for soccer playing than eating, riz bi haleeb with lost dentures, and prelicked jelly beans.  Alhumdulillah, this week is Musa’s turn to pick, and he is picking his favorite: halal hot dogs with Salam sauce.

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They head to the mosque dancing dabke as they leave their house with smiling faces.  The khutbah is long though, and during salat his stomach is roaring! Afterward he is off, but Seedi has to help Maryam find her red shoes in a sea of red shoes and mama is chatting with friends. 

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Dad gives in and lets Musa go get the hot dogs alone.  As he heads to the stall with the best hotdogs: the perfect amount of hot, chewy, juicy hot dog goodness, he passes all sorts of foods being eaten.  There is falafel and bao and tacos and samosas and churros, but he is determined to get hot dogs, even though the line is really long.

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He sees friends in line, and firefighters, and even his school principal.  Everyone loves hot dogs, even birds and squirrels.  Finally he buys a whole bag full with special Salam sauce and races home to share with everyone.  But uh oh, it doesn’t go as planned, and I’m not about to spoil it, so get yourself a copy like I did from http://www.crescentmoonstore.com or your library, and maybe don’t read it while you are fasting, because you will be craving hot dogs, mmmmmm nom nom nom.

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There is an Author’s Note at the end that details her kids’ influence on the story and explains that a portion of the proceeds go to UNRWA USA, a non profit that helps Palestinian refugees.  There is a glossary of Arabic Words and Terms, and a section explaining Halal Laws.

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The book shows the mom in hijab outside the home, and uncovered within the home.  There are diverse skin colors among the Muslim and non Muslim characters in the book, as well as a variety of ages depicted.  Seedi wears a keffiyah on Jummah, but different clothes on different days.  The illustrations are wonderful and descriptive and do a lot to compliment the story by setting a relatable and diverse-positive visual.

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An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

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An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

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This 256 page YA OWN voice book is a real and raw look at a character and the many layers of life weighing down on her.  At the center of it all is a strong Muslim teen dealing with post 9/11 bigotry, the shattering of her family, toxic friendships, and a broken heart.  It is a love story, but it is so much more, as the protagonist’s voice draws you in to her crumbling world from the very first page and has you begging for more when the last page is read.  So often in Muslim-lead-mainstream-romance-themed novels, I want there to be introspection at the choices that the character is making and the internal processing of navigating their wants with their beliefs, and this book surprisingly does it.  There are some kissing scenes, cigarette smoking, cosmo magazine headlines, and waiting for her father to die, but not without introspection. Shadi reflects on her smoking quite often, she questions the repercussions of her actions, and she analyzes her father’s faith and approach to Islam as she forges her own relationship with the deen.  There is mention of a Muslim character drinking, doing drugs, hooking up, and it mentions he had condoms in his car, just those exact phrases, nothing is detailed or glorified, just stated.  There are also threads of mental health, self harm, death, and grief.  The characters are genuinely Muslim and some of their experiences are universal, and some specific to the faith, culture, and time.  Muslims and non Muslims will enjoy the book, and I would imagine relate to different things, but find it overall memorable and lingering.  For my Islamic school teens, I’d suggest this book for 17/18 year olds to early twenties.  It isn’t that they haven’t read more graphic books, but to be honest, Shadi has a lot going on, and if being close to Ali can lighten her load and help her find hope and joy, I’m all for it.  I know it is “haram,” but it is fiction, and it will have readers rooting for them to be together, not a message you may want to pass on to your younger teens.  As the author says in her forward, “we, too, contain multitudes.”

SYNOPSIS:

The layout of the book bounces between December 2003 and the year before.  In a previous time, Shadi’s life was easier, her brother was alive, she had a best friend, her Iranian immigrant Muslim family may have had stresses and issues, but they were a family. In 2003, Shadi is largely forgotten by her parents, her brother is dead, her father is close to death, her mother is self harming, her older sister preoccupied, and as a high school student Shadi is both falling and being crushed by her heavy backpack both metaphorically and literally.

The story opens with Shadi being approached by a police officer wondering why she is laying in the sun, he thinks she is praying, and she doesn’t have the energy to be angry by this assumption, she is exhausted, and doesn’t want to cause any waves that might get back to her fragile mother and cause any more stress than necessary.  So she drags herself up, and begins the walk to her college level math class miles away.  The sun is short lived and the rain begins to pour, she knows no one will come to pick her up.  Her parents have long ago stop being present in her life.  She once had a best friend, but that relationship, as toxic as it was, also has ceased to exist.  So she walks, and she is drenched, and she falls, so she is now soaking wet and bloody.  A car slows down to presumably offer her a ride, but then he speeds off drenching her in a tidal-wave.  The scene is set for the tone of the book. Shadi is drowning, we don’t know all the reasons why, they unfold slowly, but we know that it is going to get worse, her phone is nearly dead and her sister has just called to let Shadi know her mother is in the hospital.

I don’t want to detail my summary as I often do, because the way the story unfolds, would really make any additional information given act as a spoiler.  The book is short and a fast read, but along the way the introspection to the chaos that is Shadi’s life, makes it impossible to put the book down.  Shadi will have to confront her crumbling life and find away to reach toward hope.  She will have to keep walking to avoid drowning and along the way cling to the few precious things that give her joy: an emotion of great delight.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I really enjoyed this book.  I loved the Islam and real approach to her volunteering at the mosque and calling out racism within the community and diving deep in to understanding is Islam more than just rules and toeing the line.  It was a great mirror for so many nuances in real life, that I will probably re-read the book again in the near future, to enjoy it all.  I absolutely love the unpacking of the toxic friendship.  When women tear each other down under the guise of caring it is brutal, and the acceptance and growth that Shadi is struggling with in regards to her best friend of six years, Zahra. who is also Ali’s sister, is a reminder that sometimes walking away is the only choice.  

The two criticisms I have of the book are: one-that the book is too short, I wanted, no, I needed more.  And two I didn’t understand why Ali’s family and Shadi’s family were no longer close.  I get that Shadi cut Ali out of her life and Zahra and Shadi had a break, but Ali/Zahra’s family still care for Shadi and she for them, so what happened between the parents? It seems that the death of a child would draw the friends out and make them protective, not push them to being aloof.  It seemed off to me and major plot hole.

FLAGS:

As I mentioned above: kissing, smoking, drugs, hooking up, referencing condoms, cosmo headlines, self harming, grief, death, alcohol.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think even high school could do this as a book club selection, because you really want to ship Shadi and Ali.  If you had like an MSA book club then I think this would be a great choice.  I would love to hear teens’/young adults’ thoughts about Shadi’s view of religion, her fathers approach, and how they view passing the deen on to their children.  I think it offer great role-play scenarios in empathy and how you’d react in real life to finding your mother struggling, your best friend taking off her hijab and being so jealous of you, the bullying, the assumptions, understanding your father and where to assign the blame for such a traumatic event that claimed your brother’s life.  There is so much to discuss, and I hope at some point I find the right forum to chat about this book and listen to other’s perspectives about it.

Hannah and the Ramadan Gift by Qasim Rashid illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

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You may have seen this new 40 page Ramadan book that came out yesterday and thought, “another book about what Ramadan, is and a girl being told she is too young to fast, I’ll pass.”  And I’m here to tell you, please reconsider.  This book is wonderful and it is not the same-old-same-old.  I know the title and cover don’t hint at the heartfelt story within, but it really does an amazing job of showing, not just telling, about the feelings and purpose of Ramadan beyond the restraining of food and drink.  The text is a bit heavy, but the illustrations keep even four and five year olds engaged, and the story works for Muslim and non Muslim children alike.  The OWN voice book has a Desi slant with Urdu words, Pakistani clothing and featuring an immigrant family, but the cultural tinges are defined in the text and it flows smoothly.  This would be a great book to share with your children’s class to show how Ramadan is more than just going without food, or being just one day, or one act of kindness, it is an ongoing effort to show kindness to those near and far.  The book shows an authentic Muslim family and presents universal themes, making Ramadan and Islam more relatable and familiar to all readers, and inspiring Muslim children to find their own ways to save the world.

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The book starts with Hannah being woken up by her paternal grandfather, Dada Jaan, it is the first day of Ramadan, and she is excited.  She hopes that now that she is eight years old, she is old enough to fast.  Her heart sinks when she is told, “Fasting is for grown-ups, not for growing children,” but her spirits rebound when Dada Jaan tells her that she is going to celebrate Ramadan by saving the world.

The first thing Hannah and Dada Jaan do is collect cans from the pantry to take to the soup kitchen.  Dada Jaan explains what a soup kitchen is, and why it is important to help those that don’t have enough food.  Hannah is worried they won’t be able to help everyone in the whole world, but Dada Jaan encourages her to start with her neighbors.

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Later in the day, Hannah’s friend loses a beloved family necklace, and when the bell rings she doesn’t want to be late for class, but she remembers that she is supposed to help, so she does.  Hannah finds the necklace, but her teacher is not happy when she comes to class late, and Hannah isn’t even given a chance to explain.

On the 11th day of Ramadan, Hannah and Dada Jaan decide to save the world again before they head off to the science fair.  They are packing up clothes to take to the shelter.  Hannah is worried that the people at the shelter won’t know that they are the ones that donated the clothes.  Dada Jaan says that it is enough to help people out of love and adds that the best superheroes work in secret.

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At the science fair Hannah sets up her model replica of Abbas ibn Firnas’s flying machine next to her friend Dani.  When Dani runs off to see a robot, his globe rolls off the table and Hannah saves it. Dani ends up winning and she is happy for him, but she is sad that no one knows she saved his project.

Twenty days in to Ramadan, Hannah has a play date with a girl she has never met before and Hannah does not want to go.  Sarah is new to the neighborhood and Hannah’s mom insists she goes.  Luckily Dada Jaan strikes up a deal that he will take her and they can leave when ever she wants.  Hannah and Sarah have so much fun together, Hannah doesn’t want to leave.

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When they get home, Dada Jaan shows Hannah old photographs of when he and Dadi Jaan had first come and didn’t even know the language.  They talk about how the kindness of others helped them, that and Dadi’s butter chicken.  The night before Eid, Dada Jaan asks Hannah if she helped make the world a better place, she doesn’t think she did, but he seems to think otherwise.

On Eid day they go to the mosque, then to the cemetery to pay respect to Dadi Jaan, and when they return home they find Hannah’s whole world there to celebrate with her.  Cousins, friends Maria and Dani from the church across the street and the synagog by the mosque, as well as the Sikh family that runs the soup kitchen.  Dada Jaan and Hannah enjoy gulab jamun, kheer, and jalebis as they discuss if Hannah really did help the world this Ramadan.

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It is hard in my heart to go wrong with a story that focuses on an amazing grandfather/granddaughter relationship that ends with them racing to get the last gulab jamun, so I might be a little bias.  But I was genuinely surprised and delighted by the direction the book took and the way it presented Ramadan in everyday situations that children can relate to and imitate. I was a little disappointed that the book wasn’t larger considering the phenomenal illustrations.  It is just 8.5 x 11.  I love that the characters pray and read Quran, and the mom covers and the neighbors are diverse.

Zayan Unlocks the Quran by Najia Syed illustrated by Rizky Dewi

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Zayan Unlocks the Quran by Najia Syed illustrated by Rizky Dewi

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There is a lot of good information and relatable lessons in this 45 page didactic book encouraging children to get to know the Quran, and to not just recite and memorize it, but the presentation just doesn’t do it any favors.   I can’t imagine that seven and eight year olds are going to identify with the five year old protagonist learning how to add and getting in fights over crayons at school, nor that five year olds are going to have the patience for the explanations and understand the story.  The word story in and of itself is a stretch, it is a bunch of ayats from the Quran that are explained to teach young Zayan lessons that reflect his daily life and how he can succeed and inshaAllah earn jannah in the akhira.  The intention is really good, I just wish there was a bit more plot and that the book’s appearance made more sense.  Having the book look and feel like a leveled reader on the outside, but be completely tiny text filled, save a few entire page generic full-color pictures and green bannered meaning of the Quran’s translation, the book and its seven chapters are intimidating.  Space it out, make it an early chapter book in look and feel, revise the premise that a child has no idea what the Quran is, and is completely shook by learning from the kind and patient Qari Sahib that the Quran has lessons and rules to make us better.  It is a stretch to get the book going, it has some wonderful points along the way, and leaves a warm feeling when completed, but I can’t figure out the intended readers age, nor can I imagine many kids will willingly picking it up.  Like the character in the book dreading Quran class, I’m afraid getting kids to read this would similarly be met with dread, which is a shame, because the lessons are strong, the story and presentation just need a bit of polishing.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zayan does not want to leave his toys for Quran class which he attends one-on-one on the computer with his teacher, Qari Sahib.  Reading the Arabic is hard and confusing, he doesn’t understand what he is reading and he would rather be playing.  He has just built a fort and is afraid if he leaves it for class, his sister will destroy it, (over the first few pages I was convinced his sister was younger than him, and a little confused to learn that both are older).  When he begrudgingly logs on, Qari Sahib can tell he is upset and tells him that being kind to his siblings is a good deed and that many good deeds are in the Quran.  Zayan is shocked.  Qari Sahib offers to read some ayats to him and he can just listen before they resume reading Surah Fatiha.  Zayan is blown away at how pretty the Quran sounds when recited and his eyes sparkle when he learns that the Quran contains directions to get to jannah.

Chapter two explores how the ayats in the Quran about kindness can relate to Zayan’s life.  Being kind to your parents, speaking in a low voice, and not making fun of each other.  Ayats are pulled and connections made so that Zayan can inshaAllah implement his new knowledge in his life.  Zayan returns to playing after class and tests out what he has learned.

This pattern continues with chapter three discussing respect, then anger and forgiveness, cleanliness, and honesty.  The parables come when he doesn’t listen to his mother about finishing his grapes, a fight at school involving crayons, playing in the mud and lying about feeding his pet cat. At one point he remarks that much of what his teacher explains to him from the Quran are things that his mother also tells him, almost like she has read the Quran.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The first few lines are so relatable.  The dread of the child putting the entire family on edge, it is real.  I love that Qari Sahib is kind and gentle and patient.  When the mom mentions things to him about Zayan he finds ways to talk to him about it, without lecturing or reprimanding.  I think the Qari Sahim is the real hero in the book.  I particularly like when he went in to detail about our responsibility to care for animals.  I’m glad Zayan has him to guide him because clearly his parents have failed.  Yes, I’m being judgey.  The kid doesn’t know what the Quran sounds like, doesn’t know why he is being forced to read it in Arabic, doesn’t know what it even is about? I’m not so much judging the fictitious parents, more the inconsistent writing.  If Zayan doesn’t know that his mom has read the Quran how does he know what jannah is and who shaytaan is?

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Obviously not for a book club selection, but I’ve been trying to figure out if maybe my five year old and I could discuss some of the chapters together.  I wouldn’t want to read the whole book because my child loves the Quran and doesn’t dread reciting, I have five children, I know tomorrow it can change, I’m not naive, I’m just saying for him particularly right now, it isn’t a chore and I think if I presented it as a boring thing, he will start to mimic that frame of mind (my older kids know not to ever bash certain teachers, concepts, spiciness of food etc. in front of their younger siblings for this very reason).  But, while some of the lessons are really well thought out, they are just too much for a five year old.  The pictures don’t engage and the text overbearing.  I asked my 10 year old to read it and he found it really childish and didn’t finish.  If the book works for you, alhumudillah, I’m glad, it is a benefit, I wish it worked for me too.

One Perfect Eid Day and No More Cake! by Suzanne Muir illustrated by Azra Momin

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One Perfect Eid Day and No More Cake! by Suzanne Muir illustrated by Azra Momin

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This lovely counting book celebrates the end of Ramadan and the festivities of Eid Al-Fitr by counting up to 10 and counting back down.  Over 24 pages of rhyming lines, adorable illustrations will bring the holiday to life as a group of children and a little white cat celebrate.  Aside from the title that for some reason I don’t love, the rest of the book is happy and festive and perfect for toddlers to preschoolers.

It starts with one month coming to an end, then henna cones and designs take over, before five pots and six trays of cake are prepared, decorations are hung, clothes are made ready and ten eager eyes watch the new moon rise.

Then ten sleepy cousins have to get up early for morning prayers with presents waiting, rotis are prepared before seven family members squeeze in the van. Friends are met at the masjid and coins are jingling as lunch parties are attended and fun-fair rides are riden. Two tired friends can’t stay away on this one perfect day, and no more cake.

I love the flow of the book, I’m not sure what the four henna designs are or what cousin doesn’t get a present and who doesn’t get to go for prayers, but little kids probably won’t over think it.  The little cat is delightful on each page and the book sets a marvelous tone of what one can look forward to and enjoy on this splendid holiday with friends, family, festivities, and food.

The Adventures of Adam and Anisah: My Brother’s Shield by Zahra Patel illustrated by Reyhana Ismail

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The Adventures of Adam and Anisah: My Brother’s Shield by Zahra Patel illustrated by Reyhana Ismail

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Based on the idea that “Fasting is a Shield (ibn Majah),” this adorable book brings Ramadan not just to life, but makes those that fast into absolute superheroes!  Over 32 pages of simple large rhyming words, little Anisah shares her wonder and amazement toward her brother, and his shield that he wields during Ramadan.  The beauty of her admiration for her older sibling combined with the message, illustrations, and presentation, make this book (there is also an accompanying workbook) perfect for ages three and up.

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It starts with a secret.  Adam is a superhero.  When Ramadan arrives, the shield comes out and Adam carries it all day.  He doesn’t eat or drink when he has it.  It makes him brave and saves him from tempting biscuits.  It gives him peace when he reads Quran. It keeps him calm when there is a foul during a soccer game. It even keeps him away from gossip at the mosque.

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When they break their fast, they pull out their magic carpet to fly.  And when Ramadan is over the shield goes away until it is needed again. Anisah patiently marks off the days on the calendar until Ramadan will arrive, because she has another secret.  She is training to be a superhero too.

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The book concludes with how the story came about, discussion questions and some activities to help learn through practice. The illustrations show diversity and whimsy and toddlers and preschoolers, I’m certain will be begging for this story all year around.

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Red Shoes by Karen English illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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Red Shoes by Karen English illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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This delightful 32 page picture book links two girls, two ends of the world, two cultures and two stories together with a pair of red shoes.  The short sentences pop with action and the perfectly illustrated two-page spreads convey relatable emotion and joy.  The beloved shoes travel on the feet of one character to a wedding, Christmas dinner, and birthdays, they are then are donated and journey to West Africa to be given as a gift for a little girl who fasted half of Ramadan.   The message I hope children ages three and up will get from the story, is that we are more alike than different, that we should take care of our things (amazingly the shoes weren’t worn out), and that we should donate things of good quality that we ourselves value.  I hope it doesn’t lend itself to perpetuate the stereotype that we can send our castaway items to Africa, being the author comments in her bio on the back flap that her husband is from West Africa and that she frequently visits there, I’m hoping that this is just me being overly cautious in the messaging, and nothing is being implied or negatively taken from a casual reader.

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Malika and her Nana see a pair of dazzling shoes perched in the window, and Malika is enamored. Her grandma later surprises Malika with the shoes.  She quickly tries them on and tests them out.  She keeps them safe from the rain and dances with them on at her Auntie’s wedding.  She kicks her cousin Jamal with them on, under the table at Christmas when he tries to steal her biscuit.

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She stomps away from her best friend in her red shoes, and jumps double Dutch with them on when she makes up with her friend at her birthday party. But at Nana’s birthday, “the shoes don’t let her forget that her feet have grown.” Nana and Malika take the shoes to the thrift store to be resold.  A sad Malika says goodbye to them, they were her favorite shoes ever.

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Inna Ziya sees the shoes in the window and knows just the little girl who will love them.  She squeezes them in to her suitcase and they are off to Africa. They wait under a table selling claypots in a market waiting for the girl who fasted half the month of Ramadan.

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When Amina comes holding her mother’s hand, Auntie Inna Ziya delivers the promised gift.  Amina thinks they are beautiful and lovingly carries them in the box on her lap as they fide the tro-tro home.  Amina’s little sister Halima, can’t wait to see the gift as she too hopes to one day fast in Ramadan.

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Amina lets her try them on and when she outgrows them she plans to pass them on to her.  Meanwhile, Malika is wondering whatever happened to her beautiful red shoes, and if someone else is wearing them.

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There is no mention of Islam nor is Ramadan explained.  There are women in hijab in America and in Africa, even in the books in a shop window there is representation.  I particularly love the shout-out in the illustrations to “Mommy’s Khimar.”

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The front of the book has Malika, and the back, Amira.

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Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

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hana khanTechnically this book is adult fiction because the protagonist is 24 years old, but the halal rom-com is so sweet and considering the YA options that exist in the same genre, I think high school juniors and senior would do better to dive in to this light, enjoyable, albeit predictable, read over so many of the other options out there.  I read the 368 page book in two days, I was hooked and impressed with the strength of all the female characters, the step away from all the stereotypical tropes and the smooth writing style.  The book is for everyone and while packaged as a light read, there are some themes of immigration, family, choice, and OWN voice realizations that are presented and explored in a thoughtful and impactful manner.

SYNOPSIS:

Hana Khan’s mother owns and operates Three Sisters Biriyani Poutine in Toronto, there are not three sisters, biriyani poutine is not on the menu and business is bad, really bad.  The 15 year old restaurant that Hana named when she was nine is struggling even though it is the only halal option in the close-knit, diverse, golden crescent community.  When news hits that a new upscale halal restaurant is opening a few doors down, Hana chooses to ignore that the business was struggling and instead blames the new proprietors.  They are wealthy, corporate and insufferable.  Well, the dad is anyway, the son Aydin, he isn’t so easily defined.

Hana balances shifts at the restaurant, her internship at Radio Toronto and her own anonymous brown girl podcast.  Hana, real name Hanaan, comes from a supportive and close family.  Her dad was injured in a serious car accident, her older sister is pregnant, and her cousin from India along with a cousin-aunt have just arrived under suspicious circumstances.

As the new restaurant gets closer to opening, Hana finds herself stooping to all new lows to sabotage their success.  Encouraged by an anonymous podcast listener who she has been chatting with for quite a while, and inspired by her rebel cousin-aunt, Hana is determined to secure a permanent job in radio, save her family restaurant, and destroy the competition.  But, an attack downtown draws attention to growing Islamophobia and forces Aydin and Hana to work together.

In a fictional story where everyone knows everyone both in India and Toronto, crazy family members are endearing and loyal, it is no surprise that the main characters are more connected than they think.  As Hana finds her strength to carry on amidst change, she also figures out what direction to focus her energy, her talents, and voice.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I absolutely love the writing.  I was invested in many of the characters, not just the protagonist, and absolutely cheered as she gave a nod to so many assumptions so that she could move past them: forced marriage, hijab, acceptable professions, inclusion, etc.. The family is all about choice and not getting hung up on stereotypes show the power that OWN voices have in telling stories that resonate with everyone.  The book is full of religion, from waking up for fajr, to listening to the khutbah at jumah, going to the masjid to find peace, and believing in destiny.  It is not a preachy book by any means, but the characters are Muslim inside and out.  The traditional family does not pressure Hana to get married, her sister’s marriage was a love one.  She is often alone with her male cousin or brother in law, or best friend Yusuf.  She knows who she is and her family trusts her.

I love the food, the insight of immigrants and family.  I was particularly moved by her articulation of being told by outsiders what it means to be Muslim in Canada, or an immigrant and then not being listened to when pushed back upon. Her challenging a teacher on what the fourth pillar of Islam is and not being heard, resonated profoundly.

Within the first 100 pages or so the reader figures out who everyone is and how they are connected, save one surprise, but it is like watching a favorite movie, you keep going because it is fun, and enjoyable and the point isn’t to figure it out, but to enjoy the ride.

FLAGS:

There are relationship threads, but nothing more detailed than a hand touch after a funeral.  Her best friend Yusuf marries their best friend Lily an Agnostic, knowing that both families are against it.  There is music and racist talk and vandalism.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The high school book club usually tries to include a halal romance novel for the loyal participants that clamor for it in the group and I plan to suggest this one to them.  For as light and straightforward as the book is, there is a lot to discuss when the surface is peeled back.  There would be lot to explore from her podcast, internship experience, and her hate crime experience, that the romance part will be seen as simply a vessel to more profound issues to explore.

Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

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sasquatch

My tween boys read the first two books in the Streetball Crew Series and recommended I read book one because there is a Muslim character and I’m a fan of the basketball all-star author who draws on his own life and experiences growing up in the story.  It is 265 pages, an AR 4.5, and while the story is decent, and I enjoyed the majority of it, I didn’t love it.  I was not thrilled at the choppiness of the story telling and ultimately the way Islam was presented.  Obviously there are plenty of Muslims that will occasionally eat pork and who get violent as they get more religious, but I don’t think it is the norm and definitely isn’t a message most middle grade Muslim readers would identify with, nor want non Muslims assuming about Muslims as a whole.  The book randomly has a sudden Muslim chapter toward the end and attributes some threats on the main character as being from Muslims becoming more devout.  The main character is not Muslim, this is a side character and her family, and you don’t find out til the book is nearly over that she is Muslim. I worry how younger readers will be affected by the negativity toward Islam, as it really isn’t explored or even part of the story.  There is enough going on in 8th grade Theo’s life with out the insertion of religion.  I was glad I read it so that I could discuss it with my boys, but I would encourage the book for more middle school aged kids, if at all.  The book involves basketball as a subplot, but has larger life lessons and developments away from the game.  Do be aware one of the young characters smokes cigarettes, there is female objectification talk among the male characters, racism is discussed, there is some physical assault, and beer, R-rated movies, tattoos, branding, and dating are mentioned in this coming of age book.

SYNOPSIS:

Theo is 13, in 8th grade, and over the summer has grown six inches.  He identifies as a science nerd and a geek and is on the Academic Olympic team at his school.  He now, however, finds himself on the school basketball team, and has no idea what he is doing.  Towering over everyone, he is assumed to be good, but his lanky body and new found size brings him ridicule and teasing. His life long best friend, a fellow geek, can’t figure out why he won’t just quit the basketball team, but Theo is oddly enough,  enjoying the concept of team, and suddenly being recognized in the halls.  When he joins a pickup game to improve his skills however, he gets in a fight with another kid, get’s threatened by some guys on motorcycles, and teased by a weird girl named Rain.

Outside of school it is just Theo and his police officer dad. Theo’s mom has recently passed away and the two are creating a new normal, that is until Theo finds out his father is giving online dating a try.   After the first abysmal basketball game, Theo is forced to go visit his cousin in LA who is a tiny bit older than him, but much rougher.  He constantly teases Theo and puts him down.  He claims to be a great musician, but no one has ever heard his music, and suddenly on this visit, he seems a bit more insightful, which has Theo confused. 

With Theo being pulled in multiple directions, he risks being kicked off the basketball team, moved down to alternate on the Brain Game Team, killed on Friday by the motorcycle gang and to top it all off, a CD of his cousins music has been stolen from Theo’s backpack and band has gone viral with one of the songs.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it is a coming of age book for boys.  I feel like there are a lot of girl books out there, but this one really does get into a young males head.  It isn’t always pretty, and while women/girls are at times objectified in his thoughts and while chatting with his friends, I think he realizes it and doesn’t treat or talk to women in a negative way.  I like that race is discussed as he is one of 14 black kids in his school of 600.  There are times when he or his family are treated different for their skin color, but his mom never allowed him to accept it to be a reason for not being the best ‘you’ and she would make them put money in a jar any time they blamed race for something bad happening, a tradition they continue even though she has passed.  I like the pop cultural references, a lot of books overdo it, this book makes it pretty smooth and relatable.

*Spoiler Warning* So Rain, turns out to be Matar, Arabic for Rain, she has convinced her aunt and uncle to let her change schools while her parents are in Iraq (her mom is Iraqi, her father a Quaker from Pennsylvania) and call her by her American name and let her wear American clothes (no hijab).  The motorcycle villains, are her cousins, who were trying to find her and were threatening  Theo to try and find out where she was.  Their frustration with her behavior and dress is what prompted them to hit Rain which made her run.  Rain and Theo discuss why after September 11, she was tired of being accused of being a terrorist and so she wanted a fresh start.  Her uncle and aunt are noted as being nice, but clearly the devout Muslim cousins are what will be remembered.  She also discusses sometimes eating pork, that hijab is modesty in the Quran, not a requirement to cover your hair, and that she is Muslim, but doesn’t know if she will be when she is older.

The book didn’t find its flow for me until nearly half way through, maybe about page 100 or so.  It seemed to struggle to get all the characters introduced, flesh them out, and then decide what the book should be about.  Once it got through all that it flowed better, but still left me confused as to why there was a spontaneous breakfast party, why a lawyer would so quickly get involved in the music case, why Theo was withdrawing from his friends, why Rain wouldn’t just talk to Theo, how Rain had friends she could stay with after just starting at the school, how Rain could switch schools without her parents there. Really the Rain character in general seemed really forced.

FLAGS:

I listed most of the potential concerns in the opening paragraph so that anyone, like me that would think, ‘oh fabulous a middle grade sports book by a Muslim author’ would be aware that there are a few potentially concerning elements.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club selection, it is a little all over the place, my 11 year old disagrees and thinks it would be a great book club read, so I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Video interviews with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about the book:

https://video.disney.com/watch/sasquatch-in-the-paint-with-kareem-abdul-jabbar-4e8f920a40dec5fcc9be6a5d