Tag Archives: Muslim Family

Our Granddad by Maryam Ahmed illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

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Our Granddad by Maryam Ahmed illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

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This 29 page (four chapter) middle elementary book about understanding sickness, old age, and a bit of death, makes some good points about sabr and dua and Allah testing us with illness.  The story, however, is really dry and never becomes more than just a vehicle for conveying the author’s message of how Islam views elders and the challenges often brought upon as they age.

SYNOPSIS:

Hafsah, age 8, and her 11 year old brother Hasan are meeting after school so that they can join their parent’s in the long drive to Devon to check on their sick grandfather.  The drive is apparently really long, but being that we don’t know where the kids live or how long the drive is, we just know it is a long, painful, miserable drive.  The family is silent with worry about the grandfather on the trip, but no indicators as to what his diagnosis or symptoms are is given, just that he is ill and as the night and drive progress, the children worry he is dying.  Hasan, in the darkness of the car, sheds some tears about losing his fun granddad, but no details about the adventures they go on, or why he is fun are shared.  Their mom encourages them to continue to make dua and tells them that maybe the illness is a blessing, but the children don’t understand what she means by that.

When they arrive, the children are told it is too late bother their granddad and to wait til morning to see him.  The next day the doctor tells them he had an asthma attack and is on new medicines that are helping.  Seems like there should be more to the illness, as asthma once the attack is over can be controlled, and no other mention of heart problems or pneumonia or other diseases are indicated.  Hafsah and Hasan finally get to see him and are surprised he is awake and talking and they learn that sometimes Allah tests us by giving us hardships and that their duas and prayers were helping.  He shares the hadith, “No Muslim is afflicted with an ordeal, be it an illness or something else, without Allah thereby causing his sins to drop away just as a tree sheds its leaves.” Unfortunately, the hadith is not footnoted or attributed, but the characters and readers understand the lesson and find peace in knowing that every hardship is an opportunity not a punishment.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the concept of the book, just not the execution of the principles it instructionally conveys.  Kids need books that explain some of the big concepts that they can’t necessarily understand or even ask about, such is why do we get sick, what is going to happen to our grandparents etc.  The book really just needed more showing and less telling.  It details how the kids chase each other home from school, but doesn’t tell of the adventures that granddad and Hasan go on, it just tells us that they miss having these adventures.  There is no character development, and there is definitely space for the reader to feel for the grandpa and the concern of the kids, but it is glossed over in words not in anecdotal sharing.

The book is British, and some of the words and phrases might be confusing to American kids, such as the description of the grandfather being poorly used repetitively.

The book is presented well with clear font and spacing on glossy pages bound in a hard illustrated cover.  There are small detailed life-like pictures throughout the story that show the kids and family.  The females are in hijab and the family is clearly Muslim.

 

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This is probably a decent book to have in an Islamic School library, it would function as a reference book more than a novel or book kids would naturally pick up.  If doing a theme on aging or sickness, or tests from Allah, this book would fit in nicely in adding to a discussion, but outside of that, I can’t see that kids will even remember the book or what it is about.

 

 

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More to the Story by Hena Khan

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More to the Story by Hena Khan

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For a book written by an accomplished author for 3rd to 7th graders focusing on a Muslim family, I was surprised at how despite wanting to absolutely love this book, I only kind of liked it.  For the first 100 of 271 pages, I really kept hoping there was going to be more to the story.  Luckily the story did pick up, but I couldn’t get passed how much crushing all the sisters were doing on the one boy in the story, and how much stronger I wanted the main character to become.

SYNOPSIS:

Told from Jameela, “Jam’s” perspective, the second of four daughters living with their parents in Georgia, the story focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the members of the family and their parents’ close friends who’s nephew has moved in with them from England, Ali.  All the kids are close in age and of Pakistani ethnicity, and are Muslim.  As the reader gets to know Maryam, Jam, Bisma, and Aleeza, you see the characters develop pretty well and their quirks and personalities emerge.  Jam is more tomboyish than the gorgeous Maryam who likes to bake.  Jam and Bisma share a room and are closer than Jam and Aleeza, the baby of the family who Jam finds is becoming a brat.  Jam also enjoys watching football and eating spicy food with her dad and desperately wants to be an award winning journalist like her grandfather.  She puts out a family newsletter and is ecstatic to be named the feature’s editor as she starts 7th grade.  Ali is a year older and has moved to stay with his aunt and uncle until his mom and sister can join them.  He spends a lot of time with the sisters and in Little Women inspired fashion the little ones want his attention, Jam is a little jealous to learn he finds himself tongue tied when talking to the beautiful Maryam and Maryam in 9th grade is drawn to Ali, but doesn’t vocalize it too much.  And then as the story picks up speed, Jam says, “In a matter of weeks, Baba got a new job and moved across the world, Bisma got sick and has to be in the hospital, and I messed up everything with Ali and the paper. How did my whole life get turned upside down so quickly?”  

The rest of the book is dealing with Baba working in the Middle East, Bisma being diagnosed with lymphoma, Jameela learning some journalistic basics, and Ali and Jameela becoming a bit more than just friends. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that a Muslims desi family is being represented in an own voice novel that mentions religion as a natural part of their life, and doesn’t apologize or overly explain it.  That being said, I feel like the book is trying to present “us” to the outside so to speak, rather than empower our own.  And I point this out, because I feel like it could have done both.  Dialogue between Ali and Jameela about how they might date as they get older, how Ali can’t see any of the sisters having an arranged marriage.  How when Maryam gets asked to a dance her mom doesn’t mention any religious reason her daughter should say no.  None of the girls wear hijab, and they mention that they don’t wear hijab, at one point Jam knows she should get up and pray, but doesn’t.  I don’t expect a fictional story to teach our upper elementary age kids how to behave that is a parent’s job, but to have some basic Islamic tenants brushed aside after being mentioned is worth noting.  Had the book just been more cultural, maybe I wouldn’t be so critical, but Muslim girls are going to be excited to see themselves in this book and some of the messages might tilt a little more liberal than some parents would expect.  It is one thing when our girls read a book with a romantic twist and we say that, that is not for us, but when a book celebrates us not just crushing, but vocalizing those crushes and moving in to a gray area (they hug but it could be an innocent friend hug) and they make a point to be next to each other, Muslim parents should be aware.  In the larger society it wouldn’t even register on the radar, hence I point it out.

Another thing that kind of bothered me and was again related to Jameela and Ali’s relationship was that when Jameela cut her hair in support of Bisma losing hers with chemo treatments, she seems to need Ali’s approval.  I get that she wanted him to see her and all that, but I really wanted her to be strong enough in and of her self that even if she looked awful she would own it and not let it define her and not let a boy’s opinion about her physical appearance weigh that heavily on her.  Again I know 4th grade girls start noticing boys and having crushes and middle school is only worse, but I just was hoping that her strength and confidence would come from her own growth arc, not from someone else, let alone someone she likes. Side-note here too about the hair, it is donated to make a wig, which I know might also be a sensitive subject regarding if that is allowed in Islam or not.

In terms of the cancer and the sister’s rallying together all that I thoroughly enjoyed and found the most interesting passages in the book.  I think the understanding of a real subject and finding a way to help and deal with this was executed expertly and powerfully without sensationalizing the concern or simplifying the experience either.

FLAGS:

The book is clean, but there is a lot of mention of how Ali affects the girls.  And potentially depending your own opinions on the hair being donated.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club book, I’m actually hesitant in even recommending it to my 12 year old daughter.  I know she has read worse, but again me handing her a book about Muslim girls might make her understanding of what we expect regarding boy/girl interactions to be a bit muddled.

 

 

From Far Away by Robert Munsch and Saossan Askar illustrated by Rebecca Green

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From Far Away by Robert Munsch and Saossan Askar illustrated by Rebecca Green

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Robert Munsch is a staple in most classrooms and libraries, but somehow, much to my embarrassment, I just learned about this book.  Originally published in 1995 with a different illustrator, I read the newer version that was rereleased in 2017.  I’m not sure how they differ, but they stem from an autobiographical experience of the co-author Saossan Askar, and her leaving of the war in Lebanon.  She wrote to the author and their letters back and forth are how the book came to fruition. 

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The 24 page picture book is an AR 3.5 and my guess it is because of the content a bit more than the reading level.  While it never gets graphic or sensationalized, she does leave a war zone of bombs and shootings, and the words may trigger fear in younger children.

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As the book progresses, the focus is much more on Saoussan settling in to her new life and the hiccups along the way.  From not knowing what anyone is saying, to sneaking out of class to go to the bathroom, and being frightened by a paper skeleton.  The book gives concrete examples that while silly, really show how someone unfamiliar with a new culture could be very confused and even scared.  

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The book has a happy ending with Saoussan adjusting and making friends and even becoming the best reader and speller in her class.  She also gets in trouble often for talking too much.  

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The book, like many in the genre of discussing war and refugees on a child’s level has its strengths and weaknesses.  The heart of the story I would say is wonderful, the illustrations lively and engaging, some of the transitions and details, however, are a bit abrupt and unsatisfying.  Once you know that it is based on reality and came about through letters, it makes more sense, but even that is a concept older readers will appreciate more than younger ones will.

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I checked the book out from the public library and I think does a great job of inspiring empathy.  It is vague as to what conflict is being left which makes it timeless in that I, unfortunately don’t see refugees disappearing soon.  The mom wears hijab, but there is no mention of religion in the book.

Here are the letters from his website: https://robertmunsch.com/book/from-far-away

From Far Away started with this letter:

To Robert Munsch
I am a little girl. My name is Saoussan. I am seven years old. I am in grade two now. I came to Canada one and half year ago. I didn’t know how to speak English at all. I was just sitting and listening. A lot of funny things happened to me.

Children were trying to talk to me, but I was not able to answer them. I began to talk a little by little.

I finished grade one and now I am in grade two. The teacher now is complaining to my dad that I am talking a lot in the class and I read and write a lot of stories.

One day I found a book called Thomas’s Snowsuit. I read it and I laughed with my family.

I went to the library and I brought some of your books. I enjoyed reading them. I even read them to my dad that he laughed so hard he could not stop laughing.

Please come to our school we want to hear a story from you and we want to see you.
I wrote back and asked her what “funny things” had happened. Saoussan wrote back telling me about her first Halloween in Canada:
To: Robert Munsch
Thank you for your letter. My teacher read it to the class and he said: I am not going to tell the class the funny thing that happened to her when she was in kindergarten and I am not going to embarrass you.

I don’t remember all of the funny things. But I remember one thing.

When I wanted to go to the washroom I didn’t know how to say I want to go to the washroom. That’s why I used to crawl to the door and when the teacher turns her head and looks at the other side I crawl under my friend’s desk and when someone opens the door I crawl out and go to the washroom.

When I come back from the washroom I wait beside the door and when someone opens the door I crawl in and go to my desk.

Once I crawled to the washroom. When I opened the washroom door I saw a skeleton. Then I screamed: Aaaaahhhhhhhhh!

Everybody came out. My teacher, Mrs. Garwan came, opened the washroom door and she tried to tell me that it is Halloween time and the skeleton is paper.

I didn’t understand her and I didn’t know what Halloween is.

She jumped up and down and danced around to explain to me that Halloween is just fun, but I thought the skeleton made her crazy and I screamed louder.

Then she hugged me to make me feel better and I jumped on her lap and the pee went down my knees. She put me down because she got wet.

Now I am in grade 2/3 and I am the best reader and speller in the class. This year when it was Halloween I weared a mask and a costume and we did a party at school. Then I went with my sister trick or treating to the neighbours.

Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please come to our school.

I liked her letters so much that I decided to turn them into a book.

So Saoussan and I wrote a lot of letters back and forth and we made the letter into a book. Saoussan and I are both the authors and we split the royalties.

Nimrullah: The Quest for the Green Dagger by Aaron Spevack

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Nimrullah: The Quest for the Green Dagger by Aaron Spevack

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Oh this one was hard for me to finish.  It was the only thing I took to keep me entertained on a 7 hour plane ride in February as I was determined to read this, and even between the going and return flight, I couldn’t force myself to get through it.  Four months later out of sheer stubbornness I finished this 204 page book and I’m not better for it.  If it was your thing, I’m glad for you, but I didn’t get it, I don’t know what age group I’d even suggest it for, and for all the potential it could have had in being a fantasy series with religious overtones like Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis or some grand adventure with moral highlights, for me it was just a simple story made complex by huge religiously vague passages and too many dozens of characters.

SYNOPSIS:

The bare bones of the book is pretty straightforward.  Much like even Lord of the Rings or any basic video game, the main character has to do this, then do this, then do that to succeed and win and reach the end.  In this book it is a ten year old boy named Ahmad who crawls under the mimbar of his Massachusetts mosque and finds himself in a land of talking animals who need him to go on a quest to save their way of life.  His sister Amina also finds her way to this enchanted land and Nimrullah’s garden, but they have little interaction with each other or with Nimrullah, a tiger and head of the Dar al-Ashjar folk.  Along the way Ahmed meets beavers, and snakes and rabbits, and dragons, all with names and random tidbits of information flung in, but no real purpose or back story or attachment.  Ahmad is given a book by a turtle that will guide his internal journey, that quite often Ahmad doesn’t understand and the author doesn’t even share the text so the reader doesn’t understand, and when the author does share the text it is paragraphs and pages long, that what it means is baffling to me as an adult, let alone any elementary aged child.  The point of the journey is to get to a green dagger that is on an island in a crystal sea, but he isn’t going to an island to get it, he is going to a mountain and then a cave.  The villains are the Kadhibun that mine crystal and enslave the animals from Dar al-Ashjar in factories destroying the crystal sea, and thus the environment and animals’ way of life.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love what the author tried to do.  Even comparing it to C.S. Lewis’ work gave some hope that Muslim children would find a surface level adventure story to fall in love with, and be compelled to understand the symbolic undertones of religion, morality and faith.  However, it not just fell short, it never really gave itself a chance.  There is too much telling and not enough showing.  All the characters and animals and references to things are not explained and lose the reader, and even when I would go back I wouldn’t find concrete points to fall back on.  There are too many characters that are just name dropped and become more words to skim over.  Major battle scenes are never detailed, and the narrator resorts to saying, “it would be hard to explain.”  Characters are trusted, but no reason to trust or mistrust them is provided. Litany’s are to be recited, but aren’t shared. “Ahmed opened his book again, and started reading the commentary, which contained the litanies.  Their details cannot be mentioned here, as such a sword cannot be handed to anyone.” There is a litany of the mountain, litany of the cave and a litany of the crystal sea.  But, apparently the litany of the sea is the same as the cave one, huh? It really is a mess, I’m sad to say.  It builds up to something and then just lets it drop.  On top of that, and now I’m just ranting, there are no page numbers!  

The overall moral of Ahmad learning self contron and slaying his ego and trusting Allah and being patient is all there, but it is so hidden and muddled that I don’t think the average reader will find it inspiring or triumphant.  It is almost like the author tried to put a ton of Sufi knowledge into a children’s book, but forgot to simplify it for children.  Just having the framework of a ten year old boy surrounded by talking animals isn’t enough to deliver the message, the message itself has to be palatable for kids too.  And basic writing and story telling are critical as well.

FLAGS:

The book is clean

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t use this book for a basic book club, I couldn’t even get my 9 year old son who reads over 300 pages a day to get past the first third.  If I am missing major Sufi tenants, which I definitely could be as I know very little about Sufism, and this book is a foil for much bigger and more critical concepts then perhaps someone with Sufi knowledge teaching children in a clever way, will find this book useful, unfortunately I’m not that person, so I think I’ll have to pass on suggesting the book to others.

Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan

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Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan

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A Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase book which beautifully illustrates the bond of a mother and daughter.  Set in Malaysia, this diverse book shows a rich culture that readers will learn about, as well as relate to in 48 large 9 x 11 pages.

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The simple text shows Little Aleeya watching her dear mother, Mommy sayang, pray five times a day, them doing chores together, cooking side by side, eating with friends and family, and smiling through it all.  Little Aleeya even dreams of her and her mother at night among the hibiscus flowers.

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Mommy Sayang, however, gets ill and Aleeya waits and waits for her to get better.  Day after day Aleeya grows sadder and sadder until one day she gets an idea of how she can help her mother.

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The change of perspective from Aleeya needing her mom, to her mom needing Aleeya is sweet and empowering.  The book doesn’t detail what makes her mom sick or why up until Aleeya’s idea takes form is she not able to hang out in her mother’s room with her.

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Listeners as little as 4 or 5 will enjoy the story and the tone provided by the minimal text and illustration style, older independent readers up to 2nd grade or so will learn new vocabulary and get a peek at a possibly new culture.

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I like that the mom wears hijab when they are out and about doing chores or people are over, but that when she is home in her bed she is not covered.  The illustrations are fabulous and gentle, as is the message.

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There is a small glossary of four words on the dedication and copyright page and there is a bit about the author, her inspiration, and what movies she has worked on at Pixar at the end.

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

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Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

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Three hundred and forty pages written in verse that beautifully consume you and leave you emotionally changed and vulnerable and humbled all at once.  The book claims it is for middle grades, but I think middle school will appreciate it more, and I sincerely hope everyone of all ages will take a couple of hours to fall under the spell that is woven to tell a story of a refugee leaving home and starting anew in America.

SYNOPSIS:

Jude is a 12 year old girl living on the beach in Syria, watching American movies with her friends and hanging out at her dad’s store.  With an older brother and a little sister on the way, life as told from her own perspective is pretty good.  Until it is not.  Until the crimes they only hear about happening in Aleppo and Damascus start to hit closer to home.  Until her brother starts sneaking out to meetings with other youth hoping to change the politics of their country.  Until a raid almost catches Jude and her brother and her parent’s decide it is time for Jude and her mother to journey to America, for a little while, to visit her mom’s brother and deliver the baby.

America is not like it is in the 90’s movies that Jude loves: Pretty Woman, Legally Blond, Miss Congeniality.  Her American aunt and her Uncle that seems to have forgotten his Syrian upbringing, are gracious and welcoming and their daughter, Sarah, who is less than a year older than Jude waxes and wanes in her approach to her cousin.  Adjusting to school, life without baba and her brother, and all the other adaptations that moving to a new country entail are brought to life through Jude’s eyes and understanding of the world around her.  As she comes of age and decides to wear hijab, as Islamaphobia shakes her sense of justice, and her little sister is born, the reader sees her grow and change and mature and find themselves hoping that she will soar.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the style of the story telling somehow gives life to so much.  With verse some things are highlighted in detail and other things skimmed over and yet at the end, not only do you feel like you understand Jude, but a lot of the side characters as well, which caught me off guard.  Truly the writing is strong and deliberate.  A lot of the politics and war crimes occurring in Syria are not detailed, and I have to assume that is because the point of view is a 12 year old girl that is blissfully in her own world.  I imagine this is also why the target audience is listed as 8-12 year olds, because it simplifies a truly horrific situation.  Also because despite moments of raw vulnerability, the book stays pretty optimistic and hopeful.  

I like that the characters are Muslim, and that the mom scolds her brother for not going to the mosque.  The book does talk about Jude’s period starting and thus Jude starting to wear hijab, which is one of the reasons I feel like early middle school might be a bit more appropriate age group.  There isn’t too much talk about faith and Islamic beliefs, but a few tidbits are sprinkled in, prayer, not eating pork, modesty.  The book is not gender exclusive, but I think girls will gravitate much more to Jude’s perspective, experiences and voice.

The only thing I found a bit off is that the book takes place in modern time, present day, yet none of them have cell phones or social media.  Jude Skypes her dad, yet writes letters to her friend back in Syria and is distraught when they don’t have a forwarding address to send them to after her friend also leaves home.  It seems that social media, email, a cell phone number, something would be available for them to all keep in touch.

FLAGS:

There is mention of Jude and her friends having to sneak in to see Pretty Woman because Julia Roberts is a prostitute, and mention of blood between one’s legs and periods starting.  The book otherwise is pretty clean.  It hints at her kind of crushing on a boy that is in the play with her, but nothing more than friendship is explored.  Violence mentioned is minimal and language is clean even when dealing with hate crimes in America.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There is a good chance that next year the students joining the middle school book club will be all girls, so if that is the case and the school counselor feels all the girls can handle the puberty aspects mentioned I would totally do this book.  The book reads very quick and might be a good way to get new kid to give a book club a try as well.

Author’s website: http://jasminewarga.com/about

Q & A with the Author: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/80127-q-a-with-jasmine-warga.html

Interview with the Author: https://www.hbook.com/2019/04/authors-illustrators/publishers-previews/spring-2019-publishers-preview-five-questions-for-jasmine-warga/

 

 

What Am I? Book 2 ‘The What Race are we Series’ by Asiila Imani and Papatia Feauxzar illustrated by Juliana Paz

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What Am I? Book 2 ‘The What Race are we Series’ by Asiila Imani and Papatia Feauxzar illustrated by Juliana Paz

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This incredibly important 37 page picture book highlighting a little boys heritage will speak to children who see themselves in his quest to answer what he is, as well as (hopefully) inspire them to search out their own family ancestry and unique make up.

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The book is not a traditional story book, in fact there isn’t much of a storyline, but the concepts presented show how beautiful and amazing multi-cultural and multi-ethnic families can be.  A lot of cultural information is conveyed and celebrated about Samoan and Pacific Island traditions as well as Islamic ones.

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There is an aqiqa at the time of his birth as well as a Samoan party with a Hawaiian band.  Some members of his family cover, while other’s don’t.  He remarks how he has extra grandparents which equal extra blessings, and how he has a half brother because they have different dads.

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In addition to geography, there is also a STEM component as six-year-old Toa Idris learns he is a quarter this and half that through understanding fractions as visualized by slices of a pizza.  At one point Idris remarks that, “I can’t keep all those people and places straight,” and after reading the book half a dozen times, I honestly couldn’t either.  But, I think that is ok.  The point of the book is that being diverse is amazing, and having people love you is important, and culture and tradition and faith all make you richer.

IMG_4829 The text on each page is presented in a fun font, as are the pictures.  Really there is just one picture that makes Idris look angry and it is used in the story and the title page, which is unfortunate, I think it is supposed to have him look pensive, but it seems a bit off to me, where all the other pictures ooze with warmth and richness.

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I honestly don’t know what age group would benefit the most from the book.  Younger kids that may have been asked what their culture is will be empowered by having it reinforced that they are made just how Allah swt planned them to be, older readers will be able to create their own pizza slices, so to speak, and understand their own pieces, but I feel like both groups might need some coaching from an adult.  There are family trees at the beginning that almost become reference pages while reading the story and trying to keep everyone straight, that make the book almost interactive.  Muslim and non Muslim reader alike would learn about new cultures, and benefit from the “Extras” at the end.  Honestly, overall there is just a lot of information tossed around in the book, which isn’t a bad thing, it just might make it a bit more hit or miss if it will work for your child.