Tag Archives: Muslim Friends

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

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

stairs series

This set of books claim to be for children ages 8 to 12, but I think they work better for 7 to 10 year olds.  They look like leveled readers, and resemble them in their simple linear story lines.  They are broken up in to chapters, that really are not necessary, but because of the volume of text on each page, allows for a young reader to take a break.  All four books in the series are connected chronologically and contain the same characters.  They more or less present a problem, bring over their friends, have one of the friends offer some advice tied to a hadith or ayat from the Quran, and the advice is tested, and then shared once more.  They are about 20 pages and have activities at the end that range from solving clues to writing paragraphs.  The sentences and vocabulary are about a second grade level, with translations of Arabic and Turkish words, along with references to the Quran and Hadith appearing in the footnotes on the page they are mentioned on.

stairs series characters

The best part of the books is that they are written by an 8th Grader, mashaAllah.  I think they teach a lesson in a simple way, and while not terribly suspenseful or comical, they do succeed in showing Islamic lessons in relatable situations for kids.  Some of the details seem excesses or meandering, but again, the fact that it is written by a kid, will inspire readers to listen differently to lessons about patience, accepting Allah’s will, recognizing one’s own limitations, and putting Allah (swt) above all else.

stairs inside

The pictures are colorful and simple.  They appear every few pages in the book and provide a nice break from the text.  They are sweet and not detailed, but sufficient for the story and level.

stairs pictute

Hamza Learns about Charity by Ameena Chaudhry

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Hamza Learns about Charity by Ameena Chaudhry

hamza learns about charity

It is hard to believe I haven’t reviewed any of the seven Hamza books in the series.  They are perfect for 2-6 year olds (older kids will enjoy them too), and all are both informative and silly.  This book is 20 pages and is seven and half inch square in shape.

In Hamza Learns About Charity.  Hamza learns what the word charity means as his mom is packing up his old toys to donate to the less fortunate.  He also learns you can give money and how donating and taking care of the poor is required in Islam.  Hamza’s mom tells how Prophet Muhammad (saw) lived a simple life and was very generous with whatever he had.  Hamza also learns the word for charity in Arabic.  When his mom leaves to take the stuff, Hamza decides to show that he understands and is ready to give everything away and live a simple life.  Alhumdulillah, mom returns in time to shoo the neighbors away and convince them that the house, and car, and household items are not for sale.  Thus, Hamza also learns that we aren’t required to give everything away, and when making big decisions we should get our parents’ permission first.

The illustrations are cute and colorful.  They are not overly detailed, but Hamza’s facial expressions are engaging and expressive.  The book works well for story time and bedtime and seems to be geared for Muslim children.

The Treasure at Bayan Bluffs by Farah Zaman illustrated by Kim Zaman

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The Treasure at Bayan Bluffs by Farah Zaman illustrated by Kim Zaman

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At 231 pages this book claims to be for ages 9 to 18 and that’s a pretty large spread for a mystery, yet alone an Islamic fiction one by a first time author.   In a tone reminiscent of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys,  it should really should just say 9 and up, I was hooked!

SYNOPSIS:

Adam and Layla along with their younger twin brothers Hassan and Hakeem from America are visiting their family home of Bayan Bluffs in Midan for the summer.  Their grandfather and great aunt and a few long time servants aren’t much entertainment for the children, so their parents arrange for their college friends kids’ Zaid and Zahra from Crescent City, a few hours away, on the other side of Midan to join them.  The children get along right away and decide to try and solve a mystery of a hidden treasure that they have heard bits and pieces of over the years.  Their search for the Moon of Masarrah starts innocently enough, but quickly escalates as they learn they aren’t the only ones searching for the missing gem.  As they learn more about the jewel and the circumstances of its disappearance the gem and the murder of Adam and Layla’s great grandfather get further entwined.  With a few of the suspects still alive and many of their family members still in the city, the children soon find they themselves in danger as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The biggest reason I like it, is it is well written.  There aren’t confusing passages, or too many characters or boring preachy paragraphs.  The plot is good, the dialogue believable and the fact that they are Muslim children, just depth to the story.  They plan to meet after asr or before Jummah, and they say inshaAllah and mashaAllah, and its just a really good balance of who they are, but not all they are.  In retrospect, maybe they all get a long a little too well, but it isn’t syrupy and they have some minor annoyances, so it doesn’t hinder the story.  The only thing I caught myself looking back on was the age of the twins.  At times they seem like toddlers and at other times much, much older.  Even the author says they are “about six years old,” and having a six year old myself, I do believed that they can vacillate to both extremes in any given moment and thus I accepted their antics and let it go.  Additionally I wish she included a map.  It isn’t confusing, but it would have been great to look back upon as the action speeds up, and would definitely help younger readers visualize the details.  The terrain vocabulary for anyone younger than nine might need some explanation.  There is a glossary at the end for some of the Arabic words, and for some of the specific ships and weapons mentioned.  Their are a few illustrations that I think help the younger readers, they aren’t needed for the story, but they don’t impede it either.  I wasn’t crazy about them within the story, but I did appreciate that they show the girls in hijab and the illustrator clearly put a lot of work in to them.

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I wish that the cover was more appealing, for a story that was so good, I wish it begged to be picked up.  InshaAllah word of mouth will carry the book, so that more like it are written and published.

FLAGS:

None, mashaAllah it is clean and wholesome.  There are good and bad Muslims and no judgement is put in a religious context.  There is some violence, but it is nothing even a seven year old would find offensive.  Alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to do this as a Book Club book for 5th through 8th grade.  The writing quality and the different characters the students would be able to identify with, would make it a lot of fun.  There isn’t any deep or though provoking discussion points to accompany the book, but I think the genre is hard to come by and Muslim kids seeing Muslim kids solving a crime and going on a treasure hunt, is just exciting.  I couldn’t find any study guides or even much information on the book or author, but none is needed to enjoy the story.  Farah Zaman if somehow you see this review, know that I hope you keep writing, and I thoroughly enjoyed your book!  Happy Reading Everyone!

 

 

Ms. Marvel No Normal & Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson illustrated byAdrian Alphona & Jacob Wyatt

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I have to be completely honest these are the first comic books I’ve ever read from cover to cover.  So, while I’m in no position to review the art work, or historical role of the original Ms. Marvel or even have a valid opinion on the superhero story lines, I do want to cover the Islamic elements because even as someone as outside the comic book world as I am, I knew that Marvel’s new Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American Muslim girl from Jersey and that’s pretty big.

I was intimidated to read No Normal, I ordered it from Scholastic and have had it on my shelf for a while, I was excited, but nervous. But then I ordered the second one, which is also a collection of 5 comic books, and thought, let’s do this.  Both collections are easy reads, and the text and what to read first in each story frame is clear.  As with comics and graphic novels the pictures convey much of the story so there isn’t a lot of “explanation,” but the story is compelling enough, that even a novice like me didn’t get too hung up on what was going on and how it could be possible.   While it may tempt younger children, I would hold off until the reader is a teen, especially if the reader is Muslim.  There is a bit of drug use and alcohol in No Normal and obviously violence, but at it’s core it is a story of a girl trying to discover who she is and there is some angsty teenage stuff that someone who hasn’t gone through the emotions, might take as attacks on Islam, parents, and culture.

Kamala Khan is a high school student in Jersey City, New Jersey.  She has a Muslim friend, Nakia, who wears hijab, and non Muslim friends of both genders that seem to support her faith and culture, almost more than she does.  The story opens with her sniffing bacon and her friends humoring her oddness.  Having grown up with the same group of friends around her, they understand her quirks and nerdiness and she seems to fit in.  As with most teens though, she feels on the “outside” and Kamala right away tries to seem cool with the more popular crowd.  She  is struggling to find herself within her Pakistani culture, her American life, her Islamic beliefs and teenage friends, information all presented in the first few pages while at the local convenience store hangout.  A lot for Kamala to balance and she hasn’t even discovered her “powers” yet.

Kamala’s parents initially seem more “cultural” than religious as her father chastises Kamala’s brother Aamir for being too religious, yet is constantly on Kamala, presumably because she is a girl.  In a fit of defiance against her parents strict curfew, Kamala sneaks out of the house to attend a party, accidentally drinks alcohol (she spits it out) and gets caught in some “fog” that gives her morphing, stretching, embiggening, and quick healing powers.

As Kamala tests how her powers work, and what they mean, there are a few funny asides that appeal to Muslim readers: she attempts to use her Burkini as a base for her super hero disguise, and her mother threatens to send her to the Sheikh if she gets caught sneaking out again.  Her parents start to grow on you though, the mom is a very stereotypical immigrant mother who cares for her daughter in a worrying nagging way, the dad actually tries to communicate with Kamala and comes across a little more genuine toward the end of the first collection.  Her brother seems to be level headed, but a minor influence.  He sticks up for her and tries to help, but it doesn’t seem like they are that close.   The final scene in No Normal left a little bit of a bitter taste in my mouth and I was glad that I already had Generation Why to dive right into and not let the conclusion of the first one fester in my head.  Kamala shows up to a wedding late, complete in Shalwar Kameez (Pakistani clothing) and gets in an argument with her mom.  Kamala says, “You and Baba want me to be a perfect little Muslim Girl–straight A’s, med school, no boys, no booze, then some hand picked rich husband from Karachi and a billion babies.”  The mom says, “Your father and I want the best for our only daughter our expectations are high so that your successes will be many.”  It goes back and fourth then the mom says she is grounded and the book ends with Kamala retorting, “wanna bet…?”  While I’m sure most every Muslim American teen has felt this way, I don’t think I’d want my 9 year-old-daughter thinking that is how narrow success is defined, or that being the best you can be is a punishment. It’s probably a realistic gripe, but to have it be the last impression, naturally brought out my defensive instincts.

A lot of the awkwardness and stage setting in No Normal is resolved by Generation Why and I found I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.  I might even be anxiously waiting to see what happens next.  Kamala is sent to the Sheikh and while she is intentionally vague about telling him what is going on with her, she does suffice it to say she is trying to help people and he responds by telling her to do it with as much honor and skill as she can. I love that he wasn’t putting her down, but rather trying to mentor her spiritually to find her self and do so honorably.  Really the only other religious/cultural scene is when Lockjaw a giant dog with transporting abilities shows up to help Kamala and her parents say he can stay, but outside because he isn’t clean.  I don’t know if non-Muslims will fully understand why, but it made me chuckle.  It also made me like her family a bit more.  They are strict, but not unreasonable.  They didn’t say, “no” they found a compromise.

Generation Why contains more action than back story.  I’m not entirely sure why Wolverine shows up, I have no idea who the lady in charge of stuff is with Captain America, and I’m not sure why no one finds it odd that the Inventor is a bird man, but hey it is fun.  And it definitely had me cheering on Ms. Marvel as she empowers her generation and learns that being American Muslim might be the easiest of her identity issues when she learns she is inhuman.  It gets a little cheesy, but the foundation of comic books being good against evil, lends itself to that right?

Overall, I think I would recommend both collections are read together, as it gives a better picture of what Ms. Marvel is and can be.  I think thus far the author has done a good job of showing that she is Muslim and that her faith adds depth to the character.  Her tenacity, persistence, determination, compassion for animals, her humor, her nerdiness, all make her very like-able and admirable.  I probably wouldn’t do it as a Book Club selection, because our school only goes to 8th grade and being an Islamic School I don’t know that most of the students feel the identity crisis until possibly much later if at all.  But I think the books would work well for discussion with older kids.  Topics of what youth can do, their role in preserving the planet, discovering your sense of self and purposes are all there in comic book, super hero, action packed form!

Kamala Khan