Tag Archives: mystery

Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake by Farheen Khan

Standard
Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake by Farheen Khan

ibrahim-khan-and-the-mystery-of-the-haunted-lake.jpg

It has been over four years since I reviewed the first Ibrahim Khan book, and while I didn’t love The Mystery of the Roaring Lion, it was just ok, this book was more fun and adventurous and stayed relevant even for a book published in 2010.  At 68 pages the book works ideally for 2nd to 4th graders looking for a quick read, or advanced younger kids that will enjoy the short chapters, detailed illustrations and easy to hold book.

SYNOPSIS:

Third grade cousins, Ibrahim and Zayn, are off on a camping trip with their class. Thinking how nice it will be to take a vacation from solving crime, the boys enjoy hearing the story of the haunted lake around the camp fire and not thinking its more than just a story.  But the next morning when they wake up for fajr and hear some weird groaning from the woods, they realize they have a case after all.

The mysterious noise presents itself at different times and at different locations, as the boys and their friends work to unravel the clues.  The climax gets tense as the whole class is on a moonlight hike when the noise sends them all running and screaming “ghost.”  Ibrahim and Zayn, the smart sleuths that they are, find themselves at the culprits tent with the culprits near by.  Saved by a classmate, the boys now must now figure out how to prove that the “ghosts” are not just having fun scaring the campers, but are up to some serious crimes that will require police action and being patient.

WHY I LIKE IT:  

I love that the boys are Muslim and they wake up and pray and eat vegetarian to ensure they keep halal, and I love that they are also just friends and classmates and kids.  There are Muslim and non Muslim kids in the class, at least one girl  wears hijab, but it is a diverse group.  I like that the characters have their own personalities and they do annoy each other and have to apologize.  There does seem to be a lot of characters, and a few times in the short book I had a hard time keeping them all straight, but knowing the real story is the mystery I just keep reading, and figured all the details aside from the clues wouldn’t hold up the story too much.  

I don’t know why the author has only written two books in the Ibrahim Khan series, but I hope eventually more will pop up.  The books are fun little mysteries that show Muslim characters in action.  They learn good manners, cooperation, compromises, prioritizing, and problem solving without the book being in your face about learning all those things.  The kids embody them, by being good Muslims and having to rely on one another to save the day.

The book is written in British English and is set in Canada.  I bring this up because I didn’t know artifact is spelled artefact and I thought it was an error.  

FLAGS:

The book is clean alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The length is too short for a book club book, but I think it would be nice to have in a school or classroom library as the bright well-done cover will entice children to pick it up off the shelf and the short quick paced story will motivate kids that start the book to finish it.  

IMG_1920.jpg

 

You’re Not Proper by Tariq Mehmood

Standard

your not proper

This highly praised British young adult novel is intense.  If I was trying to sell you the book I would say that it is relevant, gritty, raw, and real, but as a reviewer, it is definitely more rough, all over the place, and random.  There is so much going on in the book that it should be well over 400 pages to resolve it all, but almost as if the publisher required that the book be less than 200 to fit the demographic, it all gets tied up way too simplistically and leaves dozens of tangents unresolved, unexplored, and hanging.  The main characters are 14 years old, but I think it is a bit too harsh for that age group and should probably not be read by them.

SYONPSIS:

Karen’s mom doesn’t believe in God but takes her to church.  Karen’s dad is a Pakistani Muslim who loves bacon and beer.  The book opens with Karen’s gang marking her forehead with a cross against her will, and her soon after deciding that she doesn’t fit in with her friends and will now be Muslim.  Part of this transformation involves her wanting her name pronounced properly, as Kiran and her wearing a hijab.  Her parents are pretty ok with the decision, but the author foreshadows that this will be the undoing of her family.  

The book gets crazy, like all over the place crazy, but because of the little hints that all this craziness is leading up to something, I kept reading thinking that the author had it under control.  But no, I don’t think he does or did. 

The most craziness comes from Kiran’s rival Shamshad who leads another gang and pretends to be really religious, but is a bit of a rebel and bully herself.  The author is told from both Kiran and Shamshad’s perspectives, and while at times the reader sympathizes with Shamshad, as her influential father is abusive, many of her actions are so jarring and awkward, that no, she isn’t really like-able at all.  She wants a computer, her parents are that strict, yet she goes out with a guy, gets drunk, hangs all over him, goes to a Halloween party/dance without seeming to have to sneak about doing it.  She is regularly beating people up, threatening to kill and maim people with scissors, not a nice 14-year-old, nor a believable one either.  

As Kiran tries to learn about Islam and figure out what is tearing her family apart, and Shamshad is trying to find her place, the two storylines come closer together before the big climax of learning what tied the two girls’ families together in Pakistan and then here in the same English neighborhood.  The climax/ point of the story is actually a good one, but the resolution of it, is so simplistic that it cheats the reader of any potential investment they may have skimmed from the crazy build up.  It seems like the author had an idea and just worked backward for his big reveal, which is probably how most books are written, but in good books, you connect with the character and join them in their journey, here there is no character connection.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like the idea of the book.  That there are good and bad Muslims and Christians, that things are diverse and complicated and that we all have our own baggage either at home, or in our heritage, or in our environment. But the book is not cohesive, the characters are really, really harsh.  And it doesn’t seem the author gets their voices right.  Plenty of males write beautiful complex female characters and vice versa, and plenty of adults get teens right, but I don’t think this author got either.  The girls are not believable and the minor characters are just as bizarre.

I think if you you live in a highly diverse area and you are acquainted with lots of minorities you can handle the way Islam is portrayed, but if you aren’t I think both Muslim and non Muslim readers alike will be shocked and offended by the portrayal of such crude characters.  This isn’t a book of accepting differences and finding a way to get along, it is more of a book showing how awful everyone is in varying degrees.  If it was an adult book perhaps you could argue it is realistic, but as a teen book, I think the lifestyle choices of all the characters will be eye-opening and not necessarily in a good way.  I do like that the book isn’t offering a moral statement or opinion on Islam, but the way Islam is presented isn’t inspiring either.

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for books that are meticulous, not boring, but deliberate.  Authors like John Irving who seem to map their stories with crime solving precision.  Where every sentence serves a purpose and every idea has a reason for being shared.  Most books leave something hanging, but this book, left everything hanging.

For two girls in gangs, the gang members by and large fade away before we even get to know them.  There is a rally being planned but resolved half heartedly.  Kiran has to fight with her parents to learn about herself in a really unrealistic way.  Kiran harasses her dad to learn about Islam, but then all of a sudden her paternal grandpa lives nearby and brings over a marriage proposal, why couldn’t she ask him about Islam, and why would a 14 year old be considering marriage?  The whole scene of Kiran getting a hijab is weird and pointless, why stress underwear and having another customer make a random comment for no reason.  What was the obsession with swimming for Shamshad and her mother, like there is a lot of space dedicated to this topic, and I don’t really get it.  Shamshad’s dad is also creepy, he seems to have a decent relationship with her, but is physically abusive to her mom, and he does a weird inappropriate thing with a pointer stick to Kiran at the masjid, that should be discussed more in my opinion.

Once the big reveal happens really there are more questions than answers.  Like I still don’t get why the families hate each other, if they had to make promises of secrecy in Pakistan, couldn’t they just ignore and be ambivalent to one another in England? Why so much hate and hostility? And what is up Jake? He seems like a good friend that makes some mistakes and Kiran is awful toward him, then all of a sudden she claims him as a brother.  And whats up with him going on and on about his brother in the military, I need closure! And last but not least why when Kiran’s mom is in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, why does the Curry Club, that no one in the book ever liked, suddenly in the hospital room with them, when it should be a tender mother-daughter moment? Seriously, I was beyond annoyed.  There should have been a message, or a cathartic release, not annoying super side characters coming back for no reason.

FLAGS:

Lots of violence, alcohol, language. There are also romantic relationships and the celebration of Halloween.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that I would recommend this book to anyone.  I am willing to concede that some of it was lost in translation for me, but there is so much going on in the book that there is no way that it can excuse it all.  I would love to discuss some of my concerns with someone who has already read it though. So feel free to reach out, I’m all ears.

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou

Standard

a-tale-of-highly-unusual-magic-L.jpg

For a book about magic, featuring a girl who admittedly knows very little about Islam, a surprising number of tidbits sneak through and work to introduce Islam and Pakistani culture to those unfamiliar, while similarly exciting Muslims readers who can see a major climax point a mile away and get to feel “in” on the unavoidable “aha” moment.  Written on a 4.9 level this 297 page book, is clean and engaging, a rare combination, especially for advanced readers who are having a hard time finding books that are content appropriate.  I’m fairly confident that anyone, of any age, who reads this will learn something, whether it be about lepidopterology, violins, occupation and partition of the subcontinent, Rudyard Kipling, caskets, friendship, Islam, and finding a place to belong.

SYNOPSIS:

There are three main storylines in the book, Leila’s, Kai’s and The Exquisite Corpses’.  Leila is a Pakistani-American girl growing up in America who decides to visit her Pakistani dad’s family in Lahore for the summer.  Unfamiliar with the language and customs, she has a good attitude of learning as much as she can, and absorbing new things.  Her dad’s family speaks English, is not very religious, is wealthy, and pretty modern.  They have servants, and drivers, and while she gets to go to museums and landmarks, the lifestyle is partially simplified for reader understanding, and partially to not take away from the real point of the story: Leila moving out of her sister’s shadow, and finding comfort in her own multi-cultural skin.  

Kai is spending her summer with a great paternal Aunt in Texas that she has never met.  Her father passed away and her mom has recently lost her job, so a change of scene is what she is presented with.  Her Aunt is a character in and of herself, but by and large leaves Kai to her own devices and supports her adventures from a distance.  The real story for Kai is a budding friendship with the neighbor girl, Doodle who is determined to find and save a rare moth no longer found in the area.  Nervous to make friends Kai learns sometimes the value of things isn’t in the winning, or being the best, but in doing something because you enjoy it and it is the right thing to do.

The two girls story is tied together by them finding two parts of a magic book, The Exquisite Corpse.  The old book tells the story of Ralph T. Flabbergast and Edwina Pickle, in bits prompted by the girls’ own writings.  Like the game of writing a few sentences, folding over the page and having the next person add to the story, the book connects the girls and the readers in a tale that is as much about the two long ago sweethearts, as it is about families, overcoming obstacles, and believing in happy endings.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it is told from various voices, and as much as the story is plot driven, I truly felt connected to the main characters.  The only magic is the book, so the realism is very critical to gaining the readers interest and thankfully once you read about 70 pages or so I feel like the book does suck you in and take you for a fun ride.  The first few chapters are a bit confusing and I wasn’t sure where the story was going, Finally, at my 11-year-old daughter’s prompting I had to just barrel through without asking and wondering too much.  You don’t find out about Kai’s mom and dad or how Rudyard Kipling and “Kim” tie in to it all, almost until the end.  I like that the author doesn’t talk down to the reader, and as a result I learned a bit about so many things.  The twists and interweaving of stories and characters, and things as random as moths and music and saurkraut, remind me of well written adult novels that often aren’t found in books for fourth graders.  

Their isn’t much religion in a doctrine or even practicing sense, but through culture some is learned and shared, and I like that it isn’t completely washed out or removed.  The main character’s father says that he wasn’t religious in Pakistan so when he came to America he wasn’t about to start.  Leila mentions that her mom wants him to take the girls to the mosque or to see Eid, but again, they don’t, but do celebrate Christmas.  So, when she is in Pakistan and sees masjids, and fakirs, and people feeding birds as a sadaqa it is a nice inclusion.  Especially because the vocabulary is used and explained.  She mentions that her extended family goes for Jummah, yet doesn’t pray five times a day, she also touches on Ramadan as being a time of fasting but doesn’t know that there are two Eids.  As she learns, the reader does too.  It definitely isn’t how any practicing Muslim would want Islam portrayed, but it isn’t disrespectful and it is realistic.  Again, because the author doesn’t seem to talk down through her characters, there doesn’t seem much judgement and thus, hopefully also shows most readers some diveresity to the Pakistani stereotypes in the media.

FLAGS:

None, the book is clean, the love story between Ralph and Edwina, is just that they love each other. Nothing more than a sweet sentiment.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would definitely use this book as a Book Club selection because I think there is so much to connect to and discuss.  It would be fun to do as an interfaith book club with kids for the same reason.  While the main characters are girls, I think boys would enjoy it as well, there is some spying, sleuthing, action, and a whole goat debacle, that I think would be a blast to explore with students.

I don’t see any online reading guides, but there is so much to discuss it won’t be a problem.  Enjoy!

Ayesha Dean: The Istanbul Intrigue by Melati Lum

Standard
Ayesha Dean: The Istanbul Intrigue by Melati Lum

ayesha dean.png

I’ve tried numerous times to get my preteen daughter to read a Nancy Drew book with little success, yet she devoured this mystery and is eagerly waiting for more.  The protagonist is relevant, resourceful, fun, and a practicing Muslimah too.  At 240 pages, the spacing and large font make the book easily accessible, and tempting to dive in to.  The pacing is pretty good, and while there are a few hiccups with storytelling style, the book overall is worth adding to yours and your child’s reading list.

SYNOPSIS:

Ayesha’s parents are deceased, but her Uncle Dave has raised her as a Muslim following her parent’s wishes.  Having graduated high school she is off on a celebratory trip with her two closes friends: Jess and Sara, her uncle and her friend’s dad to Istanbul, Turkey.  The adults have a business conference and the girls are hoping to explore and enjoy all the sights of the Turkish Bazar, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and more.  While looking for a book to gift Uncle Dave, Ayesha and her friends discover a secret message sewn into an old book of maps and set off to collect clues and solve a 100-year-old ibn-Arabi mystery.  Obviously, I don’t want to give too much away but there are villains, and shady characters, and dear friends, and lots of yummy food.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the heroine is a hijab wearing, salat praying, Tae Kwon Do trained, fashionable, kind, young lady.  She has integrity and resourcefulness, that make the reader want to cheer her on.  Her friends are significantly less developed, I really couldn’t tell you much about them, and honestly had to look back to recall their names.  I understand why they are in the story for Ayesha to play off of, but I’m hoping that they will have a bit more substance in future novels.  Other side characters had more depth than Sara and Jess did, and even getting them out of the way for the climax seemed to further diminish their roles and importance.

I loved learning about Turkey through the characters, the history, architecture, the food.  The author really shined when talking about Islamic history as well.  When Ayesha and Emre explore the Sultan’s Privy Chambers at the Topkapi Palace, and look at Prophet Muhamad’s (saw) sword and bow, the excitement and reflection is palpable.  In other places however, I felt like the narrator’s voice was completely jarring and distracting to the engaging story at hand.  In the midst of pursuing a lead, the story comes to an almost standstill to say, “the friends chatted amiably as they walked, admiring the city as they went (69).”  The majority of the descriptions are so vivid that the few places where they cease are noticeable and awkward.

I also loved the diversity of the friends, even Ayesha’s own personal makeup adds some depth and appreciation that she has chosen to practice Islam.  Ayesha prays and tries to make sure she is not alone with a boy, she is conscious of her hijab and notes the Islamic elements in her own life and in her environment.  Obviously the book takes place in Turkey and she is unraveling an Islamic mystery of sorts, but I think the book works well for Muslim and non Muslim middle schoolers alike.  The book is not preachy, and the translations of prayers and poetry are framed in a historical or inspiring, not doctrine manner.  Similarily, I think you might be able to get boys to read it too.  It inspires girls who perhaps can identify with the main character, but I think even boys will be impressed with what Ayesha can accomplish.

FLAGS:

The book is fairly clean, there is some intense moments with kidnapping and having guns drawn, but nothing too haunting.  Ayesha obviously makes a good “friend” but nothing happens or is even detailed as wanting to happen between her and Emre.  Just Emre’s dad regularly teasing them as he looks for a wife for his son.  The only real flag for me was the exploring of the harem at the palace and the mention of concubines, and eunuchs.  A lot of detail is not given just that the women must have felt trapped, but it is a heads up if your child asks you about it, to be ready to answer.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this would be a fun book club book to explore deeper some of the sites and history of Turkey.  I would have to explain the harem before hand I think, but I think it can be done factually to avoid to much over thinking for the young readers.  I think to track the clues and “map” out the trail in a group completely with pictures of the real places would really bring the story to reality.

Interview with the author: http://mvslim.com/meet-melati-lum-criminal-lawyer-who-also-has-a-passion-for-writing/

Why we need more heroines like Ayesha Dean: http://www.muslimkidsguide.com/why-do-we-need-more-muslim-heroines-like-ayesha-dean/

 

Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

Standard
Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

I’m going to review two of the eight books in the Museum Mysteries Series that have Amal on the cover:  The Case of the Missing Museum Archives and The Case of the Stolen Space Suit.  The series focuses on four characters of diverse backgrounds who have a parent that works in one of four Capital City museums.  Amal Farah is Somali American and her dad works at the Museum of Air and Space, Raining Sam is Native American and loves the American History Museum his mom works at, Clementine Wim’s mom works at the Art Museum, and Wilson Kipper’s favorite is the Museum of Natural History.  The kids solve mysteries and introduce the readers to real facts and tidbits of real information.  The AR level is 4.0 and 4.1 respectively, but I feel like they really are on a 2nd-4th grade level.  When a child is done with Ron Roy (A-Z Mysteries & Capital Mysteries) and Magic Treehouse, they are ready for these.  Much like those series, readers are similarly introduced to new vocabulary, but not overwhelmed with back story, detail, explanation, or much character development.

FullSizeRender (29)

SYNOPSIS:

In The Case of the Missing Archives, (the second in the Museum Mysteries Series), eleven-year-old Amal and her friends have to figure out who stole the plans for the German “Bat Wing” Plane, and fast.  If they don’t Amal’s father, Dr. Ahmed Farah, a museum archivist, is going to lose his job.  Luckily in 117 pages the kids suspect and rule out a “friend,” identify a mystery subject, and finally solve the case by piecing together the security guards clues and being perceptive.  Along the way you learn a bit about the characters, but nothing substantial.  You don’t feel a connection to the characters, and are only slightly annoyed when Clementine kind of takes over. 

IMG_7532

The second book where the Museum of Air and Space, and thus Amal are leading the plot is The Case of the Stolen Space Suit (#6 in the series).  I didn’t like this book as much as the earlier one because while yes, I learned about Sally Ride and how women in space are often over looked, I felt like the culprit was let off the hook with little reprimand for stealing Sally Ride’s space suit.  Once again the four kids come together to solve a mystery this time it involves two of the museums: Air and Space and American History Museum.  There is a bit more blatant lying in this book, which is normal in this genre as the kids have to snoop around and not get caught, but they seem a little less apologetic this time around.  The red herrings aren’t as believable, and the real culprit is only spotted by chance, no real sleuthing.  

FullSizeRender (31)

WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously I like that a Muslim girl is included in this very diverse foursome.  She wears hijab, has a muslim name, tucks her phone in her hijab to go hands free, and is of Somali heritage.  Her father is educated and not over bearing or stereotypical, and her background is just detail.  Her group of friends seem to appreciate each other’s cultures and talents as well as their passions and hobbies.  The kids vary in age from 10 to 13 with two girls and two boys.  The only lack of diversity is perhaps that they seem to all be middle class and fully able bodied.  Faith, family structure, culture, all run the gambut.  

There is no religious reference at all.  The book mentions her scarf only as a hands free life saver, and we learn her favorite hijab is blue with little stars on it.

I like that all the books are full color about 120 pages.  There is factual information at the begining and at the end.  There is also a summary on each kid at the begining.  The story concludes with a glossary,  writing prompts, discussion questions, and information about the author and illustrator.

I love the covers.

 

FullSizeRender (30)

FLAGS:

There is lying, but the rest is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t use this book as a book club selection because there isn’t really much to discuss.  I would definitely have this series in the classroom or recommend it to other early chapter book readers.  Like Brezenoff’s other series the book is satisfying in its simplicity and a good book to build interest in a variety of things while feeling accomplished at reading a book.

 

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

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

img_2961

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.

bayan.jpeg

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!

 

 

Layla Deen and the Case of the Ramadan Rogue by Yahiya Emerick

Standard

layla deen

I remember my 2nd graders reading this many years ago and strongly disliking it.  And I vaguely remember agreeing with them, but perhaps at the time, there weren’t a lot of Islamic fiction options for the age group, so I decided that the pros out weighed the cons and left the book on the classroom bookshelf.  Fast forward to today where mashaAllah there are more options, yet this book is still often a staple on most school and family book shelves.  That being said, I thought a revisit was in order, and yikes I agree with my 2nd graders of so long ago, and I have major issues with this book.  At 42 pages, the clipart illustrations and wide spaced font seems a bit dated, but with the short chapters and Islamic backdrop the book overall would still appeal to 2nd to 4th grade Muslim students. The story is sweet in merit and intention, however, some of the details make me hesitate to recommend this book.

Overall, I feel like the author tries too hard, he is trying unsuccessfully to relate on a students level, trying to sound cool, and ultimately in the process uses unnecessary language in my opinion.  The manner in which siblings Layla and Ahmed speak to one another is incredibly harsh, and while perhaps realistic for some families, there is no reprimand or apologizing.  The name calling and yelling at one another throughout makes their collaboration at the end seem unlikely.  Even how Layla talks to her mom about the homeless man at the store, saying he is dirty and gross and a “stinky bum”, seems jarring to a book that is trying to teach a moral lesson.  Layla’s mom gently reminds Layla that Prophet Muhammad (saw) was kind to those in need, but I feel like the mom doesn’t go far enough in correcting Layla, and Layla dismisses rather arrogantly what her mother has to say.

Later, some bullies taunt Ahmed, and while in her head Layla defends her brother which is nice, out loud she resorts to calling the bullies “idiots” and “freak squad” which seems to be a form of bullying as well, and at the very least don’t empower the students to know how better to deal with bullies.  She then remarks that they smell bad and smoke pot and hopes her brother will “kick their butts.”  If the author wanted to make a comment on the ill effects of recreational drug use ok, but for this reading level to mention it as an insult in passing does little to benefit the story and even less to help the reader grasp what pot is and that children using it (irregardless of how one feels about adults using it) is not a joking matter.  Later when something is stolen Layla assumes it is the bullies who have committed the crime and sets up a sting to catch them.  Needless to say it isn’t them, and I wish the author would have at least had her feel bad that she assumed someone to be guilty when in fact they were innocent. A premise that I feel needed some addressing or reflective growth to benefit the reader.

My next concern, would not have been a concern ten years ago, but with the current situation regarding how police are being treated in response to the actions of a few, I wouldn’t want to perpetuate a stereotype that widens the gap between police and the communities they work for.  In the book when a crime is committed Ahmed dismisses going to the police remarking that the police do little and just sit around eating donuts.

And finally the climax of finding out who stole the food and why is sweet, but I really felt could have been handled so much better.  (SPOILER) The homeless man stole the food to feed it to some kittens he found in a garbage bag.  On the surface that is sweet, but I don’t think that, that justifies theft.  Furthermore he didn’t want to take the cats to the shelter because they would be gassed. Again, like the pot reference, that is a bit heavy to just leave hanging out there without explanation or background for such a young reading audience.  Layla then offers to take the cats to her friends and assures the man they will have good homes.  To me a better option would be to purchase the cats from the man so he can have some income and also assure the cats a good home.  It seemed to me that she took them from him in a rather abrupt fashion as if because he was homeless he didn’t have a right to his property, and getting a meal in exchange didn’t cut it for me as the happy ending I was hoping for.

SUMMARY:

Layla and her family are preparing for Ramadan, which starts in a few days, Layla joins her mom for a trip to the grocery store to stock up and they see a homeless man begging for money.  Disgusted Layla not only can’t stand to be near the man, but it is appalled that her mother stops to talk to him.  When the food set out for the nightly iftaar goes missing from the kitchen window, Layla and her brother take advantage of a night when their parents are out to try and catch the thief or thieves.  They discover the homeless man, and in a change of heart, Layla arranges to meet him at the grocery store the next day with her mom so that they can invite him to dinner.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I appreciate what the book tried to do: blend a fictional story in an Islamic context for a younger elementary aged Muslim child.  I also like that it showed a Muslim family, praying, fasting, and going about their normal life so to speak.

FLAGS:

Pot drug reference, less than ideal handling of bullies, negative unsupported stereotypes.

See beginning of this review for detailed concerns.

 TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

For some reason, despite all my concerns with the book, I have been trying to find a way to still utilize it.  And I think the only way I could comfortably convey this story to kids would be to read it aloud and self edit it while reading.  I think there are too  many issues to let a second or third grader read it independently and then discuss, but I think if I were to edit out some of the random comments that have no bearing on the story, and then paused to discuss some of the bigger issues of bullies, assumptions, treatment of the less fortunate, and a better way to help others and animals the book might still be successful.  I think it could be read aloud in less then an hour and if today’s students are as perceptive as my students years ago, they not only will pick up with what is wrong in the story, but also devise ways to make it so much better.

Rashid and the Haupmann Diamond by Hassan Radwan

Standard

haupmann diamond

This is the second and seemingly last book in the Rashid series, which is unfortunate, because like its predecessor Rashid and the Missing Bodythe book is a quick fun read aimed at 3rd through 5th graders with Muslim characters solving a mystery.  At just 110 pages the book reunites friends Rashid, Gary, and Chris, three boys of different religious backgrounds with plenty of respect and understanding to inspire readers of all ages.

SYNOPSIS:

Rashid and his friends hear screaming in the middle of the night and rush outside to see robbers in their neighbor’s house. Once the police come and no evidence of a break in can be found, the boys do their own investigating to see what is going on.  Pieces of information start to come together from the elderly neighbor and her stories of her father, mysterious contacts online, old WWII veterans at retirement homes, and good old fashioned library research, to lead the boys on an adventure to find a lost diamond.  Never a dull moment as the boys are chased by the burglars, family issues at home bring Rashid’s sister and baby into the story, some bullies at school and more.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is incredibly fast paced, it hops around from one story-line to the next.  While this format seemed more cohesive in the first book, it was a little jarring for me in this one.  I didn’t mind the side stories at school, or even the soccer matches, but the story of the sister, Huda and her marital problems with her husband Ahmed seemed a bit out of place.  I see what the author’s intent was, but in such a short book aimed at elementary aged boys, it seemed  a heavy story-line to interweave into an adventure story.  The deeper understanding of mixing cultures and expectations I am positive would be lost on all young adult readers.  Once again, the author however, does do a great job of telling a story where the character’s Islam adds to the character, and doesn’t distract from the adventure on hand.  Rashid uses islamic terms, the family prays together, they go to the masjid and laugh with the imam and congregation, they talk about proper ways to correct people and the value of intentions, overall, I’d say they convey a “normal” Muslim family.

FLAGS:

No flags, the book is clean and inspiring, alhumduillah

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There isn’t a lot out there about the book or the author, nor is the book in the Accelerated Reader database.  I think with its linear story, keeping track of the clues and throwing in some highlights of Islamic manners and morals, however, would make a discussion on the book easy and natural enough for all to enjoy.

Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai

Standard

kabul corner

For all of us waiting to see what happened to the characters from Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai answers that question in Saving Kabul Corner, while maintaining a stand alone story of mystery and family.  It is not necessary to read Shooting Kabul first, and if you have not recently read Shooting Kabul you may not even realize that some of the characters cross over into this book.  The books are drastically different in tone and style and purpose.

SYNOPSIS:

Saving Kabul Corner takes a while to get going, nearly 100 pages.  There are so many characters that I started reading this book months ago, put it down and forgot about it.  I picked it up two nights ago and resolving to just read it and not worry about who all the characters were, I finished it in two sittings and enjoyed it.  The buildup is important to set the stage, but young readers might have to be encouraged to get through all the pettiness of the characters, the numerous back stories and sub plots to get into the flow of the novel and the who-done-it aspect of the book.

Ariana is a 12-year-old Afghani-American girl with siblings, cousins, aunts, all living in their cramped townhouse.  The family owns Kabul Corner an Afghan grocery story in Freemont, California.  Things are going along fairly well, despite the recent arrival of Ariana’s cousin Laila who couldn’t be more different than Ariana, resulting in jealousy and disdain.  When a new Afghan store opens in the same plaza as Kabul Corner, tempers and old country feuds resurface.  Tribal concepts of badal, revenge, and honor start to make their way into their American lives.  When the feuding escalates to vandalism, theft, and arson, the kids of both families are convinced that a third party is pitting the stores against each other and set out to find the real culprit.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that the characters are American, but cultural too.  They are Muslim and mention going to the mosque, but their actions unfortunately don’t depict Islam in a consistent manner.  Most notably they do celebrate Halloween, and they lie a lot.  Because the book is a A.R. level 6.1 I haven’t completely ruled out using it as a book club book.  I think it might be a way to discuss with the students the purpose of literature.  How some books leave the reader with a moral, or something to ponder, while some are just entertainment.  The lying in this book is quite extensive and yet, both the kids and the adults have to lie to get the truth.  The author makes note of it, so at least it is identified as an anomaly, but still I’ve not yet resolved if I can explain to the kids that the ends don’t justify the means in real life.  I like that the book is a mystery, so many books with cultural twinges focus on all the “cultural” obstacles and injustices and hardships, it was nice to read a book where the characters and the store just happened to be ethnic in nature.  I think the characters’ culture adds depth, but won’t turn readers away as it is clearly written for the typical American young adult reader.  There is a glossary in the back, but it isn’t as daunting as other novels out there.  The book is 273 pages and also has an Author’s Note and a Further Reading Section.

FLAGS:

The lying for sure, and the theft.  There are no concerns with relationships, language, violence, or disrespect.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Click to access 365.pdf