Tag Archives: Na’ima B. Robert

Let it Go: Learning the Lesson of Forgiveness by Na’ima B. Robert and Mufti Menk illustrated by Samantha Chaffey

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Let it Go: Learning the Lesson of Forgiveness by Na’ima B. Robert and Mufti Menk illustrated by Samantha Chaffey

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This 32 page rhyming book follows a little boy around as he is weighed down by a lot of things not going his way.  He doesn’t want to forgive until he is the one that hurts someone else and realizes we all make mistakes, forgiveness is not a weakness, and we all feel angry at times.  The book breaks from the story to ask the reader to think about their emotions in various situations, and encourages the reader to talk about their feelings.  The framework is Islamic and the repenting to Allah swt is part of the message. I found it awkward to read independently, but I read it to a small group of my own kids and their cousins, seven in all, ages four to thirteen, and it worked very well to discuss what the boy was feeling and how they would react.  I think this book would be great in a classroom or as a book an adult reads to a child at bedtime to encourage conversation.  I had to point out to the little ones, that the knapsack was getting bigger with the little boys anger, and explain what it was, but as a tool to foster dialogue it was incredibly powerful.

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The book starts out with a poem/du’a by Mufti Menk that sets the tone for the book.  It makes clear that we are all human and feel things and that this book is a tool to understand and emotionally grow from.  No one is going to get in trouble or be reprimanded.

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The story stats with the little boy waking up happy and ready to have a wonderful day.  But then when he comes down for breakfast, his sister has eaten the last piece of toast.  The book asks the reader, “how do you feel when things don’t go your way?” and asks the little boy to let sorry make it better so that he can let it go.  But the little boy doesn’t want to let it go, he wants to hold on, and as a result it makes his heart feel heavy.

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This pattern is followed throughout the book giving examples when the boy doesn’t get included in a game at school with his friends, when his friend kicks his football (soccer ball) in to the road and it gets popped by a passing car, and at dinner when his older brother laughs at him.

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He then picks on his sister at bedtime, and doesn’t even know why he is doing it, and realizes that he too has made a mistake.  He learns that “it takes a strong person to let it go,” and that “forgiving is like taking off a heavy bag that I’ve been carrying all day long.”

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The book ends with some verses and hadith about forgiveness.  Has some facial expressions with emotions to discuss, and space to write down things that make you feel angry, hurt, or sad as well as a place to share what makes you happy, grateful, and safe.  There is also a glossary of Islamic Arabic terms on the inside back cover.

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She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

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She Wore Red Trainers by Nai’ma B. Robert

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After having fairly good luck with the Muslim YA Romance Novel Genre in An Acquaintance and Saints and Misfits, I was willing to give She Wore Red Trainers a try.  Na’ima B. Robert has written a lot of books and this 261 page book was an easy and entertaining read.  There are no plot twists, deep thoughts, or intense drama, its a light read that infuses religion and environment into a story that will be great for 14-16 year olds that have slim pickings of relevant, Islamic, “halal” fiction options.

SYNOPSIS:

The story is told from two 18-year-olds’ perspectives, Ali and Amirah. It goes back and forth and while the perspective is obvious, the bottom of the page identifies the character so there is no chance for confusion.

Ali has begrudgingly moved to London with his brothers and father.  Not very religious before his mother’s death, he and his father and younger brother have made a new start and commitment to Islam since losing her to cancer.  The middle brother, resists this, but isn’t too critical in the story, other than to add a voice to the concept that people have to come to Islam on their own, that the relationship between a person and Allah is not cookie cutter or often simple. 

Amira too has a past and a lot on her plate as she strives to balance her chaotic family life and moving past decisions of her rebellious self.  The two meet and in the brief second before gazes are lowered, they fall in love.  Ok, so it isn’t that cliche’ but it is close.

The two, as the dedication of the book states, “are striving to keep it halal.”  They have a few encounters and the sparks are there, but they both have their own stories and supporting cast of friends as well. It isn’t until the very end, SPOILER, they get married.

Yup. impromptu wedding of 18 year olds.  It isn’t out of left field though, there are passages that contemplate the Islamic merits of a young marriage, and perhaps that is the depth of the book, as far as giving the reader something to think about. That and choosing Islam and actively living it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The stuff that makes the book interesting, isn’t really even the two love birds, it is the context.  The struggle of Amirah’s complex family situation with a mom that has had multiple husbands, and is suffering from depression.  Amirah also has a creepy stepdad (makes her uncomfortable and seems to make sexual advances toward her) and a sketchy past that isn’t really articulated but is hinted at enough to know that she did rebel briefly by running away and experimented with drugs and alcohol before realizing it wasn’t the life she wanted.  She takes tremendous care of her younger siblings, one who is deaf, and respects her older brother tremendously.  Her friends are not overly developed but provide enough diversity that the reader will see themselves in someone even if just fleetingly.

Similarly Ali is fleshed out by the company he keeps.  He has very religiously devout friends, a few rebellious ones and countless opportunities to define who he is.  His home life is a little chaotic, but they’ve gone through the destruction and are in the rebuilding phase. 

I like that the characters are fallible and represent a wide spectrum of religiosity.  The book isn’t political, nor does it discuss culture really, but it is meant for Muslim readers.  The characters throw in Arabic terms and while there is a glossary at the back, the religious rules, the contemplation of hadith and ayats, understanding Islamic divorce and the stress to be well established before marriage make it a book for those that can relate.  I love that part of keeping it halal is that they don’t talk and text.  I know that makes it a bit unbelievable, but I like that the line is drawn and established.

I wish that the past of many of the characters was clearer.  Not overly sensationalized, but a tiny bit more.  I wanted more information on what Ali’s dad’s new job was, and how far away they would be moving.  I wanted to know how Amira’s family would manage without her and the creepy stepdad, would the mom be able to step up and care for her kids.  I wanted more details about Amira’s family in general and why her older brother had to leave his studies permanently in Saudi Arabia, and wasn’t able to just delay graduation.  

I can’t criticize the writing too much because I did read the book in one sitting and it kept my interest.  I didn’t expect it to be deep or thought provoking, so for a light summer read, it was good enough.  I felt like the ending was a bit rushed, and yes there are some far fetched ideas, but I think it’s a romance novel, halal or not, so yeah, there are going to be some places that forgiveness is needed.

FLAGS:

There is mention of hooking up, drug and alcohol use, virginity, and a creepy sexual predator in the stepdad. It isn’t appropriate for middle school, but not so vulgar that one would need to be 18 to read.  I think high schoolers won’t find it too cheesy, and not be shocked by the content either.  Granted it depends on the reader. but I think it is better to be safe than sorry.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider the book for a high school book club. Might have to get parental permission, but I think it works well to consider how to have it all so to speak.  How to live within Islam and be smart about your choices.  The book doesn’t offer a lot to think about and mull over, but if you were a teenager, I would imagine that the book presents a lot of what you are feeling.  There is a lot to relate to in the friends, the deen, the emotions, and the temptations.  It also shows that just because families are Muslim, doesn’t mean that they are not complicated and troubled, a scenario that many would find reassuring at least superficially in the book.

Interview with the Author: http://www.kubepublishing.com/an-interview-with-naima-b-robert-about-her-forthcoming-book-she-wore-red-trainers/

Going to Mecca by Na’ima B. Robert illustrated by Valentina Cavallini

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Going to Mecca

With Hajj starting in the next few days, this is a wonderful book to share with children (and adults) of all ages. The simple text flows, although it doesn’t rhyme, and is action oriented as the reader is encouraged to accompany a family on the rituals of Hajj.  The short sentences keep the book flowing and give the Arabic terms for the actions being performed.   The pictures show what each step looks like and are large, inviting, and colorful.  While the text doesn’t give abundant detail to someone unfamiliar with Hajj, there is basic information about Hajj at the end of the book.

Overall the book, in my opinion, works best for those familiar with Hajj and Islam. For those who are not, they will understand the basics, but probably be at a loss to delve much deeper or to answer any questions without further research. I plan to read it for story time at school and use a storyboard with the students after the initial reading to see what they can recall about the steps of Hajj, supplement, and share with their peers.  I also plan to read it with my own children to do the same, as it leaves plenty of holes where those with more knowledge about the details will feel empowered in contributing to the story discussion and thus making the book enjoyable and engaging for older aged children.

The book is not AR, but most second graders should be able to read it independently without trouble.

From Somalia With Love By Na’ima B. Robert

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This book was a great glimpse into Somali Muslims in the UK, a world I admittedly know nothing about.  Whether accurate or not, I loved the incorporation of words, foods, culture, all of it.  And most of all I love that the main character Safia is a Muslima.  Yes, the point of the book is a coming of age story as she searches to find herself and define who she is, but in every sphere she is defining herself in, Islam is present.  Her home-life, her friendships, her poetry, all of it.  My only concern in recommending the book to my students. I think 7th and 8th graders, even in an Islamic School, can understand the temptation of going to the movies with someone of the opposite gender, of sneaking out, I think they can understand dealing with someone they love that is making bad decisions, in this case her brother experimenting with drugs and alcohol (the author doesn’t go into explicit detail).  But, truly one page (page 128) just goes too far for my students.  Had he tried to hold her hand, or kiss her even, I think the message would still come back to her conscience and her repentance, but the implied attempted rape pushes the issue over the line in my view, for my sheltered students.  High School students I think can handle it and I think lends itself well to a discussion on boundaries, respect, and sexual violence.  The AR level of the book is a 5.1 and it is a quick 159 page read.  There is a glossary of terms and phrases in the back and the font and book size make it very approachable and inviting to readers.

SUMMARY:

Safia Dirie is a 14 year-old-girl living in East London with her Mom, two brothers, and in close proximity to her large extended Somali family.  Safia is a good student, very close to her mother and very devout in her Islamic faith.  Like most teenagers she is defining who she is in a world that doesn’t seem to understand her.  Unlike most however, she has the added burden of being a religious and cultural minority.  In addition to handling friends, and temptation, she also learns that her father who has been missing in Somalia for the last 12 years has been found and is coming to live with them in London. The focus through the whole story is Safia and the reader is definitely drawn into her struggles of how to help her brother, who is rebelling, how to be a good daughter, and with her internal debates to drift closer to a less religious cousin who encourages her join in activities that Safia is hesitant to be a part of. Once her father arrives everything she has known is threatened and the issues and struggles intensify.  Despite efforts Safia can’t connect to her father and the changing dynamic of the family tests her in ways that while fiction and extreme, I think many can relate to and sympathize with.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book does a good job of showing how people are not “good” or “bad” and how often mistakes, are just that, mistakes. It also provides hope that people can recover and improve.  The heart of this book is Safia’s and Safia’s heart is pure and has a strong connection to Allah (swt).  She sways and swerves, but never loses sight of who she is at her core, and i think for many young Muslim’s today that is an incredibly strong message.  That mistakes can be made, and Allah (swt) will forgive.  That intentions and repentance are real and valid, irregardless of where you are in life.  From friends Safia wrongs, to a brother who realizes what he is doing is wrong, to a cousin who is passed around without a permanent place to belong, to a mom trying to balance a returned husband, every character is fallible, yet not beyond hope.

FLAGS:

 The attempted sexual violence.  The implied drug abuse and lying of Ahmed, Safia’s brother.  The lying of Safia to her mom and parents about her whereabouts.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The Author’s blog about the book: http://fromsomalia-withlove.blogspot.com/