Tag Archives: neighbors

The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

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The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

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Set in Lebanon, this 32 page book for kindergarten to second graders uses the ever important olive tree as a point of contention between two neighbors. Muna’s family moved away during the conflict because they were not like the others in the village, and while they were gone, Sameer’s family cared for the olive tree on their neighbor’s property, and collected the olives that fell on their side of the wall. But now that the neighbors have returned, Sameer is not only disappointed that they don’t have a boy his age to play with, but also clashes with Muna when she says that he shouldn’t take their olives. By the end of the book, olive branches of peace will be referenced and hope hinted at in this brightly illustrated book with a lesson.

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I like that why Muna’s family left is not abundantly clear, saying that “For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. . . that the family who lived there had gone away during the troubles because they were different from most of the people int he village.”  Lebanon is a diverse place and the illustrations seem to show both Mom’s wearing head scarves, the text does not detail if they are unlike each other because of religion, or culture, or some other reason, and I kind of like that it is left vague so that children learn in the end perhaps, it doesn’t matter.  

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When the family moves back home, Sameer watches them and recalls the ways his mom prepares the best olives in Lebanon.  The neighbors are polite, but not friendly.  They don’t ever say much and they don’t return visits.  One day when the ripe olives have fallen on the ground, Sameer heads out with his basket to collect them.   Muna, who has never looked over at Sameer, watches him and tells him that they are her olives, and that the tree has been in her family for a hundred years.

The two bicker about who has rights to the olives on Sameer’s side of the wall and in anger, Sameer dumps his basket of olives on Muna’s side and walks off.  After that, no one on Sameer’s side collects the olives on the ground.  One night there is a storm and the olive tree and part of the stone wall are destroyed.  The adults gather to survey the damage, but walk off without saying anything.  The two children are left to decide what to do next about their beloved tree, and their relationship with one another.

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I like that the resolution is subtle, but thought provoking and that the adults don’t seem to interfere too much.  I can’t imagine that they don’t have opinions about their neighbors and the olives, but the book stays on the children and the assumptions, stubbornness, and unsaid words that have created such a divide, and must ultimately be resolved as a result.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Small Tola by Atinuke illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

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Too Small Tola by Atinuke illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

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This AR 3.6, 89 page early chapter book features three stories set in Lagos, Nigeria.  The main character and her family are Christian, but many of the neighbors are Muslim, and the third story is set in Ramadan with Easter and Eid falling at the same time.  The sense of community throughout the book, the OWN voice detail and charm make this book silly, warm, and delightful for first through third grade readers.

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SYNOPSIS:

In the first story Tola heads to the market with her Grandmommy.  Not the fancy mall, but the muddy market further away.  Her older brother Dapo is too busy playing soccer to help, her older sister Moji is busy with homework, that leaves little Tola to carry the items on her head with her tough as nails little grandmother.  Everyone says she is too small, but Grandmommy knows she can do it.  As they purchase the items, and neighbors call to have them pick up items for them too, the duo have to take lots of breaks on their way home, but Too Small Tola does it and proves to herself and others that she might be small, but she is strong.

The second story once again focuses on life in Lagos and the one bedroom apartment the family shares.  One morning both the power and the water are out and the jerry bottles need to be filled at the pump.  When some bullies trip Tola and the water spills, an elderly neighbor lady patiently waits for the right time to get her revenge on Tola’s behalf, and when the bully challenges the woman, the entire line stands together.  Tola may be small, but she stood for something and made a difference.

The final story involves the neighbor, Mr. Abdul, the tailor who lives downstairs, coming to measure Tola and her family for their new Easter clothes.  He let Tola measure everyone last year and praises her as the best measurer in Lagos, and Tola is eager to take the measurements this year.  When the tailor breaks his leg, he is worried he will not be able to ride his bicycle to his clients and will not be able to prepare the Eid feast and pay rent.  Tola knows they have been fasting all Ramadan and between her, Grandmommy, and Dapo they come up with a plan to help.  Dapo will peddle the bike and take Tola to measure everyone for their orders.  Tola may be small, but she can save the day for the Abdul family.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love little Tola and her sassy grandma.  The book would lend itself so wonderfully to be read aloud as it bursts with personality and dialogue.  I love the sense of community in such a day-to-day life that would seem to stark and hard to most western readers.  Tola’s draws on those around her to find her strength, from her Grandmommy, to her neighbors, they may tease her that she is too little, but they also build her back up and stand with her.  I love the diversity in Tola’s world.  She seems so excited that Eid and Easter will be aligned and that after her services they will be joining the Abdul’s feast, such a great lesson of tolerance and respect without being preachy about tolerance and respect.  Young readers will enjoy Tola and the insight into Nigeria.

FLAGS:

Grandmommy lies when a neighbor calls her in the market to ask her to pick up his TV, she pretends the battery dies as she and Tola laugh at how ridiculous them carrying a TV would be in addition to everything else they are carrying.  There is bullying when Tola is tripped and then when Mrs. Shaky-Shaky trips the bully.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This wouldn’t work for a book club, but would be ideal in small groups, or to be read aloud.  There would be a lot to discuss as children would relate to Tola and find themselves cheering her on.

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga

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The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga

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Usually when a book leaves me with a lot of questions, it is because the author’s writing was incomplete or flawed, this book however, left me with a lot of questions and I’m certain the author did this deliberately. Hence, I don’t know to be irritated or impressed that I care enough about the characters to want to know more. Considering I’m still emotionally attached to the two alternating voices in the book, I’m going to claim the latter, and just be grateful that I was privy to follow the two girls for 288 pages and let the impression the book left me with overpower the curiosity I have to know everything about their past and their futures. This middle grades read is absolutely wonderful and emotionally gripping. I think all kids will have a hard time forgetting the story and characters, and more importantly I think over time they will recall and re evaluate their own thoughts regarding the personal weight of school shootings, gun ownership, sibling loss, responsibility, and maybe even the possibility of time travel. I know this book will stay with me for a long time. This amazing, half-Middle-Eastern half-American author in her OWN voice book somehow manages to discuss a school shooting without being political or preachy and the result is memorable, heartbreaking, and powerful.

SYNOPSIS:

Told in alternating 12 year old voices: Quinn and Cora are neighbor girls that used to be best friends until Quinn’s brother stole his father’s guns and shot and killed students at his school before committing suicide. One of the classmates he killed was Cora’s older sister Mabel. It has been nearly a year since the incident, and since the girls last spoke, but on Cora’s 12 birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her door.

Cora is whip smart and grieving. She lives with her dad, a professor and immigrant from Lebanon who speaks little about his culture or religion to his kids, even though the kids want to know about their heritage and do identify as Arab American Muslims. She also lives with her grandma, her mom’s mom, despite the fact that her mom has left them. It never tells where she went or what happened, which I desperately wanted to know, but Cora doesn’t miss her, because Cora doesn’t remember her, and the family dynamic seemed to be working until Mabel is gunned down. The loss of Mabel is palpable as Cora recalls that she will one day be older than her older sister, and refuses to pack up or touch anything on her side of the room. Cora is in counseling and seems to have a supportive network of friends in her Junior Quiz bowl team, but she misses Quinn even though she can’t forgive her.

Quinn’s chapters begin with a small letter to her brother Parker: what she wants to say, what she feels, questions, memories, anger, disappointment, despair. They are short, but haunting and heartbreaking. Quinn’s home life is fraught with guilt and blame. Her mother has quit work and her father is always working. Her parents fight, a lot. Her mom blames her dad for owning the guns, her dad wants to move to give them all a fresh start, it isn’t pretty. Quinn often has a hard time getting her words out at the speed she wants, she calls it freezing. As a kid, Cora would help, but without Cora and with no one in the house willing or ready to listen to Quinn, Quinn is often left alone. At school Quinn is largely ignored as no one wants to be around the sister of the mass shooter, so she doesn’t try out for soccer, she has no friends, and no one to talk to get the help she so desperately needs.

Quinn has an idea about how to fix everything, and that is what is in the box. She is convinced that if she can go back in time, she can make everything right. The only problem is, she doesn’t understand all the science and needs Cora’s help. Together the two girls work to figure out a way to find a wormhole and fix the damage that occurred. Along the way the girls realize how much they need each other to heal, and the role forgiving yourself has in the process as well.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I am shocked at how deftly the book talks about a school shooting without talking about a school shooting. It is how the families feel in the day to day acts that follow a year later and how the girls are trying to carry on with the limited tools that exist for individuals dealing with the aftermath of such an act of terror. It doesn’t go in to the 2nd Amendment rights or detail the lack of legislation to curb such acts, it really stays on the two girls. The hope of finding a wormhole is really farfetched and perhaps unrealistic, but they are so desperate to believe, to find a way to make things right, that you hope for their sake that they are successful.

It is amazing to see from the sister of a shooter the isolation and pain she endures. I don’t know that I’ve really ever considered the larger families of the shooter when your heart is so devastated for the families of the victims. Occasionally you hear about the parents, but what about the siblings, cousins, distant relatives?

I desperately wanted to know where Cora and Mabel’s mom went. I was tempted to contact the author since it really was gnawing at me. I also wanted some answers as to why Parker did what he did, what hate he was spewing online, what were the signs, did he single out Mabel for being Muslim, while also appreciating that there is no satisfactory answers for any violence of this magnitude in fiction or real life.

Cora knows nothing of Islam and kind of wants to, I felt like this could have been explored a tiny bit more. Not in that she has to be religious, but I feel like after such a life altering event such as death, religion and what happens when one dies usually comes up and a person decides they are satisfied with an answer or not. The story isn’t in the immediate aftermath of dealing with the shock, but rather is a little after the event to presumably not have to deal with the raw emotion, and can focus on the pain and strength that comes with finding a new normal. I’d like to imagine at some point perhaps Cora and her dad talked about what happens after death, but the text doesn’t suggest that it was an issue of concern. She does wonder if Mabel was killed for being Muslim and asks Quinn about it. Quinn never defends or justifies what her brother does, nor does she pretend to know, she is grieving too. She is irritated that people try and define her religiosity to make themselves feel better and she does say the family occasionally fasts, makes duas, and they always celebrate Eid.

She talks a bit more about wanting to know more Arabic, saying that if you are 50% Arab you should at least know 50 words, and she only knows five. She wants to hear about her father’s life growing up, and know that side of her. It mentions that he wanted her to feel like she belonged in America, but I’d love to know more. Maybe what happened to his family, what brought him to America, why they opted not to give them more cultural names, etc..

I also enjoyed the slight science thread. It seems the author used to teach science and I love that the scientific method and various random facts find their way into the story.

POSSIBLE FLAGS:

The book talks about death, killing, suicide, and gun violence, but doesn’t relive the chain of events or detail what happened exactly. Quinn and another friend have crushes on boys in their class. There is a Fall Festival that the kids dress up for, but it isn’t called Halloween, and there is no mention of it. The book opens with Quinn’s birthday.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would definitely read this as a middle school book club selection. It is engaging and gripping and a great book to have as an introduction to hard conversations with children. The author has a note at the beginning about her own children doing active shooter drills and having to face this real fear, and I think kids talking about it through fiction is a powerful tool to get them thinking and talking.

Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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This super cute Eid book works great for ages 5 and up.  Written in both Arabic and English, not just translated in to both languages, the book features a Muslim celebrating Eid and a Christian boy working together to try and get Omar’s sister’s cookie recipe so they can be the best cookie cooks ever!  The book would work for either Eid and with the adorable illustrations, and included recipe, the book will get lots of requests all year round.

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Omar is excited that his friend and neighbor, Oliver, is sleeping over the night before Eid.  They boys are playing when Omar’s sister Judy brags that her friend has given her the best cookie recipe in the entire world.

Naturally, Omar and Oliver want to be the best too and offer to help Judy.  She refuses, and the quest to get the recipe is on, so that Omar can make them for Eid and Oliver for Christmas.

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The boys try to steal it through the kitchen window.  But Judy catches them and slams the window shut.  They then try binoculars from the stairs, but the boys can’t write fast enough and Judy grabs an umbrella to shield the recipe.  Undeterred the boys pull out a drone, but the zoom on the camera isn’t quite good enough.

The boys then see Judy rushing out of the kitchen and run in to see if she left the recipe.  They don’t find it, but they peek at the cookies and see that they are golden brown and if left in any longer might burn.

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Tempted to let them burn, a sign on the fridge saying, “Eid: a time to share and show we care,” makes the boys realize saving them is the right thing to do.  Judy says she too saw the sign and rushed out to copy the recipe for the boys.  They then all work together to make lots of Eidilicious cookies and share them with everyone on Eid.

The book starts with some tips for parents on how to present the bilingual book and ends with a cookie recipe, as well as some information about what Muslims and Christians celebrate.  I love the illustrations and that they are two page spreads, but the page with the note is the whole resolution and the note is split on the folded binding and honestly I missed it when I read the book myself and when I read it at bedtime to my kids.  When I opened the book wide to take pictures it was crystal clear, and if you were reading it to a group you might not have an issue.

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I also didn’t love the word, Mashallamazing, I obviously get what it is trying to do, and I feel like it works with Eidilicious, but that Mashallamazing is a stretch.  Additionally, if it is claiming to be an interfaith book, a word like that might need some explaining.  I got a bit hung up on it, so I had my 13, 11, and 9 year olds read it and they did as well.  I also didn’t think the pulling out of the story to ask the reader if the boys were successful in getting the recipe was necessary after each attempt.

Disclaimer: I don’t speak Arabic and cannot comment on that, sorry!

 

Rami the Ramadan Cat by Robyn Thomas illustrated by Abira Das

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Rami the Ramadan Cat by Robyn Thomas illustrated by Abira Das

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This delightful little story about a boy, a lost cat, Ramadan and making friends, has a great lesson in empathy and understanding even when things are hard.  The 28 page beautifully illustrated glossy book (8.5 x 11)  is set in Ramadan, but is enjoyable for children 5 to 9 all year long.

Saleem has just moved to a new city with his parents and doesn’t know anyone.  Feeling lonely on the first day of Ramadan he is outside sulking when he sees a lost little cat.  He brings it in and his parents help him take care of him until they can find the cat’s owners.

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Saleem decides to call the cat, Rami the Ramadan cat for his timely appearance.  The next day the family makes flyers to post around to try and find Rami’s owner.  But no luck even after a few weeks, and secretly Saleem starts hoping they never find the owners.  Rami is his best friend, he jumps on Saleem when he is praying, keeps him company when he reads Quran, even shares his iftar with him.

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One night at the mosque, Saleem makes Dua that Rami will stay with him forever.  After Taraweeh, Saleem can’t find his father, he waits by the door as everyone leaves, but can’t see him, he checks the shoe rack and his shoes are gone.  Feeling scared and alone he wonders if his father left him.  When his father returns from the washroom, Saleem is relieved, but wonders if that is how Rami felt that first day of Ramadan.

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The next morning Saleem and his mom knock on every door in the neighboorhood until they find Rami’s owner.  When they find her, she is a nice lady, and tell Saleem, the cat’s name is Sammy.  Rami gives her his address and asks her to contact him if she ever needs someone to cat-sit Rami.

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Saleem’s Eid isn’t very fun without his only friend.  After prayers, there is a knock at the door, Sammy’s owner has come to offer to let Saleem keep Rami if he promises to bring him around to visit with her and her grandkids sometime.  She has other cats and sensed that he was missing Saleem.

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Saleem’s parents invite the lady, Mrs. Tompkins and her grand kids in to celebrate eid with them and Saleem and the children play with Rami, the best eid present ever.

The book shows Saleem praying and reading Quran and going to the masjid, but it isn’t preachy.  I think even non Muslims would enjoy the book and not be confused by anything Saleem and his family are doing.

I love that the mom so clearly wears hijab out of the house, but not in the house.  That there is some skin color diversity in the book, that Mrs. Tompkins is in a wheel chair.  I also love that the new friends, and only friends are presumably non Muslim, and that a little gray cat brought them all together, Alhumdulillah.

My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

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My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

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I absolutely love that this 32 page picture book for children five and up breaks so many stereotypes and highlights so many commonalities between all people, everywhere.  I strongly believe that books like this, can change people’s perspective, and as a children’s books can prevent negative biases from forming in the first place.

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Set in Iran, a little girl absolutely loves and adores her grandma.  They pray together, they buy bread together and they share that bread with their best friends, their Christian neighbors next door.  While the little girl and her friend Annette play, the two grandmas chat, drink coffee and knit blankets to donate to the mosque and Annette’s Grandma’s church.

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Grandma sews chadors to wear, and Mina helps.  But, mostly she uses the scarves to make rocket ship forts, and capes to fly to outer space in.  When she returns to base camp grandma has cookies for her and wants to hear about her adventures.

In Ramadan, the little girl wakes up early to eat with grandma even though she is too young too fast.  When she gets older, they go to the mosque together at night too, after they have broken their fast.

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One time she hears her grandma praying for Annette’s grandma to go to heaven.  The next day Annette tells Mina she heard her grandma praying at church for her grandma to go to heaven.  The little girl imagines the two grandmas knitting and laughing together in heaven, on Mars, on Earth, anywhere.

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The book ends with the little girl stating past tense how wonderful her grandma was and  that she still wants to be like her.

The book touches on family, interfaith, love, helping others, faith, religion, friendship, culture, and is just really really sweet.  I wish I loved the pictures, as much as I love the story, but I don’t.  I think I like most of them with their texture and details, unfortunately the faces in some just seem a little off to me.

I absolutely love that there is no over explaining, and no glossary, the author seamlessly brings words like namaz, and Ramadan and chador in to the story, normalizing them as the pretend play, and familial bonds are so universal.

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Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan

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Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan

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This sweet story shows how even when people refuse to help, we should treat them with kindness, as our actions should be to please Allah alone, and inshaAllah in real life, much like in the story, people will fix their ways and offer their help in return.  This new story reads very much like the old(er) favorite Nabeel’s New Pants, where everyone is too busy to help, but then come around to realizing that helping one another is a way to show people we care.  This 32 page 8.5 x 11 soft back story is well bound with large glossy pages and clear text.  The story works well for ages 4 and up, as they will understand the moral message and inshaAllah feel inspired to find ways to help as well.  

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It is a 40 year tradition that Mustafa Amce and his wife Ayse Teyze feed iftar to their friends and families on the first day of Ramadan.  This year, however, Ayse is not well and Mustafa is confident he can enlist the help of neighbors and family to help him keep the tradition alive. 

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Unfortunately, everyone has an excuse.  His daughter is tired, his grand daughter is too busy with her video games and his neighbor doesn’t want to get his new shirt dirty.  Their sad reasons don’t stop old Mustafa Amce, and he makes the salad, and cooks the rice and beef by himself.

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When iftar time arrives, he offers sweet dates to those at the masjid and invites everyone to come to his courtyard to break their fasts together.  All those that had early refused to assist him feel incredibly guilty and don’t want to take advantage of a lovely meal. Mustafa reminds them that, “God loves those who are generous especially to their families, neighbors, and guests.  and I always want Got to love me.” So they join in the delicious meal.

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After food Ayse Teyze shows that while she might be ill, she can still save the day when her husband realizes he has forgotten to prepare dessert.  The guests then offer to wash the dishes and sweep the floor and take the leftovers to the poor.  And best of all when the athan for isha prayer calls out they all without prompting stand to join Mustafa Amce in praying salat together.

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The names are Turkish with a pronunciation guide at the end, as well as a paragraph about Ramadan.  The book would work for non Muslims and Muslims alike as the story is set in Ramadan, but more about coming together to help out.  The illustrations are large and detailed and descriptive.  You see the warmth between Mustafa and his wife as well as the apologetic feelings from those that were unwilling to help. 

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Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood

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Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood

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I don’t know what is more frustrating: quality books that are poorly packaged (binding, illustrations, font, spacing, etc.) or beautiful books that miss the mark in storytelling and basic writing skills.  Both are equally annoying, and while yes, a good story should be the basis, this book is really well written that the presentation of it just makes me sad.  At 116 pages, the book is perfect for 3rd graders.  My daughter and son read it a few years ago when I first picked it up.  I made them read it.  And last week when I pulled it out to read myself, both remarked that it was a good story.  The fact that they remembered it and remembered liking it are huge pluses, and made the fact that I had to make them read it all the more disheartening.  I’m certain if you can get your kids to read eight maybe 10 pages they will zoom through the rest of the book.  It is the getting them to pick it up and start, that is the tricky part.  The book is paperback, thick and glossy, but the cover looks homemade almost.  If you thumb through it the font is too small, spaced too tight and the illustrations mean well, but don’t deliver.  Unfortunate, because like my children, I too think the story is fun and I’m disappointed that the book was published in 2013 as #1 in the Lulubug’s Week in the Life Series, and no further books have come out.

SYNOPSIS:

Laila (Lulu), and her family are American Muslims living in Southern Virginia.  Lulu’s mom is a lawyer and a convert, her dad is from Egypt and owns an Italian restaurant, and her older twin brothers are 12 and keep an eye on her.  Being incredibly bright Lulu has skipped third grade and is having trouble with some bullies in her new fourth grade class: Veronica B. and Veronica C.  aka the Veries.  Using help from her brothers, her neighbor and friend Toni, and some friends in class, a trap is set to get the bullies to confess to their evil mischief, but that unfortunately isn’t the only thing Lulu is going through this week.  Throw in her parent’s sudden decision to move closer to the masjid in another city, a litter of kittens abandoned on the side of the road, and some weird noises coming from the woods behind their house, and Lulu has a lot to deal with.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it shows the day-to-day of a typical Muslim family in a normal presentation.  They pray together, they watch what they eat, they know their neighbors and worry about each other.  It doesn’t idolize the family, making them better than anyone or preachy, but makes them very relatable and likable in a realistic way.  When bees are discovered or the kittens need carrying for, sunnahs and ayats are identified, but very seamlessly, that non Muslim kids will learn a bit about Islam and Muslim kids will be excited to see themselves.  My favorite scene regarding this is when the mom finds out there will be a middle-school dance, and even though the boys are not planning to go, know that it isn’t for them, and don’t even seem tempted by it, they still have a family meeting about it, to discuss.  I also like that at one point Lulu meets another Muslim girl and they don’t hit it off right away, the girls work through it, but it is nice to see some diversity in even the way Muslims are presented and possibly misunderstood even amongst one another.

There is a lot going on in the book in terms of action items, but there still is a lot of character development and dimensions to Lulu.  Lulu has to navigate relationships with her family and friends that ring true and aren’t over simplified.  Her friend and neighbor, Toni, expects Lulu to act different at school now that they are in the same class, but returns to her silly self once they are home.  Lulu clashes a lot with her mom, but can smile and get her way super easy with her dad and manipulates that a lot.  She has to balance her sassiness with her teacher and principal, pick her battles with the Veries, and abide by other adults’ rules and expectations.  The book reads in a similar vein as Junie B. Jones, or Clementine, just maybe a more mature and less obnoxious reincarnation.

I wish the adventure involving the backyard noises, was a bit more dramatic, and maybe even the unveiling of the trap involving the dye was more resolved.  At times the book seemed rushed to wrap up all the stories introduced and I think they deserved a little more time to be explored and enjoyed.  If the font and spacing and pictures could be tweaked I think the book would really speak to kids in a fun way.  Third and fourth graders can easily handle a 150-160 page book that has good pacing and is packaged in a tempting, non intimidating way.  I’m holding out hope that maybe the author will write some more, tweak this one, and give it the chance at reaching an audience that would benefit from the smart, fun, grounded life of Lulu.

FLAGS:

Clean, it does mention that Toni likes a boy, but Lulu thinks that boys are trouble.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

If I still did an elementary book club, I think this book would work.  I think kids need a nudge to give it a try, but once the book gets going, girls and boys alike will enjoy it.  I may read it for a Lunch Bunch choice (I read once a week to 4th and 5th graders while they eat their lunch).  Kids will love seeing themselves, their stresses, their families, and their faith presented well.

Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Zak and His Little Lies by J. Samia Mair illustrated by Omar Burgess

zak and lies

In the first Zak book, Zak had good intentions that just never went his way and we, as the readers, really felt bad for him.  In this new book, it takes a few pages to feel sympathy for Zak as his little lies get him in trouble, but sure enough when he finally changes his ways, it is cause for relief, celebration, and a great lesson to teach kids something that they do without much thought.

ZakLies2

The book claims to be for 3 to 7 year olds, but I think it works best for 3rd graders who seem to be testing honesty out.  Yes, it is great to introduce it to younger kids, and you really should, but like the first Zak book, the pages are a bit text heavy and the concept really should be understood without too much hand holding.  For me, the power of the book is the way that Zak’s little lies snowball in to a habit, and the climax really is something that you want the child to feel from within, not as just an adult once again telling them to be honest and not lie and to listen.

zak lies 1

Zak starts the book with one more chore to do until he can go to the skate park with his Baba to play.  But, he gets caught in a lie about his bearded dragon, Dwayne, and the stage is set for him to get through the day honestly.  The next test doesn’t involve lying to his parents, but rather some kids from school that tease him, he doesn’t tell the truth and consequences ensue.  Next up he lies to his sister, again a great addition in showing that honesty is not just important when dealing with parents or adults, but that it needs to be the standard in all our dealings.  At the end, it is his sister getting in trouble for something that he has done that forces his to come clean about his whole day and to learn that truly, “Nothing in the earth and in the heavens is hidden from Allah” (Surah Al-Imran 3:5).

The hardback book is 29 pages with the last two pages being Discussion Questions and more information about the Quran Ayats and Hadiths mentioned.  The illustrations are not too busy, but the characters facial expressions are spot on, and often where the emotional cues for the text are found.