Tag Archives: Non Fiction

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes illustrated by Sue Cornelison

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Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes illustrated by Sue Cornelison

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Often children’s stories of refugees fleeing war are hopeful in a forced way that seems to want to protect them from the reality of what is going on in the world.  As adults we often cling to the ones with happy endings for our children and for ourselves, because the tragic ones are too numerous and overwhelming to comprehend.  This book marvelously does a great job for those older children in the middle that are beginning to understand the world around them, while not bombarding them with the severity of how cruel we can be to one another.  This true story instead focuses on a beloved cat and all the humans of different backgrounds, all over the world that help reunite her with her family.  Giving hope, but also showing the difficulty in the world, and the effects even one person can have in making a difference.

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Kunkush’s family goes to great pains to get themselves (all 6 of them) out of Mosul, and away from the war.  That the fact they sneak their beloved cat with them, shows just how much a member of the family he is. They drive through the night, and walk for days over a mountain, they reach a Kurdish village where they sneak the cat on a bus to Turkey, they then have to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, only to land in Lesbos and have Kunkush disappear.  The family searches as long as they can, but alas have to move on to their new home.  From here the story switches from following the family to following the cat and all the people determined to reunite him with his family.  Unfortunately, they don’t know where the family is.  Amy, a volunteer, takes the cat to the vet to get cleaned up, and then creates an internet campaign to try and find his family.  People from all over the world donate to his care, and his travel expenses.  Eventually, Amy takes the cat to Germany, where many refugees have resettled and continues her search.  Finally, word gets to the family in Norway, and Doug, a photographer, arranges to fly the cat to her new home. Alhumdulillah.

img_3838.jpgOne could argue that countless people are misplaced each day due to war, and we overlook it because it is easier than dealing with it, so why care about a cat.  And to that I challenge the skeptic, animal lover or not, to read this book and not have your heart-strings tugged.

IMG_3839The book is done beautifully.  The pictures are warm and endearing and are the only proof that the family is Muslim, by their hijabs.  The love the family has for their pet is expressed in the illustrations, and even more so by the real photographs at the end of the book following the Note from Doug and Amy.  At 48 pages the book works really well for 3rd grade and up (it isn’t AR) who can marvel at the cat’s journey.  I particularly think this book is a great way to show children another aspect of refugees.  There are a fair amount of books that talk about the refugee experience or show refugees getting adjusted to a new home.  But, this is a great way to show that refugees are not just defined by a word.  They are vibrant individual people just like everyone else.  By focusing on the cat and his journey, the reader sees what a refugee goes through, particularly this family, and hopefully will stop and think about it.   But it doesn’t just show the family in that capacity, it shows them as a vibrant family who loves and desperately misses their cat- something more children may be able to relate to.

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Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

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It is widely written about, even amongst children’s literature, that in parts of the world, girls are not allowed to go to school, but that many find ways to do so anyway.  What sets this book apart is that it is based on a true story, and while there is some hope for Nasreen, overall it is a really melancholy tale without a happy ending.  At 40 pages, author Jeanette Winter once again conveys a story that shows compassion instead of judgement and undeniable admiration for her characters.  Written on a 4.2 level, the story packs a lot into small, simple sentences, and her illustrations do not shy away from the realities of Afghanistan.  While I was surprised to see that twice the book was challenged, in 2014 and 2016, for showing Muslims praying and for violence, I was glad that it was never banned.   The strength and determination of Afghani women should not be silenced, it should be shared and celebrated.

 

The story is told from the point of view of Nasreen’s grandmother.  She is heartbroken that her granddaughter is not allowed to attend school and practice the arts as she was, and even her daughter-in-law, were able to do as children.  Since the Taliban has come things are dark.  Things get worse when one night soldiers come and take Nasreen’s father with no explanation.  When he doesn’t return, Nasreen’s mother leaves to find him, displaying her own strength to independently take on a society that doesn’t permit her to go out alone.  Unfortunately she does not return either, and Nasreen stops speaking.  Grandma learns of a secret school for girls.  Determined that Nasreen should know of the outside world, great risks are taken for many girls to learn in a private home a few doors down.  Dodging Taliban soldiers and neighborhood boys helping keep their school a distraction starts to pay off as Nasreen finds a friend and starts to open her heart.  The book ends with mom and dad still missing, but hope for Nasreen to see through the window education has opened for her, inshaAllah.

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Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz illustrated by AG Ford

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Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz illustrated by AG Ford

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I had hoped to have a handful of selections to review for Black History Month, but alas I started too late in collecting titles, inshaAllah next year I will be better organized.  I did want to share this beautiful book though, as a great story of hope and love, that I don’t think is often included when we study Malcolm X or talk about him today.  This is the story of his parents and the philosophy of equality they tried to raise him in before hatred and bigotry destroyed his family, before he went to prison, before he became “Detroit Red,” a member of the Nation of Islam, before he became a civil rights leader, a Muslim, before he became Malcolm X.  This is a story, based on love, written by his daughter to give children of all ages something to think about.

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The story of Malcolm Little, is a story that I feel cannot be rushed, it is very heavy in text and at 48 pages, the warm beautiful pictures make it accessible in pieces to younger children, but it is written on an AR 6.5 level (sixth grade fifth month).  The book tells about how his mother and father met, believed in universal equality and justice, and started a family where these values took center stage.  The family suffered for their beliefs and their home was burnt down, but they rebuilt and the family continued to find strength and see the power of possibility.  The books shows the lessons taught in everyday activities such as raising a garden, doing laundry, reading books, doing homework, and even fishing.

When Malcolm’s father was killed, however, and his mother taken away, the family was forced to separate and Malcolm to deal with an unwelcoming world, more or less alone.  The book ends with Malcolm in 7th grade so, to young readers who have maybe only heard his name in passing the book is full of hope and roots for the man he would become.  It is almost a fairytale start to a man who would be cut down in his prime years later.  They will understand how unfair society treated his family, how warm and educated and strong his mother, Louise was, and how inspiring his father as a preacher was. The takeaway will be how Malcolm’s upbringing and personality allowed for him to rise up and refuse to stay down during horrific events in his life.

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For older elementary and middle schoolers it is a story of possibility, of how quickly things can change, and the effect of hate.  They should also see how institutionalized and normative the oppression of African Americans was and how it really wasn’t that long ago.  When Malcolm’s English teacher Mr. Ostrowski tells Malcolm that he as an African American should not have such high expectations, readers should realize that the acts of the Ku Klux Klan may be viewed as “extreme” but society as a whole was systematically enabling such bigoted acts.  The lessons passed on to Malcolm by his parents are universal themes of hope and love and equality that still have to be stood up for today, and even young listeners can grasp that, and also grasp that because of their skin color alone they were seen as second class citizens.

The book shows depth to a historical character that gives some insight to what made him so dynamic.  Many young readers will be surprised at how quickly Malcolm’s world unraveled, and some of the reasons why, while empathizing with the injustice of it.  The Author’s Note at the end is also fascinating as it details the family members and their stories about the characters in the book.   I liked the softness of the book and the smaller lessons for children that it presented.  It didn’t shy away from the violence and prejudice that the Little family faced, but presented it through a lens of optimism to hopefully inspire children to carry on with the social activism that still needs to be done.

 

 

Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winters

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Again I break from my fiction preference to review another book about these two remarkable individuals: Malala and Iqbal.  In this beautiful book linking two brave children from Pakistan, Jeanette Winter’s brings their stories to a young audience in a powerfully simplistic way.  Written on an AR 3.6 level, each story is 20 pages and presented in a flip book format.  Before each story there is a brief Author’s Note about each character in a broader view, for context to be given as needed to the adults to share with the children listening to the book, or for older children to read and deepen their understanding and appreciation.  The sentences are short and the font and presentation is inviting to even early readers.  The pictures are wonderful and do a tremendous job showing the intensity of the environment Malala and Iqbal face, while not frightening the reader.

The Malala portion of the book starts with the Taliban asking for her on the bus and like her biography, then takes the reader to the threats and deterrents they made to girls in school, but on an audience appropriate level.  It tells how they stopped wearing uniforms so that they could be harder to identify and how even burning the girls school didn’t stop them. It then returns to her being shot and going from the hospital in Swat to one in England.  It concludes with her speaking to the U.N. on her 16th birthday.

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The story of Iqbal is a bit harder I think for children to understand as they may not know what a loom is or have ever thought about who makes carpets.  Also the words bondage, Peshgi, outlawed, and mourners are not in their vocabulary .  They should understand that he is sold for an unpaid $12 debt, but that too may need to be stressed and explained. If the kids can grasp this, I really think children as young as kindergarten can appreciate his story.  I love that the author didn’t shy away from the fact that he was shot and killed.   Even if they do not understand all the facets that make Iqbal’s work so incredible.  They will feel inspired that someone so young was so brave.  Iqbal

 

Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam by Diane Stanley

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This is a beautiful historical biography of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, that I felt worth sharing despite it not being fiction.  Written on an AR Level of 7.0 the 48 pages are highly wordy, and cover a lot of historical ground.  There is a post script, a glossary and bibliography at the end.  The pictures are detailed and bright and inviting, but even for a 7th grader, I think the book would be a challenge.  If one has an interest in the time, or has studied it and knows some of the supporting characters, the book in fantastically interesting, and insightful for the format.  To an average middle school or even high school student, they might thumb through it and keep it on the shelf as a reference tool, but that might be about it.

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With any historical account, particularly those trying to simplify and appeal to children, the author gets to pick in what historical light to present the events.  The book starts with an Author’s Note detailing the fight for Jerusalem up until the first crusade. It then begins with the story of Saladin’s life.  Born in 1138, he was named Yusuf ibn Ayyub, and then tells a bit about his upbringing and the basic tenants of Islam.  It explains how he came to power and how the truce with the Franks was broken by Reginald.  It then details the battles, the follies and plans of both sides.  It shows the honor that Saladin had for his enemies and even the respect he had from Richard the Lionheart.  It shows the politicking in Europe and the toll of the Crusades on the people there and in the Middle East.  The book also tries to show Saladin outside of his battle armor as a family man who was devoted to his wife Ismat.  “When she (Ismat) died, Saladin was lying in his tent, seriously ill.  His advisors kept the news from him for three months, until he was fully recovered, for fear the shock might kill him.”

Saladin died in 1193 and  knowing that he was dying he passed on advice to his son oh how to be king.  “Win the hearts of your people and watch over their prosperity; for it is to secure their happiness that you are appointed by God and by me. . . I have become as great as I am because I have won men’s heart’s by gentleness and kindness.”  The book states that he was so generous and unconcerned with money and luxury that when he died he didn’t even have money to pay for his simple burial.  

Admittedly I know very little about the historical accuracies or slant of the author.  I do know that it does inspire pride for Muslims and hope that people of different faiths can one day again co-exist in Palestine and the world, inshaAllah.

 

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix

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The Grand Mosque of ParisThis beautiful, beautiful book tells of a little and sparsely known event in history.  During the holocaust The Grand Mosque of Paris served as a place of refuge for many North African Jews.  Many who passed through the vast gardens and beautiful Mosque were given fake documents of conversion, tombstones with their family names inscribed, and access to truly underground passageways (subterranean mazes), as the Muslims of Paris offered assistance to keep their Jewish brother’s and sister’s safe from the Nazi regime. Many of the stories were recently uncovered and with the passage of time, so much of the information has been lost.  As a result the book is a bit choppy, each page tells what is known about the Muslims’ assistance in some capacity, but does not flow to the next page.  So there are generalized recountings of children being hidden with other families, the efforts of the Kabyle Ressistance (Berbers from Algeria) to smuggle Jews to safety, etc.. There are also a few specific examples of Salim Halali, a young Berber Jew from Algeria, two friends one a Muslim the other a Jew seeking shelter, a Tunisian Jew who stayed at the Mosque for over two years,and a few others, but with the exception of the use of the Grand Mosque and a Doctor Ahmed Somia very little flows throughout the book.  Thus making it more of a historical account than a story.

Truly the book would not work for story time, it is geared for children (and adults) ages 12 and up,  it has an AR level of 7.1.  I would imagine it would be an amazing addition to any class studying World War II and finding the humanity offered in one of the bleakest times of our world.  It should, in my opinion, be standard required reading in Islamic School curriculum to supplement WWII study.  The hope and pride one feels when reading this book, shows how rich our faith’s are in coming together.  It would also work in understanding how history is lost, and the importance of perserving it.  There is an Afterword on page 34 that is very informative and interesting.  It is followed by a Glossary, Acknowledgements, References, Bibliography, Recommended Book and Films, and an Index.

The book also sparked my interest to know more about, not just how Muslim’s helped Jews during the Holocaust, but also how Muslims were treated in France.  The book says, “The Grand Mosque shimmered like a mirage, the white domes and the glittering mosaics of the minaret in stark contrast to the muted colors of Paris.  When the mosque was built in 1926, the North African countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia were under French rule, and many Muslims had come to Paris from those countries.  The land for the mosque was given by the French government, in exchange for a symbolic payment of one franc, to thank the half-million Muslim soldiers who had fought for France during the First World War.”

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I have already read the book more then once, and gone back and read passages multiple times.  It is as fascinating as it is informative, and a great addition on any book shelf.

 

How to Get Hijab Ready: A Guide for Muslim Girls Ages 8 to 11 by Aisha Elwan & Megan Wyatt illustrated by Sarah Hafeez

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Yes I know it isn’t fiction, but How to Get Hijab Ready is such a fabulous and much needed book that any positive attention I can direct toward it, I feel is effort well spent, Alhumdulillah.  The book is obviously meant for 8 to 11 year old girls contemplating hijab.  The beauty of this how-to book is that it answers everything from how to accessorize one’s hijab to dealing with bullies in a beautiful manner.  Not only are the pictures bright and colorful, but the presentation is clear, precise and inspiring.  The authors do not talk down to the readers, nor do they make it seem like a burden as they discuss hadith, ayats from the Qur’an, challenges and fashion sense.  The book is divided into sections: The Basics, Getting Started, Having Conversations,  Worries and Concerns, and finally Your Reward for Good Deeds. Each section addresses different topics and “Aisha’s Tips” are scattered throughout to give 12-and-a-half-year-old Aisha’s tips on the subject at hand.

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Truly this book is a gift to moms and daughters alike.  I plan to let my daughter look through it for a few days and then sit down with her to discuss.  It functions as both a how-to manual as well as a reference guide and I can see it being looked at A LOT.  Additionally I can see my daughter discussing it with both Muslim and non-Muslim peers.  I think the book offers confidence, direction, and pride as young girls will find inspiration from young Aisha while having many of their concerns about hijab answered in a fun, hip way.

My only criticism is that it wasn’t around when I was a young girl.  For some hijab is an unknown, for some it is a stress, and for some it is a natural expression of faith, and subhanAllah this book in just 51 colorful pages manages to convey information, smiles, and excitement irregardless of your background.

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