Tag Archives: overcoming

My Monster and Me by Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey

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My Monster and Me by Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey

This adorable 32 page book about facing worries, anxiety, and fears is told in story format and meant for ages four and up. The personified monster isn’t scary, but he is big, and the little boy learns to talk about him to get him to shrink. The book is engaging, fun, and powerful. I had my teenager who has anxiety read it and she loved it, a few days later as she was forcing herself to get out of the car, she mentioned that she needed to make her monster small. Normalizing mental health, feeling like you aren’t alone, finding the words to explain to others how you feel, having empathy for those that are facing challenges, are all things the book conveys without being preachy or condescending. I think every child, parent, and caregiver, needs to be aware of what children are facing and find ways to be like the gran in the book and listen, so that children suffering aren’t doing so alone. The fact that the author is a Muslim celebrity chef in Britain and the protagonist is a boy with brown skin, makes the message that much more universal.

The book starts out with an unnamed boy introducing himself and his much bigger monster. He doesn’t know when the monster arrived, but it seems he has always been there, and the monster knows all about him.

The monster is big, and when he stands infront of the little boy, the little boy can only see his tummy. At night he snores too. When he asks his mom or dad or brother to take the monster away, the monster hides.

Over time the monster has gotten bossier. When the little boy is getting dressed or brushing his teeth or when he wants to play, the monster is always there, blocking him.

One day after school the monster was there and the little boy tried to lose it, but couldn’t. Gran asked what was wrong when he showed up crying, and the little boy told his grandma all about his monster.

Gran listened quietly and the more the little boy talks, the smaller the monster gets. Pretty soon the boy realizes he can make his monster go away. When he finds the monster later, the little monster is confused, so the boy puts him in his pocket.

The monster is always there, but the little boy can make him behave and he isn’t scary any more. At the end the boy is big, and the monster is little.

I love that the boy finds someone to talk to, and that he accepts that the monster may never leave. Even if you don’t have anxiety or worries, the book is a great metaphor that even little kids can understand to help them cope when stresses do occur. I love the large size of the book, the minimal text and the bright illustrations. Truly a great book that needs to be in classrooms and homes and anywhere kids are.

Sadiq and the Fun Run by Siman Nuurali illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

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Sadiq and the Fun Run by Siman Nuurali illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

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This new series featuring Sadiq, a Somali American living in Minnesota, is great for early chapter book readers looking for representation and diversity.  There are four books about Sadiq, his family, and his friends and classmates in third grade, and all are either an AR 3.6 or AR 3.5.  At 57 pages long, divided into five chapters and filled with bright and colorful illustrations students in grades 1st through fourth, depending on reading level and interest, will enjoy these simple plotted, yet relatable stories.

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SYNOPSIS:

Sadiq’s friends are all getting ready to try out for football, but his parent’s say that he is too young for such a rough sport and has to wait until he is 12 like his older brother, Nuurali, did.  Sadiq’s parents and family encourage him to try another sport, and with a new running club starting in a few days coached by a member of the national team, that’s what he opts to do.  Begrudgingly he joins the team, but is hurt when his friends talk about how much fun football is and how much more tough and difficult it is compared to running.  While this is going on, he is getting support from his brother to keep running, and from his teammates, but it is hard and he doesn’t enjoy it.  Slowly, he starts to improve, however, and with the Fun Run the climax of the book he sails across the finish line in first place when he sees his friends have come to cheer him on!

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book/series proudly features a Somali-American-Muslim family.  There is information about Somali at the beginning as well as some Somali terms and a portrait with names for the members of Sadiq’s family.  The mom and older sister wear hijab, “Salaam” is one of the defined words and the characters use it when they meet.  I also love the diversity of skin tones in the illustrations and one of the girls on the track team wears a scarf as well.  There are Muslim named kids and non Muslim named kids in the story, and while Islam isn’t mentioned outright, it is definitely represented through the characters words, names, and appearances.

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The story is straightforward and perfect for the age group, the books in the series do not need to be read in any order, and you will get to see the different supporting casts featured more prominently in different books, thus getting to know Sadiq and his world.  I like that he doesn’t get his way, and doesn’t get to do what all his friends are doing, but he makes it work.  He is grumpy and upset, but he doesn’t get obnoxious or overly whiney.  I think this subtly gives readers some tools and insights to model in their own disappointments.  I also like that while he has to put in the work and fix his attitude, he doesn’t have to do it all alone.  His family and coach are supportive, and eventually his friends apologize and support him too.  For the simplicity of the book, you actually do get invested in his little trial and want to see the outcome.

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FLAGS:

None, it is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is like a boy protagonist version of the Meet Yasmin books, they show a kid of culture in everyday experiences.  The target audience wouldn’t make it work for a school wide book club, but I think early elementary teachers would benefit from having the series in their classrooms and letting kids in small groups discuss if they want. These books would be great for first graders that are way above reading level and parents are struggling to find appropriate books.

The end of the book has some resources as well: a glossary, discussion questions to talk about and some to write down, as well as a home workout guide and information about the author and illustrator.

The Tower by Shereen Malherbe

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The Tower by Shereen Malherbe

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At 246 pages I’m not sure if this book would be classified as Young Adult, but I think it could be, as its message, focus and presentation makes it a valuable thought provoking read.  And the cleanliness of everything being resolved so neatly might almost be too coincidental for older, more jaded readers, where I personally wasn’t too bothered by how much emotional action was packed in to the book and how quickly it was resolved as the characters were compelling and the pacing made it an enjoyable quick read.

SYNOPSIS:

The story follows two women, Reem and Leah as their very different worlds and circumstances come together when they move in to the same apartment building.

Reem is a Syrian refugee whose past is presented in bits and pieces as her fragmented memories surface in the story.  She is searching for her 10 year old brother Adar, as well as trying to create a future for her self in London.

Leah has recently lost her husband, left her training as a doctor, and is trying to make a life for her and her son, Elijah, away from her parents’ shadow of expectation and demands.

When the two ladies meet, neither is completely settled or functioning, yet the desperation each is feeling causes Reem to ask for Leah’s help, and Leah agreeing.  The two become friends as they share parts of their world with one another and slowly start to heal.

Then Reem’s secret pregnancy comes to light, her abusive husband finds her, Leah’s posh friends abandon her, and their apartment building, the tower, catches fire.  Granted it doesn’t all happen that quick and there are lots of details that make their pasts, their friendship, and their goals for the future believable and inspiring, as well as making the pain for those lost in the fire emotionally wrenching.

As the two women once again try and survive hardship, this time together, they make progress before a terrorist attack on the mosque again sets them back.  Through all these major plot points details about how Reem got to England, and the atrocities she suffered that her mind blocked out are made clear.  Additionally, more about Leah and her families involvement in the tower fire and their friends’ involvement in human trafficking all tie the lose ends up. In the final pages there is hope and resilience and respect from the reader for the brave characters brought to life and their determination to persevere.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is a very personal, character driven story about a horrific fire, reminiscent of the Grenfell fire which claimed the lives of over 70 people.  I also absolutely love how Islam is presented.  The Muslim characters are tangibly real.  Reem wants to fast because it is Ramadan, but has the excuse that she is pregnant, but tries anyway.  She prays, she covers, she meets a Muslim that doesn’t cover, but they pray together at the mosque later and become great friends.  Leah is interested in Islam and asks questions and when she cooks for her Muslim friends she gets halal meat.  There is an amazingly helpful character Mo in the story who Leah is crushing on, but he refuses to be alone with her, or touch her, and when she tells him of her feelings, he says that everything she likes isn’t him it is his religion.  Leah and Reem discuss how the sunnah’s of the Prophet influence Mo and his brother and it is quite detailed.  Quranic ayats are quoted in character’s dialogues in natural presentations, not preachy or misplaced.  It hints at the end, when Leah has joined Doctors Without Borders and is in the Middle East that perhaps she has taken shahada, but it isn’t a plot point and isn’t mentioned explicitly.

My biggest complaint about the book is the random foreshadowing that pulls out from the story to hint that something more is going to happen between certain characters or be of more importance later.  I think it happened three times, and each time completely unnecessary. The story and characters and writing are clear and done well enough that needing the hint sells it all short and it wasn’t just annoying and irritating, it really kind of made me mad.  Here I was feeling an attachment for a character or what they were experiencing only to be reminded that there will be more, rather than letting me go along for the ride with the character.

I also was bothered by the font and spacing.  It is really tight on the pages, but with big margins, that a little breathing room would have been nice.  So, much happens in the book, that I wanted to be able to relish in each event and often I felt the presentation made it rushed and I found myself skimming, more than I would have liked.  I would have also liked to know what parts, if any, were based on or inspired by real events: the tower fire, human trafficking, stealing organs, artifacts coming out of Syria, refugee treatment in London, etc.

FLAGS:

There are memories of war and dead bodies.  The stealing of organs and dumping of bodies into the ocean.  There is a lot of death after the fire and after the shooting at the mosque.  There is a lot of blood, a terrorist act, a baby being delivered, a drunk man at a party.  Nothing is overly sensationalized, but it is a gripping book with some intense moments.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if middle school can handle the book, the characters are older, so it won’t resonate with them like a traditional YA book would, but I’m tempted to have my almost 13 year old read it so we can discuss.  I will most definitely suggest it to the high school book club adviser as there is a ton to discuss and relate to in this action packed book.

Author’s website and Q and A: https://shereenmalherbe.com/

 

 

The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail by Mir Khalid Ali illustrated by Taahira Halim

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The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail by Mir Khalid Ali illustrated by Taahira Halim

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A determined girl battles her ponytail, her own self-doubt and her opponents on the jiu-jitsu mat in 38 beautifully illustrated pictures and clear every day language.  Perfect for little girls and their dads ages five and up.

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Noor has been counting down the days until her first jiu-jitsu tournament, but the morning of the tournament a battle first takes place between her and her unruly hair.  Determined to tame it on her own, even when her father offers her help, she steps on to the mat for her first fight.

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Squirming with nerves, her ponytail breaks free from the desperate tape used to keep it contained and covers Noor’s eyes forcing her to tap out and concede the match.

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Walking off the mat, Noor’s Baba hugs her and compliments her on her bravery.  Noor is having none of it and just wants to go home.  Rather than argue with her, Baba goes to talk to her coach giving Noor some space to battle her self-doubt on her own.

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Deciding she has worked hard and trained hard, and been supported every step of her way she asks her baba to help her tie up her hair.  Together her and her jiu-jitsu ponytail take on the remaining opponents and persevere.  

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The book shows great heart in the supporting cast each of us have around us, in this case the father takes his cues from his daughter, never wavering in his support, but not forcing her to do anything either.  The little girl is determined, but also learns that it is ok to ask for help and above all to not give up on yourself.

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The personification of the ponytail adds a layer of humor to the story that works well for little kids that might just take the story on face value.  Even they will learn something about jiu-jitsu with the visual displays of the different moves and of martial arts tournaments in general.  Two of my children thought the ponytail hilarious, and two slightly creepy.  The subtlety of its personification allows its role of being a separate entity and just feeling like it has a mind of its own to be determined by the reader.

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There is nothing Islamic in the book, but the author and illustrator are Muslim, and the use of the little girls name, Noor Kareem, and her calling her father Baba will have a special appeal to Muslim children (plus her name written in Arabic on her bedroom wall), just as children who do jiu-jitsu will find themselves in the pages.  The book appeals to all children and reminds them they can overcome and inshaAllah be supported in the process.

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The illustrations in this 8 x 10 horizontal hardback book are beautiful and detailed.  They allow the reader to understand what is going on without the book being overly burdened with text.  The font is clear and well sized making the book ideal for both bedtime and story time, alhumdulillah.

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