Tag Archives: Poetry

Welcome Ramadan by Lila Assiff-Tarabain illustrated by Gurmeet

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As many of us are setting out our Ramadan decorations and pulling our Ramadan books from the shelves, or realistically browsing Amazon, the quality and presentation of Islamic picture books is impressive.  And with this new expectation, there is also an increase in price, this book however, is the opposite.  Ranging from .97 cents to $3 online this little 6.5 inch by 9.5 inch 24 page book is a lot of bang for your buck.welcome ramadan1

Starting with finding the moon, big sister Maysa tells her younger brother Bilal all about Ramadan, in (mostly) rhyming couplets none the less.  She tells him about walking up before dawn and explains that yes that means no lunch.  She also explains that because they are little they aren’t required to fast. They then explore breaking the fast, going to the mosque to pray, having good manners, and learning that a full moon means that Ramadan is half way over.  Reading the Quran is discussed as well as how we have to be generous with what Allah swt has given us. It concludes with Eid and a Parent/Teacher guide at the end to help Muslim and non Muslims alike learn about Ramadan.

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The pictures are cute and comical, albeit small given the overall size of the book.  It covers Ramadan on a level kids of all ages can understand, and because of its easy reading style even older kids can skim through it and find it enjoyable.  There isn’t really a story, it is just a fun way to share the “facts” but a welcome addition to any book shelf both at home and in a classroom setting.

The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan illustrated by Maria Ahmed

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The Shapes of Eid According to Me by Samia Khan illustrated by Maria Ahmed

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A new Eid book that talks about the religious aspects of Eid, such as praying and going to the mosque, as well as the cultural fun of getting henna done and eating samosas, presented through the shapes a little girl finds all around her.  I liked the idea of presenting Eid through a different lens so to speak, and finally gave in and ordered the $17 hardback 28 page book.  I had touched base with the author before I ordered it to see if it would work for little kids at a masjid story time and she thought it would.  The text is one to four lines per page and rhymes, which allows the little ones to stay engaged.  Some of the lines are forced or seem to break the rhyme scheme, but overall a book about shapes with rhyming lines makes sense.

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The part that I was underwhelmed with was the illustrations.  A book with such a visual concept at its core, to me would require breath taking pictures.  But alas, the pictures seem done with crayon and colored pencils, and on many pages finding the shape is almost difficult for little ones.  The detail is lovely, but the presentation seems lacking. They aren’t bright and shiny, they are muted and flat.  The disconnect of the text and binding with the pictures seemed jarring to me. Perhaps it was just the price point made me expect more, I don’t know.  I like the book, but I don’t love it.  I will be reading it to a group of kids and if they love it I will take back my criticism of the pictures, happily.

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I think the book works up to about 2nd grade, as the geometric shapes are both flat and 3-D, plus getting excited for Eid is something everyone enjoys.  There is no reason this book is limited to Muslim children, but non muslims might be left with more questions after reading it about how Eid is celebrated and what aspects are religiously required and which are just fun customs.  There is a small intro at the beginning to what Eid is, but no glossary or further info is included.

The Sky of Afghanistan by Ana A. de Eulate illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

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An Afghani girl dreams of peace in this illustrated 24 page poem.  She soars and flies like the kites against the wind and giggles and learns and hopes with her feet on the ground.  The book is written on a third grade sixth month AR level, but even at that the poem is hard to follow for elementary age children.  The voice doesn’t sound like a child’s, it is far more reflective and mature for how she is presented.  The text, not really a story, wanders and alludes to what obstacles face Afghani’s but doesn’t detail them.  The author assumes the reader knows that Afghanistan has been under war for decades, that war is painful and gloomy and gruesome.  Adults maybe can find the hope for peace and the struggles inspiring, but I don’t think children will really have a clue as to what the text is about. Luckily the pictures are AMAZING.

 

The illustrator does an amazing job in keeping the story light and hopeful and showing the culture without judgement or despair.  The domes of the masjids, the hijabs, the mendhi on the hands and even the smiling faces beneath the niqabs are done with lightness, kindness and beauty.  There is even a touch of whimsy that reminds the reader that this is supposed to be from a child’s perspective.

The sky can be full of kites, I think to myself,

but it can also be full of dreams…

And mine flies up high, high into the sky,

towards the stars…

The book overall is poetic and artistic.  I can see children enjoying the illustrations and maybe falling asleep to the melodious words, even if they can’t really make sense of them. The book says that profits go to charity, and that the book was translated from Spanish.   For the illustrations alone, the book has merit and older children may be inspired to take something difficult and turn it into something beautiful with their words.

 

Colours of Islam by Dawud Wharnsby

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Colours of Islam

This beautiful book is a compilation of the lyrics from Dawud Wharnsby’s well known collection of songs found on the Colours of Islam CD released nearly 20 years ago.  The book states for ages 5+ and is a large and very colorful 35 pages.  The hardback binding, the inclusion of the CD, and the knowledge that royalties go to a trust fund supporting educational initiatives for children, make it a great gift item.  It looks lovely on the shelf and the children will eagerly thumb through it, once.  After that, I’m not entirely sure what to do with the book.  colours of islam2

The pictures are very busy for the most part, and very detailed.  The text on the page is pretty intimidating in its line length and volume.  The songs are lovely, I’ve knows them by heart since I was a child, but I don’t know that they lend themselves directly to poetry for children.  If a child knows the songs, or is following along with the CD then yes, older children will benefit from the book.  A five-year-old or possibly a 7-year-old will not.  I can see the poems/songs supplementing a language arts lesson in a classroom, and in a library the book looks wonderful displayed.  But, as hard as it is for me to not gushingly praise a Dawud Wharnsby product, I don’t know that the book would really ever be read cover to cover and/or more than once.

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The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney illustrated by Shane W. Evans

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I didn’t realize the book was written in prose until I opened it up to read, and immediately taken-aback I rechecked the AR level and sure enough, this 309 page book that is written in prose and covers the genocide in Darfur, is written on a 4.2 level. And it is amazing. I forced myself to stop reading at one point so as to not rush the depth and soul of the simple words from being lost in haste.  It is truly, in my opinion, a beautifully remarkable feat to convey such horrific atrocities with such hope and integrity to young adults in a palatable and inspiring way.

“Allah is the light,” he says.

I ask,

“How do you find Allah’s light?”

Old Anwar says,

“Take the path that shines the brightest.”

SUMMARY:

Amira’s life on her family’s farm is by no means easy, but she has loving parents, a little sister, her beloved sheep, and a dream of going to school.  Her father advocates for her, but her mother, steeped in tradition, sees education only as a waste of time.  The illustrations and sparse words manage to convey fairly solid understanding of Amira’s life, optimism, and relationships with those closest to her.  Although warned of the dangers the Janjaweed could cause, Amira remains fairly unconcerned about the mounting political unrest around her, until it is too late.  When death and the destruction of her home force the surviving members of her family and neighbors to seek refuge in a camp many miles away, the reader sees how truly horrific her experiences have been.  She refuses to speak or rather cannot, when a chance encounter with an aid worker brings her the prospect of getting her voice back, through the empowerment of a red pencil.  With restored determination she convinces an elder neighbor to teach her, but it is not enough for Amira Bright.  Her sparrow needs to soar free.

WHY I LIKE IT:

You expect a book written in verse to have a lot of imagery and symbolism, and The Red Pencil does a good job of balancing the story and the description, to keep the book on track.  The linear story line remains focused on telling the story at hand, making it attainable for elementary and middle school children.  The Darfur conflict is complicated at best, and using verse to convey it from a young girl’s voice allows a lot of the politics and dirtiness of war to be side-stepped without dismissing it.  Amira’s optimism and hope is at times naive, but more as a reflection of her personality then out of ignorance. She sees things, and feels things, and must deal with things, no child should, but her spirit shines through and keeps the book from being depressing, while still being sad.

Today the red pencil does more

than beg for my hand.

It makes me a promise.

It tells me to try.

The characters are Muslim and they rely on Allah, and pray, yet Amira’s thirst for knowledge includes that of learning the Koran (Qur’an) as that knowledge too, has not been readily available to her  There is a lot to discuss in the book, both what is written and what the reader brings to it.  I look forward to teaching the book, and re-reading it once again to savor in the rich images.

Here,

Muma stoops.

Here,

she has nothing to reach for.

FLAGS:

Their is violence when the Janjaweed attack her family.  But I think it is conveyed in a manner suitable for 3rd grade and up.  It is not celebrated or glorified, it is traumatic and has repercussions that are respectfully conveyed.  There is also mention of a child bride, but not in so many words, that in all honesty I doubt most young readers will be as bothered by it as perhaps they should.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There is a discussion guide in the back of the book along with an Author’s Note, Acknowledgements, Glossary/Pronunciation Guide, Character/Location Pronunciations, and Important Terms that Appear in the Book.

An Educators Guide: http://media.hdp.hbgusa.com/titles/assets/reading_group_guide/9780316247801/EG_9780316247801.pdf

A study guide and quiz: http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-the-red-pencil/free-quiz.html#gsc.tab=0

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