Tag Archives: problem solving

The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard illustrated by Laura K. Horton

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The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard illustrated by Laura K. Horton

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A new 32 page hard back Ramadan book that shows a little girls excitement isn’t enough to get her to abstain from food and drink for the whole long day of fasting, but that there are other ways to enjoy the gift of the blessed month.  A great book that shows how Ramadan is a month of growing and learning and sacrificing and coming together too.  Perfect for ages 4 and up to be read in small groups or at bedtime.  The pictures are delightful and show diversity, and while the little girls love of sparkles might appeal more to little girls, I think the message will allow boys to enjoy and benefit from the book as well.

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Sophia is helping her family decorate for Ramadan and when they see the crescent moon, they know that fasting will start tomorrow.  Excited to be included Sophia can’t wait.  Sahoor, however, is really early and she is really tired.  She eats a little, but by fajr time she can’t even keep her eyes open and falls asleep in sajood.

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When she wakes up it is almost noon, and even though she is hungry she decides keeping busy will help the time pass.  Reading, cleaning, drawing, nothing is working.  Her little brother runs around waving a cookie, and Sophia can’t get away fast enough. 

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She caves and starts eating cookies, her grandma finds her and consoles her.  “There’s always tomorrow and the day after and the next.  You have a full month to keep trying.” The two then discuss other ways to enjoy the month.  Sophia knows her mom reads Quran, but Sophia can’t on her own.  Her father helps others and gives charity, but Sophia doesn’t have any money.  She is about to give up, but then sees her grandma’s hands covered in flour and realizes she can help her make iftar for those that are fasting.

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She helps with the salad and the pizzas for iftar, but when some of the pizzas burn, Sophia will have to show what she has learned and understood to make iftar a success and make everything sparkle.

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There are a lot of Ramadan books out there, but I like that this one doesn’t have the adults saying she can’t fast, but just the same grandma is there to encourage her to do what she can and take advantage of other parts of the month.  I also like that she doesn’t succeed.  Fasting especially on these long summer days can be hard and acknowledging that, and encouraging kids to persevere I think is a very valuable lesson.  Sophia also comes up with a way to help on her own.  Parents are tired and entertaining ways for the kids to be engaged in Ramadan is great, but can be exhausting.  This shows that kids with the right understanding of the month, inshaAllah can find ways on their own too.

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There is an Author’s Note at the end explaining Ramadan, and the book would work and appeal to Muslim and non Muslim kids alike.  Sophia reminds me a bit of Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy and will probably appeal most to kids that also like those characters. The grandma covers her head, the mom does not, but does when praying and reading Quran.  It mentions and shows praying and breaking one’s fast with water and dates, yet stays focused on the story and does not get preachy or dry.

 

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Adam & the Tummy Monsters by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

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Adam & the Tummy Monsters by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

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Book two in the Adam Series was the first Zanib Mian book I ever read, and for the last three years I’ve been looking for the first book.  So, while thrilled to finally find it secondhand in the US, I realize my review of it is a bit selfish.  I’m hoping that if it appeals to you that maybe we can encourage the author to re-release it somehow or write more books in the series, I’m not entirely sure how publishing and copyrights work, but I feel like it is worth a shot.  There aren’t a lot of early readers with Muslim characters out there, let alone ones that are done well.  The book is 32 pages, hard back and is would work for 5 year olds and up that know their site words and are pretty fluent at sounding out new words. Ideally, kids that have had the story read to them a few time will be able to pick it up faster, as the story is compelling, the spacing between lines and the variety of fonts will hold their interest, but some pages do have a lot of text and some words are a bit complex. 

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SYNOPSIS:

Adam has a tummy ache, aka tummy monsters, and while he doesn’t want “yucky medicine” from the doctor, he is happy when his dad, puts on a silly hat and assumes the role of “Detective Doodle” to solve the case.  They determine that he ate porridge for breakfast, but so did Adam’s sister and brother, who are feeling fine, so that can’t be it.  He washed his hands before eating, and said “Bismillah” before he started too.  It seems he followed all the eating rules, but when Adam’s sister Mariam stumbles on a scene in the playroom, the culprit is uncovered.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the family has a silly approach to a very common childhood problem.  I also love that while, solving the case, reminders about eating etiquette are sneaked in without being preachy or cumbersome.  Once the reason for the tummy ache is uncovered, Adam’s parents don’t scold him, but it is safe to say he probably learns his lesson.

The pictures are engaging and colorful.  The mom wears hijab, and the characters are warm and happy.  The background color of the pages changes and sets a nice tone for the book.  

In the text, Adam isn’t asked if he said bismillah, but rather if he said, “in the name of God,” but in the illustration, a speaking bubble has him saying bismillah, which makes me wonder if the author was trying to make the book accessible to both Muslims and non Muslims alike.  It definitely could be, I think the story is fun and the consequences for gorging on chocolate pretty universal.

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FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Like the second Adam book, this book will work perfect for story time in small groups  and bedtime on repeat.  I think in a classroom it would be great to have small groups read the story and then discuss.  Not a traditional Book Club, obviously for the length of the book and the target audience, but I do think that even little kids will have a lot to say about Adam and his silly family.  More importantly, I think they all will have stories of their own “tummy monsters” to contribute and discuss.

Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake by Farheen Khan

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Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake by Farheen Khan

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It has been over four years since I reviewed the first Ibrahim Khan book, and while I didn’t love The Mystery of the Roaring Lion, it was just ok, this book was more fun and adventurous and stayed relevant even for a book published in 2010.  At 68 pages the book works ideally for 2nd to 4th graders looking for a quick read, or advanced younger kids that will enjoy the short chapters, detailed illustrations and easy to hold book.

SYNOPSIS:

Third grade cousins, Ibrahim and Zayn, are off on a camping trip with their class. Thinking how nice it will be to take a vacation from solving crime, the boys enjoy hearing the story of the haunted lake around the camp fire and not thinking its more than just a story.  But the next morning when they wake up for fajr and hear some weird groaning from the woods, they realize they have a case after all.

The mysterious noise presents itself at different times and at different locations, as the boys and their friends work to unravel the clues.  The climax gets tense as the whole class is on a moonlight hike when the noise sends them all running and screaming “ghost.”  Ibrahim and Zayn, the smart sleuths that they are, find themselves at the culprits tent with the culprits near by.  Saved by a classmate, the boys now must now figure out how to prove that the “ghosts” are not just having fun scaring the campers, but are up to some serious crimes that will require police action and being patient.

WHY I LIKE IT:  

I love that the boys are Muslim and they wake up and pray and eat vegetarian to ensure they keep halal, and I love that they are also just friends and classmates and kids.  There are Muslim and non Muslim kids in the class, at least one girl  wears hijab, but it is a diverse group.  I like that the characters have their own personalities and they do annoy each other and have to apologize.  There does seem to be a lot of characters, and a few times in the short book I had a hard time keeping them all straight, but knowing the real story is the mystery I just keep reading, and figured all the details aside from the clues wouldn’t hold up the story too much.  

I don’t know why the author has only written two books in the Ibrahim Khan series, but I hope eventually more will pop up.  The books are fun little mysteries that show Muslim characters in action.  They learn good manners, cooperation, compromises, prioritizing, and problem solving without the book being in your face about learning all those things.  The kids embody them, by being good Muslims and having to rely on one another to save the day.

The book is written in British English and is set in Canada.  I bring this up because I didn’t know artifact is spelled artefact and I thought it was an error.  

FLAGS:

The book is clean alhumdulillah.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The length is too short for a book club book, but I think it would be nice to have in a school or classroom library as the bright well-done cover will entice children to pick it up off the shelf and the short quick paced story will motivate kids that start the book to finish it.  

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The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf illustrated by Pipa Curnick

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The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf illustrated by Pipa Curnick

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A perfect introduction to the refugee crisis for upper elementary aged kids.  The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed 9 and 3/4 year old narrator about her friends and how the filling of an empty chair in the back of the room changed their lives.  Ages 7 through 12 will enjoy the plotting and planning of the friends, the awesome climax and the gentle opening of their eyes to the atrocities and bigotry around them.  At 297 pages, with a few pictures and some engaging notes and tidbits at the end, the book is both big, yet completely non intimidating at the same time.  

SYNOPSIS:

Right near the end we learn that the narrator’s name is Alexa, and not too much before that, I learned that she is a girl.  I kind of like that vagueness of it, especially as we also learn that she is half Indonesian and half Austrian.  You realize that it doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t change anything, and that we all bring our own assumptions to the story and learn a bit about our selves as the narrator’s identity is revealed.  But really, thats a tiny bit of the book, the book is really about a group of diverse friends battling bullies, bully teachers, and trying to help the new kid in their class Ahmet.

Ahmet is a refugee from Syria, but the information isn’t easy to establish, he doesn’t talk to anyone, he disappears at lunch and recess, so Alexa, Josie, Tom, and Michael, first have to figure out who he is, and how they can be his friends.  Along the way we learn the Tom is from America, the book takes place in England.  Josie is the best football player and her parents are nervous to have her interacting with Ahmet, Michael is incredibly wealthy and his parents are Nigerian and French, and Alexa lives with her mom a librarian who works really long hours, her dad passed away and money is incredibly tight.

Once friendships are established, Alexa learns that Ahmet’s mom and dad are missing and that his sister and cat died while fleeing Syria.  When she learns that the government is planning to close the borders to immigrants and refugees, the group of kids come up with plans to keep the gates open until Ahmet’s parents can be found and they can come to the United Kingdom.  The kids come up with a variety of plans, but “The Greatest Idea in the World,” is the one they decide to go with.  It involves a lot of danger, but the general gist is to get a message to the Queen of England, who will keep the gates open, find Ahmet’s parents and reunite the family.  

Naturally, there are a lot of moving parts to the plan, and a lot of naivety on the part of the 9 year olds, but they do get the Queen’s attention, and they do have a wonderful support system of parents and teachers and while their are bullies around every corner, they do come together to make the world a bit better for Ahmet and for us all.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is realistic, with the plotting, and understanding of war, alike.  The war and Ahmet’s journey is very very simplified, but the tone, introduces kids to the intensity without overwhelming them.  Just like the plot to get the Queen’s attention is not celebrated, but appreciated.  What the kids did was wrong and dangerous and they lied, and the kids don’t ever know after if they are in trouble or being praised.  I like that the integrity of both situations is upheld and the book doesn’t get too far fetched.  Similarly, the book is fun and adventurous, and in many ways Ahmet is just a catalyst for the kids to come together to solve a problem and save the day. 

There aren’t a lot of details about his life in Syria, because he doesn’t speak English, there isn’t anything about Islam, except he draws his mom with a scarf on her head.  But there is a lot of learning to accept each other, and stick up for whats right and to not give up on people.  I love the diversity of the friends and how they don’t expect each other to change, they accept each other and move along.  

There is a slight typo on page 3, “…could be half as useful as a Tintin’s dog, Snowy,” that had me afraid that this book was going to be unrefined, but alhumdulillah I was wrong.  The book reads easily and wonderfully, and my children loved it as much as I did.  The author is a first time writer, and I hope she has a bunch more stories in her, because I look forward to reading them.  

FLAGS:

The book is clean and reads believably from a 9 year old’s perspective.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would do this in an elementary book club in a heartbeat. I’ve suggested it to many and I hope to read it aloud to my 4th and 5th grade lunch bunch crew. It is well written, timely, and memorable.

Teacher’s Notes: https://www.hachetteschools.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/The-Boy-at-the-Back-of-the-Class-Teachers-Notes.pdf

A bit about the author: http://beingthestory.org.uk/speakers/onjali-q-rauf

 

 

Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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This 32 page, 9×12 story book, for ages five and up, focuses on character education and is meant to be a relatable story with clear lessons about how to behave and deal with situations in life.  The opening page bullets all the lessons readers should learn from the story and the end of the book offers directions to make a balloon craft.  

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I don’t mind books with lessons and morals so clearly delineated, and I like that the morals come from such an adorable character with a whole cast of supporters, and a number of books to her series.  

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My problem is more the story itself, for a lesson on how to make new friends, and dealing with the universal struggle of moving and feeling like ‘no one wants to play with me.”  The book spends nearly seven pages on Burcu making a surprise breakfast for her family before hearing the news that she is moving because the landlord says they should.

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They pack and move seemingly the same day, and then the point of the book gets going.  Burcu has to say goodbye to her friends and doesn’t feel like even going out at the new house to make new ones.

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Her brother, Alper, has no problem making new friends, and finally Burcu gives it a try.  Only a little girl attempts to get to know her and Burcu dismisses her because she is so young.  She tries to be included with the other children, but they don’t know her and aren’t willing to let her play.

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Burcu finally confides in her dad, that she can’t get anyone except the little girl to play with her.  Her dad encourages her to give the little girl a chance.  Burcu does and finds out they are the same age, she just looks really young, and then all the kids are friends and happy.

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The real hero to me is the little girl, Katherine, who didn’t give up on an ageist Burcu that didn’t want to play with her.  Seems odd that Burcu wanted a friend, and then was arrogant to complain about the one she got.  Plus, I would imagine kids who have moved and don’t have friends, would turn to a book like this for tips and hints, and ways to feel less alone.  The book offers none of that.  It doesn’t tell how finally Burcu makes friends, or gets included, other than it took time.  Which is great, but not exactly helpful if you are five and crying everyday because no one will play with you.

The writing is very dry.  I think it has been translated from Turkish, many of the sentences are passive voice, and the sentences choppy.  The book doesn’t have any glaring errors, it just seems like it would work as a story time, or as part of a lesson, and  maybe once as a bedtime story, but not a book that kids will clamor to hear over and over again.

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There is nothing Islamic in the story, but most of the major online Islamic bookshops carry the Burcu series, so I would imagine the authors, and publishers are Muslim.

Overall, the book sets off to teach a great lesson, but falls a bit short.  The illustrations are adorable and the large size and playful font are very well done, the diction, not so much.  The books are reasonably priced and if you see a title that works for a lesson, or theme you are discussing, I think you can make the books work.  If you are looking for a book to read over and over to your kids, you might, however, be disappointed.

 

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby and Rebecca Green

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Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby and Rebecca Green

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It is a bit odd that this story is fiction, when it reads so much like a piece of nonfiction.  It is a picture book, but has an AR level of 4th grade 4th month.  So, while the story is great and highlights a country and culture, Bangladesh, not often seen, I don’t know that this book would appeal to many kids.  The kids that it does appeal to though and that can find it in a library or bookstore (not sure where it would be shelved), I think will not just like it, but possibly find it both inspiring and worth reading again and again.

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It is monsoon season in Bangladesh and the rains make Iqbal’s mom have to cook indoors.  As a result, she and the baby, Rupa are constantly coughing from breathing all the smoke from the woodburning stove.  Iqbal’s father mentions a propane stove he saw in the market, but the family cannot afford it, despite wishing that they could. 

Iqbal’s school has just announced the School Science Fair and the winners get cash prizes, if Iqbal can win, maybe he can buy his family the new stove.  His little sister Sadia offers her services to help him win and be his assistant.

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After a lot of thinking, pondering, and dreaming, Iqbal decides on the perfect project: a stove that didn’t produce smoke.

With the help of his teacher at school to find ideas and articles and plans on the internet, Iqbal and his sister build a solar cooker with foil and an old umbrella. 

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The science fair is a success, Iqbal wins, the family buys the stove and propane with the winnings, and when it isn’t raining, the family is able to use the solar stove Iqbal and Sadia built.

The book draws on ideas of sustainability, pollution, economic viability, problem solving, and education.  The culture provides the backdrop making all of these issues relevant and real, and mentioning Ramadan, Eid, and prayer provides some depth to the characters and adds to their culture.

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A lot of reviews online criticize that the mom is cooking and that the kids test an egg on the solar cooker and call her to eat it if it is supposed to be Ramadan, but I personally promise you, during Ramadan, we are always cooking.  And if she is nursing the baby, the mom wouldn’t be required to fast, there’s a lot of other reason she couldn’t/wouldn’t be fasting, but really, it is such a small portion mentioned in passing, no detail needs to be given, and it didn’t bother me at all.

Another complaint about the book is that if money is so tight the kids wouldn’t be at a school where they can just make copies, and buy eggs on their own.  I think there is some truth to this, but maybe a wealthy doner funds the school.  I think you could argue it either way.  I don’t know that the family is poor, it is the overall society, so kids could have pocket money, a propane stove is probably imported at least from a larger city so the expense would be more, similarily the infustruction of electricity and gas lines could hint more at why they cook the way they do.  Needless to say the family is smiling in the pictures, they have food, and they seem to be doing ok.  So the fact that the school printed a few articles and the kids bought some eggs without asking permission, didn’t bother me greatly.

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The illustrations are expressive and show the family connections and emotions.  I like that they bring to life a country many wouldn’t know, even if I wish it weren’t a work of fiction, but based on some child actually there.  

The end of the book has information about clean cookstoves, how to build one yourself, and a glossary.  The large 9×12 hardbound book would hold up well to multiple readings, and the amount of text on the pages would work well as a read-a-loud to younger kids who would find the subject matter interesting.  

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The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Amazon & The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Mars by Hena Khan and David Borgenicht

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The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Amazon & The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Novel: Mars by Hena Khan and David Borgenicht

There is nothing Islamic or religious, with either of these books, but I wanted to review them, as the author Hena Khan, who has brought such lovely picture books to our book shelves (Night of the Moon, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets), inspiring elementary books to the mainstream (Amina’s Voice, On Point, Power Forward), and who showed Curious George what Ramadan is all about, is Muslim.  She has done a tremendous job of blending culture and religion with everyday life making her stories relatable and found on bookshelves across America.  She also has written books that are just good books void of any religion and culture, that hopefully they remind our youth that you can write books about anything, appeal to everyone, and be successful as well.

Both books are like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I remember from the 1980s except these are much better written, and I think I might have learned facts about Mars, space travel, and the Amazon from them, without even realizing it.  Aimed at 3rd to 5th graders, these two books were checked out from the library and read countless times by my kids and myself alike.  They are entertaining and not easy to predict.  It is worth noting that while I did make it the entire length of the Amazon, after four tries I gave up trying to survive the journey to Mars and back.

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SYNOPSIS:

In both books the cast of teammates is given at the beginning and shows a good diversity of men and women from all over the world with a variety of skills and backgrounds to be on the expedition.  The books then give the set up of where you are going, and how you got chosen.  You then are advised to flip to the back of the book to look through the files and notes that will give you knowledge about what you will encounter.  These pages are in full color and are in diary, note style.  The adventure then begins and you make choices that lead you down different paths to success, or demise, it is up to you to decide how to survive.  

WHY I LIKE THEM:

I love that you learn while making decisions and attempting to make the story continue.  The books are fun and most of the choices aren’t obvious, naturally a few are, but they are well done.  There are comic book style pictures sprinkled throughout and regular black and white illustrations on many of the pages.  I particularly liked that the kids read them more than once and learned a bit about space travel, mars, what would be needed to set up a colony, the Amazon, various animals, and survival skills in the rain forest.

FLAGS:

You might get burned up, or bitten by a snake, but nothing too graphic, as you are the reader and obviously know it isn’t real.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

These books wouldn’t work as book club selections, but I think 3rd and 4th grade classrooms and school libraries would benefit from having these fun books on hand.  Struggling readers will enjoy the fast pace and the number of pages (about 200 each), irregardless of if they are read or not, and advanced readers will enjoy trying again and again to reach the successful end.