Tag Archives: responsibility

Marvel Avengers Assembly: Orientation by Preeti Chhibber illustrated by James Lancett

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Marvel Avengers Assembly: Orientation by Preeti Chhibber illustrated by James Lancett

This is the first book in a new middle grade Marvel series told from Kamala Khan’s perspective. Part graphic novel, part screen shots, emails, diaries, fan fiction and doodles, the book features a diverse group of young marvel characters and even some quotes from the Quran. At 175 pages the book has action, humor and themes of team work, self improvement, friendship, second chances, and balancing life that will appeal to boys and girls that are fans of comics, but might be a little scattered for those that only know the main superheroes from pop culture.

SYNOPSIS:

Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel is doing a good job keeping villains out of her New Jersey neighborhood, but she is also causing damage to property in the process. When she gets caught on camera destroying a building, a letter from Captain Marvel follows with an invitation to join the Avengers Institute. Already balancing school, her writing of fan fiction and her super hero obligations, Kamala worries if she can handle one more thing and if she is up for making new friends. But, it is Carol Danvers asking, so she reflects on a quote from the Quran her dad always says and talks to Sheikh Abdullah, and ultimately decides to give it a try.

At the Institute she makes friends with Miles Morales (Spiderman) and Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl). The three of them are assigned to be a team for the Academic Decathlon at the end of the semester and to succeed they have to learn about trusting each other, team work, making smart decisions and communicating. Their biggest and most sinister rivals are Max Frankenstein, Kid Immortus, Death Locket and Kid Apocalypse. with the group leader, Kid Immortus being focused on Ms. Marvel and convinced that if he can clone her atoms he too can engorge. Kid Apocalypse however, has a class with Kamala and the two of them are kind of becoming friends. Throw in teachers like Beast from X-Men, Lockjaw teaching interdimensional travel and diplomacy, and an independent study class with Ant-man and there is a lot of fan girling going on.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that they are super heroes, but the book is about everyday real world struggles. The book doesn’t have a plot or climax so to speak, but more lays the foundation for the rest of the series and gives young readers a lot to relate to with new school awkwardness. There are strong themes of being a good friend, a good loser, seeing the good in others and really understanding what it takes to make a team work. There are some great lines, “politicians don’t have anything on aunties,” that speak to Kamala’s desi environment and I absolutely love that Kamala Khan mentions an imam, quotes the Quran twice, has a friend that wears hijab, and a mom that does too.

FLAGS:

The book is pretty clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think it would work as a book club selection, but I think readers 3rd or 4th grade and up that love super heroes will enjoy the fun dynamic read.

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

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The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

vine basket

While in the midst of moving from Knoxville to Birmingham nearly 4 years ago, a lady reached out to me telling me that a colleague of hers, also an author, was a follower and fan of my blog and had recently passed away, she asked if she could send me a copy of her friend’s books.  I agreed, not knowing what type of books the lady had written and didn’t think much of it.  In the chaos that is moving, I received the books and boxed them up and then unboxed them and vaguely remembered that they were about Muslims in China.  I put them in the to be read pile and just never got to them.  Then as the plight of the Uyghurs started to be known here in the US, something tickled my brain, but nothing came of it, until recently when I realized, a lady, a non Muslim years ago was trying to tell the Uyghur’s story, and had reached out to me, and I didn’t get it, and still wasn’t getting it.  So alas, I have now read the Vine Basket, and while it might not present Islam the way we are used to seeing it in life and in print, the characters do identify as Muslim and this middle grade book is a simply woven, beautiful story that gives voice to a population that is horrifically being silenced.  The AR 5.0, 252 page book is a quiet book that will stay with me: the drunken father, the threat of being sent to a factory, the loss of tradition;  I am so glad I read the book, and only wish I could reach out to the author to hear more about her knowledge of the region, of the people, of the culture that is being erased.

SYNOPSIS:

Mehrigul is 14, and since her older brother left, she has been forced to leave school to help her father sell goods in the marketplace.  More often than not though, it is solely Mehrigul’s responsibility as her father drinks and gambles away the meager earnings the family makes. Her mother, ashamed of the poverty the family endures along with some presumed mental illness and headaches, seeps further and further away from the reality of life and the chores that need to be done to ensure food and survival of the family.  Her younger sister is the only spark in a dreary and difficult life, and Mehrigul is determined that she should stay in school and be shielded from the darkness hanging over the family.

One day while in the market, an American woman approaches Mehrigul and asks to purchase a frivolous grape vine basket Mehrigul had made and hung to decorate the cart.  She offers her 100 yuan, more money than Mehrigul has ever seen, and asks her to make more baskets, and that she will be back in a month to purchase them. The basket serves no purpose like the willow baskets her grandfather weaves and despite the money, Mehrigul’s father is not happy.

Mehrigul is forbidden from making the baskets for the American, and the fact that she will even return is dismissed.  Her father grows increasingly cruel toward Mehrigul and keeps her busy to prevent her from making more.  Mehrigul seeks solace in her elderly infirm grandfather who tries to help her find inspiration and time to make her baskets as he sees in her a gift that has value in their old culture.  At one point as her father steals her baskets to take on a “religious” pilgrimage to the mountains.  And her planting crops in the fields leaves her hands cut and swollen, unable to make more with just days left before the American lady is due to return.

WHY I LIKE IT:

At first I was really uncomfortable with the idea of a white American savior coming to a dying oppressed culture to offer hope, until I read the afterwards and understood that much of the story was inspired by the author’s own experience and that she worked with Uyghur’s to get the story right.  The book reads like historical fiction which makes the day to day life of this modern book all the more heart breaking, it isn’t about the past it is the present, and life in East Turkestan is bleak.  I like the character of the father, he is an abusive mess, yet somehow it isn’t that easy to write him off, he has his own struggles and the depth of character I found in him, in a middle grades book, is haunting.  I also really like how Mehrigul’s story is so foreign to us here in America, yet her emotions and insights are universal and thus relatable.  She wants to find her place, and excel, and help her family, and she is scared, doesn’t know who to trust, and takes on more than most children any where should, but often are forced to do.

The characters identify as Muslim and as a people the Uyghurs are Muslim.  They say salam in the story, but only to the grandfather, and the girls all cover their hair with scarves.  The father obviously drinks and gambles, two practices, not permitted in Islam.  Mehrigul fastens a talisman and connects her prayers to it as a form of worship which I would imagine is cultural perhaps, and when things go awry she remarks she should have prayed to Allah swt.  The father goes on a pilgrimage to a mountain shrine, which again seems off from traditional Islam, but is presented in the book instead as odd because the father is not normally religious.  Islam is not a big part of the book, so it is hard to know if the representation of it are isolated to who the author met, or a larger norm of the community.  Considering how isolated and oppressed the Uyghurs are, I tried really hard to suspend judgement, or offer my privileged limited critique of the people.

FLAGS:

Drinking, gambling, abusive father, anger, lying, deception.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this for a middle grades or even middle school book club, there is so much going on in China and in the erasing of Islam there that this book would supplement the news and few stories we are hearing.  It opens up the culture and gives it a face that is not political, but personal.  The faults of the father are not glorified at all, and the discussion about his desire to hold on to culture and fear about his daughter surpassing him would be fascinating to hear from people the protagonists age.

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.

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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.