Tag Archives: salat

Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz illustrated by Parwinder Singh

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Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz illustrated by Parwinder Singh

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I’m not sure what I expected this book to be, I just knew I wanted to get my hands on it, but I’m fairly certain, that even if I would have had some expectations, they would have been no where near how well done this 40 page book for four to eight year olds is overall.  It is unapologetically American-Palestinian Muslim in an inclusive funny delightful way, that only an OWN voice book can be. There have been some great picture books lately that are authentic, yet mainstream, and this book pushes that standard just a little bit higher as it normalizes jummah, halal food, dabke, hijab, with familiar threads of street food, spunky little sisters, untied shoelaces, tradition, and excitement.  The story has a twist and some intentionally misleading foreshadowing, that give the book depth and added fun.  Readers of all backgrounds will relate to this book and find something that they can relate to, as they laugh and marvel at Musa’s infectious enthusiasm for hot dogs. img_0610

Musa Ahmed Abdul Aziz Moustafa Abdel Salam, aka Musa, loves Fridays.  His family heads to the masjid for Jummah prayer and then home for a special Jummah treat.  Lately, they’ve had molokhia, that stayed in their teeth for a week, kufte kabobs that were better for soccer playing than eating, riz bi haleeb with lost dentures, and prelicked jelly beans.  Alhumdulillah, this week is Musa’s turn to pick, and he is picking his favorite: halal hot dogs with Salam sauce.

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They head to the mosque dancing dabke as they leave their house with smiling faces.  The khutbah is long though, and during salat his stomach is roaring! Afterward he is off, but Seedi has to help Maryam find her red shoes in a sea of red shoes and mama is chatting with friends. 

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Dad gives in and lets Musa go get the hot dogs alone.  As he heads to the stall with the best hotdogs: the perfect amount of hot, chewy, juicy hot dog goodness, he passes all sorts of foods being eaten.  There is falafel and bao and tacos and samosas and churros, but he is determined to get hot dogs, even though the line is really long.

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He sees friends in line, and firefighters, and even his school principal.  Everyone loves hot dogs, even birds and squirrels.  Finally he buys a whole bag full with special Salam sauce and races home to share with everyone.  But uh oh, it doesn’t go as planned, and I’m not about to spoil it, so get yourself a copy like I did from http://www.crescentmoonstore.com or your library, and maybe don’t read it while you are fasting, because you will be craving hot dogs, mmmmmm nom nom nom.

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There is an Author’s Note at the end that details her kids’ influence on the story and explains that a portion of the proceeds go to UNRWA USA, a non profit that helps Palestinian refugees.  There is a glossary of Arabic Words and Terms, and a section explaining Halal Laws.

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The book shows the mom in hijab outside the home, and uncovered within the home.  There are diverse skin colors among the Muslim and non Muslim characters in the book, as well as a variety of ages depicted.  Seedi wears a keffiyah on Jummah, but different clothes on different days.  The illustrations are wonderful and descriptive and do a lot to compliment the story by setting a relatable and diverse-positive visual.

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‘Tis The Night Before Eid by Yasmin Rashidi illustrated by Mariam Aldacher

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On the surface this 32 page inspired re-imagining of the classic Christmas poem might not seem that impressive, but it is really quite effective in highlighting general key points of Ramadan, the mix of sadness that Ramadan has gone too quickly with the excitement of Eid, and showing the diversity of Muslim families and communities.  The large 8 x 10 hard bound pages showcase fun and relatable illustrations that would help inform those unfamiliar with the holiday, while also mirroring and encouraging Ramadan and Eid excitement.  It is already a favorite at our house and with simple rhyming lines, the book can lend itself easily to more in-depth discussions (there is a glossary at the back) or be kept as a sweet flowing story that you don’t mind reading repeatedly at the prodding of toddlers and preschoolers alike.

img_8997The story starts with it being the night before Eid.   Ramadan has flown by, iftar eaten, dishes are put away, trips to the masjid for Taraweh have concluded and now it is time to prepare for Eid.  The house is cleaned, clothes ironed, sweets prepared and dreams of gifts filling the kids minds.

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The narrative bounces back to Ramadan to explain that fasting is not eating til sundown for 30 days, that Quran was revealed during the blessed month and that we hold on to the lessons of Ramadan all year long.

 

I pre-ordered mine from the author’s website https://rashidibooks.com/home , but it is also available at Crescent Moon Store https://crescentmoonstore.com/products/twas-the-night-before-eid.  There are also printables on the author’s website.

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We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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This 8×8 hardback rhyming book for ages 4 and up is filled with detailed pictures that will remind children of all ages how important salat is despite how tempting it often is to neglect it.  I think six and seven year olds will benefit the most from this 30 page book that also has an activity poster included, as they start to take on the responsibility of praying on time and making good choices.  The gentle parents, the relatable scenario and the adorable little sister, bring this story to life, and will hopefully be a benefit for young muslims and their families.

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A small family of a mom, a dad, a brother and a sister are out working in the garden when the athan is heard.  The five prayers are mentioned as they set off to pray just like the Prophet (saw) did.

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They all head in to make wudu as wudu and salah go hand in hand.  They start with bismillah before going through the simplified steps to wash their sins away.  They are about to start, when the doorbell rings.

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Friends have come to play.  Mom and dad tell the boy to pray.  The boy says there will be time after they play.  Once takbeer is called, the boys slip out on their bikes.  The boy wants to have fun, but something is nagging at him and he wonders what the Prophet (saw) would have done.

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Whispers urge him to enjoy the beautiful day, but he realizes what he must do, and when his friends ask what is wrong he suggests they go pray.  Aqeemus salah!

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They head back to the boy’s house, make wudu and pray together. The steps are named and explained and after concluding he sees his proud parents watching.

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There is a glossary at the end and the poster has the steps of wudu and salat as well as an activity to put the steps in order.

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Ramadan’s Coming by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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Ramadan’s Coming by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

img_8785I think the illustrations in this 40 page picture song book are my favorite of the new 2021 books.  They are adorable and expressive and a big part of the story that the text alludes to, but doesn’t detail.  They also are a big part of the activities at the end of the book that encourage children to go back and find different Ramadan and Eid concepts to discuss and further understand.  I absolutely love that there is a glossary and a reference page that details and attributes the hadith implied in the simple sing song-y words.  The chorus is to the tune of jingle bells, and while I struggled to maintain the rhythm, the chorus reappears and if you are able to sing the book, your children will love it even more, haha, my voice and lack of rhythm forced me to read it, but either way it is absolutely delightful and informative for toddlers and up.

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It starts out with the refrain that Ramadan is here and we will fast and pray and that Allah (swt) will give us more rewards and we will do more good deeds, than on normal days.  It then shares that Ramadan is the month after Shaban when the Qur’an first came down and that we look for the crescent moon to know when Ramadan is here.  It is important to note that the words flow and are so concise you don’t even realize that much information has been conveyed.

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The chorus repeats and shows a family praying, kids helping vacuum, and giving socks to homeless.  The family then wakes up early for a healthy suhoor, no food or drink, thinking about how the poor must feel and then having iftar with a sticky sweet date and water.  Sometimes you eat so much your belly protrudes (a great vocabulary word for little ones). The next page has salat starting and those that ate too much wishing they would have left space for air and water.

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The chorus repeats again showing zakat being given, iftars being eaten in segregated large groups, before looking for Laylat ul Qadr takes place and some children read Qur’an in an itikaf tent. Then it is time for Eid hugs, salams, prayer, food and fun.

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On one page, the grammar of one line seems off, perhaps an extra word was added.  I contacted the author to see if it is an error as it is part of the chorus, but only appears wrong in one place and one time.  Even with the error, I would happily encourage this book for families with toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners.  It will be read multiple times, and the pictures will hopefully offer something new with each reading as understanding increases.

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The copy I purchased from Amazon is 8.5 by 8.5 paperback, I’m not sure if they will be available from the publisher as a board book or without faces like so many of their books are.

The Girl Who Slept Under the Moon by Shereen Malherbe illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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The Girl Who Slept Under the Moon by Shereen Malherbe illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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I was really surprised by the number of gaps in this 46 page story that is so adorably illustrated and seemingly planned out. I thought perhaps I was being overly critical, so as always I tested it on my kids, and they too were confused by the main character’s rational and choice of words, the holes in the narrative, and the inconsistency of the characters. The book is wordy, so conciseness cannot be the reason for the holes, and it is published by a publishing company, so I would assume it has been proofed. Really the point of stories connecting us and giving us comfort when we need it, is sadly lost. I had hoped to love this fictional story of a Palestinian girl using prayer to give her comfort in her new home, but alas it seemed to be trying to weave in too much, and as a result the story isn’t fabulous for me unfortunately.

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Noor is new at school and stands out. She finds comfort in remembering the things that are the same. 1-Allah could still see and hear her. 2- The Angels were still by her side, and 3-She still slept under the same moon. She also wears clothes that remind her of home and provide an unspoken clue as to where home is for her.

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At school Noor has a problem, she needs a place to pray, but at lunch time the kids are not allowed to go inside and the dinner lady guards the door. Noor needs a distraction to sneak in the building and it isn’t clear if she provides the distractions, or just benefits from a baby bird falling out of a nest, a snake being in the grass, and a classmate getting hurt. Either way, when the teacher is occupied, Noor enters the building and finds a closet to pray in.

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On one such visit to the closet she finds someone already in there, Hannah. Hannah is there because she doesn’t like being on the playground because she is different. Noor never asks why Hannah feels different, so the reader isn’t made aware either. Hannah asks her why she is there and Noor says she comes “to pray because it reminds me of where I’m from.”

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When Hannah asks where she is from, Noor doesn’t just simply answer, she tells her stories about her homeland, the mountains, olive trees, where the athan floats in the air and fisherman return to the shore with their catch. The next day Hannah is there again, and Noor tells her more stories and legends about her culture and lessons of the Prophets. Noor learns that through her stories she feels connected to her old home.

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Weeks pass, and one day when she sneaks in to the school, she finds the door locked. With no where to go she heads back to the playground and starts to cry that she won’t be able to pray. She then sees Hannah disappear and she follows her in to the drama studio. When she enters she sees sets built that look like the setting of her stories, of her home. Hannah knew she missed home and built her sets to look like Palestine.

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Other kids miraculously enter, and Noor begins telling them her stories, without praying first. The other kids seem to enjoy her stories and Noor learns that she can pray anywhere while holding on to her three reassuring thoughts.

The illustrations are engaging, although I’m not sure where the prayer rug seems to magically come from for Noor to pray on in the closet the first time. Had the book just been about prayer and finding a way to pray, or just about the stories connecting us to our past I think it would have been more powerful. I’m glad that Noor loves salat and that Hannah is a good friend, but I feel like by trying to do too much, the poignancy of the little things was lost.

And as for my questions: Can’t Noor ask for a place to pray? Can’t she pray outside? How is Hannah making the sets all by herself? Noor says she prays because it reminds her of home, she doesn’t pray for the sake of Allah or because it is required of her? Why did Hanna feel different, and why didn’t Noor bother to ask? It says that she needed to distract the dinner lady, isn’t that dishonest even for a good cause? Did she harm the baby bird so that it would need rescuing? Put the snake in the grass? Hurt the little girl so that she could get by the teacher? How was Hanna getting inside at lunch time? How is the school ok with a kid coming inside to build a whole set with school materials, but can’t let another child inside to pray for less than 5 minutes? And if Noor didn’t feel comfortable asking for a space to pray, clearly Hannah had connections to get permission to create a huge scene, couldn’t she have asked, or helped Noor ask?

The Adventures of Adam and Anisah: The Flying Carpet by Zahra Patel illustrated by Reyhana Ismail

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The Adventures of Adam and Anisah: The Flying Carpet by Zahra Patel illustrated by Reyhana Ismail

 

img_6995I am confident that every Muslim child has imagined their prayer rug at one time or another to be a flying carpet, so how absolutely heart filling as an adult to find a book that embraces this idea, roots it in Islamic fact and presents it so beautifully for our littlest Muslim believers.

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The occasionally rhyming and constantly cadence filled picture book features a big brother preparing for and performing salat as his enamored little sister puts imagination and celebration to the act of worship.

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I absolutely love the admiration that Anisah has for her big brother and am delighted how prayer is presented not as an obligation but as an opportunity to soar and marvel in amazement.

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The book concludes with a section that provides context to the story, questions to discuss, and ways to extend the learning.  The hardback binding, 8.5 x 13 horizontal orientation and high glossy illustrations make the book a joy in small groups and at bedtime.

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This book is really, really well done in its simplicity, and I need to order the other book in the series, My Brother’s Shield from Crescent Moon Book Store, as soon as possible.  

Flying Over Water by Shannon Hitchcock and N.H. Senzai

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Flying Over Water by Shannon Hitchcock and N.H. Senzai

This middle grades, upper elementary book is a character driven contemporary story of two friends with their own fears coming together: one a native of Tampa, the other one a refugee from Syria arriving in the US on the day Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ goes in to effect. In 272 pages of alternating narratives, two 12 year old girls find strength and kindness in themselves, in each other, and in many around them. Islamaphobia is focused on in the story, but the inclusion of diversity, Black Lives Matter, anti semitism, mental health, social justice, and US immigration makes the book relatable to everyone and interesting to explore. The book is remarkably similar to another book published this year, A Galaxy of Sea Stars, and I wish I had not read them so close together. Both are well done, and I honestly don’t know if one is better than the other, but space them out so you don’t find yourself comparing them. I got my copy from Scholastic, and I’m always happy when the school market shows accurate strong Muslims, so if you see this in the book order forms that come home or book fairs and are wondering if you should get it, do it, it is worth your time and your child’s, inshaAllah.

SYNOPSIS:

Noura’s family has escaped Syria and had been living in Turkey when they learn they have been granted assylum in Tampa, Florida, USA. When the book opens Noura is practicing controlling her fear of water as the plane flies over the ocean. Her twin brother, Ammar, her parents and baby brother Ismail are greeted with protesters when they land. Whisked away by a church group and local Muslims, the family is given support and assistance in a new country.

One of the members in the church group that have volunteered to help the Alwan family, is Jordyn and her mother. Jordyn is going to be Noura and Ammar’s Student Ambassador at Bayshore Middle School and Jordyn’s mom has offered to help Noura’s mom learn English. Jordyn is the state title holder in swimming, but while she was swimming her fastest race, her mom was having a miscarriage, and both have a lot to work through to function as they once did.

The two girls immediately hit it off, and the families follow. Noura’s love of birds is mirrored in Jordyn’s love of water and fish, and both have their fears and mental health coping skills to bond and confide in with one another about. The girls and Ammar are assigned a Social Studies assignment and Jordyn getting close to the Alwans is not well received by Jordyn’s close friend Bailey who’s brother was killed while fighting in Afghanistan. Other classmates also show bigotry and with the real incidents of 2017 incorporated in to the story of a mosque being burned, Jewish cemeteries being ransacked, pedestrians being run-over in France, and more, the Alwans are questioning their new country, and their friends are wondering how America has gotten this way.

While praying at school Ammar and Noura are constantly harassed no matter where they relocate to, and finally ask the administration if there is a safe place they can worship. Florida law says a space can be set aside for all faiths to have the same access as clubs do (I’m overly simplifying), and many different and diverse students come together to turn an old closet into a place of peace, worship, freedom, reflection, and meditation. As expected, the space is destroyed, the culprits never caught and complaints to the school board mount. The ultimate climax involves the kids speaking up about what the space means to them, and waiting to see what the final school board vote is. Along the way there are smaller victories, such as Jordyn teaching Noura to swim, Ammar speaking about the white helmets saving him, and Jordyn and her mother working together to heal.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the Muslim Ban is discussed in a way that it is personal, not political. By highlighting a fictional manifestation of refugees affected by such policy, even people that don’t know anyone affected, I’m certain would feel a connection to a concept and its affects in a very real way. I love that N.H. Senzai was brought on to make the story’s Islamic elements ring true and that the prayer room, a very American Muslim construct ends up being at the center of the story. Noura and her family eat halal, wear hijab, and pray. I enjoyed that other diversity and acceptance issues were carried in to the story by the supporting cast including a Jewish boy, a Cuban girl, a Hindu and more. Overall the book is well written and solid, the mental health and coping skills are so beautifully normalized. Both girls have sought help and found success with it, and both are brave in addressing their fears and opening up about them to those around them. It really is empowering.

The end of the book features more information about the real Syrian children heroes mentioned in the book: the ten year old model builder Muhammad Qutaish, the Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, and education activist Muzoon Almellehan. There is also information about the two authors and how their collaboration came to be.

I would love to not compare this book to A Galaxy of Sea Stars, but just to highlight a few of the near exact similarities would prove my point that had these two books not been published the same year, one would definitely be accused of copying the other. Both feature middle school girls, both have a refugee arriving to a coastal town with their families (one Afghan one Syrian), both have the American born protagonist loving water, being an only child, and have mothers going through their own life changing crisis. Both have two side kick friends, one that is very anti Muslim and one that is on the fence. Neither have a completely resolving happy ending with the three girls’ friendship and there is doubt in both books of friend’s possible involvement of hate motivated actions. Both feature a side character’s brother being killed in conflict in a Muslim majority country. Both feature an amazing teacher that is very involved in opening minds and facilitating growth regarding prejudice. Both feature PTSD issues, and fear of water issues as well as a major hobby being destroyed by an angry classmate character. The ‘ethnic mom’ in both stories is rather one dimensional but loves to cook and feed everyone. Sure they also have their differences, one alternates point of view and is tied closely to current real events, but both have remarkably similar themes of friendship, overcoming fear, and finding similarities over differences.

FLAGS:

Some mention of violence as the Alwans recall the destruction and fear of war in Syria. Mention of a cartoon drawn by a classmate mocking Jordyn getting her first bra, but it isn’t detailed. The swimming coach is a lesbian and she mentions her wife at one point.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would definitely encourage elementary teachers to have this book on their shelves and encourage students to read it and respond. I think it would be too predictable for middle schoolers to read in a critical manner, however, they would probably enjoy it as a light read. With Covid 19 still keeping me from starting up book clubs again, I have been asked to consider helping put together some side reading lists/suggestions, and this book would definitely find its way on that.

Happy Reading!

Be Sure to Pray, Zain! By Humera Malik illustrated by Gonmuki

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Be Sure to Pray, Zain! By Humera Malik illustrated by Gonmuki

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A very relatable 31 page early elementary chapter book about not only establishing salat, but doing it for the right reasons.  The book is not preachy or reprimanding, and even with a moral purpose, Zain manages to connect with readers and be funny and likable along the way.  Told from the view of the young narrator, realization is achieved, confessions made, understanding gained, and inshaAllah regular prayer established.  A great book to share with your own children when salat integrity is in question, and a great reminder of the power of salat that kids will enjoy reading even when it is not, alhumdulillah.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zain starts off by introducing himself as a kid who lives with his parents and is having an  awful week.  He rewinds and begins with recapping Monday.  Right away he acknowledges that Monday actually started out ok as he was having an awesome dream, but that sometimes when he is mad he only sees and remembers the bad things.  Because of his awesome dream he didn’t want wake up and pray Fajr, but his parents reminded him that when you pray you can ask anything you want from God and that praying protects us from bad decisions.  He drags himself up to pray and asks God to help him on his spelling test.  Later that day he took his test, said Bismillah, and aced it.  So he concludes that maybe Monday wasn’t so bad, and Tuesday wasn’t either.

On Tuesday, Zain sticks up for his neighbor Joey who is being picked on by some older bullies.  Later that night Joey’s parents come over to thank him and take him out for ice cream in appreciation.  Wednesday, starts out great at school, and after school he gets to bake blueberry muffins with his mom.  When the muffins are done he was suppose to pray Asr and then take the muffins to his friend Ali’s house.  His mom reminds him to take the safe way and not cross the busy street.  But, Zain forgot to pray Asr and sees no cars coming and chooses to take the short cut across the road.  When he gets to Ali’s house his backpack is open and the muffins are missing.

The rest of the week continues with highs and lows.  Many of the lows coming when he doesn’t pray.  At one point a friend comes to tell him to come to the park to play soccer, and he knows his mom is going to ask him to wait a so they can pray together, so he pretends not to hear and rushes out the door.  Another day he chooses to not miss the end of a show he is watching to pray and heads off to tutoring without praying at all.

When the book rejoins Zain in the present he is feeling bad about kicking a friend playing soccer, cheating on a math test, and not getting to taste his muffins.  He unloads everything that has happened over the week, and his parents calmly and patiently ask him if he has been praying.  When Zain realizes he has been neglectful his mom likens prayer to bricks in a wall that help keep bad things out.  His parents tell him that when we miss our prayers, we end up with holes in our wall and bad ideas can sneak in.  Resolved to stay strong, Zain wakes up the next morning to pray Fajr and have a good day, inshaAllah.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it stays with a young kids perspective and doesn’t get weighed down with hadith and ayats and lectures.  The parents let him learn from his mistakes and he comes to his own realization, not through their reprimanding or catching him in his deceitfulness.  The book is a great way to remind kids that it is their responsibility to pray and that Allah swt knows everything, so that connection has to be made between the person and their creator, it isn’t something you do only when someone is watching or telling you to do it.  I do wish that when he did resolve to pray that there would have been a bit of an outpouring to Allah.  I love that he had tears in his eyes when he told his parents everything, but I think it would have been really powerful to see Zain ask Allah to forgive him and to help him keep his wall strong.

The book reads smoothly, and the illustrations are well done and inviting.  Early chapter book readers will enjoy the font and format and knowing where the story is going with the days of the week chapters.  On one occasion I wish the word “wudu” would have been used instead of ablution, and I’m not sure what Zain has against carrots, but nothing too major will keep kids from enjoying the story and understanding it.

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FLAGS:

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is for children learning to pray and realizing how important salat is.  So while it won’t work for a book club, I really hope teachers in Islamic Schools and Sunday Schools will read the book aloud or assign it to their students.  It is a great teaching tool, a great reminder, and a fun story too.

 

The Most Powerful Night: A Ramadan Story by Nada Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

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The Most Powerful Night: A Ramadan Story by Nada Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

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This beautiful poetic book about Laylat Al-Qadr explains in detail and wonder the importance of the most blessed night in the blessed month of Ramadan.  The soft purples and pinks of Laila’s room, and the repetitive refrains set the mood and tone of an informative bedtime story that will convey the awe and mercy of the night to seven and eight year olds.

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The book is 40 pages, and pretty text heavy, but it flows smooth enough, and the details in the pictures are enough to keep little ones engaged. Younger and older children will also enjoy the story as both an introduction to the night the Quran first came down, and as a reminder of the gifts to be had.

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Laila is sad that Ramadan is leaving as she peers out the window and sees the moon resmembling a crescent again.  Her mother takes the opportunity to tell her about the blessings of the last ten nights, and Laylat Al-Qadr specifically.

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“The Night of Power and Miracles,” Laila’s mother explains is a night like no other, that comes only once a year.  Thousands of angels come down until there isn’t a speck of space that they do not fill.

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The night that is better than a thousand months and all our deeds are multiplied 70 times, the night the Holy Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saw).

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Laila wants to make sure she pronounces it correctly and practices saying Laylat Al-Qadr.  Excited to make sure she is praying and reading Quran that night, she is desperate to know what day it is.  Her mother explains to her that we do not know.  Laila uses this to her advantage to get to stay up past bedtime for each of the last 10 days.

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The book begins with Surah Al Qadr in Arabic and with the meaning of the translation in English.  It ends with a glossary, more information about Ramadan, and a glimpse of the author’s first book: Ramadan Around the World.

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The 9 x 11 hardback binding and font are beautifully done and with there no other books for children that I can think of that discuss Laylat Al-Qadr, I foresee this one being read at least once a year, if not more, for many years to come, alhumduillah.

 

Satoko and Nada 1 by Yupechika

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Satoko and Nada 1 by Yupechika

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A manga series about two college roommates who have come to America to study, Nada from Saudi Arabia and Satoko from Japan.  Written by a Japanese author and translated into English, there is a lot about Muslims, particularly Muslims from Saudi, as the two characters get to know each other and become friends.  Their interactions work to dispel a lot of stereotypes and promote how rewarding getting to know people different from your self can be.  Volume one (there are three) is 127 pages, read right to left in four panel pages, and is fairly clean for all ages (they do buy underwear and bras at one point), but would most likely appeal to female readers in 4th or 5th grade and up.
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SYNOPSIS:

The book is about two girls getting to know each other, learning about each other’s culture, and navigating life in America.  There isn’t really a plot or a story line outside of this basic framework, and with a heading every page or two it reads like a quick scene about the topic expressed in the heading.  So, for example there are headings of Veils, Ramadan, Birthday, MashAllah Choice, etc, and then a few panels showing the girls having an interaction about it, resulting in understanding, humor, or a lesson.

In a bit of a stereotype twist, Nada is more street savvy then Satoko when approached by a stranger for a ride, and thus Nada hasto educate her a bit.  The book brings in a Christian American character and a third generation Japanese character learning Japanese, to further show how assumptions plague as all and how simple conversation and an open mind, can lead to some amazing friendships.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is really choppy, but you get used to it and soon you forget that it isn’t a typical story.  I admittedly haven’t read a lot of manga so, I have no idea if this is the norm, or something unique.  I love that its upfront about stereotypes, if it was an American writing it, or a even a Muslim it would probably come across as preachy or arrogant, but somehow it doesn’t seem like the two characters have much baggage, nor feel a need to defend their culture by putting another’s down.  They deal with issues such as women driving in Saudi, differences between hijab, burka, abaya, niqab, being around alcohol,  the joy of a fatwa allowing soy sauce and its alcohol content to be permissible, etc.  Some things are cited for clarity and something are very Saudi, but it really contains a lot of information, about Islam that I am pretty impressed by.  There isn’t a ton about Japanese culture since I would assume it was written for Japanese readers, so it would be redundant, but I did learn, according to Satoko, how religion is viewed by Japanese, how putting age and gender and race on forms seems incredibly personal, and some information about food.

FLAGS:

There is a possible failed abduction, not sure what the guys intention was, but the girls treated it as such.  The girls do go buy undergarments, so they are visually depicted.  There is mention of alcohol.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a traditional book club, but I think I am going to get a copy of the series to pass around my daughters middle school group of friends, to

one- give them a taste of manga

two- see what they think of the Islamic rep from a Japanese paradigm and

three- give us all something to chat about

The book is fun, I got it at the public library and think it might open up a new book type for kids to try and a new point of view for many of us to consider.