Tag Archives: somali

Sadiq and the Ramadan Gift by Siman Nuurali illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

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Sadiq and the Ramadan Gift by Siman Nuurali illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

img_8554This 65 page early chapter book in the Sadiq Series does a great job of introducing Ramadan, giving a glimpse of Somali culture, and conveying a relatable and engaging story about friends with a lesson/reminder about the values of communication.  A group of boys hosting a fundraising iftar to help a school in Somalia have to figure out the logistics, the marketing, the cooking, and the execution, as they become socially aware and active in helping meet the needs of their community, both locally and afar.  This OWN voice tale doesn’t shy away from authentically drawing on religion and culture to make characters and a plot that all readers can enjoy.  The book is not preachy, but the characters know who they are in their manners, dress, speech, and environment.  A great book any time of year for first grade and up.

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SYNOPSIS:

With Ramadan starting in a few days, Sadiq and his friends at the Dugsi are reviewing the importance and values of Ramadan.  This year the masjid is raising money for a school in Somali and the students are encouraged to help, as sadaqah, or charity, is especially important during Ramadan.  The boys decide to host a fundraising iftar at the masjid and with parental help to coordinate with the Imam, the kids have to figure out how to get enough food, get the word out, get set up to take donations and more.  They make flyers, set up a website and shoot a small video.  The once excited Zaza, however, is no longer very enthusiastic in the Money Makers Club and Sadiq can’t figure out why, but with so much to do and little time to get it done, more friends and family are brought in to help, and things continue on.  When Zaza tries to tell Sadiq he wants to do his own fundraiser, Sadiq doesn’t want to listen.  I’m not going to spoil if the two friends work it out and how they handle the two ideas, but it is a good lesson in friendship, communication, and charity, Alhumdulillah.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story starts with information about Somalia and words in Somali as well as a picture of the family.  There are activities and questions at the end as well as a glossary of religious, cultural, and English vocabulary words. The book doesn’t assume that the reader knows anything about Islam or Somalia, nor does it assumer that the readers don’t.  It strikes a balance of not talking down to the reader or getting too wordy.  It simply provides the information needed if you are curious, but allows the story and the boys dilemma to take center stage.  The whole series is remarkable in showing diversity and relatability with good quality story telling.  I think this is the only book in the series that has a religious theme, I could be mistaken.  The illustrations show the boys in kufis and the women in hijab.

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FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Every elementary school library and every first through third grade classroom library should have this series.  I know my public library has it, and the copies I get from there seem to be worn and loved.  The age is too young for a book club, but would be great in small groups or for outside reading with the short chapters and engaging illustrations.

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

starsThis graphic novel swept me off my feet and left me in tears, not because of the hard life and sadness that life in a refugee camp entails, I had braced myself for that, but because of the hope and humanity and beauty that is so powerfully expressed and conveyed in this 264 page book.  Meant for 3rd graders and up, I think kids through middle school should be encouraged to read it.  The illustrations and colors are incredibly well done and the story is based on a true story that needs to be told and shared.  It is definitely in the top 10 books I’ve read this year and I keep catching my 11 year old re-reading this book repeatedly (like 5 or 6 times).

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SYNOPSIS:

Omar Mohamed lives in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.  His father was killed in the Somali war and his mother has not been seen after she sent Omar and his younger brother Hassan to run with the neighbors to escape the violence.  Hasan suffers from seizures and doesn’t speak, save one word, Hooyo, mother in Somali.  The two boys have an adopted mom Fatuma, who looks after the boys in the camp as if they were her own.  Unable to go to school, Omar spends his days looking after his brother, playing soccer with plastic bags, and waiting in lines for water, food, and news of a better opportunity.

When Omar gets the chance to go to school (5th grade) he has to make the difficult decision of pursuing his own opportunities, with the hope of helping Hassan later, or living day to day and taking care of his younger brother.  He is finally convinced that education will help them both, and that if the girls can find a way to do their chores and attend class, he can too.

Each transition from primary, to middle to secondary school requires testing, and only the top get to continue.  Determined to stay in school, Omar studies while dealing with life’s many challenges and the daily additional challenges of living with little food and resources.

When Omar and Hassan’s names finally appear on a UN interview lists for resettlement, hope seeps in, but the wait and the uncertainty prove to be yet another test.  Along the way there are side characters from the United Nations that show compassion, other families that show how generous and loving humans can be, female classmates show him how to take advantage of his privilege and friendships that move friends to family.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is gripping and has heart.  I don’t know what I expected, but I truly could not put it down.  The character’s stresses are felt and emotions are conveyed so powerfully, that I don’t know that you can read the book and forget it.  The most emotional part for me was his honesty in dealing with his brother, the strength of his friends, particularly female, and the bond to Fatuma.  Truly their living arrangements and loss of family is gut wrenching, but it was the little things that touched me the most.  The honesty of Omar having to decide if he was tempted to not go to school because he was scared. Was he using his brother as an excuse to stay with something he knew.  The emotional tipping point of no return for me was when he realized Fatuma would not be able to go to the second interview with the UN and would not be a part of what came after.  Of course I knew that, but by that point I was so connected to the character, that when Omar realized it, I broke for him.  To feel that connection in a graphic novel was new for me, perhaps a first, and alhumdulillah I am better for it.

The characters are Muslim and behave traditionally with praying and Ramadan and Eid.

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FLAGS:

There is talk of khat, something the men chew on the side of the road to forget things.  There is some violence, bullying, a young girl getting married before 6th grade and having a baby.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Yes! I am hoping if and when we resume school I am starting with this book inshaAllah, for my middle school book club.  There is so much to talk about and understand and empathize with.

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.

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber illustrated by Scott Mack

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Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber illustrated by Scott Mack

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On the border of Somalia and Kenya, there isn’t a library, or a book mobile, there is a traveling camel library! While the main character is more excited about the camels, at least his friend is excited about the books in this AR 3.2 story.

Muktar is an orphan who dreams of his life before his parents were killed as a nomad tending to their camels.  Their teacher, Mr. Hassan calls him lazy as he dreams of the camels he misses, but one day, a librarian from Garissa comes on camel to bring books to the orphanage, and while Ismail and the other kids are excited for the books, Muktar is drawn to the desert beasts.  Muktar notices that one of the three camels is injured and recalling the root to help sooth the ailment, he tears his shirt, treats the wound, and covers it.  When seeing his abilities, the librarian, Mr. Mohamed asks him to come with him to tend the camels as they travel with books through the desert.

muktar insideThe story definitely makes readers appreciate the life they have, and realize how simple and harsh others’ lives can be.  I like the mention of the foods, giving insight into the culture, but I didn’t like the harshness of the adults.  The calling the boys lazy, not taking Muktar food as he tends the camels, not being concerned about the injured camel until Muktar insists he notices, all made me a bit sad.  Yes I was glad that Muktar was able to resume a nomadic life with camels, but he wasn’t given a say in it.  And sure I’m glad that his friend Ismail will get books and be able to work toward being a teacher, but somehow it wasn’t a warm book, and I can’t quite identify why.

The pictures, however, are warm and detailed in the present, with Muktar’s memories being more hazy and muted.  There isn’t any mention of religion, but being the characters are Somali and their names being what they are you can assume they are Muslim. There is a short author’s note at the end that tells about the war causing the nomads to become orphans and the library service that works to share books.

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Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

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Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

I’m going to review two of the eight books in the Museum Mysteries Series that have Amal on the cover:  The Case of the Missing Museum Archives and The Case of the Stolen Space Suit.  The series focuses on four characters of diverse backgrounds who have a parent that works in one of four Capital City museums.  Amal Farah is Somali American and her dad works at the Museum of Air and Space, Raining Sam is Native American and loves the American History Museum his mom works at, Clementine Wim’s mom works at the Art Museum, and Wilson Kipper’s favorite is the Museum of Natural History.  The kids solve mysteries and introduce the readers to real facts and tidbits of real information.  The AR level is 4.0 and 4.1 respectively, but I feel like they really are on a 2nd-4th grade level.  When a child is done with Ron Roy (A-Z Mysteries & Capital Mysteries) and Magic Treehouse, they are ready for these.  Much like those series, readers are similarly introduced to new vocabulary, but not overwhelmed with back story, detail, explanation, or much character development.

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SYNOPSIS:

In The Case of the Missing Archives, (the second in the Museum Mysteries Series), eleven-year-old Amal and her friends have to figure out who stole the plans for the German “Bat Wing” Plane, and fast.  If they don’t Amal’s father, Dr. Ahmed Farah, a museum archivist, is going to lose his job.  Luckily in 117 pages the kids suspect and rule out a “friend,” identify a mystery subject, and finally solve the case by piecing together the security guards clues and being perceptive.  Along the way you learn a bit about the characters, but nothing substantial.  You don’t feel a connection to the characters, and are only slightly annoyed when Clementine kind of takes over. 

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The second book where the Museum of Air and Space, and thus Amal are leading the plot is The Case of the Stolen Space Suit (#6 in the series).  I didn’t like this book as much as the earlier one because while yes, I learned about Sally Ride and how women in space are often over looked, I felt like the culprit was let off the hook with little reprimand for stealing Sally Ride’s space suit.  Once again the four kids come together to solve a mystery this time it involves two of the museums: Air and Space and American History Museum.  There is a bit more blatant lying in this book, which is normal in this genre as the kids have to snoop around and not get caught, but they seem a little less apologetic this time around.  The red herrings aren’t as believable, and the real culprit is only spotted by chance, no real sleuthing.  

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WHY I LIKE IT:

Obviously I like that a Muslim girl is included in this very diverse foursome.  She wears hijab, has a muslim name, tucks her phone in her hijab to go hands free, and is of Somali heritage.  Her father is educated and not over bearing or stereotypical, and her background is just detail.  Her group of friends seem to appreciate each other’s cultures and talents as well as their passions and hobbies.  The kids vary in age from 10 to 13 with two girls and two boys.  The only lack of diversity is perhaps that they seem to all be middle class and fully able bodied.  Faith, family structure, culture, all run the gambut.  

There is no religious reference at all.  The book mentions her scarf only as a hands free life saver, and we learn her favorite hijab is blue with little stars on it.

I like that all the books are full color about 120 pages.  There is factual information at the begining and at the end.  There is also a summary on each kid at the begining.  The story concludes with a glossary,  writing prompts, discussion questions, and information about the author and illustrator.

I love the covers.

 

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FLAGS:

There is lying, but the rest is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t use this book as a book club selection because there isn’t really much to discuss.  I would definitely have this series in the classroom or recommend it to other early chapter book readers.  Like Brezenoff’s other series the book is satisfying in its simplicity and a good book to build interest in a variety of things while feeling accomplished at reading a book.

 

Bismillah Soup by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Amina Khan

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Bismillah Soup

It is always a cause of giddiness to find a good book, but to have one recommended by a mutual friend of the author, makes it all the better. Bismillah Soup is a spin-off of the Stone Soup folktale, but without the “trickery” of the classic.  Hasan, wants to surprise his mom with a feast, but money is tight and when Hasan is sent to ask the local Imam for some rice, a plan: Bismillah Soup, forms that brings the entire community together.  The story takes place in Somalia and the cultural words that are peppered in to the story add detail and talking points to have with the kids.  As each community member shares something small, the enormous feast that is created is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when we each give our best to help others.  The book is 40 pages with a glossary at the back and is definitely one that can be read over and over to kids of all ages.  Even the littlest ones are able to grasp the beauty of coming together through the colorful and playful pictures.

soup-gallery-img1 (1)The real treat of the book however, is how it all comes together: the words, pictures, sentence structure, font, size, and diction all compliment each other on the same level.  I read a lot of books aloud as a children’s librarian, and while the rhyming ones are great for the littlest listeners, there is often a void of read-out-loud stories for the kindergarten and first grade levels.  And I am talking about all books, not just Islamic ones.  Most picture books in my experience are written on a third grade level, with longer blocks of texts, smaller fonts, a wider range of vocabulary and longer sentences.  These books are often beautiful and very tempting, however when I read them during story time I end up “summarizing” them, and telling the story rather than reading it.  Similarly, early readers often find them frustrating and too difficult to read independently. Bismillah Soup strikes a wonderful balance, mashaAllah.

I read the story to my own children who enjoyed it and have found my first grader reading it independently twice this week.  Each time beaming with excitement to tell me something new he has gained from the book.  When I read it aloud to them, my kids marveled at how having a good intention and being so generous could benefit everyone. The first time my son read it independently he was in deep thought about how grateful Hasan was even though they didn’t have much food and how he was a determined problem solver.  The second time I found him reading it, he was so very impressed at the kindness of Shaykh Omar.  He really started to understand the subtle beauty of the character not just in helping Hasan’s family with food, but also supporting and working with the young boy to make the feast happen, alhumdulillah.  Screen-Shot-2015-08-29-at-12.06.00-AM

I highly recommend the book and I can’t wait to read it to my students at school next week, inshaAllah.  For more about the book, the author, and her other work you can go to the author’s website  http://www.ruqayasbookshelf.com