Tag Archives: space

Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Standard
Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

ruby

The author of this wonderful middle grades novel reached out to me after I reviewed her book A Galaxy of Sea Stars, to let me know that this book too has a Muslim character.  As we exchanged emails back and fourth I learned more about her work with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven Connecticut (IRIS), and the impact the people she has met there have on her and her writing (the new paperback version of Galaxy has bonus content that reflects this).  Allies and advocates are gifts for Muslims and for our fictional representation.  The details and warmth of her Muslim character, Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, is seamless and accurate, and while this is not his story, his support of the main character helps normalize Muslims as friends and in daily life.  He takes time out for his five daily prayers, he refuses to shake a female’s hand, and he uses the word inshaAllah.  The story is Ruby’s though, and her journey pulls you in from the first chapter and leaves you cheering for her long after you close the book.  Over 295 pages (AR 4.1) you witness Ruby find her voice, dare to not be invisible, accept friendship, and help others.   

SYNOPSIS:

Ruby has just moved to frozen Vermont from their last “forever home” in Florida.  Originally from D.C., Ruby and her mom have been moving to places they have vacationed to try and find joy.  Since Ruby’s father, a police officer, died, the two of them have been broken and barely surviving.  The only constant is a cousin, Cecy, who helps them out and convinces Ruby’s mom to come back to her childhood town of Fortin, and to be closer to her.  The winter is bitter, the house is freezing, and even with Cecy arranging for Ruby’s mom to have a job, it only takes a day for Ruby’s mom to be arrested, fired, and for Ruby to be on her own.  With only a garbage bag full of belongings, and some thrift store finds for warmth, Ruby’s plan is the same as it has been in every other town they have landed in: keep her head down and be invisible.  Ruby’s dog, Bob, though has other plans, and when he takes off into a neighbor’s yard filled with ‘No Trespassing’ signs a meeting with Abigail takes place that will change Ruby.

Abigail Jacobs is known in Fortin as the “Bird Lady.”  She has a home, but lives in a shed on her property, dresses in layers of scraps and scarves, feeds the birds, and keeps to herself.  The rumor is that she killed her husband and daughter, everyone knows it, it could just never be proven.  There are also stories that she has a moon rock.  When Ruby meets her she is angry and cold, but the way she interacts with the animals and her knowledge of the moon, keeps her intrigued and even though Ruby’s mom forbids her from visiting Abigail, Ruby and her develop a friendship of sorts.

At school Ruby’s plan to go unnoticed is challenged by Ahmad Saleem, a refugee who lives with his uncle a grocery store owner and is teased by a few classmates for his accent and disappearances at lunch time when he goes to pray.  He is kind and and determined to help Ruby and immediately declares her his friend.  Ruby tries to avoid him, but eventually he starts to win her over.  With the upcoming wax museum, a Fortin favorite, drawing near, Ruby tries to explain to her teacher that they will be leaving back to D.C. before the final presentation, but Mr. Andrews isn’t letting her off and somehow she finds herself researching Michael Collins, the astronaut that stayed on the space shuttle alone to circle the dark side of the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their historic walk. 

With the mayor singling out Abigail with his new ordinances, Ruby’s mom deciding not to take the plea deal and fight her case at trail, the short cold days, the desire to return to D.C., the wax museum approaching, and Ruby needing answers, Ruby at some point will have to stand up and speak out.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story unfolds in layers.  You don’t know where it is going, but the slow peeling away shows the complexity of people and situations.  The book doesn’t shy away from confronting stereotypes and looking beyond appearances.  I like that there is some discussion of Islamophobia, when Ahmad is overheard speaking Arabic for example, but the character that needs the most standing-up for is an elderly white woman.  The small pivot allows the book to avoid a familiar theme and shows the reader a Muslim shop owner helping the tattered woman that the town fears and resents. I enjoyed the strong reminder of how women and science and their careers have not been widely accepted until recently.  I think many readers will be surprised that much of Abigail’s rumors stem from her being a brilliant educated woman that society struggled to respect then and now.  I absolutely love the science and space aspects that bring Ruby Moon, her neighbor, and her class project together.

I wish there was a little bit more about her mom and her relationship at the end.  The disconnect in their relationship warranted the sparse information in the majority of the story, but I needed some hope for the two of them.  Same for the relationship with Cecy.  I get that Ruby doesn’t have a good relationship with her mom’s cousin, but as Ruby grew in so many ways, I wish that her appreciation of what Cecy has done for her and her mom would have also been realized in some capacity.

FLAGS:

Ruby being dishonest. Death, injury of a pet, physical assault, bullying, teasing, Islamophobia.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t focus an entire book club on this book, but I think it would be a great addition to a summer reading list.  The insight into a character trying to find herself within her own family and experiences with connections to history and science would be a benefit to any child to read and reflect upon.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed illustrated by Stasia Burrington

Standard
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed illustrated by Stasia Burrington

mae

Inspired by the early life story of astronaut Mae Jemison this 36 page AR 3.0 children’s picture book is inspiring and encouraging.  It is not a biography of the first African American woman in space for children, infact with the exception of the note at the end, there really are very few specifics about how she went from being discouraged by a teacher to flying in outer space.  That isn’t to say the book isn’t beautiful and impressive, because it is, and it shows how no one should limit your dreams or your success.  The book radiates warmth and determination and for children, preschool to third grade, if desired, offers a way to start a discussion about racism and sexism all while celebrating the amazing accomplishments of Mae Jemison.

9291EB01-47EA-42C7-AE9A-2E2601245176

Mae is a dreamer and her homework one day asks her what she wants to be when she grows up, she tells her family she wants to see the Earth from up there, pointing to the sky.  Her mom tells her that she will have to be an astronaut to do that.  Nervous that it might be too lofty of a goal, her family reassures her that if she can dream it and believe it and work hard for it, that anything is possible.

ACD1927E-46F4-4525-84D9-4D1D4479B261

From then on, Mae reads books about space from the library, plays pretend, and makes herself a space suit from old curtains and a cardboard box.  She dreams about being in space and looking back at Earth, and she tells everyone she can about her dream to be an astronaut.

869AD060-D37E-4B8A-AB1A-C77F1E92A68C

At school when the teacher asks what everyone wants to do and be in the future, Mae’s answer gets her laughed at.  Ms. Bell tries to encourage her to be a nurse instead.  Once home, Mae breaks in to tears that her teacher didn’t believe in her.  Mae’s mom tells her that her teacher was wrong and that she hoped Mae didn’t believe her.  She told Mae that no one could stop her from pursuing her dreams.

EC432DA0-0032-45F8-B22D-9017DD033DAE

With her family’s unwavering support and a lot of hard work, Mae goes to space. The book ends with her keeping her promise of waving to her parents and looking down on Earth.

958EA75A-98CD-4FD0-9AA0-5091A9E06B65

The book touches on a lot of powerful issues that I really hope adults will point out and discuss with their children.  Why her teacher didn’t think she could be an astronaut, not as a belittling of the nursing profession, but as a woman of color what would make her teacher think that was her best option.  When and how should we handle when teachers, or people in authority,  do or say something that we disagree with. I also hope that the note at the end that tells more about Dr. Jemison’s accomplishments is poured over again and again and again and appreciated.  Truly she is a hero!

4532F757-FC28-41E8-AB6B-D548B60DB1BB

There is nothing Islamic in the book, I’m assuming the author is Muslim, but honestly I didn’t find anything in my Google searches that would indicate that she is or isn’t.  It is really just my assumption about the name and my wanting to share this inspiring story with beautiful illustrations with the people who frequent my blog.  Enjoy!

The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

Standard
The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

2E77412C-8D86-40DC-AC49-0409390CAD93

This 22 page beautifully illustrated picture book clarifies that it is not a science book, but rather an invitation to think deeply.  For ages 4 and up the rhyming pages will appeal to children’s sense of wonder and Allah’s perfection and precision.  Older kids will appreciate the journey through the cosmos and how limitless Allah swt is in all things.

1CE0C4F4-1AE9-4738-9D3E-BFAACA4A8186

The book starts with Earth and how the spinning of our planet on its axis allows for the alternation of night and day, it then moves to how going around the sun at Allah’s command gives us our seasons.  But because it rhymes and is not a science book, the text is more imagery and tangible in nature, rather than a list of facts.

68DD1DA3-102B-417D-B24D-435B8DFC3FF0

It touches on the moon reflecting borrowed light and the power and strength of the sun before moving on to the planets and gravity.

53909F77-D035-4FB9-BB77-3429E64A948E

It then extends out to the Milky Way and has a page on black holes before coming back to Earth for us to recognize how we only are a small part of something so much bigger.

31117DCF-73A0-4ABE-BD01-80AC92AA3843

There are two pages at the end with talking points, an ayat from the Quran, and emphasis that science and Islam are not at odds as Allah is the creator and governor of all things.

EFCD5023-940B-4D63-88FA-338A7F76C2D3

The book is 6×9 and with the beautiful illustrations I truly wish the book was larger.  Not only to dive in to the glossy pages easier, but also so that the book could be used at story time to small groups.  The tone is contemplative and marveling as it challenges the readers to find mistakes or flaws in the perfection of outer space. I love that science-y Islamic kid books are now available that appeal to children’s sense of wonder and understanding.  Really the only other suggestion I would have liked to see, would have been a page defining the word “cosmos” as it is used on every page, and while I think kids will figure it out as the continue through the book, I think it is a bit of a block for the younger readers.

Najma by Anousha Vakani illustrated by Ayesha Sohail

Standard
Najma by Anousha Vakani illustrated by Ayesha Sohail

 

IMG_7194

In a world of new STEM books and female powered books, this 28 page fact driven story adds one more empowering element, Islam.  With beautiful pictures on thick glossy pages, the 10×10 book is both educational and endearing for boys and girls ages 6 and up.

IMG_7183

There isn’t a story with a climax or moral, but there are characters, Najma and her astronomer Mom, who move the book along, and keep it “grounded” so to speak.

IMG_7184

Little Najma loves the stars and space above her, she knows Allah created them, but she wants to know more about them, what they provide, and how Allah made them.

IMG_7185

Mama and Najma look through a telescope as Mama teaches the life cycle of a star in simple terms over 11 pages.

 

 

Najma then asks what stars are for, and Mama tells her the benefits of the sun that Allah swt made for us and the stars as well.  Mama explains Allah only has to say, Be and it is.

IMG_7188

Every scientific concept, and daily life example is tied back to Allah swt.  And with Najma’s adorable little face, and the beautiful complimentary illustrations, the book conveys facts about the universe, love between mother and child, and awe at Allah’s signs.IMG_7189

Thank you Crescent Moon Store for amazingly fast delivery of this brand new book.  InshaAllah there will be more books like this combining science, Allah, and strong females for us all to learn from and enjoy.