Tag Archives: spain

Ayesha Dean: The Seville Secret by Melati Lum

Standard
Ayesha Dean: The Seville Secret by Melati Lum

seville.jpg

This is the second middle grade mystery story for globe trotting sleuth, Ayesha Dean, and much like her first adventure in Istanbul, this Spanish setting is infused with rich history, delicious food, relatable characters and quick paced action.  

SYNOPSIS:

Once again Ayesha and her two friends Jess and Sara are tagging along on a business trip with Uncle Dave, Ayesha’s uncle who has raised her since her parent’s passing.  As they wait in line to board the final flight of their lengthy journey from Australia, a young man drops his contents and Ayesha and him chat, later they are seated next to each other on the plane where he discloses his travels from England to Seville are to help locate his missing grandfather.  Ayesha volunteers herself and her friends to help him and they hit the ground in Spain determined to solve the case.

The boy, Kareem, is staying with the friends his beloved grandfather was staying with when he went missing, so that is where the detectives start their work.  In searching his room, Ayesha uncovers a 400 year old diary written in Arabic, and a pamphlet from the Archeology Museum with a necklace circled, the Collar de Pajaros.  Just enough to get them started and set their adventure in motion.

The group of teens rely on Kareem to translate the Arabic in the diary and Ayesha’s wit to decide what to follow up on and how to incorporate their sightseeing with the task at hand.  As they journey through the city of Seville, learning the history and tasting the food, nefarious characters start to notice the group and things get intense.  From Cathedrals, to cafes, to Museums, and even to an ancient city uncovered in Cordobo, Madina Al-Zahra, the chase is on, not only to find Kareem’s grandpa, but to also avoid being caught themselves and maybe even solving a centuries old mystery about treasure and a necklace along the way.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Ayesha in any situation stays true to her self.  She wears hijab, she prays, she is aware of the good looking guy, but doesn’t cross her own line, she is a good friend, an inquisitive person, and confident.  All amazing attributes for a fictitious hero and real ones too.  

Much like Nancy Drew and other middle grade novel series, the books don’t need to be read in order, and while they reference other adventures, they stand alone sufficiently too.  Also, like the aforementioned books there is definitely a formulaic pattern to how the author writes her books.  And while reading it I didn’t notice it intensely, as I write the review I do.  Ayesha travels abroad, she has her sidekicks that are not developed at all and truly have no barring on the story plot wise or as comic relief, they are simply foils to bounce conversation off of, there is a cute boy who could be pursued, but isn’t, someone passes out while she and her friends are sight seeing, and the spouses provide added clues, Ayesha gets locked in a small dark space, there is a twist and a surprise, a trap, and they all live to repeat the adventure in another city another day.  I don’t think I have a problem with it, but maybe because I am not the target audience age, I might get bored with it about book four or so.  As it stands right now, I’m anxiously waiting for book three.

While reading I was a little irked that Sara and Jess weren’t any more developed in Spain than they were in Turkey.  One of them could have been the one to administer CPR or to stumble on the diary in the room, something to give them some plot significance, but alas, the books do not bare their names.  I wish Kareem would have at least said “Salam” on occasion.  I like that the author shows he doesn’t know much about Islam and shows that his grandfather admits its been so long since he has prayed, but the boy is a Morisco and his parents immigrants from Algeria, he translates Arabic, he should say Salam when he meets Ayesha in her hijab wrapped head. 

The author does a much better job in this book staying with the characters and showing the city through their eyes rather than pulling them out of their scenes to convey something.  Only once at the end of a chapter did I feel there was some forced foreshadowing that was not needed, as the book is quick and chapters may end, but the pages still turn until the end is reached.  I had more trouble putting the book down than picking it up, and that is saying something as I read it online and I definitely favor physical books.

I wish there was an afterword or author’s note explaining what was real and what was fiction.  I googled Madinat al-Zahra and found it fascinating, but couldn’t find anything in English about the Collar de Pajaros.  Also a map or two would be great.

FLAGS:

None.  This book is clean and even the fights are not gory or over the top. Yay!

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would absolutely do this as an elementary book club selection, and can’t wait to get a copy to my children’s school library and their classrooms.  The book is an easy read and the history and culture is seamlessly interwoven in to the story that kids will enjoy the action and find they learned something about a culture along the way.   I think boys and girls will enjoy it, even if it appeals more to the girls.   The cover, the binding, the font is all spot on for the age group and I eagerly await Ayesha’s next adventure.

 

The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman illustrated by Shelley Fowles

Standard
The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman illustrated by Shelley Fowles

Most-Magnificent-Mosque

Three very naughty boys harass visitors to Cordoba’s Great Mosque in Spain.  Rashid, a Muslim, Samuel, a Jew, and Miguel, a Christian, run through the fountains, destroy the flowerbeds and throw oranges at people leaving their prayers.  Most days the boys can out run the gardeners, but one day they pelt the Caliph himself with a rotten orange.  The punishment from the Caliph is three months of hard labor working with the gardeners everyday on the mosque grounds.  On their breaks the boys explore the mosque and marvel at its beauty.  By the end of their sentence, the boys have such a love for the mosque and one another that they are forever bound.  As the boys grow and make their way in the world, they don’t keep in touch much.  However, when Cordoba is defeated in battle by the Christian king Fernando, it will be up to these three boys to convince the new king, that the Mosque shouldn’t be torn down.  And that the it is the pride of all people in Cordoba, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian alike.

magnificent mosque 1

The book is 32 pages and an AR 4.0.  It does a good job of showing the three faith communities coming together to save something they all value.  It also shows a kind, yet purposeful punishment from the Caliph to the three boys.  While younger kids in story time will enjoy the concept of people working together, the book really finds its strength with students learning or familiar with Spain, particularly prior to the Inquisition.  There isn’t a lot of detail regarding the structure of the mosque, or the doctrine of each faith, that knowledge would have to come from outside the book, in order for it to be appreciated. There are some plot holes in the story and the book itself doesn’t make it clear what parts of the story are historically accurate and which are fiction.

magnificent mosque

The illustrations are charming in their own way.  The watercolors do a good job bringing to life the mosque and gardens, and battle, but for me fall a little flat in depicting the three boys.  I don’t know if the text or illustrations are at fault for me not connecting to the story or finding an emotional resonance to what should be a very inspiring story. Perhaps it is a combination of the two.  I feel it is desperately in need of an author’s note detailing the factual origins of the tale,  Something to uplift and give hope to people of different faiths coming together in a peaceful way, that can be put into real world actions.

magnifectn

Never Say A Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard

Standard

scan0019_487d580c-5aa9-45f2-b4c1-87e328c94b7e.jpg

I love when tales from the past provide timeless lessons in relevant ways.  Inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, a royal advisor in Muslim Grenada, Jules creates a story that works for children of all ages and backgrounds.

The Grand Vizier’s son, Samuel, bumps into the tax collector’s son, Hamza, and the boys don’t rub each other the right way.  Later that day, Samuel spills his drink on Hamza and can’t convince him both were accidents.  Hamza calls Samuel some mean names and storms off.  Samuel and his father think the name calling is uncalled for, but the vizier does not solve his son’s problem and instead assigns him to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.”  Samuel imagines ways to teach Hamza a lesson or punish him, but some ideas are too complicated and some just silly.  This is proving to be a hard task.  The next day Samuel shows up to Hamza’s house with a lemon.  He thinks forcing Hamza to eat it is a good punishment for a mean mouth, however Hamza thinks the lemon is to help with the stain that ruined his clothes, and tells him his mother already tried that.  Caught off guard by Hamza’s reaction, the two somehow end up playing catch with the lemon and enjoying the afternoon together.  The next day he shows up to Hamza’s house with ink and paper thinking he will make Hamza write him an apology.  Hamza however, thought Samuel showed up to draw, and once again the boys enjoy an afternoon together.  This carries on until the boys are so used to seeing each other and having fun together, they become friends.  Samuel fears that he disobeyed his father and did not handle Hamza only to realize that by befriending his “enemy” he did in fact make sure Hamza never said a mean word again.

idea

The book is 32 pages with an Author’s Note about the real life events that the story draws upon.  The book is not AR, but the large bold typeface and the warm simple pictures make this book work great for story time with young children.  It compliments themes about bullying and making friends as well as being silly.  It works well for third graders and older ones too, as they might understand people of different faiths struggling to get along or people of different socio-economic classes, or even just imaging how they would solve a problem without their parents doing it for them.  I was pleasantly surprised by the book and how it handled the Muslim/Jew staging of the characters.  Especially right now in today’s world, this story has a poignant lesson for us all. If we all spent time together having fun, we too could end up being friends, or at least getting along.  I think the story and its lessons have merit and relevance, and thus a place on the bookshelf.