Tag Archives: Sumayyah Hussein

Littering Stinks by Summayyah Hussein illustrated by Eman Salem

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Littering Stinks by Summayyah Hussein illustrated by Eman Salem

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This 36 page early chapter book is a good introduction to the concept that one person can make a difference.  The seven chapters flow easily, and while the names of the cities, Freshtown and Dumpton are a little on the nose and the premise a bit of a stretch, fluent 1st and second grader readers will enjoy the story and delightful pencil illustrations of a kid changing things for the better and making a difference.  One blatant hole for me was the lack of outright Islamic preaching.  For a book that is not available in mainstream outlets here the US and only through Islamic book stores, I expected more than just a Muslim family with hijabi characters and Islamic names.  I wanted cleaning up the environment and doing good deeds to have hadith and ayats quoted and referenced throughout, but alas there are none.  So, I suppose the book isn’t “Islamic Fiction.” but, in my opinion it really could and should be.

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SYNOPSIS:

Aliyah and her family have just moved to a new city, Dumpton.  Transferred by her father’s work, the family is shocked by the trash, smell, garbage and flies everywhere.  The kind neighbor lady brings them a pie and welcomes them to the neighborhood, but is later seen throwing a candy wrapper out the window.  Aliyah is shocked that such a nice lady is also a litterbug.  Aliyah calls a family meeting to come up with a plan to clean up Dumpton.

Each day Aliyah tries something new: cleaning up the street she lives on by herself, letting people know about littering, putting up signs, and finally on day four forming a clean up crew.  But nothing works.  Aliyah gets discouraged, but her parents encourage her to do the right thing no matter what.

The night before the first day of school Aliyah has an idea, she grabs a bunch of solid color t-shirts and a permanent marker and makes herself some shirts to encourage people to take care of their trash.  Every day she wears a different one with a different saying and by the end of the week people are starting to ask her about them.

The following Monday, her brother joins her and wears a matching shirt to start the cycle again, but when she gets to school the two of them aren’t the only ones wearing yellow t-shirts that say “Littering Stinks.” Everyone is!

The principal calls her into the office to discuss the potential of children to change the pollution in their city and slowly but surely they get the city cleaned up.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it encourages everyone, no matter how small, to make a differences and do what they can to make things better.  I love that it doesn’t just happen and that she gets frustrated and has to power through and stay true to herself. The main character wears hijab, but there is no mention of religion or faith which would have added some depth to her as a character finding motivation from belief in a higher cause and a responsibility to the care of the Earth.  Even some concern with starting at a new school as a hijabi would have possibly added some relatable connection to her personal strength and why she is willing to trust herself with the littering task at hand.

The premise that no one born and raised in the town seems to have a problem with the littering and pollution or that people from the outside haven’t been completely disgusted by it, but rather joined in over time, is a bit far fetched.  Sure you could make the argument that in other countries this is how it is, but it seems like a bit of a leap given the setting of the book and the target audience.

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FLAGS:

Clean, haha pun intended?

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is an early chapter book, not to be confused as being a book for early readers.  The sentences and diction and vocabulary are for fluid readers that are just moving into short chapters and need a few illustrations, spaced lines and a bit larger font.  There are questions at the end which would make the book a great small group reading to discuss, but definitely for early elementary.  Would be a great inclusion in a unit on leadership, project planning, or Earth Day.

Stuck in the Middle by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Diana Silkina

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Stuck in the Middle by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Diana Silkina

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At 122 pages this early chapter book with frequent illustrations is a great book to share with 2nd-5th graders.  It is has a great message and lesson with lots for children to relate to with regards to life with siblings, getting frustrated, making mistakes and recovering.  The lesson is strong, but doesn’t become preachy as the protagonists voice rings true to her age.  Mistakes are made by many characters and situations are fleshed out so the reader can understand why things are done.   By showing that there isn’t one side to a story, and that knee jerk reactions are common, readers will get that ultimately we are still responsible for how we act, and learning from our transgressions is part of growing up.

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SYNOPSIS:

Salma is the middle child in a busy family, and very little is in her control.  When her frustration over her brother stealing a chocolate bar, causes her to lose her cool, and then she is forced to run errands with her family, homework doesn’t get done in time and she finds her self in detention.  Normally a very good student, teachers and other students are shocked that Salma is in trouble.  Things don’t improve when her brother steals her carrot cake the next day, and in a plot to get even, Salma ruins her brothers brand new PS4 controller.  She also turns a blind eye at school when she sees someone picking on him.

Doing her best to avoid being discovered as the culprit, or being in a position to see her brother being bullied, her guilt starts to get to her.  When an ambulance has to come to the school for a kid that got pushed and needs stitches, she realizes she has to make things right, even if that means getting in trouble.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is so relatable, honestly switch Salma with my middle son Haroon, and the 13 year old boy that doesn’t want to go out with the family, with my 13 year old daughter that doesn’t want to go out and we are looking in a mirror, haha.  The family is Muslim and they practice and let the religion shape their view of the world and how to function within it.  The girls wear hijab and use the hadith premise that they have to fix a bad deed with a good deed to provide the solution to the mistakes made earlier in the story.

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FLAGS:

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I already made my middle child read the book, and because of the length it wouldn’t lend itself to a book club, but I can see teachers having kids read it and then discussing, just like I am doing in my family.  It is sweet and well done and a great addition to your bookshelf.

 

Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Majd Massijeh

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Presenting the stories of refugees to young children often involves a balancing act of fact, emotion, and restraint, all while finding the common ground to create empathy in the reader.  Increasingly on bookshelves are successful picture books that use illustrations to build bridges of understanding and bright colors to convey hope.  For older children there are books that can devote time to explain issues or offer first hand accounts along with political back stories and historical events.  For elementary age children 2nd and 3rd grade particularly, chapter books on refugees are not very common.  Children this age seem to relish in silly outlandish characters with a few font happy sentence and pictures on each page or stick to series that are easily predictable as they present tidbits of history or simple mysteries.  All reasons to encourage your child to read Blackout! and break the monotony and gain some empathy.  As delicate as the subject matter is, the book manages to resonate with most children how good they have it and how fortunate they are, without getting preachy or pretentious.

SYNOPSIS:

Yusuf, a 12-year-old Canadian boy is anxiously waiting the arrival of his cousin Ahmed from Syria.  Ahmed recently lost his father when their makeshift boat capsized, and while coming to Canada is a blessing, he is still haunted in his dreams and memories by all that he has seen and endured.  This idea that being safe now, doesn’t erase all the pain and fears experienced, is a concept most adults understand, but I was surprised that my children had to talk it out a bit.  They understood that he would be sad, but hadn’t really thought how hearing loud noises would immediately remind him of the explosions he heard in Syria and of his home and buildings crumbling down.

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The story’s focus is the present however, and follows Yusuf.   The backstory of Syria and Ahmed’s escape is juxtaposed with an ice storm turning Toronto powerless and cold.  As Yusuf deals with the annoyance of a few days without electricity he learns a bit of compassion for others in the world, who endure a similar situation indefinitely.  In a beautiful way, Ahmed’s enduring optimism changes Yusuf as they find reasons to smile at the raccoon rummaging through their food put outside to stay cold, or playing in the snow to pass the time.  The characters have a lot of heart, for a short book, and you really feel like you get to know them and feel for them.  Yes, Yusuf whines, but he is a kid who’s winter vacation plans have gone awry and is frustrated and bored.  Ahmed, while a survivor, still struggles, but maintains a personality much more than just victim.  The other family members are background, but they aren’t flat, they have warmth and humor and pain in equal parts, implying if the book was longer, we’d get to know more about them too, and probably like them as well.

Despite the refugee story line, and the blackout, the crux of the story is actually helping one another and being neighborly.  Ahmed at one point is telling a story of how he began helping someone in a refugee camp and that it gave him purpose.  This reminds Yusuf that they have an elderly neighbor and the radio alerts had encouraged people to check on one another.  The boys rush over to find Mr. Caldwell, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning brought on by his kerosene heater. Luckily an ambulance is able to get there just in the nick or time. On the third day of the blackout, the Imam speaks about helping one another and making this obstacle into something positive.   Ahmed tells Yusuf how the neighbors in Syria would gather in the winter to share what food they had.  This brilliant idea gets the support of Yusuf’s dad, the Imam and the whole congregation as they rush home to invite the neighbors to a neighborhood BBQ.  The perishable food needs to be consumed, so what better way to enjoy it, than to share it.

When the power comes back on, Yusuf is not the same kid, he has grown in compassion, and patience, and inshaAllah the reader will be similarly affected for the better.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book addresses a hard topic on a kid level.  It does not overwhelm the reader or frighten them.  MashaAllah, it balances what they can understand, with something bigger.  The illustrations keep it light in their doodle like appearance and the font, spacing, chapter length and presentation are perfect for the target audience.

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The women wear hijab, they pray, they go to the mosque, yet they don’t quote hadith or Quran or say a lot of mashaAllah and Alhumdulillah, making the book work easier for non Muslims.  The coming together of community is nice.  No one asks or worries what religion, race, or ethnicity anyone in the neighborhood is, they just come together to share a meal and welcome Ahmed and his mom to Canada.  The Imam is relatable and the dad is involved and generous, the mom is competent and respected, all normal behaviors that reinforce community and normalize diversity and acceptance.

FLAGS:

The violence of war may affect young children differently.  Nothing is sensationalized or graphic, but Ahmed does get stuck in the rubble when his house is destroyed, and his father’s drowning is discussed.  Nothing is talked about in depth, but the ideas are presented.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book would be perfect for a young book club.  I’m looking forward to reading it with my six-year-old son and my eight-year-old niece so that I can see how what they get from the book.  There is a brief explanation on refugees at the back of the book, and I think current events would naturally make a book club discussion easy to facilitate.  I think gathering items and meeting refugees after, would also be a wonderful way to turn the fictional story into real action.  It is also worth noting 100% of profits from this book will be going to the Syrian Canadian Foundation‘s mental health and wellness initiative for Syrian newcomers.

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One Hundred Ice Creams by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Derry Maulana

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This book on my first reading reminded me a lot of Amira’s Totally Chocolate World in that it takes a religious idea, in this case Jannah or heaven, and uses a child’s excitement for a favorite food to explore it.  Not a bad technique, and alhumdulillah the author was able to stay on the idea of heaven and add some additional information then just the silliness of having all the ice cream you could imagine.  The book is 36 pages and can probably be read by a first or second grader independently and appeal to story time ages of preschool 4 and up.  The book unfortunately takes a while to get going. I struggled with the first few pages, which I found really wordy, and puzzling.  The kids seem to be about 6 years old in the illustrations and in their mannerisms, but they start off the book complaining about homework and needing a break from it, which even my own children found confusing and remarked on it.  There also seems to be some unnecessary description too, in setting the stage: the day, the vehicle, the season, that it’s their favorite park, that they haven’t been there in a while, that they took a breath of fresh air, that they waited 10 minutes, etc..

Thankfully I think once the reader’s get that the park is crowded, that the kids couldn’t enjoy the swings and slide and decide to explore the nearby woods, the story finds its rhythm and engages the reader quite well.  A few minor hiccups throughout the book are again, the abundance of details that don’t further the story and aren’t developed. The river is described when they cross the bridge, and then there is another one, or possibly the same one, as this one is now rushing, and it jars the story as there seems to be a lot of rivers in this park.   There is also a rabbit that pops up and excites the kids and then shows up at the end again, which is cute and brings the story to a happy close, but I don’t really love how the parents dismissed it.  Why not let the kids see that he is scared of them and figure out that he doesn’t know they won’t hurt him/her,  rather than have mom tell them they won’t see him again and dad quickly steering them in another direction. Granted this is my personal preference, but I like when kids figure stuff out in books and solve things themselves, rather than how perhaps it is in real life, with mom and dad constantly calling the shots.ice-creams1I really like how when discussing Jannah, they talk about the rivers of milk and honey, and I absolutely loved how they talk about Grandpa (hopefully) being in Jannah and being young and strong.  I couldn’t figure out why when in the woods and marveling at nature the characters didn’t use Islamic expressions like, mashaAllah, subhanAllah, and inshaAllah, and when I read it aloud I had to add them when we got to the pages about Grandpa.  It seemed awkward not too.  The book is clearly for Muslim children, there is a reference page in the back with the ayats from the Quran and hadeeth that tell us about Paradise, and the characters are discussing an Islamic concept, so I’m not sure why their language isn’t reflective of that.ice-creams-2

The illustrations are simple and colorful and complimentary to the story.  I don’t know why the color of the character’s skin is yellowish green.  It seems to match the ice cream and on some pages seemed more noticeable then others.  Dad’s face when he is swatting the fly is a little angry and the color of the skin makes him look mean.  Not sure why the flies are mentioned. And the illustration is not reflective of his personality in the rest of the book.
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Overall the book has a good message, I think I have just loved all the books at Ruqaya’s Bookshelf so much, that my expectations may have been a little too high.  I’ve never written a book and I have no idea what the publishing process for this book was, but I feel like a a few minor adjustments from an editor or proofer would have made this book absolutely phenomenal.  That is not to say it isn’t a good book,  children undoubtedly, will get a tangible understanding of Jannah after reading the story.  An additional plus is that it is on their level in both content and in perspective, meaning that there is lots to chat about after.  Concepts that the children can discuss based on what they understood from the story with little prodding from an adult.  Points from how the kids are treated at the playground, to adding what they would want they are in Jannah, and ultimately steps we can take to increase our chances of getting there, inshaAllah.