Tag Archives: teacher

Zayan Unlocks the Quran by Najia Syed illustrated by Rizky Dewi

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Zayan Unlocks the Quran by Najia Syed illustrated by Rizky Dewi

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There is a lot of good information and relatable lessons in this 45 page didactic book encouraging children to get to know the Quran, and to not just recite and memorize it, but the presentation just doesn’t do it any favors.   I can’t imagine that seven and eight year olds are going to identify with the five year old protagonist learning how to add and getting in fights over crayons at school, nor that five year olds are going to have the patience for the explanations and understand the story.  The word story in and of itself is a stretch, it is a bunch of ayats from the Quran that are explained to teach young Zayan lessons that reflect his daily life and how he can succeed and inshaAllah earn jannah in the akhira.  The intention is really good, I just wish there was a bit more plot and that the book’s appearance made more sense.  Having the book look and feel like a leveled reader on the outside, but be completely tiny text filled, save a few entire page generic full-color pictures and green bannered meaning of the Quran’s translation, the book and its seven chapters are intimidating.  Space it out, make it an early chapter book in look and feel, revise the premise that a child has no idea what the Quran is, and is completely shook by learning from the kind and patient Qari Sahib that the Quran has lessons and rules to make us better.  It is a stretch to get the book going, it has some wonderful points along the way, and leaves a warm feeling when completed, but I can’t figure out the intended readers age, nor can I imagine many kids will willingly picking it up.  Like the character in the book dreading Quran class, I’m afraid getting kids to read this would similarly be met with dread, which is a shame, because the lessons are strong, the story and presentation just need a bit of polishing.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zayan does not want to leave his toys for Quran class which he attends one-on-one on the computer with his teacher, Qari Sahib.  Reading the Arabic is hard and confusing, he doesn’t understand what he is reading and he would rather be playing.  He has just built a fort and is afraid if he leaves it for class, his sister will destroy it, (over the first few pages I was convinced his sister was younger than him, and a little confused to learn that both are older).  When he begrudgingly logs on, Qari Sahib can tell he is upset and tells him that being kind to his siblings is a good deed and that many good deeds are in the Quran.  Zayan is shocked.  Qari Sahib offers to read some ayats to him and he can just listen before they resume reading Surah Fatiha.  Zayan is blown away at how pretty the Quran sounds when recited and his eyes sparkle when he learns that the Quran contains directions to get to jannah.

Chapter two explores how the ayats in the Quran about kindness can relate to Zayan’s life.  Being kind to your parents, speaking in a low voice, and not making fun of each other.  Ayats are pulled and connections made so that Zayan can inshaAllah implement his new knowledge in his life.  Zayan returns to playing after class and tests out what he has learned.

This pattern continues with chapter three discussing respect, then anger and forgiveness, cleanliness, and honesty.  The parables come when he doesn’t listen to his mother about finishing his grapes, a fight at school involving crayons, playing in the mud and lying about feeding his pet cat. At one point he remarks that much of what his teacher explains to him from the Quran are things that his mother also tells him, almost like she has read the Quran.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

The first few lines are so relatable.  The dread of the child putting the entire family on edge, it is real.  I love that Qari Sahib is kind and gentle and patient.  When the mom mentions things to him about Zayan he finds ways to talk to him about it, without lecturing or reprimanding.  I think the Qari Sahim is the real hero in the book.  I particularly like when he went in to detail about our responsibility to care for animals.  I’m glad Zayan has him to guide him because clearly his parents have failed.  Yes, I’m being judgey.  The kid doesn’t know what the Quran sounds like, doesn’t know why he is being forced to read it in Arabic, doesn’t know what it even is about? I’m not so much judging the fictitious parents, more the inconsistent writing.  If Zayan doesn’t know that his mom has read the Quran how does he know what jannah is and who shaytaan is?

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Obviously not for a book club selection, but I’ve been trying to figure out if maybe my five year old and I could discuss some of the chapters together.  I wouldn’t want to read the whole book because my child loves the Quran and doesn’t dread reciting, I have five children, I know tomorrow it can change, I’m not naive, I’m just saying for him particularly right now, it isn’t a chore and I think if I presented it as a boring thing, he will start to mimic that frame of mind (my older kids know not to ever bash certain teachers, concepts, spiciness of food etc. in front of their younger siblings for this very reason).  But, while some of the lessons are really well thought out, they are just too much for a five year old.  The pictures don’t engage and the text overbearing.  I asked my 10 year old to read it and he found it really childish and didn’t finish.  If the book works for you, alhumudillah, I’m glad, it is a benefit, I wish it worked for me too.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed illustrated by Stasia Burrington

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Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed illustrated by Stasia Burrington

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

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The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

 

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This 36 page picture book tells a beautifully presented story that incorporates events from the author’s real life that convey a story of loving your culture, finding similarities and giving people a second chance.  Ideal for students between 2nd and 4th grade, younger children will enjoy having the story read to them, and older kids will benefit from the message as well.

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Kanzi is about to start her first day of 3rd grade in a new school.  It doesn’t specify if she has just come from Egypt, but being she seems to speak English well, knows that she’d rather have peanut butter and jelly instead of a kofta sandwich and mentions that she got a quilt when she visited her grandmother, in Egypt, she possibly is just starting a new school, not her first in America, but it is considered an immigrant story, so I’m not certain. E403D261-438B-4263-A2FB-C3F8693C9D3E

When she arrives in class and introduces herself she bravely says that she is Egyptian-American, but on the way to school she turns down the Arabic music in the car, so the reader sees that she is a little nervous about being seen as “different.”  When her hijab wearing mom brings her forgotten kofta sandwich and calls Kanzi ‘Habibti,’ classmate Molly teases her that she is being called a hobbit.

A crying Kanzi tells her teacher and Mrs. Haugen reassures her that “being bilingual is beautiful.”  That night Kanzi asks her mom to send her a turkey sandwich for lunch the next day, and before beds she writes a poem as she snuggles in her beloved quilt.

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At school Molly apologizes to her and says that it just sounded funny.  Kanzi tells Molly it is because she doesn’t speak Arabic and that her mom says that “learning different languages makes a person smarter and kinder.”  Molly dismisses the comment and smugly walks off.

Mrs. Haugen sees Kanzi’s poem about her quilt from her grandma in Egypt and asks her to bring her quilt to school. The kids love it, and Friday Kanzi’s mom shows up to help with a special project: an Arabic quilt with the kids names.

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Molly is not enthusiastic and Mrs. Haugen writes English words that come from Arabic on the board: coffee, lemon, sugar, algebra.  Telling the kids that “we can speak non-English languages and still be American.”

Kanzi and her mom write the kids names down and the children copy them.  The teacher cuts them out and makes a quilt to hang in the hall.  On Monday when everyone sees the quilt, they love the beautiful letters and colors.  Even Molly sincerely apologizes and asks Kanzi to write her mom’s name in Arabic as a gift.  The two hug and seemingly will become friends.

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Across the hall another quilt is hung with names in Japanese, as another student and teacher were inspired by Kanzi and her quilt.  The last page of the story is a letter Kanzi has written to her parents telling them how grateful she is that she has two languages and that she will speak them without guilt.

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The story is beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated on well-sized 9.5 x 10.5 pages in a hardback binding.  The mom wears hijab and it mentions it, but there is nothing religious about the text.  It is a universal story of coming to be proud of your roots and inviting those around you to learn and grow.  There is a Glossary of Arabic Words at the end and a bit about the author and illustrator.

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My kids favorite page by far was reading the names written in Arabic and they all enjoyed the story (ages 13, 10, 9, 4).  I actually had an issue when Molly apologized the first time, feeling that Kanzi’s response was a bit pretentious to what seemed like an 8 year old being told to go say she was sorry, but my older three unanimously and fervently disagreed with me, saying that she was obviously insincere and Kanzi knew it.  I’d love to hear from other readers if they felt like Molly was sufficient in saying sorry and admitting that it sounded funny and that Kanzi was arrogant in saying that people that know two languages are smarter and kinder, or if Molly was being rude and racist and Kanzi was sticking up for herself.

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Irregardless, the book is well done, enjoyable, and will get repeated reads by a large range of readers.  My children keep pulling it off the book shelf, and for that I need to thank Gayatri Sethi (@desibookaunty) who generously sent me the book the same day I checked it out from the public library.  Her generosity once again is a gift that I hope to pay forward in the future.  This book also highlights how amazing teachers can be and often are in facilitating inclusion, understanding, and respect.

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Zainab is Different by Irfana Khan illustrated by Josh Wise

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This 24 page picture book for kindergarten children and up, is sweet in its handling of being labled “different,” without getting overly negative or caught up in the manifestation of discrimination.  Unfortunately, with so much emphasis on different religions: the places of worship, the holidays celebrated, the manner of dress, etc., faith becomes inadvertantly highlighted as the root cause for the division and discrimination.  Perhaps I am reading too much in to it, and the book just needs a few more examples to make the author’s point that we are all different and unique, but as it is, I didn’t love it, my kids all thought it was cute though, especially my daughter named Zainab.

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Zainab walks to school every morning with her mom.  She says hi to the neighbor and can’t wait to get to school to her best friend Melissa and her amazing teacher Mrs. Sperber.

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One day Melissa and Zainab want to play hide-and-seek and ask Matt if he wants to play too.  He responds, “Eww, I don’t want to play with Zainab! My dad said she’s weird and different from us.”

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Having never been called that, Zainab is bothered by the words and tells her teacher.  The teacher points out that they have different colored hair, but can see that Zainab is still hurt and tells her not to worry, she has an idea.

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At circle time the teacher starts of by highlighting differences with the kids identifying their favorite color, and her writting their names on the ones they like best.  She then asks about places of worship they visit: churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and again writes their names on the ones they have been to or frequent.

IMG_0559 Next she moves on to holidays celebrated, and then special clothing, only hijab is mentioned though.  The teacher then discusses feelings and how things about us might be different but our feelings are the same.  We like it when we are all nice to each other, and are sad when someone is mean.

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Zainab sees her name with different people’s names on the pictures now hanging up and Matt comes and apologizes for being mean earlier. The teacher also mentions that maybe some haven’t visited any of the buildings discussed.

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The pictures appear to be done in colored pencil and are colorful and detailed with the pictures of the places of worship bein actual images.  The 8.5 by 11 pages are large and would work well at story time or bedtime.

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The fact that Matt’s words are assumed to be about religion seems presumptious to me.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, I feel like there needed to be more there.  A few pages about things other than faith, in my opinion, would make the message of us all being different in some things and the same in other things a bit more powerful.   The pacing too is a bit off. It is a big jump from what is your favorite color to do you go to a church?  The resolution is really quick too, as it is tied into feelings, a little bit more of showing the reader, rather than just telling them, would amplify the process and the message.