Tag Archives: travel

Ticket to India by N.H. Senzai


In terms of plot and and believability, this 274 page 6.3 reading level book has moments of unrealistic twists, but the historical flashbacks and context make up for it as it delves into Pakistan, India partition without getting overly bogged down in politics and bitterness.  You can tell that the author writes from a place of love and warmth, as she talks about all sides involved: Pakistan, India, Great Britain.   The stories, fictional and historical, that weave through the novel make it informative and entertaining irregardless of one’s prior knowledge.


Maya is 12, and a little shy, especially compared to her older sister Zara.  The book starts with her writing a journal entry about her visit to Pakistan in an airplane somewhere over the ocean.  Maya, her older sister Zara, and their mother are heading to Karachi from America because of the death of Maya’s beloved grandfather.  Frequent visitors to Pakistan, Maya is familiar with the sights, traditions, and language.  As other family members arrive, Maya and Zara overhear their elderly grandmother planning to runaway to India to retrieve family heirlooms that were left during partition.  The plan had been in the works for the whole family to go, visas were already obtained, but with the unexpected death, the urgency is amplified.  Grandma wants to find a ring to bury with her husband.  In Islamic custom burials happen very very quickly, often the same day, so the delay and sending the body to America, is something you just have to go with as the reader.  Rather than convince Grandma to stay, the girls threaten to tell their mother if she doesn’t take them along, and the next thing you know the trio are off to India and on a treasure hunt.  There is a map at the beginning of the book, which is very helpful.  However, the adventure isn’t straightforward, not only in the trio’s adventures, but in that grandma ends up in the hospital, Zara and Maya decide to pursue the lost items on their own, and then Zara and Maya get separated.  Twelve-year-old Maya then is forced out of her shell as she is kidnapped, and running for her life, trying to keep her promises, and also in desperately trying to save her family from having to pay a ransom to save her.  A lot happens, and the intensity amplifies as it starts out as a elementary aged family story and turns into a middle school adventure.  A long the way are beautiful passages about the scenery, amazingly simplified, but factually and emotionally accurate explanations about partition and ultimately, through Maya, about finding your voice. 


The framing of the fictional story and the historical context is wonderful.  Partition, is such a pivotal moment for those that lived through it, but has less and less relevance to today’s generation that lives abroad.  So, to find a book that makes the gist of the events come through, is why I love using fiction to connect people and ideas.  I am making my daughter read this tomorrow, no question. She needs to know what her own grandmother endured, what decisions her family had to wrestle with, and this book allows us to have those discussions in an informed way.  I’m sure many would disagree and say that the reader should know about partition before reading the book, but I think the tidbits and delicate way the author convey the horrors, the agony, the manipulation, and the struggles in todays time, is far better than I could do to a sixth grader. 

Maya’s abilities seem to grow overnight, so while she was an ok protagonist, she might annoy some.  I actually had to google in the middle of reading how old Maya is, at times she seems like she is eight or nine and at other times like she is 15.  I do like that Maya constantly remarks how alike India and Pakistan are, a reality that today’s generation definitely agrees with, but is often afraid to voice to their parents.  I also like that there are good and bad everywhere, a theme that doesn’t get old, especially in books that deal with cultural and religious elements as presented to a wide audience.

There isn’t much religion in the book, the characters don’t stop and pray or wear hijab, but the setting does allow for mention of masjids, and a kind Imam back in California, the characters identify as Muslim and they discuss Muslims as a minority and political entity regularly.  One of the treasures the grandma is looking to retrieve is an old Qur’an with the family tree drawn within.  The book talks about how intertwined the two countries and many religions of India are, and Maya’s name articulates many of these crossroads.  In the end, perhaps the best lesson from the book, is how much alike we all really are.

There is a wonderful Author’s note in the back, along with a glossary.


The book has some violent images as it discusses trains coming from India to Pakistan with only a few living aboard and vice versa.  The intensity as Maya is robbed, and then kidnapped, and then held hostage, could also be jarring for some younger readers. 


Like all her other books, I would absolutely include this in a Book Club, there is a lot to discuss, lots to understand, and lots to enjoy.

Author’s website: http://www.nhsenzai.com/ticket-to-india/

Reading Group Guide: http://www.nhsenzai.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Ticket-to-India_ReadingGuidePDF.pdf

YouTube book trailer:


The Magic Horse by Idries Shah illustrated by Julie Freeman


the magic horse

I didn’t get it.  I read it to my kids they did’t get it. I know it is written on an AR 5.8, but even with that, we didn’t get it.  I had to google it to see what the deeper meaning of the story was and all I found is that it is a teaching tale of two princes and how one found his heart’s desire in a fish and the other in a horse.  Which, I did get, but didn’t really get more than that.  The details in the story seem to wander and meander around to no point and not in an entertaining way. I never felt a connection to the characters, so their side stories didn’t appeal to me.  It is possible that I would have viewed it more favorably as a short story rather than as a really long picture book, but its hard to say.  I guess I feel like if forced, I could write an essay explaining all the small lessons, and moral guidance, but as a children’s book, I don’t want to dig so deep or spend hours at bed time trying to convince my children that the story made sense.  Ideally the book should have been shorter and more streamlined, or longer and fleshed out.


It starts out with an enlightened king encouraging his subjects to make new discoveries to promote quality of life, wealth and knowledge. He has two sons, one is an expert in strange devises and one is a dreamer.  The king puts out a call to have something new made, and an ironsmith makes a fish out of metal than can fly and swim and carry things.  A woodworker makes a magic horse that interprets the desire of the rider and carries the rider toward it.  The king suddenly becomes cruel and finding this a waste of time has the woodworker tied up.


The dreaming Prince Tambal rides the horse on many adventures, which kind of disjoints the story and makes it like a fairy tale about Tambal falling in love and trying to persuade a king to let him marry his daughter, and in turn having to trick the intended suitor instead. Along the way there are poisonous fruits, turning into a beast, and eventually returning home to prove that, “Those who want fish can achieve much through fish, and those who do not know their heart’s desire may first have to hear the story of the wooden horse.” Huh? Exactly.

A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

little tree

A friend loaned me this book with a bit of hesitation as to its quality, and although I needed one more Hajj book for an upcoming story time, it seemed that it was yet another book about the steps for Hajj, so I wasn’t stressing about acquiring it. Luckily we were both wrong, at least from my perspective.  The book is so sweet, and not so much about the steps and details of Hajj, but more about the longing to go.  To seal the sweetness deal, it is about the friendship between a man, and a tree, and perfect for 3 year olds and up.


The little tree dreams of traveling, but more than anything he dreams of going to see the Ka’aba.  Noting the logistical struggles of travel with roots, his mother encourages him to make duaa for his heart’s desires.  After a lot of patience and a lot of duaas, (alhumdulillah, it shows duaas take time and are not a magical instant granting of a wish) a young man walks by on his way to the coast to catch a boat for Mecca.  Startled by a talking tree, the clever boy just happens to have a basket and he uproots the tree and they head out together.


The book shows the two doing all the steps in a large two page illustration, keeping the text to a minimum.   On the next page though, it highlight the two praying and trimming their hair and leaves. When the tree is returned to his mother, she is watered with Zam Zam water and “they agree it is the sweetest water ever tasted.”

The friendship continues, as they journey on countless adventures, and in the end, when the man is old and the tree is too big, the old man returns to rest on the tree’s roots and tell stories to the nearby saplings.


Written in both English and Arabic, the story is a fast read that holds even the little one’s attention as they look at the expressive illustrations.  There is additional information on the Hajj rituals page, but it can be used according to need, like the glossary in the back.  The story is for Muslim children and families as it does not explain the requirements of Hajj, importance of the Ka’aba, or history of the rituals.


Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes illustrated by Sue Cornelison

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes illustrated by Sue Cornelison


Often children’s stories of refugees fleeing war are hopeful in a forced way that seems to want to protect them from the reality of what is going on in the world.  As adults we often cling to the ones with happy endings for our children and for ourselves, because the tragic ones are too numerous and overwhelming to comprehend.  This book marvelously does a great job for those older children in the middle that are beginning to understand the world around them, while not bombarding them with the severity of how cruel we can be to one another.  This true story instead focuses on a beloved cat and all the humans of different backgrounds, all over the world that help reunite her with her family.  Giving hope, but also showing the difficulty in the world, and the effects even one person can have in making a difference.


Kunkush’s family goes to great pains to get themselves (all 6 of them) out of Mosul, and away from the war.  That the fact they sneak their beloved cat with them, shows just how much a member of the family he is. They drive through the night, and walk for days over a mountain, they reach a Kurdish village where they sneak the cat on a bus to Turkey, they then have to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, only to land in Lesbos and have Kunkush disappear.  The family searches as long as they can, but alas have to move on to their new home.  From here the story switches from following the family to following the cat and all the people determined to reunite him with his family.  Unfortunately, they don’t know where the family is.  Amy, a volunteer, takes the cat to the vet to get cleaned up, and then creates an internet campaign to try and find his family.  People from all over the world donate to his care, and his travel expenses.  Eventually, Amy takes the cat to Germany, where many refugees have resettled and continues her search.  Finally, word gets to the family in Norway, and Doug, a photographer, arranges to fly the cat to her new home. Alhumdulillah.

img_3838.jpgOne could argue that countless people are misplaced each day due to war, and we overlook it because it is easier than dealing with it, so why care about a cat.  And to that I challenge the skeptic, animal lover or not, to read this book and not have your heart-strings tugged.

IMG_3839The book is done beautifully.  The pictures are warm and endearing and are the only proof that the family is Muslim, by their hijabs.  The love the family has for their pet is expressed in the illustrations, and even more so by the real photographs at the end of the book following the Note from Doug and Amy.  At 48 pages the book works really well for 3rd grade and up (it isn’t AR) who can marvel at the cat’s journey.  I particularly think this book is a great way to show children another aspect of refugees.  There are a fair amount of books that talk about the refugee experience or show refugees getting adjusted to a new home.  But, this is a great way to show that refugees are not just defined by a word.  They are vibrant individual people just like everyone else.  By focusing on the cat and his journey, the reader sees what a refugee goes through, particularly this family, and hopefully will stop and think about it.   But it doesn’t just show the family in that capacity, it shows them as a vibrant family who loves and desperately misses their cat- something more children may be able to relate to.

kunkush (1)

Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye illustrated by Nancy Carpenter



Sitti’s Secret was published in 1994 and given the events of the week, I’d say it is more relevant today than it was when written.  And if by some chance the events of the week haven’t affected your children, then the poetry and soul of the book still makes it an amazingly powerful story.

Mona travels from America to Palestine to visit her grandma, her Sitti.  Without the ease of speaking the same language, Sitti and Mona learn to communicate and build a tight bond cut too short by a vacation coming to an end.  When Mona returns she sees the news and writes a letter to the President, telling her Sitti’s secrets, telling him they would be great friends, and telling him they only want peace.

Truly Nye is a poet, even in Turtle of Oman her words transport you to a place where time slows down and the connection between a child and a grandparent make you nostalgically yearn for a simpler time.  Having spent my summer’s abroad visiting my grandma I could relate to so much of this book and truly had to still my heart.  The little things, like examining your grandma’s hand, or hanging out laundry, or brushing her hair. Even that dreaded final hug as you prepare to leave,  I could relate and it was enchanting.

No where in the book does it mention the Middle East or Islam, only at the beginning does she hint at it by dedicating the book to her 105 -year-old Sitti in Palestine, it mentions that she speaks Arabic and a few words are sprinkled in. And the Grandma does wear a scarf.  Other than that the book is by and large not political.  If you know that Nye has a Palestinian father and American mother and often writes semi auto biographical pieces, the book can take a bit of a different role to the reader.  Many reviews criticize the activism upon her return (the letter to the President), and found it disjointed to the rest of the story.  But in today’s climate I found it empowering and hopeful.  The world will only find peace when we put a face to those that are different to us, and even children can change our stereotypes.  I love that my children are seeing that they can make a change in the world today, and to see it reinforced in literature was gratifying.

The book is 32 pages and written on an AR 3.9 level.  The illustrations are beautiful.  They bring the words to life in a tender and heartfelt way.  The detail is subtle but deep and i have found myself thumbing back through the pages to get lost in the illustrations multiple times.  I think the book works on different levels for different age groups.  If you have a family that has to overcome great distances to be together, even younger readers will be able to identify with the story’s tenderness.  If you are in 3rd-6th grade and are aware of what is happening in the world you will be inspired.  If you just are looking for a sweet book, subhanAllah it manages to fulfill that category too.