Tag Archives: young adult

Broken Moon by Kim Antieau

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I didn’t initially think the premise of the book was terribly original: a poor scarred girl in Pakistan working as a servant, cuts her hair to look like a boy and be free to move about and rescue her brother.  But the weaving in of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights stories into the larger story, and the plot of kidnapping children to be camel jockeys in the Middle East, made the story good.  Really good, but not the book.  I really struggled with the format of the book.  It is written as letters by the main character Nadira to her young brother Umar.  The information seems too forced in this style, she is telling him how old he is, or retelling him things he said a few days ago.  Once they are together she has to clarify that now she is writing it to their mother, and then again alter it to be writing to those following her story.  It presents too many characters, that are awkwardly introduced because presumably he knows who they are, the reader does not, and bridging that gap makes the book halt the reader from diving head first into a really compelling story.  I feel like the book’s editors let the characters down, it would have been an easy fix to tell the story as Nadira told it to the Sheikha, and then when the story caught up with the present to continue it from there as written, without the guise of it being shared in letters or a diary format.  But, alas no one asked me.  Luckily the book is only 183 pages and written on a AR 4.2 level so it is a speedy read.  Do not let the fourth grade level, however, trick you into thinking it is content appropriate for a 10 year old. There is a lot of abuse, in every sub category of the word.

SYNOPSIS:

When Nadira was 12 years old she was attacked by a group of men seeking to avenge an alleged crime Nadira’s older brother committed against their daughter.  By this girl’s reputation allegedly being ruined by Nadira’s brother, the village decides that a female in his family should in exchange be ruined.  Nadira manages to fight and ends up with some external scarring, including a moon shaped scar on her face, a lot of internal scarring, but the book points out quite often that she got away from being sexually abused.  In her culture she is assumed to be ruined, and will never be married.  She begins to work as a servant to help the family financially as her older brothers have more or less disappeared and no longer are of any help to her family.  When her father dies, her mother and younger brother, Umar, rely on Uncle Rubel who is a horrible man who covertly sells Umar to the smugglers to become a camel jockey.  The family that Nadira works for seem kind, they stick to the norms and don’t include her in their fun and frivolity, but they don’t abuse or belittle her either.  They offer her, her mother, and Umar a place to live on the property, and assist her in finding someone to locate her brother.  Nadira, however, is strong and determined and takes matters into her own hands by cutting her hair to look like a boy, finding the smugglers, and convincing them to take her.  Once in the camp she wins over all the boys, by becoming Sherazad and telling a story to delay her being beat.  Her wit, tenacity, and perseverance is infectious and you find yourself cheering her on.  As she prepares for the races and to broaden her access to camps to find her brother at, she meets a western vet, a Sheikha who essentially owns her, and discovers that all the boys she lives with know she is a girl and love and respect her.  The climax involves her racing in the Sheikha’s Race where the winner is granted a wish by the Sheikha.  Can Nadira win? Can she find her brother? Can she save all the boys at the camp that she has taken in as her brothers? I won’t spoil it this time.  You’ll have to read it.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that the author did not cast judgement on a group of people.  Not all Pakistanis are bad, not all women are helpless, not all men are oppressive, not all employers are abusive, etc..  similarly, there is a western character, but she doesn’t swoop in and save the day, in fact I read her to be complacent in what she knew were obvious human rights violations.  I loved the relationship that Nadira had with her father.  The love of learning and love of his daughter is so sincere and beautiful that I think readers can see that the stereotype of daughters not being prized jewels in a family as being false.  I wish the mother would have been further developed.  She seems defiant, but not fleshed out, which is unfortunate. I also like the subplot of the gardener boy, Saliq.  A boy who completed some of his education in England, only to be made crippled by a horse, and sent back to be a servant.  He’s role and respect of Nadira furthers the notion that her scar does not define her, as he proposes marriage and pledges to support her in her efforts to continue rehabilitating kidnapped children and stopping the cycle.  I also like that the author doesn’t share her response, as if to emphasize that she is liberated and with or without a husband she is a complete person.

The characters are Muslim by culture, but there is no real mention of Islam or Islamic practices.  Before Nadira cuts her hair she wears a scarf, but that is neither her nor there.

FLAGS:

The premise of the book is an accusation of a sexual crime.  One of the stories she tells at the  camel camp to delay the beatings,  is the story of the lady who traps a merchant, a king, a carpenter, and a Kazi to free her lover.  She offers her body to the men and traps them in a cabinet naked after obtaining their signatures.  There is some kissing and some innuendos and references to sexual acts.  There are also references to the sexual abuse at the camps as well as descriptions of the physical ones that take place.  Not for the faint of heart or young and innocent. The boys at camp also discover that Nadira bleeds like their sisters, as a clue to them figuring out she is a girl, but compared to the sexual crimes, menstruation seems hardly like a flag, and I only mention it because the AR level is so low, not because there is any reason for shame or shyness in discussing an act all women endure.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think high school students could handle the book, and would allow a plethora of discussion options from child labor, civic responsibility, abuse, justice and the power of literature as a coping mechanism.  I wish the author would have included some information on camel racing and how they are regulated and jockeys are obtained, and maybe thrown in a recipe for masala chai as well.

There are no online websites or guides that I could find to accompany the book.

Ten Things I hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Ten Things I Hate About Me

I’ve read and reviewed a few Randa Abdel-Fattah books and read and reviewed even more cheesy West-meets-East-and-my-parents-are-so-strict-so-I-will-rebel books, that with such a flimsy title referencing a movie which references Shakespeare, I didn’t expect much.  With such minimal standards, the book didn’t disappoint and the surprising warmth of many of the characters actually left a pleasant smile on my face.  I’ve had this book on my to-read list since it came out in 2006, and for some reason it is a bit hard to find now a days.  There seems to be a few covers out there, and I don’t know if they differ, but the one pictured above is the one I read, and it is 297 pages and written on an AR 4.8 level, but probably would appeal and be more content appropriate as a light read to 9th through 12 graders.

SYNOPSIS:

Jamilah Towfeek leads a double life.  At home she is a proud Lebanese Australian that goes to Madrassa, plays the darbuka drums in an Arab band, and identifies as Muslim.  She has recently dyed her hair blond and wears contacts to hide her Arab heritage and doesn’t allow her sister who wears hijab to pick her up from school where she is known as an all Australian girl, Jamie.  Her mother has passed away and her father is pretty strict about who she goes out with and her curfew.  They even have a contract posted on the fridge. Despite this, Jamilah and her dad seem to have an ok relationship and it is definitely something they both are fighting to improve.  Jamilah’s older brother is a bit of a rebel and goes out with girls to bars and the book definitely discusses the double standard.  He however, isn’t painted as “bad” or as presented as an outcast, he just does things differently, and must wage his own path to build a relationship with their father.  At school Jamilah has acquaintances more than friends, as she is constantly pushing people away.  The stage is set that she has to keep lying to her friends, but it is more in her head than in reality.  She doesn’t open up to her friends, nor they to her.  As a result the Jamie at school amongst her peers are presented as incredibly shallow, which is partially intentional I think, and partially, under developed.  She makes up excuses to not attend parties and it isn’t a big deal until the most popular guy at school starts to take an interest in her.  In frustration she starts opening up to someone who has started e-mailing her.  Her user name is Ten_Things_I_Hate_About_Me and the dialogues between her and Rage_Against_The_Machine reveal a lot about how she sees the world.  There is some tension with immigrants in Australian and Jamilah starts to realize that her silence is consent to the bigotry and bullying around her, and that there is no way to stay neutral.  There really aren’t any major plot twists, you can see a mile away who the mystery email boy is, and that he likes her, you can see that her friend Amy will come through, and that she will have to reconcile her two identities.  There are a few minor ones with her dad getting remarried and thankfully with her opting to not “hookup” with anyone in the end despite a climatic kiss in order to stay honest with her father.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I’m obviously older than the target audience and the characters, as is the author, but compared to a lot of the other books of similar content, I feel like this book stays the most grounded.  There are some pop cultural references, and obviously the kids are naive, but there are some universal truths and experiences brushed upon that I think a lot of high schoolers can relate to, not just immigrant Muslim ones.  The idea of having to be two different people at home and at school, family relationships, cultural identity, being true to yourself, dealing with the loss of a parent, taking a stand when you see something wrong, etc.. All that being said there is a huge gaping plot hole.  How her friends that have known her from elementary school when her mom brought Arab food suddenly don’t know she is Arab, or don’t pick up on her ethnic last name is beyond even a 5th grader to over look.  If you can tune out your internal sense of logic for the premise, the book is much more enjoyable, but it really is a stumbling point.

I wish that Jamilah was a bit religious.  She identifies as Muslim and clearly her sister is, but pretty much all of her actions and gripes come more from her culture than from her faith.  Many of her father’s friends drink, as they are either not religious, or Christian, which is fine, but part of me really wanted her to live up to the picture on the cover of the book and discover her religious stance alongside her owning up to her cultural one.  I love that at it’s core it is a book about a girl’s relationship with her dad and being true to her self, but somewhere her religion fizzled out of the narrative and I wish it hadn’t.  I Would have loved that she turned down the prospect of a boyfriend because it wasn’t Islamically permissible, in addition to her wanting to be honest with her father.  But, alas the author didn’t pursue that.  She did however, do a good job of not making it a judgement of culture or faith, just as attributes of her characters.

FLAGS:

There are racial slurs, drinking, dating, and kissing.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Surprisingly I wouldn’t completely disregard this book for a Book Club selection.  It would be for older kids, ideally upper High School.  But I think especially in an Islamic School setting the discussion would be so much better than the book.  Many send their children to Islamic Schools to reduce the need for dual identities and I would love to see how the kids view the effectiveness of it.  I would also enjoy hearing students’ perspectives on going to formal dances with siblings or a group of girls, the double standards of boys in girls, and dealing with Uncle’s and Aunty’s constant opinions.

Author’s Website 

 

 

 

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

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It has definitely been done before in books dealing with the crossing of desi and the west with a female lead, that there must be: forbidden love, physical and or sexual abuse, a a sympathetic side kick, and evil parents or in-laws.  So, perhaps this book just assembles the ingredients in a new way, or my deliberate hiatus from said genre softened my heart with time.  But, either way Written in the Stars was an enjoyable read that didn’t get caught up in the dichotomous rhetoric of good vs. bad, us vs. them, right vs. wrong, and I found that refreshing.  It is in the AR database as a level 4.1 book, but there are sexual references and rape, so while it is written very simply and linearly, I would not let an elementary student read the book.  The protagonist is 17, so really the story line is more high school relevant.

SYNOPIS:

Naila is a senior at a Florida high school with scholarships and dreams to be a doctor. She has friends and stability at home. However, she also has a boyfriend, a big no-no to her conservative Pakistani immigrant parents.  When she sneaks out to prom and gets caught her parents drag her to Pakistan and secretly work to marry her off.  The premise isn’t very original, but the author keeps it interesting by having the boyfriend also of subcontinent descent, and Naila being naively clueless about what her parents and extended family are doing to her.  As she begins to realize what her parents’ end goal is, she gets desperate to return home, putting her against her family.  The story is quick and Naila is definitely a girl of action as she tries to escape, as she gets drugged, gets married and pregnant.  And remarkably she doesn’t spend too much time bemoaning her situation, which is nice as the book is only 284 pages with the Author’s Note, Glossary, Resources, and Acknowledgements.  A long the way you meet some kind characters and minor villains, you see a bit of the culture and Naila’s determination.  The parents are underdeveloped and I wish they were fleshed out so that the reader could see their perspective.  They are presented as pretty vile and cold and nothing more than that unfortunately.

WHY I LIKE IT:

At first I found it odd that religion was not in the book, like at all.  Her rules regarding boyfriends and male friends are presented as being cultural.  While in Pakistan and being shown around a cousin points out a mosque, tells Naila her father is in there, and if she wants to see inside they can come back when it isn’t pray time. That is it. So, the characters are Muslim, but Islam is not mentioned.  The author on the jacket flap states that she is Muslim and had a good arranged marriage.  So as I’ve reflected back on the book, I think I kind of like how she left religion out of it.  Albeit leaving a gap in the narrative, it allows the book to be seen in a character driven way more than a “that’s how they do it” sort of way and thus opening it up to a wider audience.  Also, seeing both good and bad in the same cultural population removes the idea that different is bad, which is often lacking in these “cultural” novels.  I really want to meet the author and see what her reasoning is, but I think it was deliberate and thus I’m growing to appreciate her restraint on bringing the religious tinge into the book.  I wish it was written a little more complexly.  In addition to more about the parents, I wanted to know more about Saif, the boyfriend, I wanted to know about the future of her cousin Selma, who was her confidant, and about the aunt that never married, just to name a few.

FLAGS:

There is kissing, and while not detailed, Naila is raped by her husband and it is implied and reflected on. There is some additional physical violence as well.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this for a selection if I did a high school book club. Definitely not middle or elementary.  I would possibly suggest the book to older middle school if they could handle it.  There are lots of talking points, and some girls are so drawn to the romance genre that at least this one isn’t too over the top.

Curriculum Discussion Guide

Author’s Blog 

Better Than a Thousand Months: An American Muslim Family Celebration by Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey

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To be honest, I didn’t get the book.  I mean I understand that it was derived from stories the author told his children, and I’m guessing it was written to show similarities between Muslims and Christians, but I don’t understand how the 168 pages with lots of photographs and text from the Qur’an got published as a book.  That is not to say it isn’t without merit, it just leaves a lot to be desired.  The teacher in me really, really, really, wanted to pull out a purple pen and start editing.  I checked twice to see if I had an advanced copy or uncorrected proof, I even Googled the book to see what I was missing.  It doesn’t work for me as a completed book.  To me, however, it is a wonderful outline that is desperately wanting to be fleshed out.

SYNOPSIS:

A man in San Fransisco is sitting on the train when there is an earth quake, thus delaying his trip home.  As he dozes off he imagines interactions with his children that share his knowledge of Islam with them, and thus the reader.  The first interaction is with him and his young daughter discussing Christmas, and how Muslims view Jesus and the power of Allah the creator of all.  They jump in the “time machine” truck and drive through the hills of San Francisco reflecting on the concept of patience.  As Ramadan comes and the narrator dreams we get bits of how Muslims in America celebrate Ramadan, and some of the tenants of faith.  When he is awake we get some story about his family, how he came to Islam and his Grandma passing away.  But nothing is explained or even connected.  I have no idea how many children he has, what the story is with the step children and the confusion from having two daughters with the same name.  The story goes back and forth with his dreams being more “real” then his awake time, and both kind of moving in the same direction of explaining how Islam is practiced as a family in America (praying together, waking up for suhoor), the questions that arise from the children (how to pray at school, why Ramadan decorations don’t decorate the city), and how we are all more alike than different (same Prophets, similar stories).  The final dream sequence is sweet with the father and daughter showing, not just talking, about giving and charity, that I really want to send the author back to finish writing the book.  There are so many tangents that would give it depth that are stated in a few sentence paragraph that could so easily be developed in to whole chapters.  Unfortunately, as is, the reader is just left disjointed and confused.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I really like the premise, I like the literary flip of telling the story in the dream.  The ideas are just not presented smoothly.  I don’t think that a tween would get it, and the choppiness of the ideas bouncing around from short paragraph to short paragraph would dissuade even the most seasoned middle school reader.  The book has some good tidbits, but they are lost in the short glimpses of story and long passages of meaning of the translations from the Quran.  The Arabic Calligraphy is nice, but it isn’t stop in your tracks beautiful, and the font of the English translations are difficult to read.

FLAGS:

None, the book is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I tried to get my daughter to read it, but she was so lost and even asked if it was a collection of stories or a chapter book, that I couldn’t force her to finish.  If you can get through it, one could discuss how to “fix” some of the struggles the book has, thus emphasizing what the reader liked and imagining the back story for all the questions that arise but are ultimately not answered.

Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam by Diane Stanley

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This is a beautiful historical biography of Salah al-Din, known in the west as Saladin, that I felt worth sharing despite it not being fiction.  Written on an AR Level of 7.0 the 48 pages are highly wordy, and cover a lot of historical ground.  There is a post script, a glossary and bibliography at the end.  The pictures are detailed and bright and inviting, but even for a 7th grader, I think the book would be a challenge.  If one has an interest in the time, or has studied it and knows some of the supporting characters, the book in fantastically interesting, and insightful for the format.  To an average middle school or even high school student, they might thumb through it and keep it on the shelf as a reference tool, but that might be about it.

Saladin inside page

With any historical account, particularly those trying to simplify and appeal to children, the author gets to pick in what historical light to present the events.  The book starts with an Author’s Note detailing the fight for Jerusalem up until the first crusade. It then begins with the story of Saladin’s life.  Born in 1138, he was named Yusuf ibn Ayyub, and then tells a bit about his upbringing and the basic tenants of Islam.  It explains how he came to power and how the truce with the Franks was broken by Reginald.  It then details the battles, the follies and plans of both sides.  It shows the honor that Saladin had for his enemies and even the respect he had from Richard the Lionheart.  It shows the politicking in Europe and the toll of the Crusades on the people there and in the Middle East.  The book also tries to show Saladin outside of his battle armor as a family man who was devoted to his wife Ismat.  “When she (Ismat) died, Saladin was lying in his tent, seriously ill.  His advisors kept the news from him for three months, until he was fully recovered, for fear the shock might kill him.”

Saladin died in 1193 and  knowing that he was dying he passed on advice to his son oh how to be king.  “Win the hearts of your people and watch over their prosperity; for it is to secure their happiness that you are appointed by God and by me. . . I have become as great as I am because I have won men’s heart’s by gentleness and kindness.”  The book states that he was so generous and unconcerned with money and luxury that when he died he didn’t even have money to pay for his simple burial.  

Admittedly I know very little about the historical accuracies or slant of the author.  I do know that it does inspire pride for Muslims and hope that people of different faiths can one day again co-exist in Palestine and the world, inshaAllah.

 

From Somalia With Love By Na’ima B. Robert

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This book was a great glimpse into Somali Muslims in the UK, a world I admittedly know nothing about.  Whether accurate or not, I loved the incorporation of words, foods, culture, all of it.  And most of all I love that the main character Safia is a Muslima.  Yes, the point of the book is a coming of age story as she searches to find herself and define who she is, but in every sphere she is defining herself in, Islam is present.  Her home-life, her friendships, her poetry, all of it.  My only concern in recommending the book to my students. I think 7th and 8th graders, even in an Islamic School, can understand the temptation of going to the movies with someone of the opposite gender, of sneaking out, I think they can understand dealing with someone they love that is making bad decisions, in this case her brother experimenting with drugs and alcohol (the author doesn’t go into explicit detail).  But, truly one page (page 128) just goes too far for my students.  Had he tried to hold her hand, or kiss her even, I think the message would still come back to her conscience and her repentance, but the implied attempted rape pushes the issue over the line in my view, for my sheltered students.  High School students I think can handle it and I think lends itself well to a discussion on boundaries, respect, and sexual violence.  The AR level of the book is a 5.1 and it is a quick 159 page read.  There is a glossary of terms and phrases in the back and the font and book size make it very approachable and inviting to readers.

SUMMARY:

Safia Dirie is a 14 year-old-girl living in East London with her Mom, two brothers, and in close proximity to her large extended Somali family.  Safia is a good student, very close to her mother and very devout in her Islamic faith.  Like most teenagers she is defining who she is in a world that doesn’t seem to understand her.  Unlike most however, she has the added burden of being a religious and cultural minority.  In addition to handling friends, and temptation, she also learns that her father who has been missing in Somalia for the last 12 years has been found and is coming to live with them in London. The focus through the whole story is Safia and the reader is definitely drawn into her struggles of how to help her brother, who is rebelling, how to be a good daughter, and with her internal debates to drift closer to a less religious cousin who encourages her join in activities that Safia is hesitant to be a part of. Once her father arrives everything she has known is threatened and the issues and struggles intensify.  Despite efforts Safia can’t connect to her father and the changing dynamic of the family tests her in ways that while fiction and extreme, I think many can relate to and sympathize with.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book does a good job of showing how people are not “good” or “bad” and how often mistakes, are just that, mistakes. It also provides hope that people can recover and improve.  The heart of this book is Safia’s and Safia’s heart is pure and has a strong connection to Allah (swt).  She sways and swerves, but never loses sight of who she is at her core, and i think for many young Muslim’s today that is an incredibly strong message.  That mistakes can be made, and Allah (swt) will forgive.  That intentions and repentance are real and valid, irregardless of where you are in life.  From friends Safia wrongs, to a brother who realizes what he is doing is wrong, to a cousin who is passed around without a permanent place to belong, to a mom trying to balance a returned husband, every character is fallible, yet not beyond hope.

FLAGS:

 The attempted sexual violence.  The implied drug abuse and lying of Ahmed, Safia’s brother.  The lying of Safia to her mom and parents about her whereabouts.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The Author’s blog about the book: http://fromsomalia-withlove.blogspot.com/

Where the Streets had a Name By Randa Abdel-Fattah

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This is the second book I have read by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and I still don’t know if I love her as an author, but I did enjoy the content of Where the Streets had a Name, much more so than I did with Does My Head Look Big in This?  The timeliness of this book is also as apparent as ever with the genocide and occupation occurring in Palestine, had I read it years ago I don’t know if it would have had the pull that it had on me, reading in now.  With all the images on social media and the news, this book really does a remarkable job of showing the daily struggles for Palestinians in terms of settlements and check points and just basic day-to-day living that is hard to imagine from anywhere outside of Palestine.  While some may find it slow moving I enjoyed the detail and childlike perspective of the world as seen through the 13 year-old characters in the book.  Despite all the material for it to be a preachy, political, and gruesome, it is not, it is undoubtedly told from a Palestinian Muslim perspective, but the supporting characters come from all backgrounds and focus on the humanity contained with in us all: Muslim, Christian, Jew, and even Israeli.

SYNOPSIS:

Hayaat’s family has been kicked out of their home by Israeli soldiers and are living cramped up in Bethlehem, struggling with no jobs, curfews, and the impending wedding of Hayaat’s sister to a boy on the other side of the checkpoint.  When Hayaat’s beloved, albeit farting, grandama, Sitti Zeynab, falls ill Hayaat believes that she needs to touch her ancestral land to recover.  With a curfew free day, her best friend Samy at her side, and an empty hummus jar, the kids sneak out from school to try and bring back a handful of dirt.  The journey is only a few miles, but with checkpoints, a protest, soldiers and documents, the chances that Hayaat and Samy will retrieve the dirt is minimal, as their priority becomes to make it out safe.  The book is fiction, but from all reviews that I’ve read, it very well could be real, it’s accuracy of the struggles endured and the hope that still remains are not completely fabricated.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that Hayaat is a Muslim Palestinian, Samy is a Christian Palestinian, along their journey they meet kind Israeli’s fighting for Palestine, they meet horrible people and soldier’s too, but it is never a black and white issue.  Zionism is what makes life so painstakingly difficult for Samy and Hayaat and all those around them, all the while tourists are flocking around as if walls and checkpoints are the norm.  The first 50 pages of the book are a mess, I don’t know if it is because it is translated from Arabic or if it is just the author’s style to overload and stuff everything in at the beginning that might possibly be interesting or funny to hook the reader. Either way, it doesn’t work and once you get through those 50 pages and the adventure with Samy and Haayat begins and Sitti Zeynab’s story starts to be woven through and we learn more about how Hayaat’s face was scarred, the story starts getting good.  Similarly the book is about 50 pages too long, after the adventure I was ready for the story to end, but I suppose the wedding of Hayaat’s sister, Jihan, has to take place.  Even though it is critical to see the logistical nightmare of having a West Bank girl marrying an Israeli Arab from Lod, the story gets muddled and loses its flow both at the beginning and end with the details of living in Ramallah and figuring out what roads to take to have the ceremony.  Adults may appreciate it, but with an AR reading level of 4.8, the target audience gains a better appreciation for the struggles of the Palestinians through the main story.  In total with the glossary and acknowledgement the book is 313 pages.

FLAGS:

The book is remarkably clean, there is a slight joke about birth control pills, but Hayaat doesn’t understand it, and her companions on the service (bus) don’t explain it to her, so I doubt the young readers will get it either.  (Hayaat thinks her sister shouldn’t get married if it is making her sick and she can’t understand why every day at the same time her mother makes her take a tiny pill.)

There is some violence, but it is not explicit, it is more emotional when Hayaat’s friend is killed and Hayaat’s face marred.  Similarly she blacks out during the protest, so there isn’t much description

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I do plan to do this as a book club book, I think the students are well aware of the situation and it might be a good place to let them voice their thoughts and emotions.  I may also have a Palestinian sit in on the discussion, to help keep it accurate.

Discussion questions:  www.panmacmillan.com.au/resources/RA-WhereTheStreetsHadAName.pdf

Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/

Muhammad (SAW) By Demi

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This book attempts the enormous task of creating a picture book biography for kids about Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be  Upon Him).  While the text seems adequate and engaging for children with a basic knowledge of RasulAllah’s life, I think it would overwhelm any young non-Muslim reader.  The story starts with Prophet Muhammad’s birth and tells about the major aspects of his life, both as a family man and as a leader.  The text includes ayats from the Qur’an and hadith.  THe information is presented as fact, it doesn’t preface statements by saying, “Muslim’s believe,” making the book a solid, yet dense, book for Muslims of all ages and a good introduction to Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for older non-Muslims as well.

The book has an AR level of 6.7 and is beautifully illustrated.  Some of the illustrations are borderline irreverent, but it is clear that Demi truly respects the Islamic tradition of not depicting Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).   I think it is more jarring because most Islamic books do not depict the angels, buraq, or any of the prophets, where Demi does in her book.  Prophet Muhammad is depicted by a gold silhouette and the proper blessings are bestowed upon him whenever mentioned in the text.

Demi includes a foreword at the begining of her book that explains some of the diction choices and background on the artistic style used, there is also a bibliography at the end of her 42 page story.  The book is ok for independent readers or in small groups to discuss, however for anyone younger than 3rd grade, it is probably just too much information.

Wanting Mor By Rukhsana Khan

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SYNOPSIS:

Jameela has a lot of obstacles as the book opens: poverty, her mother, Mor, has just died, a cleft lip, and an angry  father that returns to drugs and alcohol.  As the book progresses however, things don’t get better in fact they get worse.  In war-torn Afghanistan Jameela and her father move from their small village to the bustling city of Kabul, recently freed from Taliban control. With only her faith in Allah and her memory of Mor, Jameela endures being a virtual slave in one home, before being whisked away for her father’s inappropriate actions with the lady of the house.  Desperate for a place to live, Jameela’s father marries a widow for her money and Jameela becomes a slave to her new stepmother.  When her stepbrother Masood, tries to teach her how to read and write her name, her stepmother convinces Jameela’s father to take her to the busy market place and leave her.  Alone, lost, and with no where to go a kind butcher tries to help her, but ultimately she ends up in an orphanage.  Prospects look up for Jameela as she finally is allowed an education, friends, and security, however, issues with her father and stepmother must be resolved and ultimately this serves to be the biggest test for Jameela.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The story in a nutshell, is heartbreaking, yet Khan never seems to diminish the hope felt for Jameela and the belief that she will find a way to have a full life.  Based on a true story, it is hard to put the book down and the 183 pages fly by quickly.  Jameela is very devout in her prayers, her modesty and her imaan, illuminating  a story where so much sadness prevails. Her faith in Allah swt brings her peace and strength and Khan successfully passes that message on to the reader.  Jameela not only has to navigate her family issues, but also the challenge of making friends, dealing with her appearance, taking control of matters regarding her education, and so much more than most student’s coming of age have to endure.  I think Jameela’s strengths and faults will inspire and serve as lessons to the readers, most likely girls who have it much, much easier.  And who after reading the book, inshaAllah, will appreciate how much harder their lives could be.  

This is the second book I’ve read and blogged about by Rukhsana Khan, the first was a children’s fiction book My Big Red Lollipop.  The two books are both well written and I enjoy her voice as an author, this book however, Wanting Mor, while only an AR Level 3.7, I would reserve for a more mature audience.  The reading is easy and fluid, the story is powerful and well told and I think would be fine in a 7th or 8th grade and up environment.  I would be nervous to recommend this book blindly to a young adult reader without context, direction, and some background.  The incident after a party, with alcohol, where Jameela’s father enters a married woman’s room, implies more than I would want a 3rd or 4th grader inquiring about.  Details aren’t given, but it causes a huge turning point in the story and is thus critical.  At one point a character is groped in the street and Jameela laughs, highly inappropriate that it happens and equally inappropriate that Jameela laughs at her friend.

Another point I would want to discuss with anyone reading the book before hand is the concept that, If you can’t be beautiful, you should at least be good.”  Mor tells it to Jameela, presumably because of her birth defect, but I think that a young girl reading the book shouldn’t take it at face value, I would want to explain the culture, the environment, and talk about such a statement on many levels.

FLAGS:

 Implied sexual violence, drug and alcohol use

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Given the right group of older students, this book would make a decent book club selections with plenty to discuss and plenty of emotion.

The author’s website page:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/books/wantingmor.html

Teacher’s guide:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/teacherguides/Wanting%20Mor%20Teacher’s%20Guide.PDF

Wanting Mor Presentation:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/teacherguides/Wanting%20Mor%20Presentation%20Guide.PDF

 

 

 

Beneath My Mother’s Feet By Amjed Qamar

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I was so surprised by this book, subhanAllah.  I picked it up at a used bookstore and didn’t think much of it, tossed it in my bag one day as I headed out with my children’s class on a field trip and seriously didn’t want the bus ride to end I was so caught up in the book.  An easy 200 page read if you are familiar with Pakistani culture, even more so if you have ties to Karachi (specifically Defense), the detail takes you to the streets and gullies you know and you want to stay and look around.  If you don’t have these reference points, the book might be a bit hard to connect with, but I think the Author still gets her story across if you are willing to try (there is a glossory in the back).  Beneath My Mother’s Feet is a 4.9 reading level, and because of the heavy cultural references I don’t think I would do it as a book club book, but I have already suggested it to certain students that I know will find a connection and appreciate their mothers and their opportunities in America all the more.

SYNOPSIS:

Nazia is a typical fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl in the large and bustling city of Karachi, Her working class family suddenly is thrown into chaos when her father gets injured at his construction job.  As we learn more about her father, Nazia and the reader discover how lazy, selfish, and dishonest he is, despite Nazia’s determination to see the best in him.  While the family has had hard times before, this time something more than Nazia’s mom scraping and sewing to get by is needed.  As a result Nazia is pulled out of school to help her mom be a maid, masi, in wealthy families’ homes.  The family eventually loses their home, and Nazia’s older brother steals all the jewelry and clothing intended for Nazia on her wedding.  Her father disappears and the women of the family are left to find the strength and resources to carry on.  While the cover teases the idea that Nazia is a “perfect daughter” and that she is such a “good girl” I found these to be incredibly misleading statements and pulled quotes.  I think the story, shows how determined Nazia is, but not at a rebellious level, more as a girl finding her self and willing to risk it all for what she believes, a trait very much in line with her mother’s example.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that it shows self resilience and self reliance both from Nazia and her mom, Naseem.  Nazia holds on to her friendships, her dreams, and isn’t afraid of hard work.  She explores what it means to be a good daughter, good sister, good friend, and good worker. She also is emotionally sympathetic and generous to a small servant boy, all wonderful concepts to present to a 4th through 6th grade audience.  I like that although Nazia isn’t terribly religious she does rely on Allah (swt) and her faith to help her endure the various hardships she encounters.  Islam isn’t at the forefront, but clearly she Muslim.  The book is heavily steeped in culture, the concept of a dowry, how masi’s are treated are not Islamic in the least, and unfortunately the author doesn’t articulate that it is only a cultural norm.  While the women tend to be highlighted in different colors throughout the book, the men seem to be brushed over in a very negative light.  On the surface it is nice to see strong women of various socio/economic spheres coming together and making decisions, but to push all the men aside as being worthless, isn’t realistic or fair.  I liked the uncertainty at the end, usually I prefer books that wrap up all loose ends, but here i think it opens the door to imagine what would have happened and discuss it.  

FLAGS:

The book is remarkably clean, There is lying, but consequences are clear.  There is some violence in the mistreatment of the masis, but the author shows Nazia bothered by it and it is discussed.  Nazia and her friends remark at some of the cute cricket players, but nothing is done about it and it seems innocent enough.

 

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

A reading guide by the publisher:  http://www.amjedqamar.com/Reviews.html

A bit about the author and where the story idea came from:     https://www.webjunction.org/content/dam/WebJunction/Documents/ohio/Beneath_My_Mothers_Feet_toolkit.pdf

Amjed Qamar’s official website:  http://www.amjedqamar.com/

Interview with Amjed Qamar from A Year of Reading:  

    http://readingyear.blogspot.com/2008/05/sneak-peek-keep-your-eye-on-this-new.html