I was really, really excited to get this book in my hands. An early chapter book, about Islam and sports, with diverse characters, that seemed to be the start of a series featuring the “Childhood Champions,” seemed to have the potential to fill a gaping void in Islamic fiction. And while the book shows promise and has a lot going for it, it falls short of what it could be, and perhaps with the ever growing book options, what it should be.
To be clear the Islamic lessons and values are on point as are the pictures, it is the holes in the story, the random text layout inside and the lack of depth that keep this book from reaching its full potential.
Ibrahim normally needs help to get up for school on Mondays, but not on this day. On this day they were promised a surprise at school and Ibrahim can’t wait to see what it is. When the 8-year-old gets to school he and his friends are delighted to meet Hakeem Muhammad a soccer star on the California Spartan’s Team in town to play against the local Harlem Knights. To win one of the five tickets that he is giving away the students have to recite some ayats from Juz Amma and tell why it is important that they study the Quran. Ibrahim goes first, and we don’t know what he recites, but he says that studying Quran makes him feel happy and inspired. Which to me didn’t really meet the criteria of the competition. The next student is also a member of the “Childhood Champions,” but we know nothing about Jannah, other than the one page bio at the beginning of the book. Jannah recites some mystery ayats and says that knowing the meaning helps her with reciting, a bit more of an appropriate answer, but still kind of not fulfilling the question in my opinion.
All five kids in the crew win tickets for them and their families for the game that night. A limo picks them up and they get to meet Hakeem in the locker room. When they arrive he is praying, so they wait, say salam, chat, and then are shown to the VIP box. The game is close, Hakeem scores the winning goal for the Spartans and the kids go home happy. No real problem or solution, the climax is just the game.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that the font was chosen to help kids with dyslexia and the full color internal pictures are a nice plus. I don’t understand how it was determined how much text is on a page, as it is so varied and inconsistent, that it seems like a draft rather than a final copy.
I love that this book is about Muslims and for Muslims, the star athlete prays, and connects with Allah swt, and is proud of it. His praying before the game is not weird to his teammates, which is awesome for kids to see. The conversation after his salat with the kids is also pretty powerful, but the setup is incredibly awkward. Yasin won a ticket for reciting Quran, so why the answer about why he is praying before the game started with explaining that he prays five times a day, seems jarring to the flow of the book and story. I liked the insight about praying and being grateful whether they win or lose, but the catalyst for the exchange was really forced. Loved that Hakeem made sajood when he scored and that Ibrahim was asking Allah for help.
I wish the ayats the kids recited would have been shared. I think the book is for muslim kids, so it would have helped if they really inspired something tangible that the readers could relate to. The book is very bland and it could be much more memorable. I’ve read the book three times, and couldn’t tell you any of the students names. I had to look back to write this review.
I’m not a soccer expert, but I think the winning goal would have been called back for offsides, I’m hoping I’m mistaken. The breaking a world record for loudest fans seemed a stretch, but kids 6-8 probably would be bothered by it or find it out of place. The book says it is for ages 6-12, but I can’t see kids 12 years old getting much out of this 40 page book.
None the book is completely clean.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The book wouldn’t work for a book club selection, but I would probably have it in a school library for kids transitioning to chapter books, and in a classroom for excitement and novelty. There isn’t anything “wrong” with the book, it just needs a good editor and a little more. It really is almost there.