When I finished the 27 page Islamic fiction early chapter book, I thought, “It reads like a child wrote it.” And sure enough as I flipped to the bio page I learned that indeed it is written by a secondary school senior. I don’t want to be overly critical as a result of learning this, but as a published book that I paid for, I really wish some would have “corrected the book” and smoothed it out. It has a lot of potential, and a good message, it just slightly misses the mark in details, some awkward tense changes, and crossing the line of what Mustafa does and says when he lashes out. He doesn’t apologize and physically assaults people without consequences other than kids not liking him, and considering its for independent readers seven and up, that is a bit concerning.
Mustafa is a nice boy, except for when he isn’t. Unfortunately he loses his temper a lot and as a result has no friends. Whether it is losing a game, having someone not believe him, or even someone taking a treat he wanted, Mustafa resorts to physical violence and hateful words. No parents or adults seem to ever correct him, so other kids just steer clear of him.
When a teammate won’t pass him the ball in soccer he punches poor Humza and when he goes to throw another punch he gets pushed off and bumps his head. He storms off into the forest feeling alone, but not remorseful when a little red creature pops up and tells him he will be weak until he can control him. Determined to show the creature he is strong he chases after it only to be scooped up by a giant named brother Haneef.
Brother Haneef and his giant friends live in a mud house in Makkah. Shocked at how he got to the desert, he learns from his giant friend to ignore taunting, when another giant says you cannot learn Surah Al-Falaq in an hour. Later when the giants race and Haneef loses, he says Audhu bilallahi min ash-shaitan ar-rajm and to sit down if standing and lay down if sitting as per the Prophet (saw) advice. A giant girl gives Mustafa a strawberry tart and when he reaches to get a chocolate cupcake and someone else takes it, both he and Haneef scream, but Haneef goes and makes wudu reminding Mustafa of another hadith. When Mustafa asks Haneef why he shouldn’t be mean to people that make fun of him or leave him out, Haneef tells him the hadith about how the strong man is the one who controls himself when he is angry. As the giants go off to pray at the Kabaa, Mustafa finds himself at home in his bed with his sister waking him up and asking him where he has been.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the topic and that hadith are used and referenced in the book, as well as other resources. I also do like that it was written by a teen. The pictures in the book are well done for the style and audience of the book, and the six short chapters are appropriate and inviting as well.
Oddly, the tense of the story changes at an awkward place on page 6 and I think it was intentional to go from telling about Mustafa to experiencing his “adventure” with him in the present tense, it just needs to be smoothed out. Similarly, Mustafa is the protagonist, and we know his thoughts, but randomly at one point we know Haneef’s. It isn’t technically wrong, but again, it is awkward as it is a short book, and everything else focuses on Mustafa asking Haneef to know things, not suddenly being in Haneef’s head. I also felt like some resolution with shaytan, the red being, leaving or saying I’ll be back or something to continue his arc and role in the book is needed. The details are hit or miss, vague descriptions about the giants lumps them all together, why they were at the Kabaa seems a bit random as well.
The biggest concern I have is a common one with these type of books, think Ahmed and Layla Deen books. To make the point that he has a problem with his anger, the story goes way overboard. Mustafa is genuinely hurting people, with kicking, punching, pushing, and throwing. He lashes out and tells his little sister to shut up and calls her an idiot, and never once does he apologize even after his time with the giants. Haneef makes the point that we all lose our temper, and need to simmer down, but Haneef also never apologizes for yelling or getting upset. This is not ok, if you are teaching with the Prophetic method then that is a fairly large hole to have in the story.
There are no parents or adults which could make the point that kids won’t play with him stronger, but I feel like it really just means he gets away with a lot, and as a bully, that is not reassuring at all to the other characters in the book. Some immediate consequences would be nice, or delayed guilt, something to make Mustafa not just seem like an awful person. The moral is that he has learned his lesson, but I wasn’t convinced, nor where my 9, 10, and 12 year olds.
Language and violence. Mustafa says, “shut up” and “idiot,” he kicks a girl, throws a kid off a chair, throws a plate at his sister, punches a teammate, and yells at everyone.
TOOLS FOR LEADING A DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t recommend this book as a book club book, or even one to spend library or classroom library shelf space on. It isn’t awful, there are just much better books out there and this one if not discussed might leave kids with the wrong impression.