The soft illustrations on 32 pages, surrounded by ample, large, well -paced text for second graders and up give life to a sweet story about a young boy, his grandfather, and the passing on of a Ramadan heirloom. While not a chapter book, and a little too long for little ones to enjoy as a simple picture book, the book may not beg children to pick it up and read it, but if they do, they will enjoy a sweet story that parents won’t mind reading more than once.
Yusuf’s grandparents have just returned from their trip to Egypt and Yusuf is excited to see them, and receive the electronic fanooz he asked them to bring back. But when Grandpa takes Yusuf outside to give him the gift, it isn’t the modern light up lantern he asked for, it is an old rusty, cracked metal fanooz. Grandpa explains that the old fanooz used to be his when he was a young boy and begins his story of himself going out with his father to wake their neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan. The subtle details of how he would be woken up, how his dad would beat the drum and the song they would sing as they would walk around, keeps the story slow and engulfing. He then tells about returning and eating dates soaked in milk, and bread and fava beans before the white thread of light appeared.
Slowly the little boy, seeing how happy his grandfather is in his reminiscing, realizes that the fanooz he has been entrusted with is far better than the electronic one he asked for. As he walks his grandfather out the door, he is surprised with the gift he originally wanted, the fancy new fanooz. Not excited, his grandfather asks Yusuf what is wrong, and Yusuf, realizes that he likes the history filled one better.
The old fanooz finds a permanent place in Yusuf’s room, and he and his father fix the broken glass and polish up the metal to be regularly lit on Ramadan mornings and remind them all of grandfather as a little boy walking and waking people up before dawn.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the subtlety and detail. There are now so many books about the tradition of waking the neighbors up for suhoor, but this one focuses on the bonding of the grandfather and his father as well as the bond between the grandfather and Yusuf. The story speaks of the tradition with the drum, yet somehow it is the lantern that ties it all together.
There is sufficient referencing about Ramadan and fasting to appeal to Muslim kids and inform non Muslims a bit. The book is not preachy, it is cultural and religious in a narrative story sort of way.
My only main complaint is that I don’t know who the target audience is with the long pages of text, and full page pictures. It is a hard book to place. The illustrations are sweet and compliment the story, but in the pictures, Yusuf just seems too young. His ability to appreciate his grandfather’s old lantern verses the electronic fanooz he asked for implies a bit older child. In the pictures he looks like he is three or four years old, a disconnect that often distracted me from the story. I also wish they would have used an Arabic word or title for the grandfather.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
It is obviously too short and not the correct format for a book club, but I am hoping to share it at story time. It will be a bit of a challenge for little children to sit through, but I’m thinking it is worth the effort, inshaAllah, bismillah…