This middle grades AR 4.5 OWN voice book by Muslim author/comedian/surgeon/activists Bassem Youssef mixes text, comic strips, and illustrations over 166 pages to tell a story about ancient Egypt, friendship, leadership, xenophobia, and life sprinkled with magic. It has a lot of potential, and I liked the lessons that Egyptian-American Nadia learns, but it just seemed lacking to me. It seems to be book one in a series, and in many ways it reads like an introduction. The magical element is underdeveloped to me and often just annoying. The micro aggressions, racism, and character’s ages would suggest upper middle grader readers would gravitate toward the book, but the overall writing style and length would more appeal to younger readers. This disconnect makes the book hard to pin down and hard to connect with. I’ll definitely check out future books in the series even though no religion is mentioned, because this brown girl has a lot of potential to break down Arab-American stereotypes and empower readers to be proud of where they and their families are from as universal obstacles are worked through.
Nadia has just come back from a summer vacation visiting family and friends in Egypt and can’t wait to get ice cream with her best friend Adam. She picked up an Egyptian comic book for him and is anxious to see if he likes it. Except the comic book seems to have disappeared and when she asks her many bobble heads to help her find it, her necklace with a hippo amulet starts to glow and an ancient Egyptian teacher, Titi, starts talking to her from the now found comic book pages. As Nadia figures out how to control this ancient man who lives around her neck and in papers around her, she also has to deal with a new kid that acts like a bully and has the admiration of her best friend Adam. Nadia loves facts and her and her friends call themselves the Nerd Patrol. Nadia can be a bit bossy though, and while usually her friends let it go, she seems to be stepping on toes lately, especially with Adam. When a competition at school is announced that will result in an exhibit at the Museum of American History, Nadia will have to use her “genie” to get help coming up with ideas for her display, coping with a bully, restoring friendships, and learning how to be a leader before her friendships fall apart.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that Nadia is so proud of her culture and doesn’t feel like she has to pick one of her hyphens over another. She brings Egyptian food for lunch, wears Egyptian inspired clothing, and is still very “American” as well. Ancient Egyptian tidbits as well as modern day Egyptian information seeps through and weaves into the story smoothly. The diverse side characters are also a plus. I think her trying to handle the bully in multiple ways makes the story resonate with other kids and gives readers something to ponder over. I worry that most readers, however, won’t know who Elvis Presley is, or get if Titi is really helping or not and how it all comes together for him. I am curious to see if he is a major character in future books, because I still have a lot of questions about his knowledge and understanding of the world after being trapped in an amulet for so long. Really, she could have learned so much from him, she just scratched the surface.
There is teasing and bullying and racism, subtle and overt.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
This book is too short and superficial for a middle school book club selection, but it could be a fun read aloud in a 3rd or 4th grade class.