Salim’s Soccer Ball: A Story of Palestinian Resilience by Tala El-fahmawi illustrated by Naveen Abu Saleem

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Salim’s Soccer Ball: A Story of Palestinian Resilience by Tala El-fahmawi illustrated by Naveen Abu Saleem

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This 58 page rhyming picture book weaves together a tale of a little boy and his lost soccer ball, with larger issues of community, oppression, and perspective for the youngest of readers to older children too.  I am noted to be skeptical of rhyming books, but the large font, the sweeping pictures, and the dropping of occupation, struggle, and resilience really make this book a treat. Add in discussion questions and an author’s note and you have a solid book that deserves space on home, library, and classroom shelves.  My only wish, was that the book was hardback.  The horizontal layout with a soft cover make the book difficult to read during story times as the pages flop back.  The book is long, but the text on most spreads is minimal and while I could not identify the author’s religious identity, their are numerous hijab wearing #muslimsintheillustrations as Salim journey’s around his neighborhood and into his grand father’s memories.

Salim wakes up, brushes his teeth, and is out the door to play soccer with his best friend Qusai, but the ball goes flying and Salim can’t find it. He starts walking down the hill and it seems to have disappeared.

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He asks the fisherman, Abu Zaid, if he has seen it, and he hasn’t, but he offers to help.  They then go and ask the seamstress, she hasn’t either, but she puts down her tatreez, offers reassurance, and offers to help.  As they head out they bump in to Dr. Bassam.  “‘I will help you look,’ the kindly man said. “I can fix broken bones with very few supplies.  A lack of resources has made me clever and wise. Resilience and courage are plentiful here. We will find your ball. Salim, no need to fear.'”

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The searching continues, with a small break for khanfeh, and then Qusai is found, and so is the ball.  Like so many joyful items, the barbed wire of the apartheid wall has destroyed the soccer ball. Upset, Abu Omar, calls out to Salim, and his grandpa embraces and consoles the young boy recalling a donkey with wonky ears and life on the farm.  With resilience and joy Salim heads home to a community surprise and a hopeful future inshaAllah.

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The book concludes with five discussion questions that connect Salim’s experience to universal experiences of people everywhere.  It is followed by factual and personal author’s note about Palestine and the book.  

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There is nothing religious aside from the hijabs worn, Dome of the Rock, Masjid al Aqsa, and Church of The Holy Sepulcher in the backgrounds of a few images.  I purchased my copy from Amazon HERE and can also be purchased through Shop Palestine HERE.

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“Granny, Where Does Allah Live?” by Yasmin Kamal illustrated by Citra Lani

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“Granny, Where Does Allah Live?” by Yasmin Kamal illustrated by Citra Lani

 

This 32 page picture book for 3-6 year olds takes readers and listeners on a car ride with Granny as questions are asked, sights are seen, and love is spread.  The rhyme is actually pretty decent, the explanation of Allah swt being on a throne above us wherever we are adhered to, and the illustrations are bright, bold, and have a lot to hold little one’s interest.  Overall, the banter between the kids and their Granny, the drive to the mosque being filled with joy and love, make me overlook a lot of little annoyances.  The book packs a lot in, but the voice and tone is easy and I think most kids will see the connection of asking where Allah is, to asking why we have to go to the mosque, to why it is important to talk to Allah swt in our prayers, etc., as a way to have their own questions touched upon.  I do wish the book was a little bigger and perhaps hardbound, to make story time sharing a possibility, the book is 7.5 x 7.5, so good for little hands and sufficient for in lap reading.  The book concludes with three activities that incorporate a few of Allah’s beautiful names.

The book starts out with a young boy and girl excited to be spending the day with their Granny and going on a ride in her special car.  No idea why it is special, but it is purple and has flowers painted on it, so lets go! The kids love to ask Granny questions when they drive.  So after saying bismillah, they wonder why people don’t have tails or shells on their backs, or where they are going, or if they can have ice creams. 

As they head to the mosque to meet Grandad  they wonder if that is where Allah (swt) lives.  Granny tells them no, so they ask if He lives in the sky, when she says no, they wonder about in the trees or in the sea.  Finally she says that they “don’t have to go anywhere to find Allah, His throne is above us where ever we are.”

She then details how we can be reminded of Allah in things around us, nature, animals, land formations and then tells the children Allah is the most generous friend and it is important to talk to Him in our prayers. The children ask what we can tell Him, and Granny shares that we can tell Him everything and anything because He always hears.

Granny then explains that when we do good, we make Allah swt happy and when we aren’t nice we make him sad.  So then the kids want to know why we have to go to the mosque, Granny replies, to be part of a community.

The book is a string of questions, so it doesn’t come across as overly preachy, even though it is Islamic fiction, and the voice is natural.  It sounds like a conversation a grandma and some kids would have, I’m guessing the book was spawned by some real life experiences.  My kids and my mom definitely have this relationship.

 All this though, isn’t too say the book is perfect.  If  you read my reviews, you know there is always going to be a little nudge to try and elevate it from my perspective for the next go round. So with that in mind, the book does read a little long, the tangents get a little away from the simple articulate answer of stressing where Allah swt is, the text runs over the pictures a few too many times, and the people praying are not foot-to-foot shoulder-to-shoulder.  There are no salutations, saw, or asterisks after Allah. The word Jummah is not used although they are going to the mosque on Friday and a lot of people are gathering in the day, and the word mosque is used, not masjid.

The pictures are fun and will appeal to kids, especially when the car goes all magic school bus and starts flying, and going underwater.  I hope this is the first book in the series as it really does have potential to present answers to kids questions in a joyful colorful way.

Book available on Amazon 

 

A Sense of Gratitude: Exploring the Five Senses by Halimah Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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A Sense of Gratitude: Exploring the Five Senses by Halimah Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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As a story time host for littles, you always need books about the five senses.  Additionally as a story reader at an Islamic school, thanking Allah swt while talking about your senses and the world around us is a staple year after year.  So purchasing this book with large adorable pictures and claims of rhyme was an easy decision to make, and while it will get used, sigh, the rhyme and lacking rhythm is terrible.  There’s also frequent illogical sentence structures and a bizarre tangent- two pages on wafting.  The book is for toddlers through kindergarteners, not kids learning experiment safety protocols.  @muslimkidsbooknook did a wonderful Instagram post regarding rhyme in kid’s books, and this book really would have benefitted from some additional editing and outside eyes reading the book aloud repeatedly.  That being said, the book will still be used and will be enjoyed with real time editing.  A positive about the book, in addition to the illustrations, is Allah (swt) in Arabic script.  But overall, it really could have, and should have been so much better.

The book starts with a note to grown ups reminding them to stress the importance of being grateful and exploring God’s creation.  It starts with what eyes can be used for, stressing the beauty in nature. and moves to the nose, and has the pages on wafting chemicals, enjoying baked goods, and saying please pardon when passing bad smells.

Tongue is next and stresses that sweets are not nutritious, and then assumes that veggies and fruits are unliked by children, but the narrator admits that they enjoy consuming them.  Hands and skin- touch and feel, and also convey love.  As an FYI- the text states and illustrations show kids petting a dog. The final sense of ears and the gift of hearing wraps up the book.

I’m terrible at grammar, really bad, but even I know not to say “colors like purple,” it should be colors “such as” purple, not “smells like Teta’s baked cookies,” but smells “such as” Teta’s baked cookies.  The formatting on a spread seems off as well with “Like slimy frogs” being under a a two line refrain and the rest of the sentence, “and hairy dogs…” being on the next page with another line and a half, it throws you off when reading aloud to keep some rhyme and rhythm going, every. single. time. On some pages the chopping of normal speech structure to make the “rhyme” is difficult to understand, and I don’t think the glossary, nor putting (God) in English was particularly necessary.

My favorite pages are when they tie directly back to ibadah and Islam, hearing the athan, using your hands to make dua and the little rhyme that starts and concludes the book. Truly the concept makes the book important on a shelf and the illustrations make it attractive, the text needs some editing.

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Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

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Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

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I have no idea if the author identifies as Muslim. I saw the 2023 YA book described as a Middle Eastern fantasy, characters with Arabic names,  djinn representation and possibly a hijab wearing protagonist on the cover, so I requested an advanced reader’s copy, squealed with delight when I got approved, and happily fell into the 464 page world of The Sahir and Kingdom of Alqibah.  Their is no Islam in the book, it is not a hijab, but I’m sharing it here, not just to let readers know it isn’t Islamic rep, but to let them know that for the genre it is pretty clean, and the story is an engaging easy read.  At times Imani is whiney and annoying, but she has a developed arc, and the book has a few slow patches, but nothing that lasted long enough to tempt me to give up on it.  I think 14 year olds and up can handle the three brief kisses, the sexual assault that is thwarted, the lusting glances, the killing, the potential addiction, and the commentary on colonizers and oppressors.  It is the first book in a series, so this review is only for this book and not an evaluation of the rest of the books that perhaps are not even written yet.

SYNOPSIS:

In Qalia, the Shields protect their community from monsters with the Spice entrusted to them, misra, that magically empowers affinities in them.  The top Shield, Imani, has an affinity for iron, and with the support of her powerful clan she exists in a world of privilege and opportunity.  When her powerful brother, Atheer, is assumed dead after stealing misra and suffering from magical obsession, the family’s reputation is not as pristine as it once was.  Imani’s younger sister, Amira, is also keeping secrets as she is caught stealing, skipping school, and refusing to follow family orders and country laws.  When the two girls find themselves following Atheer’s horse into the forbidden waste, they learn that their brother might not be dead and that there is more to their world than they ever were allowed to know.  With desperation to learn more about her brother’s location clouding her judgement, the Djinni Slayer, Imani, bonds with Qayn, a djinni who claims to not only know Atheer, but to have been his close friend.  Imani scrambles to know what to do, and seeks out answers and permission from Council, that results in her and three other’s heading off on a rescue mission to the Kingdom of Alqibah.  Everyone’s orders, however, are not the same, and first they must survive the desert, the monsters, and each other if they are to find Atheer.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love  that the world building is not at the expense of character development.  The single linear story line does mean that at times side characters are seemingly forgotten, but the focus of the world through Imani’s eyes allows the gaps to be overlooked as her concerns and priorities take center stage.  I love the emphasis on family, it is sibling love that is motivating the protagonist and closeness to an aunt that allows for privilege and opportunity. The romantic threads and tangents never overshadow the familial importance- it isn’t a forced obligation it is very warm and it is nice to see and feel the truth in the characters approach to family.  I love the Arabic names, foods, and while my electronic version did not have a map, the author has one on her Instagram page that suggests the physical book will have a map.

I love that the book discusses colonizers and oppressors.  It may be fiction and fantasy, but there are some very real themes included in fleshed out way that would allow for a lot of deeper discussion and connections to be made. The book is well polished, I don’t know that it reads like a debut, which is always a good thing I suppose.  At times Imani is really unlikeable, but fortunately it doesn’t last too long, same goes for Amira and her bouts of childishness juxtaposed with her glimpses of maturity. Taha, is noted to be very different depending on the company he keeps, so while frustrating- it seems to be intentional. The only real hiccup I felt in the book was understanding how at times the language differences were such an obstacle and how at other times Imani could read the graffiti and be understood.

FLAGS:

Magic, romance, lust, kisses, flirting, attempted sexual assault, lying, killing, addiction, alcohol, drinking, murder, abuse, physical abuse, bullying, oppression, colonizing.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that I would pick this as a book club read, but I would definitely shelve it in a class, school, or home library.  I think it is a fun read for teens and up and I look forward to the rest of the series.  The book releases in January 2023 and as always presales are the biggest way to show support to authors and titles.  You can find the book here.

 

 

The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim

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The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim

This new YA book features Muslim characters, but is not a religious conscious read that fits in the halal category.  There is a lot of Islam: waking up for fajr, celebrating Eid, a hijabi, mention of jummah, but the OWN voice rom com sets boundaries based on Bangladeshi culture and American perspectives.  The book does not other, or have internalized Islamophobia, or fall in to tropes of oppression and rebelling- quite the contrary- it normalizes everything: LGBTQ+ relationships, dating, music, etc.  The book is well written from a literary perspective: easy read, fleshed out characters, resolved plot lines, I wish there would have been more slow burn and heightened emotion, and cathartic release, but it happily held my attention for 388 pages, so I can’t really complain about plot holes or development.  The problem I have as an Islamic School Librarian is the non issue dating and romance is for the characters with their parents knowledge, both lesbian and heterosexual.  The book doesn’t get graphic, in fact there is only a handful of kisses, but there is a lot of hand holding and pdas in front of parents and even a sleepover with a lesbian couple in a Muslim family’s home, again, nothing “racy” occurs, but the normalization is worth noting for those thinking a Salaam Reads book is going to be a more Islamically centered publication.

SYNOPSIS:

Zahra Khan has graduated high school, and while she’d love to be heading to Columbia to study writing with her best friends, she is stuck deferring her admission and scholarships, and hiding her dream to be an author.  Two years earlier her father has passed away and Zahra works in a tea shop to help keep a roof over the heads of her mother, grandmother, and siblings.  In the Bangladeshi community in Patterson, New Jersey Zahra’s mom imagines arranging a marriage to a wealthy family for Zahra to ease their financial stresses.  When a potential match comes a possible reality, Zahra takes control to try and keep the peace and keep her dreams within reach.  In Jane Austin-y feels, a love triangle emerges, friends step up, culture and family touchstones shared and appreciated, and decisions about the future will have to be figured out at 18 years old.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I loved how easy a read the book is, the cultural framing was warm and rich and never overly explained or apologized for.  It is what it is, it is who the characters are, and while at times they push back on the negatives, it doesn’t disregard the love that exists at the core.  Unfortunately, I really struggled though with the ease in which the characters date with their parents’ knowledge, hold hands, cuddle.  I really couldn’t imagine a practicing Muslim family being so supportive of a lesbian daughter in the way that the Tahir family is and allowing a sleepover, nor could I see a hafiz attending musical concerts and Bollywood movies or an imam passing on “love” notes, even side comments about a loan between mother and daughter being paid back with interest felt off.  I know I know, there are lots of shades of Muslims, but the normalcy of haram I feel in a review of this book should be noted. It isn’t side mentions, they are central to the story and large portions of the book.  The reason I also feel they are worthy of note, is because the book includes a lot of Islam as well.  The characters pray and fast and eat halal.  They are conscious of chaperones in some settings and keeping things appropriate.  There is no doubt that the characters are Muslim, but I think intentionally, to avoid perhaps critiques such as mine, Islam is not used as a reason to do or not do anything, Islam is not used in the thought process or conscience of the characters, culture is.  There is no haram police setting boundaries, it just isn’t what “good Deshi girls do.” To be fair, I don’t think the author has ever claimed that this is a halal love story, or that the characters are exploring their Muslim identities, it is a love story that features Muslims is all.

FLAGS:

Straight and sapphic relationships, secret relationships, kissing, hand holding, hugging, lying, music, loss, bullying, interest.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would not be able to use this book, it would be very damaging to be given to a Muslim child from a Muslim teacher in an Islamic school.  It normalizes a lot of haram in a familiar Islamic framing that I think would really confuse YA readers who see themselves and see no push back or consequences for actions they know to be against Islamic ideology.

House of Yesterday by Deeba Zargarpur

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House of Yesterday by Deeba Zargarpur

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While reading this 320 page YA supernatural/contemporary book-I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  When finished- I was bothered that certain threads weren’t resolved, now that I’ve ruminated a bit- I think the vagueness of the author’s prose in sharing her “fever dream” on paper has lingered and the gaps not as troublesome.  The author’s OWN voice Afghan-Uzbek Muslim identity adds layers to a story that is both haunting in the literal sense and familiar in the immigration inter-generational traumas and secrets shared.  Even deeper though, the book pokes at universal themes of regret, holding on to the past, family, friendships, and grief.   The book’s characters identify as Muslim, but the story is not Islamic, nor is there much religion save a few salams and mentions of Eid.  The supernatural elements in the book, whether you understand it to be ghosts, or personified memories, or jinn, are a large part of the book, but are not framed in a belief or spiritual manner, and while some may find it Islamically off-putting, I felt the book explored what the main character was enduring and what the weight of the past was doing to her, didn’t necessarily cross the haram line.  Her father has a girlfriend he is looking to marry, but it isn’t celebrated, and there are close male/female friendships, but the book is relatively clean for the genre and would be a good fit for high school readers and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Summer on Long Island has Sara retreating into herself.  Surrounded by nearly a dozen aunts and uncles and numerous cousins, it is the separation of her parents and trouble with her best friend that makes getting out of bed every morning a challenge.  As a result, her mother ropes her in to helping with her latest remodeling project.  When she enters an old crumbling house one morning to take “before” pictures, she starts seeing things, and feeling things.  Things about her past.  Things about her beloved grandma, Bibi Jan, who is alive and deteriorating from dementia.  What is the house trying to tell her? Why won’t anyone tell the truth?

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the mystery and the chills of the story.  As the reader you aren’t entirely sure where the story is headed, what you are to do with the bits of the puzzle you are given, but the intrigue to find out pulls you forward.  That being said, the book does reads debut, a few of the side story lines are not fleshed out enough to feel important, satisfying, or resolved and they come across as being abandoned.  I would have liked to see more of Sara and her father’s relationship, the details don’t seem to fit, and the continuity seems halfhearted.  At times so does the “night” it all changed with Sam.  I like the interpretive vagueness of the supernatural threads and that they are up for interpretation amongst readers not just at the end, but throughout the book.  I also like the family’s closeness even when they are disagreeing. For most of the book Sara and her cousins aren’t portrayed as particularly close and I didn’t invest time to differentiate one from another, but by the end, I felt that they were grounded and different and relatable, and I am not sure when that change occurred.  At times the writing seemed a bit repetitive, but the lyrical style would then catapult the story ahead.  There was one place that the fourth wall was broken though, and I was bothered by that slip.

Overall I loved that the Uzben Afghan culture sprinkles showed immigrant nuances, and that the love between the generations countered the trauma being shared as well.  The messaging is subtle but powerful long after the last page has been read.

FLAGS:

For the most part the book stays clean, the father has moved on and has met someone he would like to marry, the mom and aunts briefly recall sneaking out to attend a prom decades earlier.  There is mention of a child bride, and swimsuits, tank tops, and cocktail dresses being worn with no second thought.  For a YA book, the flags are incredibly minimal, save the “ghosts”(?). There are flags of a death that is detailed, the book is “spooky” at times, there is mental health, divorce, pain, dementia, abandonment, theft, running away, and fear.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to read this book with some high schoolers.  It is a quick read that would allow for a lot of self reflection, arguments, and entertainment.  The book is available here and releases in a few days, so if planning to purchase, please consider preordering and showing your support.

Iman’s Sunnah Adventures: Mama Once Told Me by Sharifah Huseinah Madihid illustrated by Lakhaula S. Aulia

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Iman’s Sunnah Adventures: Mama Once Told Me by Sharifah Huseinah Madihid illustrated by Lakhaula S. Aulia

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This adorable 36 page board book had me laughing as a mom watching the increasing exasperation and dishevelment of the poor mother in the book page after page.  The book focuses on the sunnahs of welcoming guests, but the interpretations are the efforts and understandings of a small child being overly helpful, and the toll it takes on his parents.  The humor, the presentation, the introduction to various sunnahs is well done for little ones and their caregivers alike.  The book has not released yet, I viewed an e-version and I’m assuming the final spread is a lift the flap review of sunnahs.  Nothing is sourced, and salutations on Prophet Muhammad ﷺ are denoted by an asterisk throughout the book with a footnote at the end.  There are two books in the series and both share sunnahs, humor, and the main character Iman.

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The book starts with Iman feeling bored as his parents prepare for the arrival of guests.  Iman then remembers something Mama once told me (him), “That the Prophet* said cleanliness is half of eeman…” and with that the little one is off to help clean. Bubbles and more mess later, Iman is proud of himself and his parents are shocked and the bigger mess that greets them.

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Up next is recalling that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ “would make a special seat to honor his guests” and Iman decides that glitter will be a great way to fulfill that sunnah.  When Iman is sent to get himself ready, more fulfillment occurs until Mama is exhausted and Iman finds a way to fulfill the sunnah of making his parents happy.

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The book might be a little above level of a toddler, but I think the silliness makes it a great introduction to sunnahs and will be a joy to read over and over again.

For more information about availability you can check the publisher’s website

My Garden Over Gaza by Sarah Musa illustrated by Saffia Bazlamit

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My Garden Over Gaza by Sarah Musa illustrated by Saffia Bazlamit

This book is hard to read, it hurts the heart, it doesn’t let you claim ignorance regarding the plight of Palestinians, and it shows cruelty,  a specific inexcusable cruelty, in a children’s book that will haunt you and infuriate you for weeks and months, if not indefinitely.  I’ve read a number of Palestine set books, but this one, in its simplicity, leaves me raw.  A child with a rooftop garden that helps feed her family is deliberately targeted by Israeli drones and destroyed.  This isn’t science fiction or dystopian, this is based on real acts.  The book itself threads in themes of hope, of not giving up, of remembering strength of a lost parent, of vowing to move forwards, but the catalyst for it all is not happenstance, and while the details of the occupation and oppression are not stressed and articulated, they are referenced and skillfully present to be discussed with children on their level with the included backmatter at the end.  This book is powerful and should be required reading. It is a difficult read and it has flags, but it is also a glimpse of the reality of our world, and the manner in which this book is told allows for the discussion to taken place with middle grade readers and up. The book is not text heavy, but the nature of the content makes me suggest it for mature children.

Noura, a young girl, is in her home in Gaza when drones are seen just out the window and she quickly pulls her little brother Esam away to safety.  To distract him she tells him about their father and his farm that he used to have in Umm An-Naser.  She explains how the wall cut them off from their land and when the drone noises fade, she takes him up to her rooftop garden to pick green beans.  Their mama works downstairs as a seamstress, and while they wish they had meat, the garden helps them have fresh vegetables.

The next day after Noura gets her little brother ready for the day they head to the roof, but drones arrive and start spraying chemicals on the growing plants, killing them, and sending Noura gasping to breathe.  She tries to cover the plants and swing a shovel at the drone, but it does little to save any of the food and Noura is devastated.

Noura’s mama reassures her daughter that the food can be regrown, but she is irreplaceable, as Noura goes to scrub the chemicals from her skin.  The frustration is real, but determination prevails as the family cleans the garden and begins again, just as their father did.

The last two page spread of the book is a basic map, general touchstones of the situation in Palestine, and the very real drones that fly in to Gaza to surveil, attack, and spray herbicides on crops. You can purchase a copy on the publisher’s website or HERE at Crescent Moon Store.

A Second Look by Hannah Matus

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A Second Look by Hannah Matus

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Ok, so y’all, don’t be like me, don’t judge this book by it’s cover, its inside font and spacing, or even the blurb on the back.  Judge it based on this sentence: A modern ISLAMIC Libyan cultural retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, that is done so, so well.  It is seriously so well written and so effortlessly adapted that for those that know the original by heart you will giggle and be giddy with anticipation of how the characters and plot points are turned Islamic.  And those that have never read or watched the original or any of the many adaptations, will be sucked in and swept away by the story at hand.  Oh sure it needs a few tweaks here and there, but truly this hidden gem sat untouched on my shelf with it’s unattractive cover for way too long.  Alhumdulillah for @bintyounus giving the book a start and squealing with glee until the entire @muslimbookreviewer crew dropped everything and read the book.  Not that it was hard, once started, this book stayed glued to me as I tried to sneak minutes at dismissal, at work, while cooking, and talking on the phone to stay in the world so masterfully created.  The book is  halal, but the characters for the most part are in their twenties and I think I wouldn’t object to older teens reading it, but it is an Adult or New Adult book, in both characters’ ages and readers’ interest and appeal.

SYNOPSIS:

The five sisters in the BenTaleb family are all unmarried, balancing life, school, jobs, and daily stresses as varied Muslim Libyan young women in America. With so many girls, the parents of Jana, Elizza, Maryam, Leedya, and Kawthar are known in the small Midwest community as Abu l’Banaat and Umm l’Banaat.  When two young businessmen from Libya come in to town to teach at the local university, the eligible bachelor’s are sough after and all the drama, angst, longing, and courtship comes to fruition. Throw in a distant cousin who is an imam, a scandal with a younger sister, social media updates, and cultural expectations, and you have yourself a book full of laughs, tears, cheering, and joy.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love how seamless the retelling is, the pop culture references, and how relatable and rich the writing is.  I was blown away by the beautiful strong Islam present that somehow never comes across as preachy, but is so thoughtfully present in presenting ideology, cultural pushback, western conflict, that Muslims and non Muslims will enjoy the story.  I’m fairly certain every Muslim Jane Austen fan has thought how similar books written so long ago mirror the courting etiquette of Muslims, and this book delivers all of those hopes and imaginings: the names of the characters, the opposing perspectives of the sisters- I really can’t stop gushing, and haven’t since I finished the 200 page book.  There is so much Islam, swoon, and it is presented so well.

FLAGS:

As an Adult book it is clean, even as a New Adult book it is clean.  I hesitate to call it Young Adult because it is about marriage, and there is a scandal with a sister, and mention of wedding nights, and STDS and lingerie, nothing is explicit, but for as halal as it all is and how practicing the character’s all are, these few mentions elevate the story from suitable for a 13 year old, to being ok for older teens.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think everyone should read it and come gush with me.  You can purchase the book here.

Basking in My Brown by Fatima Faisal illustrated by Anain Shaikh

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Basking in My Brown by Fatima Faisal illustrated by Anain Shaikh

This picture book celebrating brown skin, particularly in girls, and specifically from a Desi culture point of view, takes on the notion of dark brown skin not being as ideal as compared to lighter skin.  If this is not a concept you are familiar with, I don’t think that the book will hit home, but as someone who has heard this refrain of staying out of the sun to not get darker since childhood, aimed at my friends and cousins (I turn red and burn in the sun), I do appreciate this owning and pushing back on a ridiculous colorist mindset. I don’t love the “magic” diction choice, and there is nothing Islamic in the book, save some covered heads that could be religiously inspired, or culturally, or even weather related, and I’m not sure if the author or illustrator identify as Muslim, but I’m sharing anyway because I know young Pakistani girls particularly, hear this colonial mindset messaging still, and I support undermining it.  This book is not about systemic oppression and racism and taking up space, this book is internal cultural acknowledgement of a pointless beauty notion.

A young girl begins the book telling of things she loves: trips to Pakistan to fly kites with her Dada, her mother’s dinner parties, swimming, climbing trees, but most of all she loves basking in the sun.  One day while playing with her friend Zoya in the warm sun, Zoya abruptly says she should go in before she gets too dark.  The protagonist counters that she loves all the shades her beautiful brown turns and equates it to magic.

She holds out her hand to show her magical brown skin shimmering, and connects the beautiful brown to the brown clay pot her Nani used to carry water in, the brown shawl her mother wore when coming to a new home, the brown of the henna her sister puts on, etc..  She says her brown skin has its own story of being proud, brave, courageous, soft, sweet, and fearless.

Zoya decides she likes the magic and decides to stay and bask in the sun. The author on the final spread raches out to brown girls to own, embrace, and celebrate their brown skin.