Category Archives: 1st through 3rd

Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

hassan and aneesa

The latest installment in the Hassan and Aneesa series caught my attention because there just aren’t a lot of books about an Islamic marriage process (it is Desi tinged).  Cultural weddings you often see, but despite the misleading title of them just attending a Nikaah, they actually walk the reader through the steps from wanting to get married, to getting to know someone, praying Salatul-Istikhara,  agreeing on a mahr, signing contracts, and a walima.  The idea and premise is brilliant and greatly needed, the finished product, not so much.  Somehow I had forgotten how tiny in size the books in the series are (6.5×7.5), making it all visually cluttered and the text often hard to see over the illustrations.  And while I love how the concepts and terms are defined, the point of view of having it witnessed and detailed by the brother sister duo is often awkward and wordy.  I wish the author would have ditched the familiar characters, and just written a book about the marriage process for kids.  The vacillating between a fictionalized story, factual requirements, kids witnessing their parents helping their cousin get married, makes for a tangled book that fails to connect to readers seven and up, let alone two and up like the book claims. If you’re kids are asking about how Muslims marry or seem curious about a halal way it can be done, I suppose this book would provide a way to understand some of the key facets in broad strokes, but it needs editing, and more space to show joy and excitement in a book about families and a couple coming together.

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The very first page set the tone for me, the overly dressed girl at a barbecue and the way her name seems to be so formally introduced.  Perhaps it is a difference of culture, but the book never bounced back from the heavy handed tone.  Aisha wants to get married and asks her parents to help her find someone.  They ask her what she is looking for and she tells them.  I like what she includes kindness, love of Allah, funny, etc.  I wish it would have suggested that she had given it a lot of thought before answering though.

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Aneesa and Hassan’s mom and their aunt are discussing Aisha’s want to marry at their painting class and a friend over hears and suggests her son Uthman.  The families agree to have the two meet in a cafe with Aneesa and Hassan’s dad and uncle so that her mahram is nearby.  Uthman and Aisha both enjoy sports and Uthman interacts with a baby at another table impressing Aisha.  They both pray istikhara and decide that the families should all meet.

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It is then time to pick out a dress and hand out invitations, which at least involves Hassan and Aneesa, but the pages are so cringe and awkward from the phrasing, to the structure of the concepts.  The spread is disjointed and you’ll catch yourself shaking your head and making a face every time you read it.

Mehndi is next and I’m not sure why it focuses on Aneesa not sitting still and looking sad when her design is ruined.  It seems like an odd inclusion in what should be a joyous book.  Hassan is entrusted with gift to hold on to by Uthman for Aisha, and the Imam gives a khutbah about marriage.

Contracts are then signed with Aisha her wali, uthman and the imam and each party is asked if they agree.  They have already decided on the mahr and then Hassan hands over the gift.  The walima feast is delicious and the reader is encouraged to go back and find the cat in the illustrations.

As for illustrations I do like that the main females are shown out of hijab at home, and in hijab while out.  At the wedding there are different shades of brown, different loves of covering and not covering, there is a guest in a wheel chair and the couple and their families seem happy.  I found it odd that it says they are in love, since there isn’t a lot of emotion mentioned before the last page and I wish the text on numerous pages wasn’t mixed in with the pictures.

The book concludes with a glossary of terms.

The Maliks Ramadan Mayhem by Zanib Mian

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The Maliks Ramadan Mayhem by Zanib Mian

This 93 page Islam centered, action packed, humor filled book was written as a gift by the fabulous Zanib Mian for her readers. The book was to be free, all you had to do was pay shipping. Well, if you lived outside of the UK, that would make the book pretty expensive, so like any entitled book lover, I started annoying the author, my friend Noura the owner of Crescent Moon Store, and any and all connections I could muster to get the book during Ramadan. I wasn’t trying to get it for free, I just really wanted it in my hands. So, when the author did a second printing for purchasing, and my US stockist was on the list, I was giddy. Then I went out of town to be able to spend Eid with family and the lovely book sat on my neighbors dining table until the blessed month and the festivities of Eid, had come and gone. But guess what, it is ok. This book is fun, no matter what time of year you read it. It is as silly and informative and relatable as all the Omar books, and the characters just as delightful, the mystery just as teasing, and the quirkiness just as charming for readers 7 to 100. Thank you for this gift, thank you dear friend for stocking it at an incredibly affordable price and getting it to me with such speed and love. And dear readers, don’t wait until next Ramadan to get your copy, you and your children will enjoy the book now, repeatedly, and as they get excited for Ramadan next year (and the year after, and the one after that too), inshaAllah.

SYNOPSIS:

Maysa Malik is often misunderstood, and crossing lines at school, with friends, and at madrassah that get her in trouble, even while making others laugh. Her twin brother Musa doesn’t have Maysa’s penchant for getting in trouble, and so their parents are letting him go on the school trip, but not her. Maysa is determined to prove to her parents that she isn’t a class clown and can stay out of trouble. With help from Musa and their neighbor Norman, a cookie tower competition might be just the thing to raise money for charity and get in her parents’ good graces. But, a little lie to avoid teasing has big consequences and destroyed cookie towers mean her plan to go on her residential trip is failing. And no, I’m not going to spoil the plan b the kids come up with, or reveal the snowballing implications of the lie, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the Islamic tidbits are woven in and made a part of the story. It doesn’t pull out to give facts about Ramadan, salat, and charity, it is all part of the story and works well for both Muslims and non Muslims without compromising or watering down important aspects of our faith. I absolutely love that Norman makes wudu before doing anything and everything related to Islam, and is very aware that farting is a wudu popping act.

There is a “moral” about honesty and self confidence, but it doesn’t come off preachy, and as I’ve grown to expect from the author, her voice reads very genuine and true. The lessons from one character to another and from within internal reflection of a character, feels organic and age appropriate.

The only thing that bothered me initially, but perhaps not so much at the end (I’m going to try not to spoil anything here). Is that the one character that speaks “broken” English is painted as being strict, mean, and short tempered. There is redemption for him, but I wish the characters were more aware of their own impressions of Mr Saleh, and that the stereotype wasn’t perpetuated.

FLAGS:

Lying, accusations, some retaliation against a bully, gossip, gambling is mentioned, butt jokes, fart and bathroom mentions. Nothing offensive, but it is funny.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I won’t do this as a book club selection, but I am hoping to read it aloud to 2-4th grade next year before or during Ramadan. It would probably just take a few library sessions and I think the kids will love it.

Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan illustrated by Wastana Haikal

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Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan illustrated by Wastana Haikal

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This early chapter book packs a lot of personality, growth, and fun into 127 pages.  The writing quality is engaging and the characters relatable.  If you have read the Zayd Saleem books you will recognize the family in this new stand alone series.  Either way though, from the surprising Naano to the fun Mamoo, the neighborhood children and the desire to maintain her reign as Queen of the neighborhood, the book may be meant for 7-10 year olds, but based on the kids in my house, anyone that picked it up, read the entire book before putting it back down.  The grandma covers her head, it mentions she reads Quran, there is a Salaam or two, an InshaAllah, and desi cultural foods mentioned.  The focus is not on religion or culture, but the layer adds depth to the characters, and normalizes names and practices in a universal plot.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zara’s neighborhood has a lot of kids in it, and Zara has the reputation of being the leader who rules with grace and fairness.  It is a position she takes very seriously.  When Mr. Chapman moves out and a new family moves in, Zara fears losing her place.  The new girl Naomi has a lot of ideas and everyone seems to like them.  Zara has a grand idea to set a Guinness World Record, but with her little brother Zayd messing her up, nothing is going as planned for the summer.

As she finds her self alone a lot and not having much fun, she decides to change things up.  She works to be less bossy, less controlling, more willing to to share her crown.  With a lot of heart, internal growth, recognizing her strengths and weaknesses, the neighborhood kids just might have a record-breaking summer.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story wasn’t just surface level, it acknowledged some emotions and stresses and introspection, that I was pleasantly surprised to see played out in an early chapter book.  I really just enjoy the family, they read relatable and fun. The Nanoo’s surprise ability to hula hoop and her pettiness over a cooking competition genuinely made me smile.  The neighborhood kids and the politics of the different aged children having to find ways to compromise reminds me a lot of my summers as a kid, and the nostalgia was sweet.  I like the Islamic touchstones, I would have loved if they had to go in at sunset to pray or something of the like, but I was glad that at least that Nanoo reads Quran and an inshaAllah in the text made me feel seen.

FLAGS:

Music, dancing, frustration, jealousy

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book should definitely be on every library and class shelf.  It releases tomorrow on Amazon, but Crescent Moon Store already has it.

My Dad is Always Working by Hafsah Dabiri illustrated by Arwa Salameh

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My Dad is Always Working by Hafsah Dabiri illustrated by Arwa Salameh

This sweet 26 page story addresses a universal feeling with Islamic flavor.  The Black Muslim family in the illustrations is adorable, the sprinkling in of Islamic terms is lovely, and the concept of dad working unseen for the benefit of his child is touching, (I hope a Mom book is forthcoming).  The text size changing for no reason bothered me though, as did some of the wordiness and possible contradictions.  Ultimately the story will resonate with many children and mirror a common feeling that is not often addressed for young children, and I’m glad I have it on my bookshelf.

The book starts with Abdullah waking up for class and noticing his clothes laid out on his bed, and his dad with a dirty shirt rushing off to work.  He misses his dad and muses that his dad is “always working,” As he eats his favorite strawberry and chocolate pancakes.  He then jumps on his bike with his clean cleats and heads off to Sunday class with his friend Khalid.

In class they learn about “JazakhAllah Khair,” and homework is to make a card for a person who deserves our thanks.  When Abdullah’s mom, not dad, picks him up he decides to make a card for his mom who has woken him up, set out his clothes, made him breakfast and picked him up for class.

At dinner however, when he discusses class with his mom and the homework the mualimah has assigned, Abdullah’s mom shares with him all that his dad has done and Abdullah reconsiders why his dad is “always working.”

I don’t quite get why the next night when dad is cooking the food is burned, nor am I sure why it said Arabic school, when it seems it is Islamic school, or why he rode his bike to class but then his mom picks him up.  I do like that in the praising of the dad, the mom is not diminished, but rather both are elevated.  An important book, but as I often say, I just wish it was edited better, or more.   It has a lot of potential, the story idea is great, but the writing isn’t polished and it makes it hard to share repeatedly or with a wider audience because of it.

Purchased at Crescent Moon Store also available on Amazon

Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Tiffany Rose

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Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Tiffany Rose

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I really don’t know what more you could want from a 40 page brightly illustrated picture book for ages 5 and up.  I felt seen, I got a little emotional, I was inspired, I smiled, I felt compassion and empathy, hope and nervousness.  I was reminded of the power of role models, of getting down on a child’s level, literally.  I was reassured that we all make mistakes, learn differently, and can still thrive. Suffice it to say the book is moving.  The OWN voice lyricism will resonate with children of all colors, but that the messaging is from a Black Muslim boy and is so unapologetic and proud and beautiful, makes the emotions Abdul feels palpable.  Every classroom bookshelf needs this book, every child needs to hear it, read it, and explore the layers contained within.  Alhumdulillah.

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The book starts out with absolute joy.  Abdul loves to tell stories.  Writing stories, however, is something else.  The letters are tricky, they get turned around, they aren’t straight and crisp like the one’s the barber cuts.   His pages don’t look like the neat lines of his classmates.

He decides that maybe his stories aren’t for books.  It isn’t like he even sees stories like his in books:  stories about the people and places that he knows.

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Then one day a visitor comes to class, Mr. Muhammad, and he is a writer.  He encourages the children to, “write new stories with new superheroes.”  Abdul tries, but he keeps making mistakes, and then he has to erase, and before long his paper is covered in smudges and holes.

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Mr. Muhammad encourages Abdul to keep trying and fix the messes later, Abdul has an idea, and with a “bismillah,” he gives it another go.  There is no perfection, there is just determination.  The struggles, success, and support of his peers and Mr. Muhammad, just might change Abdul’s mind about his stories.

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I love that the book is Black centered and Muslim centered.  There is praying salat, mention of bean pies, a classmate in hijab, and saying of Bismillah.  I’ve read the book seven or so times and it has yet to get old.  The characters burst with personality, even the side ones, that I’m positive it will be a favorite at story time and bedtime alike.

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Can be purchased at Crescent Moon Store or Amazon

Wiil Waal: A Somali Folktale retold by Kathleen Moriarty illustrated by Amin Amir and Somali translation by Jamal Adam

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Wiil Waal: A Somali Folktale retold by Kathleen Moriarty illustrated by Amin Amir and Somali translation by Jamal Adam

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This bilingual (English and Somali) book tells the folktale of a wise leader challenging the men in his province with a riddle, and it being solved by a poor farmer’s eldest daughter.  Based on a real Sultan from the mid 19th century, the book does not claim the story to be true, and leaves it up to the reader to form their own impression.  The lesson however, is rich with culture, insight, charm, and perhaps surprise.  There is no Islam present or hinted at, but the illustrator’s and translator’s names suggest that they are Muslim as the majority of Somali’s are, and the picture at the back of the book of members of the Somali Book Project show multiple females in hijab- so I’m sharing it on my platform to inshaAllah encourage often rarely seen, in western literature, cultures and traditions to be brought to more peoples’ attention.

The book starts with an author’s note explaining the tradition in East Africa of having a nickname and that Wiil Waal was the naanay of Garad Farah Garad Hirsi, a man who was a sultan for a brief time.  He was known to be a great leader who was brave, and clever, and used riddles to unite people.  Like all folktales though, this doesn’t claim to be a true story, but one filled with wisdom.

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Long ago Wiil Waal set forth a riddle, “bring me part of one of your sheep.  The sheep’s part should symbolize what can divide people or unite them as one.”  The one who can do so will be honored as a wise man.

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The men pick different parts to bring to the sultan with little success:  a rib, a liver, a shoulder of meat.  In a distant province a poor farmer who had few sheep and many children half heartedly prepared to slaughter his finest animal to present to Wiil Waal.  His oldest daughter comes to help him, and he tells her the riddle.  They work through it, and she thinks she is certain she knows the answer.

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Trusting his daughter the farmer presents the sultan with what his daughter recommended.  Quick to see that the farmer is not confident, he asks who solved the riddle and the story of the daughter’s intelligence is conveyed.

The book ends hinting that she is a future leader of Somalia.  And no, I’m not going to tell you the answer.  Go read the book!

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Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Having read the other “princess” retellings by Fawzia Gilani I didn’t rush out to acquire this book, but when a friend said it was available at the public library, I was surprised and admittedly curious.  This book just like the others in the series are very much in my eyes “Islamic fiction” for how centered Islam is for the characters and how it is used to frame the story toward a religious message.  The fact that a small city library in a Southern state purchased and shelves it, is pretty impressive.  As for the story, well it is really long, and wordy, and every page is filled with tiny text filled lines that I doubt most kids will be able to sit through.  The Islamic content is very present, the Uyghur setting appreciated, but wow do the 41 pages pack a lot of text in to a fairytale re-telling. There is a lot of Islam and Quran and at times it fits well, at other times incredibly forced.  The book claims it is for ages 5-8, but truthfully I don’t know that any age would be able to sit through it and be engaged.

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In a tangled forest lives a wife and her husband, a clockmaker and a woodcutter.  Before they married, the wealthy and cold Shuna Leng had hoped to marry the woodcutter, but he never asked, and she never forgot.  As a result seeing her neighbors happy keeps her jealous heart plotting and conniving to bring the couple misery and pain.

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One day, while pregnant, the wife has a strong craving for rapunzel greens.  Some just happen to grow on Shuna Leng’s property.  The husband is nervous to ask, but when his wife falls weak he makes an effort.  She doesn’t answer, so he picks some growing along the path and leaves coin for payment.  This wife regains her strength and then begins craving them again.  He decides to do what he did last time, but is caught.  The evil woman agrees that he can have all the rapunzel greens he wants but if the baby is a girl she shall be given in payment.

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Once born the baby is taken and kept hidden from her parents.  Various governesses are employed over the years to tend to Rapunzel and who teach her Islam and kindness.  Ever so often they have to up and move and abandon their routine when people start asking questions, but the lessons learned from the Quran stay with Rapunzel and she endures what she must.

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Eventually she ends up in a tower, she offers to help a stray boy recite Quran, and the evil plot of keeping her locked up unravels.  Yes SPOILER she is returned to her parents.

It is a decent retelling in theory, it just is really long, and there isn’t quality character building to invest the reader to the side stories being presented.

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The Clever Wife: A Kyrgyz Folktale by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ayesha Gamiet

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The Clever Wife: A Kyrgyz Folktale by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ayesha Gamiet

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It has been nearly 10 years since a new Rukhsana Khan book has been published, and alhumdulillah, she is back with a delightful folktale.  This story starts off like many popular fairy tales, but it doesn’t simply end with a wedding and living happily ever after.  The story is just getting started, once the clever Danyshman and Khan Bolotbek start their lives together.  Over 40 richly illustrated pages brimming with character, culture, and hints of what might happen, the ending will sweep readers aged 5 and up into smiles and giggles and leave them begging to hear the story again and again.

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When the old Khan is on his deathbed, he leaves the future rule to be decided upon by his beloved white falcon.  The bird lands on the shoulder of a young shepherd and the subjects begrudgingly accept him as their leader.  As his kindness and compassion over the years wins the people over, their only concern is that he hasn’t yet taken a wife.

So, many high born maidens gather and try and solve the questions Khan Bolotbek sets before them.  When one poor maiden learns what is happening and accompanies them, they are surprised with her clever answers, and the khan asks her to marry him.

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The khan discusses and consults with Danyshman and they essentially rule together.  There is just one promise the khan asked of his bride, and that is to “not share her wisdom with anyone, but him.”  The story continues, but with a clever wife being held to that promise, it is only a matter of time before her wisdom is shared, and it will take true cleverness for her not to lose everything as a result.

I love the strength of Danyshman, the levelheadedness of both her and the khan in ruling, and in remembering their humble roots.  The story is timeless, and this retelling ensures that more families with be familiar with this tale from Kyrgyzstan.

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One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University by M.O. Yuksel illustrated by Mariam Quraishi

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One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University by M.O. Yuksel illustrated by Mariam Quraishi

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This book is so long overdue, yet at the same time it was worth the wait.  The writing is simply superb: Fatima al Fihri is celebrated, Islam is centered, there are references, and the story compelling.  We, Muslims, as a whole know so little about the beautiful impact fellow Muslims have had on the current world and our way of life, that to see this book being celebrated in public libraries, in Islamic schools, at masjids, and retail bookstores, truly makes you sit up a little straighter, and reach confidently to get this book in your hands to share with those around you.  Thank you Mindy (@moyuksel.author) for these 40 pages of absolute delight, ages 5 and up will read it to learn, read it again to enjoy, and inshaAllah read it repeatedly to be inspired.

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The book begins with a Hadith regarding seeking knowledge and leaving knowledge behind.  It then begins the biography of Fatima as a small girl curious about the world around her starting with the word Iqra, read, from the Qur’an.  It sets the stage of her living in the desert in the early ninth century, a time where some boys went to school and some girls learned at home. Her connection to Islam and it teaching her the value of knowledge caused her wish, to build a school, to grow stronger.

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When war destroys her town her family flees to the busy city of Fez, Morocco.  She begins to accompany her father to the souk and enjoys listening to talk of planets, distant lands and different languages and wishes these scholars could educate everyone. She grows and gets married and her and her family become wealthy merchants.

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Tragically, her father and husband die, and Fatima must decide what to do next for her family.  She decides to help her community as a form of sadaqah jariyah and make her wish a reality.  She sets out to build a school where everyone can live and study for free.  She purchases land, and the building begins.  Fatima oversees each detail and names it the al-Qarawiyyin after her hometown in Tunisia.  It takes two years to build and it still functions today.

The back matter is just as compelling as the story with an Author’s Note, information on The University of Al-Qaryawiyyin, a Glossary, Bibliography, and a Timeline.  The only complaint I have about the book, are the illustrations.  I really don’t understand why half of her hair is showing when based on the time and her connection to her faith, she most likely was a niqabi.  I don’t understand the continuity of the hijab from a young child to adulthood.  I get that it shows her influence moving forward at the end, but it could have been a small print on an outfit for token representation of symbolism, I don’t get it as being a complete outfit her whole life.

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I absolutely love the role of Islam in both Fatima’s life and in this book.  It is so much a part of her and her wish, that every reader will recognize how connected her faith and the creation of the University were and I’m confident both Muslim and non Muslim readers will be in awe of her devotion and accomplishments, inshaAllah.

The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury illustrated by Lavanya Naidu

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The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury illustrated by Lavanya Naidu

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This 40 page picture book for preschoolers and up shows connection to family, memories, and Bangladeshi culture as a little girl explores the quilts made from her Maa and aunts’ worn out saris.  This book has been on my radar for a while and while there is nothing wrong with the slow and thoughtful story, it didn’t sweep me up in a hug and wow me, as I had hoped it would.  The illustrations are as critical as the words in conveying the message, and the illustrations are indeed beautiful, I guess I just needed more.  More connection to the emotion the little girl was feeling recalling the strong women in her life, more impact to the fact that her Nanu is no longer with them, and more understanding about the history of Bangladesh that seems to shape the memories.  I worry that most readers simply won’t get anything other than the surface level of the book, which is ok, the memories woven through generations manifesting in quilts, is tangible and perhaps enough.  I feel like, however, the framing of the story and the textless illustration pages attempted to add more layers to the story, and I think to anyone not Bangladeshi, those layers might not be understood.  I wish their was an afterward with notes about the pictured references, inclusion of such backmatter would really open the book up to a wider audience, and give the book discussion and staying power in my opinion.  If you are Bangladeshi this book will be a treasure I’m sure, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Asiya loves going to her Nanu’s house, there are treasures there.  Her favorite treasure is the katha chest.  An old trunk full of the quilts made from the old worn out saris of her Nanu, Maa, and khalas. She snuggles in their warmth and listens to the stories they tell. Stories of hardship, joy, skills learned, moves made, loss, death, love and family.

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Boro Khala’s looks like Khalu’s medal, from a sad time when he was away.  Mejo Khala bright oranges and yellow like her fingers.  Shejo Khala’s is stiff and neat, she is never messy.  Choto Khala’s has a white streak like the white saris she wears since Khalu died.  Maa’s katha is patchworked and different than the others, and Nanu’s is paper thin and smells of tea, old books, porcelain and wood.

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There is an author’s note and illustrator’s note detailing the construction and value of kathas, but nothing about Bangladeshi wars, wearing white after a husband’s death, or the textile skills and artistry shown.  The book would read well with context or activities about family heirlooms, connections, and traditions.

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