Category Archives: 2nd through 4th grade

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.

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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Ali and the Gladiators by Farheen Khan illustrated by Evgeniya Erokhina (Ali Series Book #1)

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Ali and the Gladiators by Farheen Khan illustrated by Evgeniya Erokhina (Ali Series Book #1)

This new early chapter book series from Ruqaya’s Bookshelf comes as a boxed set (Books 1-5), so I wasn’t sure if I should review all of them as a collection, or just the first book.  I don’t typically review additional books in a series, but these books can be read out of order and stand alone just fine.  Ultimately, I’m just going to review the first book, but know the entire series is silly, clean and engaging for ages 7 and up (2nd grade will love these), they will connect with boys, girls, Muslims, non Muslims, and get readers of all ages smiling, if not laughing, at Ali’s outrageous adventures and choices.  Ali is presumably Muslim, the author is Muslim, the publisher is Muslim, but there is nothing religious at all in the text.  Even the one about Eid is very culture framed, not “I’m Muslim and this is what we do and why,” so to speak.  In Ali and the Gladiator there is a friend named Abdullah, his parents are referred to as Mama and Baba, they eat at Moe’s Shawarma Shop, and eat daal and roti at home, so there are hints of culture and religion that will further mirror a Muslim reader’s experience, but the focus is on the hilarious situations that Ali finds himself getting in to and out of with good friends, kindness, enthusiasm, and bravery.  All the books are about 60 pages long with short chapters, detailed pencil style drawings every few pages, inviting text, and an activity at the end.

TODAY (3/25/22) IS THE LAST DAY TO PREORDER AT THE SPECIAL PRICE, and THE BEAUTIFUL BOXED COLLECTION RELEASES APRIL 1st, JUST IN TIME FOR RAMADAN!

SYNOPSIS:

Ali really wants to impress his teacher, Mr. O’Reilly and a big project on Rome will be a great opportunity to do so, but he isn’t anxious to get started.  He has his April Party to prepare for, his friends to hang out with, and plus he knows he works best under pressure.  When he finally realizes he should get started, all the books on Rome are checked out, save a small book on the floor, yes Ali is on the floor in the library.  The book is about how to become a gladiator and that gives Ali an idea.  As his imagination works out the details he is off to his favorite store, the hardware store.  He has weapons to make and actors to train, and beasts to tame.  The assignment is supposed to be written, but Ali is extra and he does not want to be boring.  When he raises his hand to go first in the presentation, Mr. O’Reilly is confused, no one is presenting, they are just handing in their reports, but when gladiators and a “ferocious” cat enter the room, it is clear that Ali has his own way of doing most everything.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is fun and well written.  The characters grow and the writing and descriptions smooth, the illustrations add detail and the books are perfectly silly for their intended audience.  So many books for this demographic resort to brattiness or potty humor, and I love that these are outrageous shenanigans, but they don’t cross into being obnoxious

I do wish there was more Islam in the books, or really any.  It doesn’t need to be Islam centered of preachy, but to add a bit of depth to the characters and flesh out their backgrounds would have been nice.  The desi foods are included, why not mention halal or toss in some inshaAllahs or that Ali gets to work on his weapons after fajr.

I absolutely love the presentation of all five books in a hard glossy case.  They look lovely on a shelf and would make wonderful gifts for Eid, or any time really.

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FLAGS:

none

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I hope to have these in our school library, and encourage the 2nd and 3rd grade teacher to look in to having them on their classroom shelves.  Kids will be tempted to pick them up off the shelf, they will thumb through them and be drawn in, inshaAllah once they read one, they will read the whole series, and if that isn’t praise for a book series, I don’t know what is. Happy Reading!

My World of Hamd: A Reflective Book on Gratitude by Lateefah Binuyo

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My World of Hamd: A Reflective Book on Gratitude by Lateefah Binuyo

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This thick hardback 46 page book is a great next step after teaching your kids to say “Alhamdulillah” to helping them to understand what it truly means.  Meant for second graders and up, this book is text heavy and encourages deeper thought, reflection, and practice.  It is not a quick read, and some children may struggle to sit through the entire book, but any time spent, I think, will be incredibly beneficial as it strives to move from the habit of just saying “Alhamdulillah” to being intentional in our appreciation and gratitude.  The thick inside pages, warm large illustrations, and colorful reflections are well done and enjoyable.  I only wish the cover better conveyed the content within.

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The book begins with ayat 18 from Surah Nahl stating: “If you tried to count Allah’s blessings, you would never be able to number them.  Indeed, Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful. With the tone set, the fictionalized story begins with Ibraheem and his mum having breakfast.

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Ibraheem is a curious boy that is only ever quiet when he is sleeping or eating.  When his mum reminds him to say Alhamdulillah after he finishes eating, he gets to wondering, “What does Alhamdulillah mean?”

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Mum explains that the hamd in Alhamdulillah means praise and gratitude, and it is for Allah swt alone.  Ibraheem then wants to know how can he feel “hamd all the time?”  He and his mum discuss that hamd has to be felt within the heart, and it isn’t just saying it after a meal, but appreciation that you have food to eat.  Appreciation when you wake up in the morning, because many do not, etc.  The two discuss small and large aspects in a day that provide opportunities to truly appreciate the gifts of Allah swt.

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The book covers topics such as: sneezing and appreciating your muscles, getting dressed and recognizing the blessing of clothing, awards at school, losing your backpack, happy times and sad times too.  Along the way mum passes on information about how when we are grateful Allah swt gives us more, about how even in sad times we have so much to learn about patience and asking Allah for help, that we can fill our days with hamd.

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The book touches on never feeling sad in Jannah, Allah’s name Al-Hameed, and explaining how we have to still thank people and show appreciation to them because Allah sends his blessings through people as well.

The book concludes with teaching duas about hamd one word at a time, a glossary, and tips for using the book.  There are a lot of hadith and ayats explained on a child’s level and overall really answers and provides insights about saying Alhamdulillah and feeling Hamd.

Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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This delightful 70 page early chapter book is filled with humor, Islam, and a sweet story that ties it all together.  The book definitely has a teaching agenda, but it carries it with hilarious banter and relatable examples, all while covering a topic not often discussed in children’s books: money.  The book has a few grammar, vocabulary, and consistency concerns, but they are easy to overlook for readers 2nd grade and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Twins Zayd and Musa are very, very different.  Both boys enjoy cricket, but Zayd is more focused and enjoys homework, whereas Musa tends to daydream and often says something funny, but unintentionally.  When Musa makes the case in Science class that food, water, shelter, and money are all needed to survive, the class finds him hysterical.

Musa knows not to argue, his teacher is his elder and he knows he should have taqwa and be respectful, but he doesn’t give up on his idea either.  When the boys’ mom talks about halal money and gives them Islamic references for how money should be handled, Musa has a great idea: kids should be paid to go to school.

Once again, the whole school finds him funny, but Saeed Uncle, a neighbor who helps feed the poor at a roadside stand, doesn’t dismiss Musa’s idea and tells him, in some places kids are paid. And offers to take him and show him.

With references to sahabas who had great wealth and examples of how wealth can be used for good, Musa and Zayd learn numerous lessons, and share them with those around them, in a fun, engaging manner.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I get that the book is preachy, but in my mind, it is a story built around a teaching concept, so it doesn’t bother me.  I love the jokes and the tone.  At times the book is written quite formally, but being the author lives in Karachi, Pakistan, I assume that part of it, is just different standards.  I appreciate the Quran Circle table that lists where the Quran mentions wealth and the glossary.  I didn’t quite get all of the random facts included throughout, as some were about money, others about school, but I think kids will enjoy them none-the-less.  The illustrations are enjoyable, the text bubbles often hilarious (once again, a few I didn’t get).

I liked that it mentioned not drawing faces, and not going somewhere alone with someone you aren’t close with.  It is said in passing, but I love that those little nuggets exist in a book that is about something more, but normalizes and takes advantage of the opportunity to remind children of basic safety and Islamic concepts.

There are some awkward tense changes, and a few gaps in the story, but overall, I really enjoyed it and need to find the first one in the series.

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS TO LEAD THE DISCUSSION:
This would be a great book to use in a middle grades Islam class as a starting point to having students research the Quran and Sunnah to find information on a topic.  The humor will keep kids engaged, and the concept is an important one.  I plan to make all my kids read it, so that we can discuss as a family, and benefit from the lessons presented.

Nour’s Secret Library by Wafa’ Tarnowska illustrated by Vali Mintzi

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Nour’s Secret Library by Wafa’ Tarnowska illustrated by Vali Mintzi

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Set in Daraya, and based on a real events in Syria, as well as the author’s own life in Lebanon, this 32 page elementary and up story does an amazing job of showing relatable childhood adventures and ingenuity shining through even in the most horrific of environments.  The book is inspiring and warm, but the backdrop of war is very much present.  Some young children may be bothered by the images and text, while others will benefit from understanding the humanity that is affected by such violence.  I know the book says the pages are not final, but I wanted to put it out to help drum up interest.  I feel this story would best work in intimate settings where discussion, compassion, and gratitude can all intuitively transpire.

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Nour’s best friend is her cousin Amir, they love to read and imagine adventure and secret societies.  As their dream to create a secret club, complete with a secret password and handshake, for them and their friends starts to come to fruition, war arrives first. 

Families are forced to seek shelter away from the bullets at night in their basements, and only are allowed to venture out when absolutely necessary.  Every time Amir goes out, he collects any books he finds, and encourages his friends to do the same.  

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They begin sorting the books, and trying to decide what to do with them, when Nour has an idea to create a secret library.  Everyone pitches in when an empty, half destroyed basement is located, and the books are moved and set up on discarded planks of wood.  A boy next door is entrusted with the secret handshake and becomes the deputy librarian.

As word spreads, everyone from boys and girls to soldiers and rescuers, collect books to stock the shelves and checkout books to keep their minds busy.  The library, named Fajr, is open every day from morning to evening and closed during Jummah.  It becomes the city’s best kept secret and a source of hope for the community.

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There are references at the back that tell about the true story of the Secret Library in Syria, the author’s memories of hiding in the basement in Lebanon, a glossary of terms, information about Syria, the illustrator’s research, information about the war, and famous libraries in the Middle East.

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Be Patient, Abdul by Dolores Sandoval

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Be Patient, Abdul by Dolores Sandoval

I share this book from 1996 to show how far we have come in telling our own stories with accuracy and emotion, as well as to celebrate those that featured Muslims in a positive, unapologetic light when there wasn’t a standard yet established. It is easy to harp on the negative, but truly the only way forward is demanding better of ourselves and of our representation. The book is disjointed-pulling in random details to focus on, and is very text heavy, slow, and dry. It does feature a Muslim family, though, and shows both Abdul (albeit in his underclothes) and his father praying salat. The text even mentions thanking Allah (swt). I honestly have been searching for past Islamic representation or mention in mainstream juvenile fiction, it fascinates me to see where the seeds first were planted: Sport by Louise Fitzhugh (1980) has a one line mention of a character being Muslim, Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird (1991), Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye (1997), Ruhksana Khan’s The Roses in My Carpets by a Muslim about Muslims(1998), The Hundredth Name (1995) by Shulamith Oppenheim.

Abdul is a seven-year-old little boy in Freetown, Sierre Leone. He sells oranges so that he can pay for school. School is not free, and selling oranges requires a lot of patience to save up enough to return to the classroom. One day he returns having not sold any, and his grandmother reminds him to be patient and to try a new market. His mother tells him to take his little sister Maryama with him. She is five and slows him down.

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In the evening Abdul’s father prays in their yard and then tells them about an upcoming parade to celebrate the anniversary of their country’s independence. Abdul’s mom will be in the parade. After more days of low and no sales, Abdul worries that school is a faraway dream. Maryama however, sells some oranges for him and he dares to hope he can sell a lot at the stadium and during the parade.

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Momma is marching in the parade, the family watches her. Abdul gets tired of waiting for her afterward and walks him. His dad has a good day of driving his taxi for people trying to get to the stadium and home from it. At the end of the day, they count up their money and there is enough for Abdul to return to school.

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The final page shows Abdul praying and thanking Allah for the oranges to sell, the taxi passengers and for patience. I have no idea why he is wearing an undershirt and underwear while he prayers, clearly his awrah is not covered, nor does it radiate reverence.

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The point of the book is to humanize another culture and perhaps make western children appreciative of their life, the ability to attend school, and not having to work from such a young age. The book I checked out from the library, doesn’t show that anyone in 1997 until today, or at least whenever the library switched from the stamped dates to electronic ones, ever checked out the book. And while yes it offers very little to the catalogue of memorable books of our time, it does show the early indications of our presence in literature.

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Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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I absolutely love how smart this book is, and how it allows for elementary aged readers to feel that “aha moment” when they read it, get it, and realize that they need to remember the lessons because it could happen to them.  The illustrations are an added bonus and are perfectly aligned with the tone and text of the story.  My only issue, is the title.  Pitches reads as a euphemism for another word and since the book involves girl drama, teasing, and misunderstandings, it really is hard to not have that thought zap your brain when you see the title.  Perhaps if the “and Other Problems” would have used a bigger font on the word “Problems” the alliteration would have been more obvious, and hidden the word “Pitches” a bit.  If I’m alone in this, I apologize to the author and publisher, (I’ve mentioned my concern to them), but for others that saw the word and questioned the content, rest assured it is about baseball and the book doesn’t have even a speck of questionable content.

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Amira is at a new school, and luckily it is Tuesday, Pizza Tuesday to be exact, and she can’t wait to dive into a cheesy slice.  Unfortunately, Olivia takes the last cheese piece and when Amira asks if she will let her have it, Olivia says she had it first.  Stuck with an egg salad sandwich that smells, Amira sits alone and broods.

In gym they are playing baseball, but no one knows how good Amira is, and she is picked last.  When Amira is up to bat, Olivia is the pitcher and her pitches are terrible.  Amira still mad about lunch and afraid that the others will blame her for not hitting the unhitable balls, shouts, “you’re supposed to aim at my bat.”  Everyone laughs, but Olivia runs off clearly upset.  The new pitcher sends a decent throw and Amira hits a home run.  The captain of the team praises her, and Amira is hopeful she’ll have someone to sit with her at lunch.  After class, Amira sees Olivia crying in the bathroom and no one asking her if she is ok, Amira doesn’t feel so well, and doesn’t ask either. On the bus ride home Amira is greeted with cheers for her home run, but Elena the captain, isn’t among them.

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The next day is picture day, and Amira trips and rips her shirt.  Everyone laughs, Elena says, “it was an ugly shirt anyways.”  Only one person offers her help.  Could Amira have misread the whole class dynamics?  How should she move forward?

Sorry, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but the message about owning up to your choices is stressed, along with making kind decisions, and sometimes needing to take a step back and understand things from someone else’s perspective.

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Like nearly all Ruqaya’s Bookshelf books, the story is universal, but the characters, illustrations, and point of view is a relatable Muslim one that allows our young Muslim readers to feel seen and celebrated.  The reliable large glossy pages make the book a great deal for your money and is available on the publisher’s website: http://www.ruqayasbookshelf or from my favorite bookstore http://www.crescentmoonstore.com

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I Lost Something Very Special by Husna Rahman illustrated by Anita Bagdi

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I Lost Something Very Special by Husna Rahman illustrated by Anita Bagdi

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This beautifully illustrated 34 page story about the loss of a beloved grandfather is universal and heartfelt.  It is not an Islamic fiction book as there is no mention of the duniya or akhira or accepting Allah’s decree, the family however, is visibly Muslim and it shows women in hijab and the little girl narrator praying salat with her now deceased grandfather.  Similarly, there are no cultural words or references in the text, but the illustrations show Bangladeshi culture, writing, and warmth.  The author is a psychotherapist and counselor, and all readers, young children and up, will benefit from the tenderness and emotion-filled paperback book.

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A young girl starts the book stating that she has lost something.  She recalls other things she has lost, a scarf, a toy, her voice, a tooth, and how after a while the item was found or it came back and she was able to carry on.  Today, however, is not the same, she has lost her grandfather, and he isn’t coming back, and she doesn’t know if she can carry on.

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She goes to his house, and he isn’t there, and the heartbreak is palpable.  She knows in time she will forget the lost scarf and lost voice, but she doesn’t want to ever forget her grandfather.  She finds some pictures and recalls him teaching her to ride her bike, them praying together, and planting a garden, his stories, his smell, his laugh, his hugs.

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As she assembles the pictures in a scrapbook, she is filled with memories and warmth and his wisdom.  The book ends with her seemingly coming to accept her new reality and then the book asking the reader if they have felt loss, what memories they carry, and what they miss the most about those that are gone.

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The sparse text and amazingly expressive illustrations make the book a beautiful addition to help children cope with their own feelings, and to learn empathy for others going through their own trials of loss.

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We Will Meet Again in Jannah: What a Great Day that will be! An Activity book for Bereaved Muslim Siblings by Zamir Hussain illustrated by Emily McCann

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We Will Meet Again in Jannah: What a Great Day that will be! An Activity book for Bereaved Muslim Siblings by Zamir Hussain illustrated by Emily McCann

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I don’t review workbooks, or a lot of non fiction books, but by far the most thematic requests I get asked about, are children’s books about bereavement.  The loss of a friend or loved one is just not a topic that you see covered very often, if at all.  Sure there are books about jannah, but they are more silly and framed as a reward, not about the loss felt that would precede paradise.  This 32 page paperback activity book is part reassurance, part encouragement, part discussion starter, and part remembrance all within a faith framework.  Much of the book is not sibling specific, perhaps a few tweaks and you could have a grandparent version, a parent version, an aunt or uncle version, etc.,  even as a parent you may consider adjusting the book as you share it if you are unable to find a specific book for your child’s needs.

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The book starts with the author talking to the reader and setting the tone about what has occurred and what is to follow in the book.  It then asks the reader to write or share who they are, who passed, and something special they remember about them.  It discusses why people die and then starts the two page spreads that address a theme and presents an activity to help you feel better, or to remember or celebrate the one who has died.  Topics include: You’re never too big to cry, It’s not your fault, Talking and sharing the pain, Some things will change other’s will stay the same, etc..  Some of the activities are wonderful and can be done in any order, at any time, and others, you may want to adjust.  The idea of releasing a balloon, for example, with your worries in it, is symbolically effective, but not so great for the environment.  The end of the book has additional resources on how to use the book, things to do with the child, further support,  additional resources, and Islamic guidance.

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I love that Islamic foundations and vocabulary are not just used, but explained in a very age appropriate, non condescending manner, through out.  I love that it is clear that you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, that it is not the child’s job or responsibility to make the adults feel better, that nothing is anyone’s fault, and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

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I wish the book was larger in size and perhaps hardback so that the activities that require writing would have more space and ease in completing.  The text for the activities is also very tiny.  I also wish that the author’s qualifications for such advices was included.  I Googled the author to find out:  “Zamir Hussain is a Muslim Chaplain at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and has pioneered resources in Islamic health care. She has published several books for bereaved Muslim parents and siblings. She has also developed the first UK blended learning resource, including care plans and pathways for Islamic daily, palliative, end of life and bereavement care for paediatric staff. Zamir has worked as a Muslim Chaplain for both the Heart of England NHS Trust and Birmingham Children’s hospital for over five years, where she has also run training courses for the staff as well as delivering training and talks on care for Muslim patients to organisations around the country.”

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We need more books about coping, talking, dealing, understanding death for our children, inshaAllah this is a start, alhumdulillah.